Dear Weeping Editor: Taste

Dear Weeping Editor: Taste

Dear Weeping Editor,
How important is it to describe taste?
Signed,
Hungry for Words

Dear Hungry,

Thanks for writing. I love this question almost as much as I love food and drink. One thing I always admired about the writing of Ernest Hemmingway is that he always described food and drink and never forgot to include how it tasted and what it felt like to consume a meal.

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
―Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Reading the above sentence (yes, it is just one sentence) you can imagine exactly how the oysters taste and get an idea of their texture whether or not you have ever even eaten oysters before. He describes the taste, temperature, and textures of the food and the drink and almost makes me want to try oysters. Almost.

Readers want to experience all seven senses along with your characters. What your characters taste, hear, see, smell, touch, and any variances in their proprioception sense or vestibular sense should transport the reader into the character’s experience. Good writers include these sensory details in ways that actively envelop the reader, not in ways that pull the reader out of the story. When it comes to the sense of taste, there are a lot more things to consider than just the flavor of food.

Other than Food & Drink

First of all, human beings often taste things that aren’t food.

If your character kisses another character, the kisser might end up tasting the kissee’s lips along with the mocha chai latte the kissee just sipped. Early in the morning the kisser might taste coffee or orange juice. If your kissee is wearing lip gloss, your kisser might taste that artificial flavor, whatever it is. If the kissee is licking an ice cream cone moments before, that is going to end up being a rather frigid kiss. Before bed, you might write about a minty fresh toothpaste infused good night kiss.

If your character is in a street fight, he might end up tasting dirt, mud, a wall, the street, or even blood. If your character is sparring, he might end up tasting a little bit of leather boxing glove, or blood. If your character is badly injured somehow, he might end up tasting, well, blood. I’m detecting a pattern, here.

With a mouth full of our own blood, you have to describe more than just the taste. Say your character is Daniel Russo played by Ralph Macchio in the original Karate Kid movie, and gets his mouth and nose bloodied on the beach by a group of Kobra Kai baddies. Then you have to describe the gritty Pacific coast sand that gets in his mouth besides his own blood. Healthy blood tastes faintly metallic, coppery, like sucking on an old penny. But blood also feels tepid in the mouth, almost like warm tea, so you have to describe the temperature, too.

Food & Drink: Sight

Like the above, when you need to describe food and drink, there’s a lot more to it than just the flavor. With food and drink, all of the senses are involved.

Apicius, the 1st century Roman gourmand, purportedly coined the phrase “We eat first with our eyes.” Unless you’re in a totally dark room, blind, or blindfolded, then you see what food looks like long before you taste it. Think of the first description of food in the Bible.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes…—Genesis 3:6a

The first thing the first woman uses is her eyes: “the woman saw” and “pleasant to the eyes.” You have to describe how food looks.

Think of entire social media feeds that are dominated by photographs of food. How important is it that the food pictured there is presented in a way that looks succulent and delicious? Consider the visual nature of this quote by Steinbeck.

Liza poured thick batter from a pitcher onto a soapstone griddle. The hot cakes rose like little hassocks, and small volcanoes formed and erupted on them until they were ready to be turned. A cheerful brown, they were, with tracings of darker brown. And the kitchen was full of the good sweet smell of them.
―John Steinbeck

Food & Drink: Smell

Secondly, you have to describe how the food and drink smells. Sometimes you can smell food before you even see what it looks like. The aromas of food and drink help us to discover and enjoy food as much as the taste. The sense of smell explores our food before we eat it.

The area in front of her door looked swept clean, and a mat bid a “Welcome Friends” greeting. On either side of the door, pots filled with fresh herbs covered tiered plant stands. Some he recognized, like the massive bush of rosemary. He smelled mint and parsley, among other scents he could only guess at. Oregano, maybe. All of the scents mingled and filled his senses with such a pleasant aroma that he wanted to just stand there and breathe it in deeply. He held his finger over the doorbell and hesitated only slightly before pressing it. Within seconds, Calla opened the door, and the first impression he had was the tantalizing smells coming from the apartment that even overpowered the scent of the herbs.
―Hallee Bridgeman, Courting Calla

Here is a list of words that can help describe the way food smells.

