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.
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.”
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.
Wander into your kitchen and find something to eat that has some texture.
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.
“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
“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
“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.
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?
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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.
Top Image taken by Ellen Buikema at Nando's in Mazatlan.
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