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English Vocabulary to Describe Food

5 min read
29 September 2020
students looking at food in a market

Food is wonderful. Sharing meals with family and friends can bring people together, and remind us of old traditions. We can also build new traditions with food, and make friends by trying new things together. Food is also a good way to introduce people to a new culture.

However, talking about food isn't always easy. In English, there are many specific words to describe how foods taste and how they feel.

Here is some common and sometimes-confusing vocabulary that we use in English to describe food.



Flavors (flavours, UK) are the particular tastes of a food.
Sweet foods have a sugary flavor, such as cake, ice cream, chocolate, lollipops and mangoes.

students eating ice creams
Sugar sweets, ice cream and lollipops are considered sweet flavors


Savory foods have a a spicy or salty flavor, without being sweet.
Many people say "salty food" when they mean savory food. Savory is used for food like lasagne, stew, salmon, hamburgers and French fries.
A good question to ask at the dinner table would be: Do you prefer sweet or savory foods?



Salty is used to describe food that tastes too much of salt. It is usually used as a negative description.
This popcorn is very salty; it makes my lips burn. 



Bitter describes a strong and sometimes unpleasant flavor that is the opposite of sweet.
Coffee, very dark chocolate, beer and citrus peel are all bitter.



Tart describes a sharp and acidic taste. Sour can also be used, but it often has a negative meaning.
Lemon, white wine, Greek yogurt, pickles and some raspberries are all tart foods.



Smoky describes foods that taste of smoked wood.
Bacon, whisky, and lox/smoked salmon are all smoky foods.


students having a barbecue on the beach
Smokey food is a flavor developed from a style of cooking - like smoking or BBQing meat 



Rancid describes the taste of food that has a strong or unpleasant smell or taste because it is no longer fresh.
How old is this milk? It smells rancid. 



Spicy is the taste that makes one's mouth burn from strong chilies.
Hot can be used to describe spicy food or food that has a very high temperature.

"This curry is HOT!"
"Do you mean spicy-hot or temperature-hot?"


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Texture is the way a food feels when you touch it or eat it.



Creamy foods are smooth, soft and thick. While they are often made with milk or cream, they don't need to be.
Avocados, ice cream, macaroni and cheese, yogurt and melted chocolate are all creamy foods.



Crumbly describes food that falls apart into small pieces when you eat or break it.
I like to put crumbly cheese like gorgonzola and feta into a salad. 



Crunchy foods have a hard texture and make a loud sound when chewed.
Potato chips, nuts, biscotti, raw carrots, and the skin of fried chicken are all crunchy foods.



Greasy foods taste very much of oil, and usually leave oil behind.
This pizza is so greasy that my entire plate is covered in oil. 



Gooey describes foods that are wet and sticky, often in a positive way.
Benny loves gooey fudge sauce on top of her ice cream. 

students baking a cake
You can use the word 'gooey' to describe cake mix 



Moist describes foods that are slightly wet and soft.
Loren makes a delicious and moist chocolate cake. 



Mushy also describes foods that are soft and wet, but usually it is used for food that is not meant to be soft.
All the apples have gone mushy, they must be old.  

There are many more words to describe food. You can find them in restaurant reviews and food blogs. If you look for posts about foods you recognize, you can find new words to describe them.

What's your favorite food, and how would you describe it?


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