Food Smell Word Examples:

  • Acrid – pungent, bitter, food can acquire this quality when cooked over a wood fire.
  • Ambrosial – divine, sweet smelling, fragrant, aromatic.
  • Anosmic – odorless, no smell at all.
  • Aromatic – perfumed, fragrant, scented, sweet smelling, pungent, usually pleasing—it is not odorless and unscented.
  • Balmy – having the pleasing fragrance of aromatic balm, mild, pleasant, gentle, soft and not pungent at all.
  • Comforting – pleasant aroma.
  • Corky – smelling like cork.
  • Delicate – subtle, faint, fine, elusive, tantalizing—never overpowering.
  • Fetid – rotten, putrid, foul, rank, squalid, fusty, stinking, smelling, the moldy, decaying smell of decomposing food—it does not smell fresh.
  • Foul – unclean, dirty, stinking, rank, tainted, soiled, fetid, polluted—it does not smell clean and fresh.
  • Fragrant or perfumed are similar—you could say instead aromatic, scented, sweet smelling, sweet scented, odorous—the opposite of smelly and not odorless.
  • Fresh – the aroma is clean, clear, cool, refreshing, sweet and new, crisp as newly picked fruit or vegetables, warm as newly baked bread hot from the oven,—the smell does not feel insalubrious, moldy, stale or worse.
  • Fulsome – generous to excess, excessive, over the board—not mild and bland.
  • Gamy – having the distinctive fragrance of game, either the tangy smell that reminds of grass, forest and wild aromatic herbs in fresh game, or the rich, wet, slightly rank and stale smell in “ripe” game as it is usually held until it is slightly decomposed.
  • Heady – strongly aromatic, pungent, rich, intoxicating, spicy, piquant—not a mild smell.
  • Malodorous – scented, aromatic, redolent, fragrant, stinking.
  • Muscadine – something with the sweet aroma of this type of grape.
  • Odoriferous – it has a strong smell.
  • Odorless – unscented, no smell, no scent whatsoever—the complete opposite to aromatic, fragrant, odorous and perfumed.
  • Olfactory – food that produces impact on the nose.
  • Piquant – stinging, pungent, an aroma that tickles the nose.
  • Pungent -it has a strong aroma, it is spicy, hot, heady, overpowering, maybe sharp or bitter, but certainly not bland. It could be forceful, biting, cutting, maybe caustic or slightly acetic, but certainly not mild.
  • Putrescent – fetid, a rotting smell, putrid, certainly smelly, stinking and worse. Nothing further from smelling sweet or a pleasant aroma.
  • Putrid – fetid.
  • Rancid – the stale smell of something past its sell by date, rank, off, sour, rotten—not fresh at all.
  • Rank – a pungent aroma leaning to the bad side, fetid, smelly, foul, stale, rancid—not soft, balmy and fresh.
  • Redolent – malodorous, stinking, fragrant, aromatic on the shady side but not unscented or odorless.
  • Savory – if the food is described as having a savory aroma the smell can be either spicy, pungent, flavorsome, and aromatic, salty but not sweet, or pleasant, nice, wholesome.
  • Scented – perfumed, fragrant, aromatic, it does smell opposite to odorless or unscented.
  • Smelly – reeking of foul perfume, malodorous, putrid, fetid, stinking, moldy, stale—not sweet and fragrant.
  • Stinking – foul smelling, reeking, rotten, putrid, fetid, rank, malodorous—not fresh, sweet and fragrant. Hopefully, you will not find anything like it on your plate, although some would argue that certain very much appreciated cheeses stink.
  • Stuffy – oppressive, stifling, hot, the aroma goes to your head—probably no fresh.
  • Sweet – pleasing and easy on the palate, it can go from genteel and nice, to delightful and attractive, tends to be satisfying, enjoyable and rewarding, might be sugary, probably fresh, pure and appealing – it would not be harsh, foul or unappealing.

Food & Drink: Touch

Does the food or drink in any other way activate your sense of touch? Does the corn-husk wrapper of the tamale feel papery beneath your fingertips? Does the rough texture of the oyster shell’s outside juxtapose the smooth mother-of-pearl surface on the inside of the shell? Does condensation on the outside of the ice cold drink trickle over your fingertips like ice cold tears? Does the theater popcorn coat your fingertips with greasy buttery salt?

