Writers in the Storm

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February 4, 2022

Using The Power of Taste in Writing

by Ellen Buikema

Using the power of taste in writing evokes emotions that may send readers all over the emotional map, from disgust to delight. It's the combined experience of what we see with our eyes, taste with our tongue, and smell with our nose.

Why is it important to have our characters experience taste in our stories?

Taste transports us as it engages more of our senses. A delicious meal or piece of chocolate melting on the tongue can make us feel relaxed and happy.

“The children bit into a piece of heaven, munching crispy crust, finding soft apple with a crunch of nut and sweet raisin. Cinnamon and sugary fruit oozed out of the pastry, making sweet puddles on the dessert plates.”

Like smell, taste can serve as a trigger for memories. Here’s an example of a husband remembering his recently deceased wife.

“Papa’s eyes misted when he crunched the burnt biscuits. Mama had always overcooked them.”

Taste in History

In Jean M. Auel’s meticulously researched Clan of the Cave Bear, she describes the method the ancients used to test for new foods. The clan women tasted a small portion of a newly discovered plant. If it didn’t make them ill, they tasted increasingly larger amounts.

When deemed safe, the new plant became a new food for the clan. Bitter plants, known from past trials for causing illness or death, were spat out.

Those experiences, passed down from generation to generation as humankind learned what foods to avoid in order to survive.

A Tasty Writing Prompt

Wander into your kitchen and find something to eat that has some texture.

  • Close your eyes, take a bite.
  • Focus while you chew, as the food rolls around your mouth, over your tongue, and down your throat.
  • How does it taste?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • What would your characters think and say about the bite of food?
  • Try adding this or similar sensory information in your WIP.

A great way to find sense of taste examples

Pick up your favorite book and highlight any sentences or paragraphs that use taste. This will give you a sensory details bank of examples whenever you need them. Do the same for all the senses.

Writing Taste in Different Genres

Taste in Horror

“Blood is really warm,
it's like drinking hot chocolate
but with more screaming.”

Ryan Mecum, Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry for Your…Brains

“As his mouth flooded with that horrible sweet purple taste, he could actually see those grapes dull, dusty, obese and nasty, crawling up a dirty stucco wall in a thick, syrupy sunlight that was silent except for the stupid buzz of many flies”

Stephen King, The Talisman

Taste in Humor

“Oh, how good everything tasted in that bower, with the fresh wind rustling the poplar leaves, sunshine and sweet woods smells about them, and birds singing overhead! No grown-up dinner party ever had half so much fun. Each mouthful was a pleasure; and when the last crumb had vanished, Katy produced the second basket...”

Susan Coolidge, What Kati Did

“No,” Arthur said, “look, it’s very, very simple…. All I want… is a cup of tea. You are going to make one for me. Now keep quiet and listen.”

And he sat. He told the Nutro-Matic about India, he told it about China, he told it about Ceylon. He told it about broad leaves drying in the sun. He told it about silver teapots. He told it about summer afternoons on the lawn. He told it about putting the milk in before the tea so it wouldn’t get scalded. He even told it (briefly) about the East India Trading Company.

“So that’s it, is it?” said the Nutro-Matic when he had finished.

“Yes,” said Arthur. “That is what I want.”

“You want the taste of dried leaves boiled in water?”

“Er, yes. With milk.”

“Squirted out of a cow?”

“Well in a manner of speaking, I suppose…”

“I’m going to need some help with this one.”

Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Taste in Mystery/Thriller

“He could still taste her lips from when he’d kissed her in the restroom. He’d never forget it. The sweet sourness of Red Bull, coffee, and the bacteria on her teeth. The humility of it, the realness of a pretty girl with bad breath.”

Taylor Adams, No Exit

Using sensory details helps your readers immerse themselves in the story and experience the characters’ feelings.

Further Reading

How do you use the sense of taste in your writing? Do you have any examples of writing using the taste you’d like to share?

* * * * *

About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are, The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, YA fantasy.

Find her at https://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

Top Image taken by Ellen Buikema at Nando's in Mazatlan.

17 comments on “Using The Power of Taste in Writing”

  1. I love your guidance on incorporating sensory experiences in our writing, Ellen. I realize I write taste into scenes, but don't make the taste itself a scene, as these examples do. Time for revisions!

    1. Hi Karen,

      I'm glad the examples are useful.

      A poet friend suggested adding sensory information in writing, saying there wasn't enough.

      Since then I've tried harder to include more senses. It does make a difference!

  2. Great examples, as always, Ellen.

    The Clan of the Cavebear
    references brought back such memories of that story- even decades later. The research the author did and details about how humans survived those days through taste is fascinating. You've given me good tips to consider for my own WIP!

  3. Hi Kris,

    The Clan of the Cave Bear was the first historical fiction novel I ever read.

    Jean Auel did an incredible amount of research for what started as a short story. She is an inspiration.

    I'm happy you are liking the examples!

  4. Sensory experience is a great tool when it comes to build deep POV. It gets the reader deeper into the character's experience by triggering memories of their own. Great post, Ellen!

    1. Thanks Eldred!

      While writing this particular post I thought about how the senses play a part in deep point of view.

      I wonder if it would be helpful to color code the different sense in a chapter just to see what is being underrepresented?

      1. It couldn't hurt, but I think the use of sensory cues is less about spreading them out evenly and more about using what fits a particular scene. In 'The Smell of Fear' I use more smell than any other sense because that's the main focus of the story. Something like a sunset-on-the-beach scene might be more heavy on the visuals. I'm not to saying you wouldn't include other things like the smell of the ocean or the feel of sand between your toes, but it balance might lean more toward the visuals.

  5. I love the examples! Nothing invokes taste (or distaste) like Lecter's line in Silence of the Lambs: "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti." Then that slurpy sound he made with his lips and teeth. We didn't need any more detail.

    1. Hi Barb,

      I love that movie even though watching it still makes me jump. ? I thought about Silence of the Lambs when I wrote this blog.

      I'm glad the examples are useful!

    1. Hi Denise,

      After reading your comment I thought about my own additions for the sense of taste. Mine typically revolve around kitchen activities too.

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