Metaphors Connected with Tastes

27 June 2013

  Image by Joe Shlabotnik


We recently talked about metaphors connected with cooking. Today I’ll continue on a similar theme and look at metaphors about tastes.


Five different tastes have been identified: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami. Three of them (sweet, bitter and sour) are associated with certain feelings or qualities, so they can be used metaphorically.



The taste of sweet things like cakes, cookies and most types of fruit usually brings a smile to your face. Evolution developed us to have a ‘sweet tooth’ so that we seek out sweet foods, which provide important nutrition. (Of course, healthy sweet foods do NOT include cakes, cookies and candy! The only sweet foods our early ancestors had access to were berries, and even then, only at certain times of the year. So don’t use your natural ‘sweet tooth’ as an excuse to pig out on goodies!)


Describing someone or something as ‘sweet’ has positive connotations. A sweet person is kind and gentle. A sweet baby is cute. A sweet smile is attractive.


Kind or thoughtful actions can also be described as sweet.

·      It was so sweet of her to bring me a gift.



The literal taste of bitterness is strong and sharp. It can make your tongue go dry and your lips pucker.


A bitter person is angry and full of hatred. They may be resentful or disappointed.


You can use ‘bitter’ or ‘bitterness’ to describe other negative things or experiences. For example,

·      They had a bitter argument over the terms of the contract.

·      John’s breakup with his girlfriend is still a bitter memory for him.

·      During World War II, Japan and China were bitter enemies.



Despite their opposite connotations, you can combine ‘bitter’ and ‘sweet’ to use both literally and metaphorically.


Bitter-sweet chocolates have just a little sugar added to take the edge off the chocolate, which is naturally bitter tasting.


A bitter-sweet experience causes feelings of happiness and sadness at the same time.

·      Martha’s mother died in the recent tornado in Oklahoma. Three days after the funeral, Martha graduated from high school, and even though it was a cause to celebrate, her mother wasn’t there to celebrate with her. This made the graduation ceremony bitter-sweet.



Naturally sour-tasting foods include lemons and yogurt; sour drinks include beer and lemonade. While most of us like the taste of naturally sour foods, we don’t like foods that have gone sour, or have spoiled because they’re too old.

·      I had to pour out the carton of milk, because it had gone sour.


Used metaphorically, sourness always has negative connotations. A sour person is bad-tempered, unfriendly and unpleasant to be around. A bad experience can sour you to trying something like that again.

·      Joanne is such a sour-puss that no one likes being around her.

·      Constantly failing math exams at school has soured Mike from considering a career in science.


And like foods that have spoiled and gone sour, you can use ‘sour’ to describe people or relationships that have gone bad.

·      When Sarah began dating Marian’s former boyfriend, their friendship soured.








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