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How to taste test cereal
Cereal Scientists: Eating cereal is a serious business
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Emerald Pabros is a finicky eater. When she sits down to eat a bowl of cereal, everything has to be just right.

The room has to be quiet and free of distracting odors. Lighting is important, because she needs to see what she’s eating. And she obviously wants to taste her cereal, so she makes sure to cleanse her palette by drinking room-temperature water. She’s also decided she doesn’t need any milk.

Then she takes a single square of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and places it carefully on one of the molars on the right side of her mouth and bites down carefully, feeling the piece crunch and savoring the cinnamon goodness.

Sure, her methods seem strange, but she’s one of the most experienced cereal eaters in the world.

"When we (people in general) eat, we’re like, "Yeah, that tastes great, I like it." You don’t necessarily think about the specifics of texture or how it tastes or the sweetness, and kind of picking and isolating those out from the rest of the qualities of the food you’re eating."

Pabros does, because she’s a cereal scientist and she’s paid to know what good tastes like. She’s a Sensory Quality Engineer at General Mills’ production plant in Covington.

"There is a sensory science. People get PhDs in sensory science," said Arnie Sair, Pabros’ supervisor and the company’s Quality and Regulatory Operations Manager.

One might think that eating cereal, of all jobs, would be a simple task. One would be wrong.

"Even the way you chew it and place it in you mouth, where do you chew it? Where is it in your mouth, like on your tongue? Do you take a whole handful and shove it in your mouth? Do you eat one or two pieces?" Pabros asked rhetorically. "Having consistency among grading each of those samples is important."

Pabros may be particular about how she eats her cereal, but at least she and her colleagues are willing to share.

General Mills is known for being a great place to work. It hires quality people and is committed to improving the communities in which it locates. But most importantly, it’s because the employees get to eat the cereal. Who hasn’t always wanted to be a taste tester?

General Mills employees from all departments, from finance to warehousing, are welcome to be part of the team that methodically and scientifically tastes the various cereals churned out in Covington.

The sensory training class isn’t that long, about an hour or two, and if they choose, employees can even make taste-testing a regular part of their job.

The company encourages workers to get involved, because having people from every chain in the cereal production process brings more expertise to the table. So, on the rare occasion where a cereal’s taste may be off, a worker with a specific department may be able to identify more quickly if the problem is occurring in his division, said Packaging Technician Carlos Miller, a taste- testing team leader.

Employees are given baselines of taste, so they can tell when something is truly sweet, sour, salty or bitter. They’re also given batches of cereal that the company has approved, so they can train their taste buds to remember that specific flavor.

The big question for employees is, "Are you a flake, a puff or a Chex?" Sair’s a flake, while Pabros and Miller are puffs. Flakes include cereals like Total and Wheaties, while puffs are the Cheerios’ and Kix’s. Chex are, well, Chex.

"If you think about a Cheerios piece versus a flake piece, the consumer is obviously expecting different experiences, if you will, when they’re eating those products," said Sair, who personality did not match his cereal preference.

"The flake, you want to make sure it has a good texture to it and everything. The Cheerios piece, you want to make sure you can really pick out that good Cheerios toast note to it. So there are going to be some differences depending on what product you’re sampling."

In the end, though, taste-testing is a way to bring the company together and ensure everyone can take pride in the final product.

"Obviously, tasting the best cereals on the market is a good job, but for me it’s actually the pride that I take in it. I go into our local grocery stores, and I see the moms with the kids picking out our cereals, and I find myself looking at the labels to see if we made it or not," Miller said. "And you have that feeling that they’re getting the quality cereal that they expect from General Mills and that it tastes good too. And that I had something to do with that is just a really good feeling for me."

Oh, and did we mention they get to eat the cereal? They have Cinnamon Toast Crunch people.

"I think it’s everybody’s (favorite), because it’s definitely mine. Even tasting it every day, a lot of people say, ‘Oh do you get sick of it?’ And honestly? No. Like on the weekends, I’ll find myself pouring a bowl with milk and saying ‘Oh, this is so awesome.’ It’s great, I’ve been eating it my whole life, since I was growing up, so it’s definitely my favorite," Pabros said.

Sair is more of an Oatmeal Raisin Crisp, but he realizes he’s outnumbered.

"I can’t deny that Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a powerhouse at General Mills, so we make a lot of that product," he said.

We think being a General Mills taste tester is one of the coolest jobs in Newton County. Do you think your job is cool or know someone else who has a great job? Contact Reporter Gabriel Khouli at or call(678) 750-5009, so we can share more stories about working in Newton County.