A Sweet Trip to Hershey’s

CIA Culinary Science Students visiting the Hershey's Chocolate Factory in Pennsylvania

This semester, my culinary science class stepped out of the lab and took a trip to the Hershey’s factory in Pennsylvania. After learning how to use research and development processes for creating food and different dishes in class, it was great to go to Hershey’s and see how a major food manufacturer develops new products for the market and for companies like McDonald’s.

Kicking Off the Tour

We were greeted by the head chef of research and development, Chef Darron, who led us to a conference room where we were each seated at a table with four chocolates and one cocoa bean in front of us. He then introduced us to his food technologist and food flavorist, and the three of them gave a brief background about the company.

The class was then split into two groups and the tour began! We started at…

The product development kitchen—This was where we chatted with the person in charge of Reese’s taste development. He took us through the process in the kitchen, from making just the gold standard of the product to presenting the product to redesigning it and leading it to the pilot plan. He also explained how most of the products evolve from older products that could be popular in the future. We then moved on from the test kitchen to…

The lab where pilot plans occur—A pilot plan is a small-scale version of a plant used to make the product that will be sold in the market. There were multiple machines and hardware to see, all with different purposes—some for pulling sugar and sugar-based candies and some just like the ones we use in the CIA’s Apple Pie Bakery Café for tempering chocolate. After checking these out, it was time to continue on to…

The mint and gum lab—This was pretty cool as we had the chance to meet the main scientist involved in making the icebreaker mints and gums. He told us how different kinds of polymers were used for making the gum. I just had to ask—how is bubble gum made? He told me a mix of polymers help the material of the gum stretch, causing it to blow up as a bubble. He then introduced the person he called the “master of polymers,” who went into greater detail about how the polymer is made and showed us how one of the machines was used to make a malleable polymer base. He also explained ways to ensure the safety of the product, such as the six thermocouples used within the machine itself to maintain and record the temperature it goes through at different stages. Then we proceeded to what was probably my favorite part of the tour…

The sensory kitchen and labs—There we came across the lead sensory analyst, who explained how insanely tough it is to get people from outside to come in for sensory tests. She said she often gets people from all around the company to come for the tasting, adding that there’s usually a strong showing from marketing and human resources—especially when she bribes them with candy or snacks!

Their sensory process was even more technology-oriented that what we experienced at the CIA. The Hershey’s sensory kitchen and sensory room are divided by lockers, where flaps open to allow only the food to be transferred through. The panelists who taste the product must complete a questionnaire through a programming system on computers at each sensory station.

We also visited a second part of the sensory lab, where the trained sensory panelists work four to six hours a day tasting various savory, sweet, and liquor samples. They start with the savory, move on to the sweet products, and finish with the liquor since that’s the strongest flavor and takes longer to leave the system. All of the panelists there were female, and they explained how men typically cannot distinguish much between the flavors. This actually reminded me of a discussion we had in class about how the majority of “super tasters” are women.

It’s All About the Chocolate!

Once we were done with the tour, we headed back to the conference room for one of the highlights of the entire trip. Hershey’s master chocolatier gave us a presentation on the cocoa Hershey’s uses—including the fermentation process and what qualities they look for—as well as the history behind their chocolate.

The Chocolate Flavor Wheel at Hershey's Chocolate Factory

It was so great to hear how their chocolate was fermented and how much the grade of the cocoa bean matters when making it. We went on to taste four different kinds of chocolate, from the basic dairy milk to a gourmet chocolate, learning and distinguishing the different flavors and sweetness of each. At the end of the day, we left Hershey’s with more chocolate than we could eat or handle—and we were happier for it!

It was yet another incredible out-of-class experience for our culinary science class to get a firsthand look at what goes on in the food world and make some valuable contacts along the way. Sweet!

By Abhav Malhotra, a student in the bachelor’s in culinary science degree program at the CIA’s New York campus.