Differentiating Between Taste and Flavor

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“Taste” and “flavor” are often used, interchangeably and incorrectly. Though generally represented within the same contexts or expected to relay similar meaning, the two are distinctly different.

Taste is all physiological, completely sensory.

As one of the five senses, that which is “taste”, comes to be perceived in our brains after chemical receptors (taste buds and sensors on the soft palate) pick up chemical stimuli (food, drink or other) on the tongue and send electrical signals to the brain. The brain deciphers these electrical signals as information and places them into five categories: bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and umami (translated as “savory” or “meaty”).

Taste is generated, completely, in the mouth. It is based on tangible, chemical composites and happens immediately upon an item entering the mouth. It is objective. It is quantifiable.

Flavor is both sensory and cognitive.

Flavor is that which is perceived in our brain when all five of our senses work together to form an impression of what is being consumed.

There is a definite psychological aspect to flavor that is not found in taste. In our perception of flavor, not only the chemical receptors in the mouth are functioning concurrently, rather, the chemical receptors in both mouth and nose (smell), as well as the purely physiological receptors (seeing, hearing, touching) are active. Recognizing flavor requires utilizing the five categories of taste, and translating them, along with the information conveyed by the other senses, to form an interpretation (often, an opinion) of what has entered the mouth.

Because flavor employs the input of taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight, the impression formed happens post-sensory. And, as the combination of perceptions are limitless, and impacted by many variables distinct to the individual, flavor is extremely subjective. It is not quantifiable.

Taste’ and ‘flavor’ may occasionally be used interchangeably, however, being aware of their subtle differences within specific contexts may be of significant importance.

Using mnemonic devices can be extremely helpful in remembering the differences in meaning and conveying an accurate message. I’ve used a method for years that’s outlined in the article, “Remembering the Differences Between Taste and Flavor: Mnemonic Tricks to Keep Them Straight” and find it relatively easy. If you find simply committing the above definitions to memory difficult, the aforementioned method may help you as well.


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