Using The Five Senses: Taste

Hey, SE Readers. Joan back with you today with the third in a series on using the five senses in writing. Today’s topic is about our sense of taste. If you missed the first two posts, you can read them by clicking on the following links:

Have you ever wondered why you think a particular item tastes like another one smells? That’s because the human brain often equivalates taste with smell.

For instance, I don’t like the taste of raw carrots, especially when they’re shredded in a salad. I think they taste like dirt. Have I eaten dirt? No, but I know what red clay smells like after a rain. That smell is what I think raw carrots taste like.

When we think of taste, food is usually the first thing to come to mind. Everyone has to eat, so it’s easy to write a scene in which a character is in a restaurant or preparing a meal at home. Writing a family story? Mention Grandma Turner’s homemade apple pie or Aunt Jane’s fried chicken. As with using sight and smell, you can draw the reader deeper into the story.

When writing about food, the regional setting of your book plays a role. We eat a lot of Mexican food in Texas. We call it Tex-Mex. While there are some similarities, if you travel to New Mexico, the Mexican cuisine is entirely different.

While lots of people like clam chowder, it’s probably more widely eaten in places like New England. Seafood is available almost anywhere, but it’s in ready supply in coastal areas.

As with setting, it’s important to portray the area accurately. People in the UK eat fish and chips. Here in the US, we call it fish and fries.

Jan Karon, author of the Mitford series, writes a lot of scenes using food and drink. I once read she started doing this while writing the draft of her first book. According to Karon, she was out of work and hungry much of the time, so she wrote about food for her own comfort.

The foods mentioned in her books became so popular, a Mitford cookbook was published. Loyal fans are familiar with Esther’s orange marmalade cake, Louella’s homemade yeast rolls, and Father Tim’s baked ham. Now they the recipes are readily available for those who enjoy cooking.

Making a character unique by giving them a taste for a specific food or drink helps to draw readers closer to them. In my Driscoll Lake series, Rachel has a fondness for margaritas. Stephanie loves guacamole.

Matt enjoys an occasional beer, but because of a family tendency toward alcoholism, Brian doesn’t drink any liquor. You could create a character who is a vegan and married to a meat-eater. Talk about contrast! This might lead to some interesting “discussions.”

Taste can help convey emotion. Your protagonist sits down to eat but receives some disturbing news. Or perhaps her dinner companion is one she loathes. Instead of enjoying the meal, her favorite food has become as tasteless as cardboard.

Don’t limit using the sense of taste to food. Accidentally getting soap in your mouth isn’t pleasant. Ever bitten your lip hard or had a tooth extracted? Then you know blood has a metallic taste.

In the film Lethal Weapon Three, Mel Gibson’s character Martin Riggs siphons gas from a vehicle. He gets a taste of the liquid and promptly spits it out.  You could even have someone who falls face down in the mud and gets a mouth full of red clay.

Create a character with a fondness for fine cigars but only those from Cuba. Considering these became illegal in the United States in 1962, that tells you something about the person’s character. (Of note, US citizens can now legally smoke Cuban cigars, but it’s still illegal to buy or sell them.)

The possibilities of using the sense of taste are endless. Do you write about taste in your books? If so, share some examples. I’d love to hear what you’ve done.

In my next post, I’ll write about the sense of sound.

32 thoughts on “Using The Five Senses: Taste

  1. Pingback: The Sixth Sense | Story Empire

  2. Pingback: Using The Five Senses: Touch | Story Empire

  3. Pingback: Using The Five Senses: Sound | Story Empire

  4. Great post, Joan. And as a matter of fact, I do use taste here and there in my books, most notably with Rabbit in the Wake-Robin Ridge series. Being raised in the wilderness with no electricity, there were lots of things this little boy had never tasted. Now, he can’t get enough of strawberry ice cream and homemade cookies, especially snickerdoodles. I don’t think I’ve actually described the sensation of how he perceives the taste, but he definitely lets the world know how much he loves them. He’s also fond of Sarah’s homemade spaghetti sauce, too. 🙂

    You’ve made me think about other ways to include this often overlooked sense, though, with a more direct description of the flavor and texture of some foods. I’m going to be a lot more conscious of it going forward, I suspect. 🙂 Sharing! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is probably the sense I use the least when I’m writing. When I do, it’s usually someone tasting blood or dirt (during a fight). You gave some great examples of how to use taste. My lead character in Myth and Magic liked mustard with his fries instead of ketchup. That’s actually a personal quirk of mine.
    There are many times too when I go outside (especially autumn) and can “taste” the air.

    Another great post, Joan!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m loving this series, Joan. It probably goes more with touch, but mouth feel can also be used with taste. Since you opened the door, Brandi the moth girl has an enhanced sense of taste in my new book, Grinders. As a country boy, I can tell you there are some things you can actually taste on the air, and they usually aren’t pleasant. Murder writers could use some of this, if you catch my drift.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Glad you’re enjoying these posts, Craig. Brandi is one of my favorite characters in Grinders. I also grew up in the country and I know what you mean about tasting things in the air. I’ve heard it said to breathe through our mouths when we smell horrible orders but if I’m in a cattle pen (for example) that’s the last thing I want to do!

      Hmmh, murder writers? You’re giving me an idea. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a good point, Harmony. I had a recent bout with the flu and nothing tasted good, except for some chicken taco soup. And yes, taste is good for showing fear. Glad you’re enjoying the posts!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Taste is always the sense that I forget or struggle to get to. I can remember the others very easily, but this one always feels more niche. Usually food-related or if a character gets hit in the mouth, so it doesn’t feel like it has the same versatility as it’s siblings. Definitely not the easiest one to hit.

    Liked by 2 people

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