Relate the tactile sensation of eating and drinking outside of the sensations the food and drink has inside the mouth. Maybe something obscure, like the fizzy rootbeer float tickling the tip of your nose at the same time the scoop of ice cream chills it. Maybe the tea cup is almost too hot to touch or the ice-cold glass of lemonade numbs your fingertips. Does the soup warm your insides? Does the medicine burn all the way down your throat?

Speaking of temperature, you should definitely describe the temperature of the food and drink. Remember how Hemmingway described the cold white wine and drinking the cold liquid from each oyster shell?

Food Temperature Word Examples:

  • arctic, ardent, benumbed, bitter, bitter cold, bitter hot, blazing, bleak, blizzardly, boiling, bone-chilling, broiling, burning, chill, chilled, chilly, cold, coldish, cool, cooled, coolish, feverish, fiery, flushed, freezing, frigid, frosted, frosty, frozen, glacial, glowing, heated, hot, hottish, ice-cold, iced, icy, igneous, lukewarm, molten, nipped, nippy, numbing, overheated, piping hot, polar, raw, red, red-hot, refrigerated, reheated, rewarmed, roasted, roasting, scalding, scorching, searing, seething, sharp, shivery, sizzling, snappy, snowy, snug, steamy, subfreezing, subzero, sultry, summery, superheated, sweltering, tepid, thawed, toasty, torrid, tropical, ultracold, ultrahot, unheated, warm, warmed, warmed-over, warmish, white-hot, winterly, wintry

Food & Drink: Texture

I can testify from personal experience that there is a world of difference between the texture of microwaved food and that of the very same food prepared in an air fryer. You can, and probably ought to, describe the texture of food and maybe note how it was prepared. Here are some examples. What imagery comes to mind with these short sentences?

Examples:

Blackened/tart: Blackened salmon with a tart lemon wedge
Crispy/hot: Chicken with a crispy breading and hot buttermilk waffles
Hearty/aged: A wedge of hearty rye bread and aged white cheddar
Honeyed/savory: Honeyed drizzle pears and savory roasted walnuts
Tender/creamy: A tender cutlet on a bed of creamy alfredo pasta
Cave grown/velvety: Cave grown mushroom pasta in a velvety sauce

Think about using words like those in this list to describe food textures.

Texture Examples:

  • Airy – A light, pillowy texture often created by the incorporation of air.
  • Baked – A food that was cooked in an oven, often resulting in a crispy outer coating.
  • Blackened – A food that was dipped in butter and coated with spices before being cooked in a hot pan, resulting in a blackened appearance.
  • Blanched – A food that was scalded in boiling water and then moved to cold water to stop cooking. Results in a softened texture.
  • Braised – Food that is briefly fried in a small amount of fat and then is slowly stewed in a covered pot. Results in a seared, crispy exterior coupled with a tender interior texture.
  • Breaded – A food that was coated with a breadcrumb mixture or batter that is then baked or fried into a crispy outer layer.
  • Broiled – A food cooked with intense radiant heat, as in an oven or on a grill. Often results in a darkened appearance and crispy texture.
  • Buttery – A smooth and creamy texture similar to that of butter.
  • Caramelized – A food that has been cooked slowly until it is browned and becomes sweeter in taste.
  • Charred – Food that is grilled, roasted, or broiled and gains a blackened exterior coupled with a smoky flavor.
  • Chewy – The texture of a food that needs to be chewed thoroughly before swallowing. Can be light and bouncy or heavy and sticky.
  • Creamy – A smooth and rich texture that usually comes from the incorporation of dairy.
  • Crispy – A light texture with a slight crunch.
  • Crumbly – The texture of a food with a loose structure that falls apart into small pieces or crumbs.
  • Crunchy – A firm, crisp texture often identified by the sharp, audible noise that the food makes when being eaten.
  • Crusty – The texture of a food with a hard outer layer and soft interior.
  • Delicate – A light, fine texture that may come apart easily.
  • Doughy – A soft and heavy texture that is often coupled with pale coloring.
  • Fermented – A food that has been introduced to bacteria, yeast, or another microorganism to produce organic acids, alcohols, or gases. May result in a pungent, biting flavor.
  • Fizzy – A texture brought on by the presence of many small bubbles, usually referring to carbonated liquids.
  • Flaky – A light texture characterized by layers that come apart during eating.
  • Fluffy – A light and airy texture.
  • Food Prep Word Examples:
  • Fried – Food that is cooked by submerging partially or fully into hot oil. Often results in a crispy or crunchy texture and golden color.
  • Glazed – A food that becomes moistened by having a flavorful coating dripped or brushed onto its surface. May result in a glossy appearance and thin, crisp outer layer.
  • Gooey – A viscous, sometimes sticky texture arising from the presence of moisture in a dense solid food.
  • Hearty – A firm, robust texture.
  • how to describe food preparations
  • Infused – A food that has been steeped in liquid with another ingredient in order to extract the flavor of the ingredient. Often used with herbs.
  • Juicy – A succulent, tender texture characterized by the presence of liquid in a solid food.
  • Marinated – A food (usually meat) that has been soaked in liquid containing flavorful ingredients like herbs, spices, vinegar, and oil.
  • Poached – Food that has been cooked in nearly boiling liquid. Often results in a tender, moist texture.
  • Roasted – Food that has been cooked with dry heat in an oven or over a fire. Often results in a browned exterior and crisp coating.
  • Sauteed – A food that has been cooked quickly in a small amount of fat.
  • Seared – A food that is cooked in a small amount of fat until caramelized and then finished by roasting, grilling, or another method. Results in a crisp outer texture and tender interior.
  • Silky – A fine, smooth texture characterized by a sleek feel in the mouth.
  • Smoked – Food that is cooked or preserved by long exposure to smoke from smoldering wood. Results in a distinctive, bold flavor.
  • Smooth – A consistent texture free of grit, lumps, or indentations.
  • Sticky – A texture characterized by gluiness in the mouth.
  • Succulent – A tender, juicy texture.
  • Tender – A soft texture that is easy to break down.
  • Velvety – A smooth and rich texture.
  • Whipped – Food that has been beaten to incorporate air. Often results in a light, fluffy texture.

