• Hal Decker

Flavor vs Taste

Flavor vs. Taste

Yummmmm, that taste so good. The flavor is sweet and tangy.

So is there a difference between the 2?

The definition of taste…..


  1. the sensation of flavor perceived in the mouth and throat on contact with a substance. "the wine had a fruity taste"

2. a person's liking for particular flavors.

"this pudding is too sweet for my taste"


  1. perceive or experience the flavor of. "she had never tasted ice cream before"

Definition of flavor….


  1. the distinctive taste of a food or drink.

"the yogurt comes in eight fruit flavors"


  1. alter or enhance the taste of (food or drink) by adding a particular ingredient.

"chunks of chicken flavored with herbs."

Most of us use the terms “taste” and “flavor” interchangeably, but physiologists define these as two different things. Our overall impression of a food or beverage is called “flavor.” But every flavor impression is based on stimulus from three different senses: taste, aroma, and touch.

The word taste, or gustation, to give its full name, refers to what is detected by the taste cells, located on the front and back of the tongue and on the sides, back and roof of the mouth. These receptor cells, or taste buds, bind with molecules from the food or drink being consumed and send signals to the brain. The way our brains perceive these stimuli is what we refer to as taste, with there being five recognized basic tastes: salty, bitter, sweet, sour and umami.

The five basic tastes covered above do not, of course, give the complete picture of what we experience when we eat or drink. Take mint, for example; our perception of mint cannot be readily assigned to one of the five categories above, although it does contain an element of bitterness and trigeminal nerve stimulation (the sensation of ‘coolness’ in the mouth). There is, of course, a whole realm of sensation available to us beyond these five areas; this realm is what we call flavor, and much of this comes from our sense of smell.

We often smell by breathing in through our nose. But we also smell the food in our mouth while we are eating by breathing out through our nose as we chew. As the air passes the back of your mouth on its way to the nose, it picks up aroma molecules. This type of smelling is called “retro nasal” sensing of aroma.

The jellybean experiment helps to illustrate how important this retro nasal route of smelling is to our perception of flavor.

When you hold your nose with one hand and pop one jellybean of unknown flavor into your mouth and start chewing, you will only be able to perceive the basic taste of the jellybean that comes from your tongue (mostly sweet). After you chew for five seconds or so, let go of your nose and notice what you taste.

Typically, when you let go of your nose, the retro nasal route quickly delivers aromas to your nose and the full flavor of the jellybean becomes apparent.

Of the three chemical senses, smell is the main determinant of a food item's flavor. While the taste of food is limited to sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami, and other basic tastes, the smells of a food are potentially limitless. A food's flavor, therefore, can be easily altered by changing its smell while keeping its taste similar. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in artificially flavored jellies, soft drinks and candies, which, while made of bases with a similar taste, have dramatically different flavors due to the use of different scents or fragrances.

As much as 85% of the perception of taste comes from the sense of smell. Smells travel to the brain in two ways, up through the nostrils as you bring food to your mouth, and again through the "back door" once food is in the mouth, as some smells make their way up to the scent receptors through the pharynx. While vanilla ice cream and apple pie both register as "sweet" on the tongue, their flavors are different because their smell, mouth feel and temperature are being processed at the same time as the tastes. The result is the flavor of ice cream versus the flavor of apple pie. When "smell" is taken out of the equation and mouth feel and temperature are similar, it is no wonder that an apple and an onion "taste" the same.