Common taste and flavour terms explained

A short flavour glossary:


Is the sensory impression from distinctive water-soluble substances affecting the gustatory sense (taste receptors on the tongue and oral cavity. Taste of course is a term used for a preference in eg food or fashion.


Comes from substances (polyphenol being one common one) that are often found in green vegetables eg endive, arugula, green peppers and other products. It is, at times confused, with astringency. About 30 % of the population has a low tolerance to bitterness in foods.


This is acidity in foods such as lemon, vinegar, lactic acid (found in fermented products eg dairy, sauerkraut) as well as acidity in wines (tartaric) are of highest importance to balance the quality of food and drink.


This is important in culinary applications for retaining flavours and nutrients in foods. Salt maintains osmotic pressure and is essential for our survival. As usual, the question is, how much of a good thing should we have?


The individual’s taste conditioning dictates how much sweetness we like. Sweetness in food too often only comes from sugar or other forms of carbohydrates.


The sixth flavour dimension. Yes, we are equipped with tasting receptors for fats. That may explain our liking for it and too often, choosing fatty foods.


Umami is the savoury taste as found in a good, strong broth or the many proteins (meat and seafood) we consume. Some ingredients such as mushrooms, tomatoes, celery, lemons, seaweeds are high in glutamate thus providing, if not elevating, the total flavour of a dish.


Smelling or the sense of smell. Individual’s preference and sensitivity to smell varies greatly. Olfactory sensations are triggered by volatile compounds that stimulate chemo-sensors in the olfactory mucosa (that's the olfactory bulb that sits above the upper nasal tract).


This is the total identifiable (positive) smell impression that may be perceived by the olfactory sense. Flavour molecules stimulate through nasal and retro-nasal olfaction.


Refers to a group of smells as opposed to a single predominant smell or aroma (olfactory impression).


Also referred to as tactile sense or chemisthesis. It is the total oral experience of haptic (tactile and kinaesthetic), thermal and, sometimes, pain perception. The stimulating, at times irritating sense of chemisthesis is associated with pungency, spiciness, acidity, elasticity (chewiness, firmness, density, crispiness, viscosity and CO2 (carbon dioxide re bubbles) in foods (or beverages).


Tactile sensations transmitted by touch receptors in mouth and throat such as crispiness or crunchiness among other textures.


Structural quality of food that can be appreciated through tactile (haptic), fluidity (rheological) as well as optical and acoustic perception.

Conditioning of the palette

The threshold of a particular sense becomes adapted to an increased intensity level by a stimulant. The liking for perhaps increased levels of salt, sugar or chilli hotness serves as an example. The term also applies to eccentric preferences of taste and aroma that leads to the emergence of likes and dislikes in foods and beverages.


A sensory impression that lasts longest after having swallowed food or beverage. 


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