Food & Drink: Taste

I haven’t been putting you off. I remember the original question, “How important is it to describe taste?”

There are five basic tastes we experience: sweet, sour, salty, bitter. Outside of these first four is a fifth taste that we westerners call savory, what easterners refer to as umami. If you do nothing else, at least describe the basics when describing food that your characters eat.

But never fear going deeper. The way food tastes, the flavor, the enjoyment and satisfaction of taking nourishment or refreshment into ourselves affects us emotionally, and sometimes spiritually.Think of Hemmingway’s sentence about how the food and drink made him feel “less empty.” Was he talking about his stomach or his spirit feeling empty? Did his oysters and wine pull him out of some sense of ennui?

Dining is social and often romantic. What kind of date night doesn’t involve at least popcorn at the movie theater and more often dinner and dancing? What could be more Rockwellian than a bounteous Thanksgiving dinner? How nostalgic and comforting is a family dinner?

How important was tasting food and drink to Christ? Well, the first thing the resurrected Christ does for his disciples is prepare a meal of fresh fish for them on the shore. It’s true. Look it up. (hint – John 21:9)

How interesting is it that one of our most important Christian rituals, holy communion, involves consuming food and drink? We figuratively take the blood and body of Christ and incorporate it into our very person when we literally eat the bread and drink the wine.

Like any other sense, the sense of taste is pretty important to human beings. It is a giant part of the human experience. As with nearly all of our sensory organs, our brains are located pretty close to our mouths, and food is much more important to us than just simple nutrition.

Here are a bunch of words to help inspire you in describing how food tastes.

Food Taste Words Examples:

