These are some of the key concepts and words used to describe flavors. It is important to understand some of the nuance about these terms as it is very difficult to communicate flavor through language. The more terminology on understands the more nuanced one can communicate the properties of a flavor and categorize the flavor in terms that are communicable.
Palate- The ability to appreciate flavor, this is often used both to describe foods that are preferences as well as the ability to distinguish detail.
Herb- Most often leaves and flowers of plants for flavoring usage that are preferred to be fresh and undried, a subset of spice that gives more clarity to the part being fresh.
Spice- Any plant part used primarily to impart flavor to food, also used to indicate the plant part is dried, herb is preferable to indicate fresh plant parts, but the terms are mostly interchangeable.
Volatile- Describes when an element of flavor can evaporate and be lost into the air, it is the reason spices have scent and one of the main reasons they lose their flavor over time
Terpenoid- The main chemical agents responsible for flavor, extremely diverse and mostly volatile.
unpalatable- Describes when something tastes bad to the degree that no one wants to eat it, this is not an indication something is toxic, not to be confused with toxicity
Toxicity- When something is unsafe to eat, as well as the degree, and reasons that it is unsafe.
Edibility- Some plant parts are only edible after processing, or in certain forms, this effects the edibility and use of those parts.
These are effects on the palate, where one feels a sensation often accompanied by a flavor.
Tannin- The main culprit for astringency and sometimes for bitterness, is not volatile.
Cooling- Like mint, generating a cold feeling on the palate
Numbing- a unique quality mainly from Zanthoxylum species. Numbs the mouth and sometimes produces a buzzing, vibrating feeling. Uncommon in much of the western culinary traditions.
Piquant- The English language lacks nuance when describing something as spicy as in flavorful versus spicy as in producing a hot feeling on the palate.
Soapy- A generally unpleasant quality caused by sapotonins, often accompanied by bitterness, is not volatile.
Vegetal- Like eating raw beans or cabbage
Rank- Like pulling weeds in the yard, similar to marijuana or spikenard
Fatty- Like butter or oil, the smell is usually an indicator of an oil, distinct and often subtle.
Herbaceous- green flavors that are generally less abrasive and more herbal like sage, parsley, and spinach
Grassy- Like fresh cut grass, or green tea
Vanillic- soft and warm like vanilla
Coumarin- between vanilla and dry hay, present in tonka beans, mahaleb, similar to almond flavor.
Medicinal- tastes like a medicine, often accompanied by bitter taste
Chemical- Alarming and artificial tasting, rubbery, often regarded as a negative quality. Like peated whiskey, or the smell of styrofoam.
Ethereal- Having a sweet airy quality, think like the smell of styrofoam, cream soda,
Sweet- Not the taste but the flavor and smell, like cotton candy, grape soda, cream soda, smells super sweet. Often from the presence of maltol
Citric- Like the flavor and smell of citrus peels, this is not an indication of sourness but is often paired with it, bergamot, lemon verbena, lime leaves, ect..
Earthy- Wet and soil like, sometimes called petrichor, like the smell after the rain. sometimes comes paired with fermented notes and musty notes.
Phenolic- Smokey, burnt, dusty, mineral like flavors.
Musty- Like the smell of an unused space, like a attic or basement, present in white pepper
Metallic- Sharp and brash, like the flavor of blood or molasses.
Alcoholic- Boosy like grape wine, sometimes slightly rotten and fermented tasting, can be sharp on the palate or sour and if very alcoholic Piquant.
Fermented- like fermented foods, sauerkraut and kimchi
Sulfurous- Like onions, garlic, or hing.
Putrid- vomit like, present in
Rancid- the smell of expired oil, strange and often unpleasant, can occur when spices have gone bad or expired.
Insipid- lacking flavor or lacking balance in flavor when flavors taste nondescript, for instance because too much is going on at the same time. Can occur as a side of effect of Piquant and Numbing effects.
Dry- The perception that the flavor is dry and dusty, often like the smell of a pantry or flour, often used to describe wood and grain flavors.
Dark- Optionally also called wet, the feeling of moisture or wetness to a food, like it comes from a watery source used to describe .
Heavy- a feeling of having the scent of a flavor on ones breath, smelling it when one breaths in and out, after consuming it. Often accompanied by a feeling of the air of ones breath being thick. Often used to describe flavors with high molecular weights like base
The following terms are borrowed from the terminology used in perfumery, these terms are also useful when describing flavors especially because of their similarity to aroma.
Aldehyde- These have the lowest molecular weights and often are elusive and hard to describe, they easily overpower other flavors and are still uncommon in flavor use.
Top- Low molecular weight flavors like citrus and some floral flavors. They tend to last a very short time on the palate and have bright and dry connotation. These can easily overpower other flavor categories.
Middle- These are the notes in between the heavy and light flavors. They easily become nondescript when mixed in complex mixes but are important to make balanced flavors.
Base- Long lasting and heavy flavors, often having very high molecular weights lasting a long time on the palate, these can easily disappear and play a background role when mixed with other flavor profiles.