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October 24, 2020

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Sorbet tester does a grandpa’s ‘cool’ job

Have you ever dreamed of eating nothing but ice cream all day long? And what if you could even be paid for your troubles? For 75-year-old Liu Qingnian, he might well be envied by many for having such a “cool” job.

After graduating from Jiangnan University in east China’s Jiangsu Province in 1969, Liu conducted research on edible natural pigment for over two decades.

In 1997, he started to work at Jinan Qunkang Corp, based in Jinan, capital of Shandong Province, engaged in ice cream research and testing, and now he is a chief engineer.

In 2008, an ice cream product named Shuang, a Chinese word meaning coolness, hit Jinan’s market. In the city alone, up to 6 million bars were sold every day. Liu was one of the main developers.

“As a tester, I need to evaluate the ice cream by relying on my senses of vision, smell and taste,” Liu said.

He said testing ice cream is like evaluating perfume, which is divided into top, heart and base notes. “The top note is felt via the tongue tip; the heart is the taste and mouthfeel of the melted ice cream; the base is the aftertaste after eating.”

Besides quality, an ice cream tester needs to judge whether a product is acceptable or not. As minor changes in the formula will lead to variations in taste, a tester must be familiar with all formulas and ingredients.

“It is not a ‘superpower’ of the tongue, but is entirely based on professional knowledge and experience,” Liu said.

In order to ensure a sharp sense of taste, Liu rinses his mouth with warm water every time he tastes an ice cream, while he refuses any greasy or spicy food.

“Shandong dishes are always salty, but I prefer light flavors now that I’m older and have to protect my taste buds. So we often eat plain meals in our home,” Liu said.

To launch new products, he and his team usually start their research in the spring for the next year’s product development.

Over the past few decades, Liu has been to more than 40 countries. He tastes all the ice creams he has never tried before and records their packaging, shape, ingredients and taste. He has sampled thousands of ice creams at home and abroad.

Ice cream products are usually developed in winter. During the busiest period, it is common to taste nearly 30 bars a day.

“After selecting raw materials and entering the research and development stage, it takes an average of more than 10,000 tests to finally determine the production formula,” Liu said.

“Now I can probably guess the milk content and cost of an ice cream product just by taking one bite.”

Despite his unbreakable bond with ice cream, Liu has always kept healthy with plenty of rest and a scientific diet to protect his stomach. He also enjoys jogging and mountain climbing on a daily basis.

With the improvement of people’s living standards, the ice cream industry has also undergone new changes. “Apart from salted egg yolk, rum, bubble tea and other flavors, ice cream that contains fruits has also begun to thrive in recent years, and low-sugar and low-fat products are more popular,” Liu said.

“Guess who is the most envious of my job?” Liu jokes.

“It’s my granddaughter! She’s jealous of all the ice cream I get to eat, after all, who could refuse such delicious treats!”


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