  • Acerbic – anything sour, bitter or sharp, cutting, caustic, acid, mordant, barbed, prickly, biting, pointed. The opposite flavor would be mild, sweet, or honeyed.
  • Acid – or Acidic food can be sharp, tart, sour, bitter. Just the opposite of sweet, sugary, honey.
  • Acidic – Sharp, tart, sour
  • Acrid Taste – can be considered pungent, bitter, choking, sharp, unpleasant, harsh-sharp, cutting, caustic, bitter, vitriolic, mordant, trenchant-sour, tart, sharp, biting, acerbic.
  • Aftertaste – the trace, hint, smack, relish, savor food leaves behind.
  • Aged – aged wine, cheese, etc. has been left to develop a pleasant strong flavor
  • Alkaline – Dry, somewhat bitter
  • Ambrosia – the food of the gods, and epicurean delight, food fit for a king, delicacy, heavenly spread, gastronomical delight, some apply this term to the pièce de résistance in a meal.
  • Ambrosial – therefore, fit for the gods, delectable, mouthwatering, heavenly, savory, delicious, tasty, toothsome, divine. It is not distasteful or disgusting at all.
  • Appealing food – attractive, tempting, interesting, pleasing, alluring, likable, engaging, charming, fascinating, glamorous. It is never repulsive, disgusting, or repellent.
  • Appetite – the hunger, craving, desire, taste, ravenousness, sweet tooth, thirst, penchant, or passion we experience. When we have an appetite for something, we don’t find it revulsive, repulsive, or distasteful.
  • Appetizer – the tidbit, snack, starter, hors d’oeuvre, finger food, dip, cold cuts, kickshaw, olives, anchovies, canapés, dim sum, aperitif, rollmops, antipasto, crudités we might have to open a meal.
  • Appetizing – everything we find appealing, mouth-watering, delectable, savory, delicious, palatable, inviting, tantalizing, toothsome, luscious, tempting, tasty, enticing. Opposed to what we find nauseating, sickening, repulsive, unappetizing, revolting.
  • Ashy – Dry, burnt, smoky, bitter
  • Astringency – Dry, chalky sensation in the mouth
  • Astringent – biting, harsh, sharp, cutting, acerbic, severe, rough, acrid, mordant, caustic. It is not mild, soft, gentle.
  • Balsamic – comes as soothing, balmy, mild, gentle, temperate, tranquil, calm. Never irritant or abrasive.
  • Barnyard – Dusty, musty, earthy
  • Biting Taste – caustic, piercing, penetrating, stinging, sharp, severe, mordant, stinging. It is not gentle, balmy, or soothing.
  • Bitter – one of the basic tastes, bitter is acrid, tart, sour, harsh, acidic, vinegary, acerbic. The opposite of sweet, honeyed, mild, gentle, warm. Describes a strong and sometimes unpleasant flavor that is the opposite of sweet. Ex-coffee, very dark chocolate, beer and citrus peel are all bitter.
  • Bittersweet – tasting sweet and bitter at the same time
  • Brackish – means salty, briny, saline. Brackish water has a slight taste of salt and is therefore not pure
  • Briny – almost the same as brackish, salty, brackish, saline.
  • Burned – Far overcooked. Actually damaged by exposure to fire, heat, or radiation. usually not edible.
  • Burnt – (not the same as burned) tastes scorched, bitter. Altered, or damaged as if by fire or heat
  • Buttery – Fatty, creamy, rich
  • Candy-Like – Sweet, cooked sugar, cotton-candy
  • Cardboard – Papery, stale, oxidized
  • Caustic – something cutting, biting, acid, acidic, sharp, astringent, stinging, scathing, excoriating. To say the opposite you would call it mild, sweet, or smooth.
  • Chalky – Dusty, powdery, gritty
  • Chemical – Medicinal, metal, sulphur
  • Chocolate – made from or tasting of chocolate
  • Chocolatey – chocolatey food has a lot of chocolate in it, or tastes like chocolate.
  • Choice – mean selection or pick, but in relation with food like a choice steak means more often superior, excellent, select, top-notch, fine, first-rate, high-quality, cream of the crop, vintage, prime. second rate.
  • Citrus – Ripe citrus fruit like lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange
  • Clean – Without off-flavors or undesirable traits
  • Delectable food – delicious, tasty, mouth-watering, appetizing, scrumptious, luscious, enjoyable, palatable, delightful, toothsome, pleasing, satisfying. Never tasteless, disgusting, or nauseating.
  • Delicate – Pleasant, mild, mellow
  • Delicious meals – tasty, appetizing, scrumptious, yummy, luscious, delectable, mouth-watering, fit for a king, delightful, lovely, wonderful, pleasant, enjoyable, appealing, enchanting, charming. You wouldn’t call delicious that what is tasteless or unpleasant.
