13 Uncommon Words to Describe Your Dinner

Monday, June 53 min read

Scroll through your social media feeds and you’ll likely see countless images of friends’ artfully arranged dessert plates, elaborate latte art, or perfectly portioned smoothie bowls. These images folks post of their food show off the appearance, but the captions and hashtags might not match up to the flavors they’re about to enjoy. Our taste buds can identify sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, but there are so many more adjectives to describe the flavor of something. Spice up your next foodie post with these specific culinary words.


Foods with a slightly acidic or bitter taste, such as rhubarb, quince, or unripe bananas, can be described as “astringent.”


Salty or briny water can be described as “brackish.” This adjective can apply to oysters and other seafood, but some folks also use it to describe certain notes in beers and wines.


Leafy vegetables are sometimes cut into thin shreds in a chiffonade pattern and used to garnish soups and other foods. This word might be helpful to describe artful plating arrangements. Chiffonade differs from a julienne cut, which is made by slicing vegetables or food into tiny, matchstick-like pieces.


When talking about wine, folks might describe it as “heady.” This means it’s full-bodied in flavor and aroma. Because these drinks tend to have a higher alcohol content, they can also be literally exhilarating to the head.


Food with a dry or powdery texture can be described as “mealy,” because it tastes or feels like it has bits of grain or meal. Some fruits and vegetables (including peaches, pears, and potatoes) also can also be described as having a mealy texture, but it tends to be less dry and powdery and more grainy. Sometimes a mealy texture is desired, but other times it can be an indication that the food was improperly prepared.


Plants secrete a sugary fluid called “nectar,” so foods, especially drinks, that taste nectarous are sweet. “Nectar” originally meant “drink of the gods,” so think of anything that tastes divine.


While “palatable” has a connotation of being “just fine” or “tolerable,” the actual definition is “pleasant to taste.” At the root of the word is “palate,” which is the roof of the mouth. In the 14th century, when “palatable” was born, it was believed we tasted food using the roof of the mouth.


In English, “piquant” describes a pleasantly sharp, appetizing flavor. However, it comes from a French word that means “severe, stinging.” Foods described as “piquant” include radishes, sauerkraut, and raw onions, as well as powerful spices such as cayenne, cloves, curry, ginger, mustard, and paprika.


Anything with a strong taste or smell can be described as “pungent.” In scientific terms, this word also refers to how hot or spicy a specific food is. Foods with the highest pungency include chili peppers and horseradish.


The adjective “saccharine,” meaning “relating to or containing sugar; sugary,” has been in use since the late 17th century, but the artificial sweetener called “saccharin” (used in Sweet ’n’ Low) was invented in the 1870s and popularized in the 1960s and ’70s. The artificial sweetener tastes about 500 times as sweet as sucrose (regular sugar), which perhaps contributes to the negative connotation “saccharine” has gained of being overly sweet.


Thanksgiving dinner could be described as “sapid”  — it’s a meal with a robust and pleasant taste. This word is more closely tied to savory foods than to sweets. Don’t mix up “sapid” with “insipid,” which means “lacking flavor.”


Temptingly tasty food can be described as “toothsome.” This term dates back to the 1560s and originally referred to physical attractiveness, but it’s used today almost exclusively in reference to culinary treats.


Something that is sticky and sweet may be described as “treacly.” This adjective comes from treacle, an uncrystallized sugar syrup resembling molasses.

Featured image credit: alvarez/ iStock

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