ENGLISCH/768: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (128) Taste or Flavour (SB)


128. When to use "taste" or "flavour"

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

I'm writing to ask you, whether there is a difference between "taste" and "flavour" and if you could be so kind and tell me, how to use both expressions correctly.

Kind regards,
Yours sincerely

Pierre Mattieu (from France)


Dear Mr Mattieu,

Thank you very much for your question, which is not easy to answer. Both, "taste" and "flavour" are nearly almost used in reference to food and drink. And both words can be used as nouns and verbs. Let me start with the word "flavour" or in written American English: "flavor". When you "flavour" a food or a drink, you add something to it. The verb "to flavour" is mainly used in the passive, "to be flavoured". Here are some examples:

I love red wine. But in the winter I prefer it hot and flavoured with spices.

I like peppermint-flavoured ice-cream.

In a restaurant we can easily pick up some examples for "flavour" as a noun:

A friendly old couple is having dinner. After the main course, the waiter comes over and asks: "Everything all right?" The elderly lady answers: Oh yes dear, the turkey was delicious. It had a lovely country-flavour."

Then he wants to know, if they would like some dessert. The couple chooses ice-cream. Now, the waiter asks: "Which flavour would you like? We have strawberry, chocolate or vanilla." ...

Likewise, the word "flavour" is nearly always used with food or drink but sometimes when referring to a special quality that something has, you can use "flavour" in a "non-food" context, e.g.

This year's carnival has an oriental flavour to it.

Let's look now at the word "taste". This one is much more common than the word "flavour". As a noun it can be used in the same way as flavour.

The soup had a nice, beefy taste.
The soup had a nice, beefy flavour.

And you can also use the verb "taste" in this context:

The soup tasted of beef.

But you couldn't use the word "flavour" there and the word "taste" could not be used in the sentence:

What flavour would you like?

"Taste" is one of the five senses, the ability to recognize different flavours by using the tongue and the nose. We also use the verb "to taste" when we mean to eat or to drink something in order to try it.

Will you taste this pudding for me, please?

Used as a noun in the phrase below, "taste" changes to a slightly different meaning: "To acquire a taste for something" means, to become to like it, as the following example shows:

Staying in the States I have acquired a taste for Hamburgers, whereas my American friends seem to develop a taste for fish & chips a lot, when they come over to stay with me.

Another phrase is "to have a taste of something", which means to experience something for a short time, and it is used in sentences like this:

The recent heat was unusual. But it gave people a taste of what the greenhouse-effect is going to be like.

We also use "taste" to refer to likes and dislikes. So, if you don't like a fashion or a certain style, you would say:

It's not my taste.

Finally we talk of someone "having a good taste" if he chooses to buy nice things. We would say "Oh Sally, you have such a wonderful taste", if we like the new blouse or dress and find that it suits her.

Wishing that all these explanations were to your taste and have given you something of the flavour of the English language, and hoping that you are going to develop a taste for it,

Mrs Gobbledygook

25 February 2008