  • Divine cooking – fit for the gods, heavenly, godly, celestial, great, marvelous, delightful, lovely, blissful. Nothing earthly.
  • Dry Food – can be desiccated and withered like an old prune. Sometimes dry food keeps better, as beans and pulses; then being dry is a desirable trait. The dry weight, the solid part, in canned food gives you an idea of the real nutritional value. But most times dry food is juiceless and tasteless, lacking moisture-it will need a sauce. Food with a sharp, biting taste, or with a high proportion of strong alcohol is also dry. Food eaten without any spread, sauce or garnish would be eaten dry. Overcooked meat gets dry, having lost all juices.
  • Dulcet – sweet, honeyed, pleasant, in a gentle way, something in harmony with your taste or likings. It is never harsh.
  • Dulcified – what has been made sweeter, or softer, in taste, edulcorated, sweetened.
  • Earthy – Musty, green
  • Fiery – food that is fiery makes your mouth feel very hot when you eat it
  • Flavored – equals seasoned; food that has been given flavor, by normal seasoning or by artificial flavoring. Which flavor? Any, but by being flavored, it is sure to give some kind of taste experience.
  • Flavorful – obviously full of flavor, or you could say, instead, flavorsome, tasty, tangy, appetizing, palatable, savory or sweet-or a particular flavor-and, if you want to try less well-known words, sapid or saporous. It wouldn’t be flavorless, tasteless, bland, flat, or insipid.
  • Flavoring – or seasoning, anything added to food for the flavor it imparts or the act of adding flavor to food. Think of herbs, spices, condiments, seasonings, or some food additives as different flavorings.
  • Flavorsome – indicates good tasting, full of flavor, specifically pleasant flavor; implying delicious, tasty, appetizing, scrumptious, yummy, juicy, succulent, heavenly, inviting, luscious, mouthwatering, palatable, saporous, savory; may be divine, toothsome, and tempting. Consider flavorsome just the opposite of distasteful, nauseating, repulsive, sickening, unappetizing, unsavory.
  • Fruity Food – will be having a taste, smell or flavor of fruit; anything tasting or smelling richly of or as of fruit. A wine full of fruity flavors will probably be considered concentrated, full-bodied, full-flavored, heady, heavy, lusty, mellow, potent, redolent, rich, strong, well-matured.
  • Full-Bodied – usually applied to wine-means robust, or rich and intense flavor and aroma; it would be a wine that feels heavy in the mouth.
  • Gamy – refers to the flavor or strong odor of game, especially game that is starting to spoil. It would be malodorous and rancid, certainly not fresh. It is a word more often applied to other areas than to food.
  • Green – Vegetative, grassy, leguminous
  • Gustatory – relating to the sense of taste, to the sensation in the taste buds.
  • Harsh – unpleasant to the taste, abrasive, coarse, acerbic, astringent, biting, bitter, caustic, cutting, dry, mordant, nasty, sharp, stinging, vitriolic. Definitely not smooth.
  • Heavenly – considered divine, wonderful, blissful, delightful, lovely, fantastic, glorious, sublime; opposed to horrible and dreadful.
  • Honey – honeyed and let us say sweet, sugar, sweetened, sugarcoated, syrupy, candied. Never harsh, acerbic or salty flavor.
  • Hot – hot food contains a lot of spices that create a burning feeling in your mouth. Hot as in burning, scorching, boiling, blistering, sizzling, searing, blazing, torrid; or hot as in spicy, peppery, piquant, pungent, so strong flavored that makes one feel burning, fiery, intense, vehement, ardent, fervent flavors
  • Jammy – Preserved fruit, ripe, pungent, sweet
  • Juicy – food is succulent, luscious, thirst quenching, moist, ripe, usually flavorful, many times fascinating. Dry and bland don’t apply.
  • Lactic – Fresh, heated, acidified or transformed (burnt, rotten) milk
  • Lipid – Fatty, rich
  • Luscious food – and we are talking juicy, moist food; delicious and delectable food; scrumptious or succulent food; super tasty, toothsome, more than palatable, surely mouthwatering food. Dry, disgusting or nauseating? No way!
  • Lush – would be a rich, lavish, opulent meal; sumptuous, luxurious, certainly abundant. You would not be presented with sparse food, a scanty meal or a thin plate.
  • Malt-Like – Sweet, nutty
