Published on: Oct 12 2020
Meet Celia Chee, a taste scientist responsible for development of new flavor modulators and flavor building blocks with the Taste Innovation Discovery Group at Kerry.
What sparked your interest in science?
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a foodie. Growing up in Malaysia, I was lucky to be immersed in various cuisines such as Peranakan Chinese, Chinese, Malay, South Indian, Thai, Korean, Continental etc. Those experiences always made me wonder how simple local ingredients, when combined in different ratios, would lead to different taste experiences. This passion for food and interest in science made food science a very natural choice for me when selecting a course of study for my undergraduate degree.
What drew you to your current field?
During my undergraduate studies at University of Leeds, I had the opportunity to work on a research project focused on understanding the impact of sulfhydryl group activity on milk powder functionality, as sulfhydryl groups can impact the gelation properties, storage stability, and flavor of milk powder. That was my first exposure to research and how experiments are conducted. That experience helped me to pursue my career further into food/flavor science. My masters research focused on the enrichment of dairy products with omega-3 fatty acids, which brought many flavor challenges. This highlighted how vital flavor was in the development of food products, especially when improving the nutrition of foods and beverages, and piqued my interest into further specializing in flavor research.
What is a scientific achievement you’ve been a part of that stands out in your mind?
No scientific achievement happens without working as a coherent team. I have had the privilege throughout my career to work with some amazing scientists. In one of my past projects, my research contributions were focused on producing new and unique flavor ingredients using techniques in enzymolysis, process reactions, microbial fermentations, and related biochemical/ biotechnological methods. That work helped successfully launch 5 new flavor ingredients (currently sold as part of sweet, savory and dairy flavors) and 2 novel technologies (leveraging Millard chemistry).
At Kerry, my research currently focuses on flavor modulation via bioprocessing and Maillard reaction chemistry. As part of the Taste Innovation team, we have launched 6 flavor modulators so far focused on protein masking, sweetener masking, savory enhancement and mouthfeel. These projects have been key as the industry moves toward a health and nutrition focus, as nutrition-forward ingredients can come with major taste challenges.
What are the major challenges you work to overcome in the current industry landscape?
I keenly follow how meat-alternative and non-dairy alternative food offerings are evolving in the market.
As a food scientist, the ability to develop novel flavor modulators and flavor ingredients that help meat and dairy alternatives have a more authentic profile is very exciting. While there is good progress being made in this area, a lot more research, sensory analysis and collaborations with teams focused on consumer perspectives are needed to reduce the gap between animal and plant-based offerings.
What advice would you give newcomers to your field?
There is a lot you can learn from you coworkers, keep learning from everyone you meet.
If you had a crystal ball, what problems/challenges do you think will be solved 5 years from now in your specialty?
Protein-related off-notes would be greatly improved as protein ingredient processors gain a better understanding on how to optimize protein extraction while yielding better flavor outcomes. This would probably lead to better-tasting meat and dairy alternatives in the market.
What would you recommend on KHNI that is relevant to learn more about your field?
My article “Using Natural Flavors to Deliver Taste with Nutrition” provides some insights to issues that come up in many projects I’m working on – “how can we adapt taste to fit the needs of changing consumer preferences?” as well as “how can taste solutions help improve the nutrition of a food?”