How to Talk about Tastes & Smells

You already know that if you like some food or drink, you can say “it tastes good/it’s tasty/it’s delicious”. Or if you don’t like what you are eating/drinking, you can exclaim “it tastes bad/awful/horrible/foul!” How else can you describe tastes of food? Keep reading to know…

TASTE vs. FLAVOR 

The taste of something is the individual quality which it has when you put it in your mouth and which distinguishes it from other things. For example, something may have a sweet, bitter, sour, or salty taste: You need to use fresh herbs to get the authentic Italian taste. I’ve still got the taste of garlic in my mouth. I like the taste of fast food too much to give it up.

The flavor (“flavour” in British English) of food/drink is the combination of taste and aroma, it’s the overall impression of food/drink: I always add some paprika for extra flavor. We sell 50 different flavors of ice cream. Delicate herbs keep their flavor better when frozen.

HOW WAS YOUR MEAL? 

Read the answers below to boost your descriptive vocabulary:

Dad had a vegetarian dish: it was full of spicy flavors, but not too hot.

The beef was a real disappointment – chewy and rather tasteless. In fact, it was almost inedible.

The starter was so-so, but then I had the chicken. I swallowed a mouthful and it had the most terrible aftertaste. I couldn’t eat the rest!

I had French onion soup which was delicious and very authentic.

I tried their special bread; the texture was OK, but it tasted artificial and it was a bit stale.

I’ve got a sweet tooth, but the dessert was very sickly. And the coffee afterwards was a bit weak.

  • spicy – having strong flavors from spices, e.g. paprika /pəˈpriːkə/, coriander /ˈkoriˌændɚ/, ginger etc.
  • hot – containing pepper or chili and causing a burning feeling in your mouth (the opposite is mild)
  • chewy – if something is chewy, you have to chew it for a long time
  • inedible – too unpleasant to eat
  • mouthful – an amount of food you put in your mouth at one time
  • delicious – having a very pleasant taste or smell (note that “delicious” is an ungradable adjective, which means you cannot say “very delicious”. You should say, for example, “absolutely/truly delicious”, but you can say “very tasty”)
  • authentic /əˈθɛntɪk/ – if a dish tastes authentic, it tastes like an original or traditional example
  • artificial /ɑːtɪˈfɪʃ(ə)l/ – not natural
  • stale – (of bread, cakes etc.) not fresh
  • to have a sweet tooth – to enjoy sweets
  • sickly – unpleasantly sweet

SMELLING & TASTING

Pleasant smells/flavors  Meaning
What a delicate flavor/fragrance! Delicate = subtle /ˈsʌt(ə)l/

Fragrance – a pleasant smell

It has a faint smell of pear. Faint – just possible to smell/see/hear
The book has a lot of appetizing recipes /ˈrɛsəpi/. Appetizing – making you feel hungry (the opposite is unappetizing – making you lose your appetite /ˈæpəˌtaɪt/)
The smells from the kitchen were making my mouth water. If your mouth waters, you produce saliva /səˈlaɪvə/ and you want to eat the mouth-watering food.
I love the aromaˈroʊmə/ of fresh coffee. Aroma – a pleasant, distinctive smell
Less pleasant smells/tastes  
This soup is insipid /ɪnˈsɪpəd/ . Insipid = bland – not having much taste
Garlic has a pungent /ˈpʌnʤənt/ smell. Pungent – very strong smelling
The house has a musty odor /ˈoʊdɚ/ (“odour” in British English). Musty = dank – smelling damp; without freshness

Odor – a smell, usually an unpleasant one

The fish smells revolting. I think it’s gone off (British English). Revolting = disgusting

To go off – (of food and drink) to go bad and be unfit to eat/drink

There was a nauseating /ˈnɑːziːeɪtɪŋ/ stench in the basement. Nauseating – making you feel you want to vomit

Stench – a sting, very unpleasant smell

ADJECTIVES ENDING IN -Y

Lemony, fishy, woody, nutty, peppery, salty, fruity etc. are often used to describe smells and flavors. The -y suffix can mean “full of something”:

  • I love this cheese with a nutty flavor.
  • She likes lemony perfumes.
  • This is a crisp green salad with a few peppery radishes.
  • Whose flowery perfume is this?
  • It has a rich, peachy flavor.