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Sensory Detail – Taste

When writing simmers with sensory detail, readers digest the story and perhaps, are satiated with emotionally charged memories.

Do you remember dipping graham crackers in milk and eating it quickly before it broke off and became a soggy mess? You might use something like this in a scene where the hero/heroine has just been dumped by a boyfriend/girlfriend.

Perhaps your character can’t make decisions. Employ a scene where he taste tests while walking a buffet line; a bite here, a nibble there, unable to settle on a nourishing decision.

Employ sensory detail to involve readers in the story’s emotional ingredients.

Match emotions with taste receptors:

Bitter: She recoiled and didn’t know whether it was from her bitter coffee or his abrupt, “We’re done.”

Salty: “The oysters were so fresh they tasted like my tears. I closed my eyes to feel the sensation of the sea.” — Laura Fraser, “Food for the Heart,” Eating Well Magazine   Jan/Feb 2007

Sweet: She lifted the chocolate to her mouth, gazing at the young man across the room. She held him captive and slowly savored the chocolate.

Sour: “Lemon with your squid?” She pinched her nose, “No, thank you.”

Umami: Their classroom integrated a variety of cultures, much as umami unites disparate flavors.

Match emotions with taste:

Ebullient, getting away with murder:

” . . . the fat Georgia man told Big George that it was the best barbecue he had ever eaten, and asked him what his secret was.

Big George smiled and said, ‘Thank you, suh, I’d hafto say the secret’s in the sauce.'” —Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg

Emotionally charged:

“She reached for a cherry tomato and popped it into her mouth. The juices exploded on her tongue. Carly wanted her attention? I’d give her anything she wants.” — A Wedding in Provence, Ellen Sussman

Hopeful, positive, upbeat:

“Taste this . . . I swallowed. She had fed me a fluffy cloud, no more than pure texture, but as it evaporated it left a trail of flavor in its wake . . . That’s an amazing combination. The saffron’s brilliant—it gives it such a sunny flavor.” —Delicious! Ruth Reichl

Comparing food with nature:

“Moving constantly, she caressed the chocolate like a lover, folding it over and over on a slab of white marble, working it to get the texture right. She stopped to feed me a chocolate sprinkled with salt, which had the fierce flavor of the ocean . . . One chocolate tasted like rain, another of the desert.”—Delicious! Ruth Reichl

“That’s the spring cheese. . . When I put the cheese in my mouth it was richer, and if I let it linger on my tongue I could taste the lush fields of late summer, just as the light begins to die.” —Delicious! Ruth Reichl

Taste and texture detail:

“It was accompanied by lamb cutlets, which Cuneo had passed three times over the open flame, and a snow-white, melt-in-the-mouth garlic flan.” —The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

In previous posts we talked about sensory detail using sight, sound, smell and kinesthetic.

Taste and memory: Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past:

“I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?

I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, then a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing it magic. It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself.” Remembrance of Things Past, Proust

Graham crackers and milkClick on Prompts, try a freewrite, using sensory detail.  Just Write!



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One comment

  1. mcullen Post author

    It’s hard to write about taste without smell. Here’s a lovely excerpt from Delicious! by Ruth Reichl, incorporating taste and smell:
    “. . . I could taste the cake in my mind. Strong. Earthy. Fragrant. I remembered the nose-prickling aroma of cinnamon when it comes in fragile curls, and the startling power of crushed cloves. I imagined them into the batter.

    Aunt Melba was grating the orange rind now, and the clean, friendly smell filled her airy kitchen.

    I’d opened a bottle of nutmeg, startled when the little spheres came rattling out in a mothball-scented cloud. How could something so delicate have such a ferocious smell? And I watched, fascinated, as the supple, plump, purple vanilla beans withered into brittle brown pods and surrendered their perfume to the air.”

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