PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Volunteers can get paid to eat for a research program in Portland, where being an opinionated food critic is totally okay.

A recent test was a seafood lover’s delight at the Food Innovation Center in Portland.

The volunteers are just a few of the more than 100 who signed up to get paid to eat for research in what’s called the Sensory Lab. 

Chef Luis Cabanas, who most recently worked at the award-winning Paley’s Place, cooked precise dishes for the taste test including six samples of fish: two each of albacore tuna, coho salmon and sablefish, which is also known as black cod.

The program is paid for through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Oregon Sea Grant uses the results from the taste testers. 

“So, we’re doing these tests and we’re hoping we’ll have information that will help small fishermen, chefs and retailers feel confident about the product they’re using,” Jamie Doyle of the Oregon Sea Grant said.

The dishes come out one at a time, but before taking a bite, researchers want to know what the testers think of how the food looks and smells. Testers also give their opinion on things like the flavor and texture, then share their buying habits. 

“So, you become almost like a little restaurant critic,” taste tester Abby Farber said.

Farber’s been at the Food Innovation Center before and enjoys the experience each time. 

“I did one number of months ago. That was blueberries and I really enjoyed it. I mean, what could be more fun than coming, tasting things, knowing you’re helping local agribusiness of some kind and they pay you for it, it’s just fun,” Farber explained.

It’s also a fun job for Sensory Program Director Ann Colonna who has organized all kinds of taste tests with her colleagues.

“We’ve also done a lot of testing with different fruits and vegetables. And so, looking at the quality of different strawberry varietals or blueberry varietals, we’ve done work with pears and apples, cherries,” Colonna said.

She added “the research is interesting. It’s always different. We work with a lot of beverage producers, so wine and cider, and beer and coffee, all the tea, all those things that are very important to our economy here in the Pacific Northwest.”

All kinds of taste testers are needed for different types of research — a different way for your taste buds and your opinion to help out. 

“The best part, I think, is that consumers are truly interested in giving their opinions and shaping the products they see in the marketplace. This is the place to do it because they can come in, taste these products, give their feedback, get paid money to do it. And then, actually see some of those products that they tested down the road in the grocery store. So, it’s a really unique opportunity. I think that Portland is such an amazing food city. It’s a great place to do this type of research,” Colonna said.

The Food Innovation Center is part of Oregon State University, however the facility is in Portland. 

Some other schools have similar programs, but they often rely on mostly students and staff for the taste tests, so having the FIC in Portland reels in a bigger variety of people.

You can visit Oregon State University’s Sensory and Consumer testing website for more information and to sign up to become a taste tester.

Those who taste test are paid with cash or a Visa cash card.