We often use the word savoury to describe salty and spicy dishes. And the definition on many online dictionary seems to salty or spicy; not sweet.

Is there a word that describes dishes in general which are not desserts? For example, Sweet and Sour chicken, can I call that savoury? It might be more sweet and salty. If so, are the common definitions inaccurate?

Can I use the word umami to describe it?

  • 1
    you might as well use "umami" - this "we don't have a word in English to discuss salty & sweet" issue is discussed a lot! I'd say it's now an official "loanword" - so just use it.
    – Fattie
    Nov 3, 2014 at 8:07
  • 1
    I think a polarised categorisation of taste into sweet and savoury is essentially a European, perhaps especially an Anglo Saxon notion. (I would be interested to hear from @Mary Lou as to whether Italians so categorise food.) It is perhaps reflective of such 'opposition thinking' that the Oxford Dictionary (not OED)actually defines the word savoury as salty or spicy rather than sweet. It is also possibly surprising, in this day of a globalised society, that a British dictionary, in this instance, reflects such parochial thinking.
    – WS2
    Nov 3, 2014 at 9:51
  • 8
    According to The Guardian and Wikipedia, Umami is one of the five basic tastes (together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty). So it cannot be used to describe a combination of any of the other four.
    – user63230
    Nov 3, 2014 at 10:11
  • @WS2 In italain it's either agrodolce (literally "bitter sweet"=sweet'n'sour) or dolce e salato sweet and salty/savoury Foods that contain wine vinegar and olive oil are the former, think pickled food but sweeter/less sharp.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 3, 2014 at 12:54
  • @andy256 .. exactly. These are the 5 tongue-sensed tastes, detected independently of the olfactory system, objectively measured. There are no cultural biases here. Nov 16, 2018 at 9:58

3 Answers 3


There is a colloquial and uncommon word: swalty.

It is obviously a portmanteau word made by combining sweet and salty.

having a salty and sweet taste

This homemade chocolate is good and swalty. You must have used salted peanuts in it.


Note: Urbandictionary also mentions another meaning of the word: Having the consistency, feel, and/or taste of something sweaty and salty.


Umami has been incorporated as one of the traditional taste senses alongside sweet, sour, bitter and salty. The issue with using umami here is that it carries it's own meaning, the feeling of savoury or meaty.1

If you really want to convey the specific idea of something that tastes both salty and sweet, like nuts dusted with both salt and sugar, just stick with sweet and salty, same as we use sweet and sour everywhere.2

  1. http://www.msginfo.com/about_taste_umami.asp

  2. See all the packages that use these kinds of terms.

  • Umami is described by users as a 'meatiness or body' which, while being savoury in nature, doesn't lend itself to how you have described it (neglecting the direct translation as being insufficient).
    – Sam
    Nov 3, 2014 at 13:48
  • Not sure why all the markdowns. I cleaned up my answer a bit and included a reference. Hopefully it clears it up.
    – JPC
    Nov 5, 2014 at 11:08
  • Aldfrith, the downvotes are probably not about how clean your answer is. It's probably because the think you are wrong (other comments here state that umami is a fifth distinct taste, not a combination of sweet and salty.
    – Mitch
    Nov 5, 2014 at 12:46
  • I like the clarified meaning of Umami, but meal is more a superset of dessert than a companion, and certainly not an opposite (that would be something more akin to famine). I think, given dessert is defined as 'the sweet course eaten at the end of a meal' that main/starter/meat course/fish course/other would all qualify the requirement of the question, but main course/dish is probably the most common and general.
    – Sam
    Nov 5, 2014 at 14:51
  • I realise my original answer regarding Umami did not carry the meaning I intended. Sorry about that. As for meal, you're right about the opposite being something more akin to fasting, however I meant in this sense that it would be the opposite taste-wise as per his question. For me, I have my meal, and then desert. Or I'll have desert completely separate. I suppose the definition here varies, I'll remove it since it doesn't add much to the answer.
    – JPC
    Nov 6, 2014 at 20:12

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