Kashi Food Developer Karen Moyer Discovers Vanilla!  (Stupid TV Commercial Spotlight)

February 13, 2009

Last night as I watched the   ABC Nightly News , I saw a commercial for Kashi—you know, the makers of expensive granola bars, cereals, and stuff. It is one of a series of ads intended to highlight the fun, happy people of Kashi (not the faceless corporate giant). There are about a half dozen of the ads running, each highlighting a different job at the La Jolla based corporation.

Presumably, these are real people and not actors; Karen’s job at Kashi, as she informs us in an excited voice-over, is "to take the best natural flavors and put them together in tasty ways." Apparently the job of a Kashi food developer involves flying to Africa to sample market spices, sniffing spices in India (in between riding elephants and participating in tribal dances), and so on. The ads are meant to be feminine, adventurous, and fun.

And what spices did Karen Moyer of Kashi uncover in these exotic lands? Well, she mentions a few of her discoveries, including chocolate, nutmeg, vanilla, ginger, and cinnamon. That’s right, Karen’s global search for "natural flavors" ended up with the dramatic re-discovery of common spices used for thousands of years.

Chocolate, for example, has been around since about 1400 B.C. Reports of nutmeg being used as a spice date back to 826 A.D. Cinnamon, which Karen apparently took great pains to locate, has been used in Egypt and China since 2000 B.C. Good to know that Kashi’s "food developers" are on the cutting edge of the science of discovering and blending natural foods.

I’m sure that Karen and the TV crew enjoyed her global trek, though she could have saved a lot of time and money if she had just stopped by the corner grocery store on the way to the airport. But then we couldn’t see people riding on colorful elephants, and isn’t that fun—- even if it has nothing to do with pricey cereal?

I’m sure that "food developer" is a real job, but I’m skeptical. Are they really finding and developing new flavors? There is a finite number of spices and tastes that are pleasing to the palate, and finite combinations of those flavors. Karen, if you’re going to tell us that your job is looking for ways to make Kashi products more flavorful or more healthful, fine. But don’t bullshit us with clips of travel videos masquerading as "food development" expeditions.

Oh, and there’s a small note at the bottom of the Kashi Web site mentioning that some of the "natural flavors" that Karen is "developing" for Kashi can kill you, such as peanut butter. Keep developing, Karen!

 

Comments:

#1 Kathy (Guest) on Friday February 13, 2009 at 1:08pm

At least now we understand why the bars (a handful of nuts and common spices stuck together with sugar and wastefully packaged) are so expensive.

#2 Daniel Loxton (Guest) on Friday February 13, 2009 at 1:16pm

It’s always worth pointing out how manipulative TV ads tend to be, and revealing the tricks they use to infuse prosaic brands with exotic flavor (so to speak).

I have no idea what’s involved in Karen Moyer’s job, but I think this particular comment misses the mark:

“There is a finite number of spices and tastes that are pleasing to the palate, and finite combinations of those flavors.”

Although there probably are a finite number of combinations of flavors in the universe, that finite number is so mind-bogglingly large so as to be functionally equivalent to infinity. It’s sorta like saying “There are a finite number of colors, and a finite number of ways to arrange them on a picture plane.”

#3 Ben Radford on Friday February 13, 2009 at 1:50pm

Dan Loxton notes: “Although there probably are a finite number of combinations of flavors in the universe, that finite number is so mind-bogglingly large so as to be functionally equivalent to infinity.”

True—which is why I added “that are pleasing to the palate.” Sure, in theory there are trillions of flavors and combinations, from cherry to cactus juice to dolphin blood. But in practice, the number of them that are pleasing to humans is a tiny percentage. By one quick search, there are over 7,000 varieties of apples grown in the world, yet there are only about a dozen that are popular for eating. People love steak, but wouldn’t eat steak flavored ice cream because ice cream is sweet, and the flavors would clash.

So while the number of spices and flavors is vast (perhaps functionally equivalent to infinity), the number of them that taste good alone or in combination with others, I’d guess, is in the dozens or hundreds.

#4 Daniel Loxton (Guest) on Friday February 13, 2009 at 2:32pm

…while the number of spices and flavors is vast (perhaps functionally equivalent to infinity), the number of them that taste good alone or in combination with others, I’d guess, is in the dozens or hundreds.

Hmmm. I think you’re flattening out the concept of “flavor” more than it deserves. There must be tens of thousands of vineyards producing hundreds of thousands of blends and vintages and types of wine. No two of them taste exactly the same, yet all of them rely on just one single natural flavoring (grapes).

#5 Ben Radford on Friday February 13, 2009 at 2:58pm

I’ve been accused of worse things than flattening out the concept of flavor!

So perhaps guilty as charged…

#6 Jenna on Friday February 13, 2009 at 7:32pm

I think Dan’s right on with this.  There is a huge difference in flavor among varieties of things that we might think are very ordinary, shop on the corner type items.  I became aware of this when I worked in a bakery that used a fancy, expensive cinnamon in the scores of sweet rolls that we made each night.  I had had lots of cinnamon before, but never CINNAMON.  It starts with a K and is amazing.

While the inane joviality of the commercial can be rightly critiqued, the underlying principle is quite acceptable to me.  The wide amount of variation in soil, water, weather, fertilizers and other agricultural conditions causes items of the same basic genetic type to vary widely in flavor. 

Wine is a great example.  Coffee is another.

Oh, and I like Kashi products.  They have less sugar, no fake flavorings and more unrefined grains than other brands.

#7 Ben Radford on Friday February 13, 2009 at 8:28pm

Fair enough… but then where are all these exciting varieties? If there really are trillions of combinations of tasty flavors, then why are the strore shelves lined with pretty much the same combinations of ingredients? Oats here, cane sugar there, cinnamon here…

Are you really telling me that you believe that Karen Moyer of Kashi spends her time jet-setting to India to find cinnamon? Are they hiring? ‘Cuz I bet it pays a lot better than chasing ghosts…

#8 Badger3k (Guest) on Saturday February 14, 2009 at 9:16am

Funny thing - the commercial just came on, and she would have us believe that she travels around the world to personally pick almonds and chocolate.  Wow.  It must be expensive if she’s the one to do all the work, while dressed in expensive clothes.

Sorry, I’ll stick to lower priced food over poser-food any day.

#9 China Wholesale (Guest) on Friday February 20, 2009 at 4:14am

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