Behind the Scenes of Our Recipe Taste Tests
It's tough for a recipe to be published in Taste of Home. Take a look behind the scenes at our taste testing. It might surprise you to learn that taste is only one of many criteria we consider.
By Nicole Doster, Digital Associate Editor
Taste testing is an essential part of our recipe development process. Nothing earns the Test Kitchen stamp of approval unless it's been vetted by a team of taste testers.
It may sound like a simple task—I mean, how hard can eating food be? But the goal of the taste test is a lofty one: fine tune each and every recipe to make the best version possible. (Spoiler alert: It's not just about the taste!)
At the Taste of Home headquarters in Milwaukee, we have a whole room devoted to taste testing. It's a small space, and it looks like your average meeting room: a big white board on the wall, plain furnishings, and (most important) a long table with plenty of seating. On the other side of the door is the Taste of Home Test Kitchen, where professional cooks test recipes sent in by readers.
Fun Fact: In the 1970s, our first test cook, Annette Gohlke, had to drive 30 miles from her home kitchen with completed dishes to reach her tasting panel. Sure is easier now with the kitchen a few steps away!
Our testing panel meets twice a day to sample and evaluate recipes. You may be wondering which esteemed critics win this dream job. But we intentionally didn't fill the panel with specially trained cooks. We invite real home cooks from our team. On any given day, you might see a busy mom from Accounting or weekend grill warrior from IT or a hungry writer from Editorial contributing as tasters. Our logic: We only publish recipes that real people will want to make and eat. Makes sense to have real people testing the food.
Fun Fact: We test around 6 to 10 recipes each day—that's 1,000 to 2,000 recipes by the end of each year.
After the testing panel has gathered, the food arrives! Test Kitchen cooks and Food Editors present the dishes to the group. The recipes vary—you might try slow roasted chicken alongside fruit-studded sangria.
Each taster takes a one- or two-bite portion. Tasters also get a worksheet to guide their judgment. Tasters consider several criteria, including:
- Flavor: Does it taste good? Are the flavors balanced? Does it need more or less seasoning?
- Appearance: Does it look appetizing? Does it need a garnish for added color? What can be done to make it look better?
- Texture: Is everything cooked properly? Is the dish too crunchy or too soft?
- Method: How difficult is it to prepare? Can it be simplified?
- Brand: Is this a recipe we think readers would like? It is delivering the most bang for the buck?
Ashley Knoebel, a Senior Analyst and busy mom, explains: "Taste testers really look at everything from the reader's perspective and not just 'does the recipe taste good or not.' Can it be frozen? How would it be reheated? Is it easy to cut? There is a lot more discussed than just taste."
After everyone has a few moments to jot down their thoughts, the group discusses any trends.
"Everyone is encouraged to share honest opinions. We are respectful of the reader submission and experience, making every effort to remain faithful to what the reader submitted," says our Copy Chief, Deb Mulvey. We obsessively discuss the ingredients, the ease of preparation, the flavors, whether the recipe tells a story. We want our recipes to be easy and fun to make in any home kitchen around the country.
As tasters dish, Test Cooks and Food Editors listen carefully, taking notes on feedback that may range from simple tweaks to seasoning to suggestions for variations. If a recipe has bigger issues, the Test Kitchen will take it back and test it again, working to perfect the ingredients and method.
Once the recipe gets the nod of approval from taste testers, it's almost ready for publication! It moves on to final editing, which ensures that the recipe is clear and easy to follow, before the entire dish is photographed.
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