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I know there are six basic tastes:

  1. sweet
  2. bitter
  3. salt {is there any word to specify this salty taste?}
  4. hot as in chillies, pepper
  5. Sour as in lemon, curds etc [or is it tang?]

  1. What is the name of the taste of gooseberry, betelnut or young leaves of mango?

After tasting this taste, if you drink water, it will taste sweet. Do English have any specific word to describe this taste?

  • 9
    Hot/spicy is not one of ‘the tastes’. I’m not sure if gooseberries, betel nuts and young mango leaves are umami because I’ve never tasted any of them (except perhaps gooseberries, I may have had those). – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 7 at 14:28
  • Some cultures know "adstringent" as a distinct taste. – rackandboneman May 10 at 8:22
80

In traditional Western culture, for a long time there have been only four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The fifth taste, umami or "savory," was discovered and added to the list quite recently; the compounds were isolated in Japan in 1908 and the specific taste receptors discovered only in 2002 (Oxford Academic).

From a scientific standpoint, there are five distinct tastes that can be perceived by your taste buds:

  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Salty
  • Bitter
  • Umami

There is also a current debate about the taste of fat, and the potential discovery of taste receptors that can specifically sense lipids and fatty acids, which would give us six distinct tastes, scientifically speaking (Scientific American).

These are scientifically classified as tastes precisely because of the way they are detected by taste receptors on your tongue. There are other sensations that the tongue can detect by other means, generally by the somatosensory nervous system. These include a wide variety of other flavors or "mouth-feels," including:

  • Pungency (your "hot" or "spicy" flavor)
  • Coolness (Perceived cold from thing such as peppermint and menthol)
  • Astrigency (mouth puckering from tea, red wine, rhubarb, etc)
  • Metallicness
  • Numbness
  • Calcium
  • Temperature
  • Starchiness
  • Heartiness ("full flavor" or kokumi, found in things like garlic to enhance other flavors without a flavor of its own) (Food Proteins and Peptides)

There are other less scientific ways of defining the tastes; notably, traditional Hindu Ayurvedic medicine (or simply Ayurveda) recognizes six tastes as:

  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Salty
  • Pungent
  • Bitter
  • Astringent

(Banyan Botanicals)

Given the phrasing of your original question, perhaps that is what you are thinking of.

  • 3
    Thank You. Your answer is clear and simple. So I can use astringent for that gooseberry taste. – Lalitha Nagarajan May 7 at 14:11
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    Yes, I believe that is what you were looking for, and "pungent" is the term most often used for hot or spicy flavors. – geekahedron May 7 at 14:52
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    @LalithaNagarajan note that "astringent" is also the name of a chemical that is common in face cleaners, so if you use that word, use context to make it clear you are talking about the flavor (which people may be less familiar with). – JPhi1618 May 7 at 16:18
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    Garlic certainly has its own flavor, but it also contains kokumi-inducing peptides that enhance other flavors. One reason garlic is such a common additive is not usually just for its own flavor, but for what it does to enhance other flavors. It's nuanced, but the operative phrasing was "found in" things like garlic. To quote the link: "These compounds only exhibit a slight flavor in water; however, when they are added to an umami solution or various kinds of foods, they substantially enhance the thickness, continuity, and mouthfulness of the taste of the food to which they have been added." – geekahedron May 7 at 19:30
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    I believe tannic is a synonym for astringent, as in "containing tannins". Especially in reference to wine or tea. – Todd Wilcox May 7 at 19:43
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The "Six Tastes" is an Ayurvedic concept that does not exist in English cuisine, nor really any other culinary traditions. There are traditionally four basic flavors: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Relatively recently recognized is umami, a loan word from Japanese referring to the glutamate or "savory" qualities imparted by certain cheeses, mushrooms, or soy sauce.

The two additional tastes appear to be commonly translated as pungent (like mustard or horseradish) and astringent (associated with tannin-rich foods like chokecherry or rhubarb). These are qualities of foods recognized in Western cuisines but are not considered flavors.