  • Mature – mature cheese, wine, etc. has been left to develop a pleasant strong flavor
  • Medicinal – Chemical, plastic
  • Mellow – flavor is smooth, rich, full, soft, or melodious; usually a pleasant, fully developed flavor reached after an adequate aging period. In this sense of matured, softened, developed flavor, is often used when writing about cheese or wine. But it could be used perfectly for preserved or canned food, or to describe a particularly rich dish. Mellow is opposite to harsh.
  • Mild – mild food does not have a strong taste
  • Mouthwatering – that savory, flavorful, succulent, gorgeous, delicious food which gets you salivating; by no means unappetizing or distasteful.
  • Musty – Stale, moldy, mildew, damp
  • Nectarous – stands for ambrosial, delicious or sweet; something that reminds you of nectar, the drink of the gods –in Greek mythology, therefore it would seem more to the point using it for liquids than for solid food. Any sweet, stimulating drink could be nectar to your lips.
  • Overcooked – Sulfurous, caramelized, burnt
  • Palatable – indicates edible, pleasant, tasty, just OK, appetizing, toothsome, I would not say delicious. Palatable food is acceptable to the palate, something in between mouthwatering and foul. It is NOT inedible, tasteless, or disgusting either.
  • Peppery – and piquant comes to the mind. Others could think of gingery, spicy, hot, fiery, sharp, stinging, pungent or somehow lively and strong. Tasting like pepper, no one would think it mild.
  • Phenolic – Plastic, chemical, medicinal
  • Pickled – would account for that briny flavor that food preserved in a pickling liquid gets. Food is pickled, marinated or cured–pickling would prevent from spoiling-in some liquid with plenty of salt, vinegar, or similar, and spices.
  • Piquant – Pleasantly pungent, tart, zesty, zingy, and salty, savory, spicy, tasty or zesty are very similar words. Also to be considered having a pleasant pungent taste, hot, tangy, agreeably biting or sharp; never bland or insipid.
  • Pungent – Sharp, intense, penetrating. Can be seen as strong, spicy, hot, heady, overpowering, sharp, biting, a penetrating taste or smell; or you could take it by the forceful, biting, cutting, caustic, acerbic side. Forget about bland or mild.
  • Rancid Food – bad, stale, rotten, spoiled, completely off; the opposite of fresh food. It literally means the oils have hydtrated and gone rancid.
  • Rank – means pungent but in the fetid, smelly, foul, stale, rancid, definitely bad way; offensive to the smell or taste and not fresh.
  • Resinous – Woody, pine, cedar, oak
  • Rich Food – full, heavy, dripping, full
  • Ripe – has a strong flavor. Ripe cheese or wine has a strong flavor
  • Robust – has a lot of flavor.Rrobust food or drink has a lot of flavor
  • Saccharine – another way to say sugary, syrupy, maybe treacly; certainly it’s overly sweet and opposite to bitter.
  • Salty – one of the basics, salty or saline could almost be used without distinction or they could be substituted by briny or brackish because both contain salt. Salty food is sure to be savory.
  • Sapid – or saporific, or saporous are certainly full of flavor; that is to say flavorful, flavorsome, flavorful, flavorous. Better not pronounce, just write; those are not every day words
  • Savory – or umami is one of the basics that has that “I don’t know exactly how to describe it” flavor. It might be salty, spicy, pungent, sweet or plainly aromatic and flavorful, but the taste is goibg to be pleasant and agreeable.
  • Scrumptious – shouting “eat me!” It is delicious, delectable, mouthwatering, tasty, delightful, gorgeous, lip smacking, yummy, wonderful in taste and aroma; never unappetizing, unappealing, or tasteless. Think of a scrumptious pie is very appetizing, pleasing to your taste; your sense of taste.
  • Seasoned – containing seasonings to improve flavor
  • Sec – another way to say medium dry, un-sweet. This word is borrowed from wine world.
  • Sharp – a food that is sharp has a strong and bitter flavor. Incisive, harsh, sour, tangy, acid, pungent, tart, bitter; it could be acerbic or astringent, but it is not bland.
  • Smoky – Wood smoke, burnt, char. Describes foods that taste of smoked wood. Bacon, whiskey, bourbon, and lox/smoked salmon are all smoky foods.
  • Sour – one of the basic tastes. It is acid, lemon-like or vinegary, tart, bitter, acerbic. Sour food has a sharp biting taste and, certainly, is not sweet.
