A food taster is a person who ingests food that was prepared for someone else, to confirm it is safe to eat. One who tests drink in this way is known as a cupbearer. The person to whom the food is to be served is usually an important person, such as a monarch or somebody under threat of assassination or harm.
Food tasters have several functions:
- The safety of the food may be determined by observing whether or not the food taster subsequently becomes ill. However, food tasting is not effective against slow-acting poisons that take a long time to produce visible symptoms.
- The food taster may also prepare and serve food, so they can be even more diligent in preventing someone from poisoning the food.
- In the event the target falls ill or dies, the similar illness or death of the taster provides evidence of deliberate poisoning.
Examples of food tasters
In ancient Rome, the duty was often given to a slave (termed the praegustator). Roman Emperor Claudius was killed by poison in AD 54 even though he hired a food taster named Halotus. Tasters were sometimes coerced. Over history, presidents and royal families have hired food tasters or sacrifices, over fear of being poisoned. Queen Durdhara, the Mauryan empress, ate food that was prepared for her husband and died.
Adolf Hitler's food taster Margot Woelk tried the food at 8:00 am every day, and if she did not fall ill the food would be sent to Hitler's military headquarters. President Vladimir Putin has hired a food taster who is part of his security staff to protect himself as well. In recent times, animals such as mice have been used to detect impurities in food produced for humans, such as during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. In the United States, several recent presidents, most prominently Barack Obama, have been known to employ food tasters.
Food production companies employ professional tasters to assess and provide feedback on the quality of their products. Some pet food companies employ human tasters for products that are suitable for human consumption.
- Luthern, A. (2009, June 26). Testing for Poison Still a Profession for Some. Smithsonian.com. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/testing-for-poison-still-a-profession-for-some-61805292/
- Hurst, F. (2013, April 2). Hitler's Food Taster: One Bite Away from Death. Spiegel Online International. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/hitler-food-taster-margot-woelk-speaks-about-her-memories-a-892097.html
- Walsh, J. (2014, July 23). Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned. The Independent. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/vladimir-putin-employs-a-fulltime-food-taster-to-ensure-his-meals-arent-poisoned-9624380.html