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    Thank you for the answer. It fits well. – Lalitha Nagarajan May 7 at 14:05
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    @LalithaNagarajan You're most welcome, but rather than posting "thank you," you should upvote useful answers, and "accept" the most useful answer. You should also do this for the two previous questions you have asked, as it is an important part of participating the community. – choster May 7 at 15:02
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Words for flavors often don't translate very well between languages as they are often heavily influenced by the selection of ingredients available to the culture the language is used in.

For your six specific examples:

  1. Sweet is the most common name, but sugary is used sometimes too when it's somewhat obvious that it's a flavor from external sugars (usually sucrose in Western cooking, but sometimes other specific sugars).
  2. Bitter is almost always used for simple generic bitter flavors, though depending on the exact source of the flavor, it may have different terminology ('oaked' for example for the bitterness found in wines that have been aged in oaken casks). 'Alkaline' or 'soapy' may be used when referring to the this flavor on some occasions too (because in most cases, soap is bitter, and a high alkalinity in a solution will usually translate to a bitter taste).
  3. Salty is almost universally the standard term for dishes that have a strong flavor of salt. Certain specific additives that can produce a salty flavor may instead be called out though, and 'salty' is a pretty generic term because quite a few things have an impact on how the addition of salt impacts the taste of food.
  4. This one is a bit tricky as almost all words used for it are ambiguous. 'Hot' is typical in at least American English when it's almost purely from capsicum or similar chemicals. Peppery is used sometimes for a strong pepper flavor, though that usually means a flavor produced by ground peppercorns, not chili peppers. Spicy is also used sometimes, though it's much more generic and can just as easily mean something with lots of spices in it (the difference here is the same as between the Spanish 'caliente' and 'picante'). Note that this one is not considered a 'taste' but a 'flavor' in most cases in English, and it's actually produced primarily by a very mild inflamation response in mouth, not through regular taste receptors (hence the differentiation).
  5. Sour is the common term for this one, though 'tangy' or 'tart' can also be used depending on the context. Tart is mostly used for sour fruity flavors, and also refers to a specific type of pastry typically filed with tart fruits. Tangy is mostly used for a combination of a sour flavor with a citrus flavor, or things primarily flavored by ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
  6. This one is also tricky, for many of the same reasons that number 4 is. Astringent is the most common generic for this type of flavor, but it also has meanings in biology, chemistry, and medicine not related to the flavor (though most things those fields call astringents have an astringent taste to them). Tannic is used on occasion, because of tannic acid (part of what gives wines and teas this flavor property). Dry is also sometimes used (mostly with respect to alcoholic beverages, partly because astringent has a much more specific meaning there). Tart and tangy can also be used for this, as can sour, though they are less often. Just like hot/spicy, this one is not typically considered a taste, but instead a flavor (or occasionally just a property of the food), and is similarly not a taste bud response, but a different physiological response.

Where it gets even more confusing is that some tastes can be described multiple ways simultaneously. Cloves, for example, can be described as both astringent and spicy (as well as slightly minty to some people). Adding even more to this confusion, certain things may taste noticeably different to some people, but not others (for example, I can differentiate between about a dozen different sugars (by chemical composition, not source), but my best friend can't differentiate any of them).

Given all of this, if you really want to be specific, describe the flavor based on what foods it tastes like instead of using some generic term. For example, saying something tastes of chili peppers is going to be pretty unambiguous to many people, while just saying something tastes 'hot' could mean any of at least a dozen things.

  • 1
    The compound term ‘spicy hot’ seems to be used quite a lot for the sort of heat you get from chillies (i.e. capsaicin): it's much less ambiguous than any single term, and is widely understood. (In the UK, at least.) – gidds May 10 at 11:20
  • @gidds That's a good point that I completely forgot about in my answer. It's a reasonably common term here in the US too, though I see it more in literary contexts than in everyday speech. – Austin Hemmelgarn May 10 at 11:31

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