  • Spicy food – has the piquant, hot, fiery, burning taste of spices. We are talking of highly spiced, piquant, zesty food, certainly savory. It can be also described after the predominant spice, like peppery or gingery food. This is the complete opposite of mild food.
  • Strong tasting food – highly flavored i.e. highly seasoned; concentrated flavor, intense, pungent, and as such piquant, hot, spicy and sharp, with an intense aroma. The flavor is never weak or faint. A strong wine is high in alcoholic content.
  • Succulent food – juicy, moist, tender, lush, luscious food; usually sweet tasting and the opposite to dry, flavorless food.
  • Sugary – or sweet means syrupy, candied, sugar coated, honeyed, sweetened, sugared, maybe saccharine; opposite to bitter, unsweetened or sugarless.
  • Sulfur – Rotten eggs, burning, match-like
  • Sweet – one of the basics, this describes the flavor of something sweetened or syrupy, sugared, sugary, candied, honeyed, sugar coated.
  • Sweet-and-sour – a Chinese specialty and also said of a dish that has a pleasant taste and a bitter or sharp touch in contrast.
  • Syrupy – thick, sweet, and sticky
  • Syrupy – thick, sweet, and sticky
  • Tang – applied to food refers to a tart spiciness. Describe it as that taste experience which leaves the tongue tingling after taking food to the mouth. Flavor, relish, savor, smack, zest, tanginess, piquancy, nip, all those words can be written in place of tang. Bland or dull food is just the opposite.
  • Tangy – Tart, zesty, mouthwatering
  • Tart – describes a sharp and acidic taste. Sour can also be used, but it often has a negative meaning. Lemon, white wine, Greek yogurt, pickles and some raspberries are all tart foods.
  • Tasteful – full of flavor, flavorful, food; it could mean refined, sophisticated, stylish or classy when it refers to the layout of a dish –the realm of a food stylist; the opposite? The answer is tasteless.
  • Tasteless – the opposite of tasteful or tasty. We are talking bland, flavorless, flat, insipid, weak, dull, savorless, plain, unseasoned, unsavory, unflavored, probably unappetizing food.
  • Tasty – It is delicious, flavorsome, full of flavor, appetizing, scrumptious, probably fresh and juicy, making a succulent meal, a kid would say finger licking good. Apply to food and dishes full of bite, piquancy, zing, zest and relish. It will never be dull or tasteless, disgusting, gross or nauseating.
  • Toothsome – strictly used, refers to edible and pleasant food, or you could even write tasty, appetizing or delicious instead, something really pleasant to the sense of taste. But you will see it very often meaning healthy food, good tasting food that has something more than good taste going for it. The opposite will be inedible, tasteless, disgusting, foul, or yucky.
  • Treacly – is sweet but overly so, syrupy and saccharine to the point of being disgusting.
  • Unsalted – not flavored with salt
  • Unsweetened or no added sugar — no added sweet flavor; probably sugarless, plain or bitter in taste, but not always. Unsweetened tea is not to everyone’s taste but unsweetened fruit juices are perfect, as there is no need to add any sweetener to something it is already sweet. Opposites are sweet, saccharine, or syrupy.
  • Vegetal – Green, beany, raw, grassy
  • Vinegary – Food with a vinegary flavor would taste like vinegar. It would be acetous, sour, acid, acidic, tart, astringent, pungent, harsh, acrid; never sweet.
  • Watery – pale, or not strong
  • Yeasty – Bready, doughy
  • Yummy – food is scrumptious, delicious, delectable, luscious, great tasting, much more than tasty, really appetizing, lip-smacking; the kind of food to have you licking your lips in anticipation. This is the word everyone wants to hear when bringing food to the table. Yummy food is never unpalatable, plain tasting, distasteful or disgusting.
  • Zesty – food has a vivid, spicy, piquant, utterly savory flavor; feels invigorating, stimulating, fresh and reviving. Food with a zesty flavor never soothing or dull; this is exactly the opposite.

I hope you found this entrée to your liking. Bon appetite.

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One thought on “Dear Weeping Editor: Taste

  1. Wow. Thank you so much for this post. It’s a lot to bite off. Think I’ll nibble on it a morsel at a time to truly savor each course. 🙂

    (Seriously, though, this is super helpful.)

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