Exploring the Senses: Taste

A series looking at the five senses and how to use them to immerse your characters and reader in a story. This essay deals with taste.

Image Credit: 
© 2017 Epytome / Used With Permission

Follows: Hearing

Our sense of taste is one of the senses that you wouldn’t necessarily use that much of in your writing. You might use it for the odd scene here and there, but, in general, taste is quite underutilised as a sense in writing. You can craft very powerful, emotive scenes that resonate with your audience using taste and how the characters experience that taste.

Taste is perhaps the most varied of senses that we have. Not only does the sense itself vary from person to person, but we each have different responses to what we taste too. We don’t all enjoy the same foods and drinks, with different foods evoking different emotional responses from person to person. It isn’t just the food and drink that we eat, however, that we taste. The environment itself can evoke a taste response from us.

Imagery for Empathy

You can use taste to illicit an empathetic reaction from your reader.

As she chopped herbs and sliced asparagus and poured boiling water and added the magic dash of brandy to the mixed soft meat, she kept thinking, but not in a frantic way at all, about never seeing two more people again … All she wanted to do was make them full of her love, her food, but they could not swallow it.

A Kitchen Allegory by MFK Fisher

What Fisher does here is use food to create a relatively clear image of the meal that the protagonist is making. It is then used as a metaphor for the emotional turmoil of a mother not needed by her family anymore. This resonates with many of us; even if we haven’t experienced it ourselves we can empathise with the protagonist. By using food that would be familiar to most of us, it allows us to be brought into the story and echo what the character is feeling in that moment.

What this extract demonstrates is that you don’t have to go into detail about the actual taste of something to illicit a response from the reader. Just the mention of foodstuffs can bring about the desired response from your reader.

Relation to Environment

You can also use the sense of taste to give the reader a sense of the environment that your characters are in.

It must be on charcoal they fatten their fruit.
I taste in them sometimes the flavour of soot

Blueberries by Robert Frost

What Frost does here is use the taste of the blueberry grown at the site of a fire to paint a picture of the environment. By using the taste of the soot we can quite easily put ourselves in the situation of the narrator. And, because of the taste of the fruit, it activates our other senses, the smell of the fire, the look at the dark soot that would be covering everything and the feel of the scorched earth around. This helps to create a truly engaging image of the story.

Taste is one of the senses that it is most powerful when it is used in conjunction with the others. Smell and taste are vastly interlinked with each other and the two sense can very easily invoke each other by using them strongly.

Interpretation of Emotion

You can also use taste to create an emotion in your audience.

they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams

What Williams does in this poem is use the taste of the plums to create two distinct emotions, depending on which character you side with. The poem is written as a note left on a kitchen table between a husband and wife. If you were to identify with the one who left the note you’re left feeling a sense of guilt for eating the plums the other was saving, whereas if you are the recipient, you feel a sense of anger or annoyance. This isn’t down to the taste of the plums alone, but the addition of the sense of taste adds a level of detail and realism to the piece that it further absorbs the reader into the narrative.

The sense of taste is not a sense that you’d want to rely on to describe everything in your writing. However, when used in conjunction with the other senses it adds an extra layer to your writing that can vastly improve it.


There are also numerous conditions out there that inhibit our ability to taste. I’m not suggesting that you throw a character into your writing that can’t taste just for the sake of it and it would be somewhat challenging to write convincingly as it is not the easiest sense to temporarily numb, but a lack of taste can be just as important in key scenes.

Describing your character’s senses in general is a good thing to do to add a lot of depth to your scene, your characters and your writing overall. You might be using a healthy amount of taste in your writing already, but don’t forget about the vast array of sensations out there that we can experience.


Next: Sight

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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