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-   -   Foodies: what does 'savory' mean? (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=633801)

Sitnam 12-05-2011 03:05 PM

Foodies: what does 'savory' mean?
 
It's a descriptive term that seems to be nebulously defined. 'Pungently flavorful without sweetness' is the most common version I can find, but just about everyone using the word in shows like Chopped or Iron Chef use it like a classification, like we would use 'salty', 'acidic' or 'spicy'. Judges also typically say foods they approve of are, 'sweet and savory' which is nonsense to me since savory is defined as a flavor that is not sweet.

So what is it exactly, and what is a common food that best brings this flavor out?

Motorgirl 12-05-2011 03:26 PM

For me, in a food context, savory simply means "not sweet."

E.g. my husband will ask what we have to snack on, and I ask "savory or sweet?" to know if he is craving a cookie or cheese & crackers.

delphica 12-05-2011 03:28 PM

Sometimes people (food people) use savory to indicate umami, which is a loan word from Japanese, and is now considered the fifth taste (the ones I grew up with are salty, sweet, sour, and bitter). It is hard to describe (then again, it's also hard to describe "sweet" I suppose), but I associate it with the substantial taste of fish, meats, and cultured dairy. And vegetables that you wouldn't normally describe with one of the traditional four -- broccoli is bitter, carrots are sweet, and asparagus is savory. Oh, and mushrooms.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umami

Kylede 12-05-2011 03:46 PM

The human sense of taste reacts to 5 different chemicals resulting in 5 basic tastes

Sweet - caused by the presence of sugars
Sour - caused by the presence of H+ ions(hydrogen) in solution (acidity)
Saltiness - caused by the presence of Na+ ions (sodium) in solution
Bitterness - caused by the presence of alkaloids (like quinine)
Unami - caused by the presence of glutamates and nucleotides - referred to by many "foodies" as 'savory'

RealityChuck 12-05-2011 03:48 PM

A sweet crepe has jelly or other sweet food as a filling.

A savory crepe has meat or chicken or anything not sweet as a filling.

It's a distinction needed when a food can have the two different types.

KneadToKnow 12-05-2011 03:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Motorgirl (Post 14532988)
For me, in a food context, savory simply means "not sweet."

As long as we're not describing sausage, I concur with this 100%.

polar bear 12-05-2011 03:59 PM

For me the main tastes are sweet and salty, so all foods not sweet are in some way salty (to me). So savory would mean salty to me. Incidently these are the only tastes I really get cravings for. Sour foods are usually also sweet.

I guess there is stuff that is bitter, but if that's the only taste, it just means it is gross to me.

gurujulp 12-05-2011 04:25 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by polar bear (Post 14533123)
For me the main tastes are sweet and salty, so all foods not sweet are in some way salty (to me). So savory would mean salty to me. Incidently these are the only tastes I really get cravings for. Sour foods are usually also sweet.

I guess there is stuff that is bitter, but if that's the only taste, it just means it is gross to me.

The reason I like savory things is because there is a taste that sort of mimics salt.

For example, a bagel with cream cheese, tomato and onion tastes salty to me, but just cream cheese and onion or cream cheese and tomato alone do not have the salty taste.

Gangster Octopus 12-05-2011 06:20 PM

An egg yolk from a over easy egg or a poached egg is the epitome of savory.

John Mace 12-05-2011 07:13 PM

We had a thread on this not too long ago. I, too, have suddenly noticed this word creeping into American English. I always thought it just meant "tasty", but I guess the Brits use it to mean something like "meaty". You've got your sweet pies (apple, etc.) and your savory pies (meat pies). But I guess "meaty" is just one type of savory.

jz78817 12-05-2011 07:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by RealityChuck (Post 14533084)
A sweet crepe has jelly or other sweet food as a filling.

A savory crepe has meat or chicken or anything not sweet as a filling.

It's a distinction needed when a food can have the two different types.

this is how I've understood it.

Chronos 12-05-2011 07:30 PM

I'm another one who considers "savory" to be the proper English translation of the Japanese "umami". It means "meaty", or "brothy", or something along those lines.

Quimby 12-05-2011 07:57 PM

For me Savory means "Meaty".

pulykamell 12-05-2011 08:02 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by RealityChuck (Post 14533084)
A sweet crepe has jelly or other sweet food as a filling.

A savory crepe has meat or chicken or anything not sweet as a filling.

It's a distinction needed when a food can have the two different types.

This is how I generally use it, too. It usually means "not sweet" to me, and crepes are exactly what I think of when I think of the sweet vs savory distinction.

It can also be, as others have stated, a synonym for "umami." Usually for me (unless I'm discussing the herb) it means not-sweet.

Irishman 12-05-2011 11:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by John Mace (Post 14533873)
I always thought it just meant "tasty", but I guess the Brits use it to mean something like "meaty".

Me, too. I ran into someone else hosting a pot luck party and asking for sweet or savory snacks. That's when I learned they were using that word for the meaty, non-sweet items.

Salty would largely be in the "savory" category.

Alan Smithee 12-06-2011 02:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sitnam (Post 14532906)
Judges also typically say foods they approve of are, 'sweet and savory' which is nonsense to me since savory is defined as a flavor that is not sweet.

Foods that have both sweet and non-sweet flavors (especially, but not exclusively, umami) can be described as "sweet and savory." For example, a crepe or pie filling that combined meat and fruit would be sweet and savory. Melon wrapped in prosciutto is a classic sweet-and-savory dish. Sausage and maple syrup is another combination of sweet and savory you might be familiar with. A good cheesecake could arguably be regarded as sweet and savory even though it has little umami flavor, because the sweetness is secondary to (and complements) the richness and the taste of dairy.

Charley 12-06-2011 03:01 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by John Mace (Post 14533873)
We had a thread on this not too long ago. I, too, have suddenly noticed this word creeping into American English. I always thought it just meant "tasty", but I guess the Brits use it to mean something like "meaty". You've got your sweet pies (apple, etc.) and your savory pies (meat pies). But I guess "meaty" is just one type of savory.

Wait... what? This is really a British thing? No snark, honestly... I'm just genuinely surprise that this is one of those differences between us. Huh, who'dathunk it.

Savoury ( ;) ) is the other main food classification, along with sweet, for me. Yes meaty but also some things quite bland can be savoury too: crackers for cheese, certain flavours of crisps, if they're not particularly salty, pastry in some cases. I usually prefer savoury foods.

MrDibble 12-06-2011 03:51 AM

I generally go with savory = salty and/or umami in some combination.

Athena 12-06-2011 08:50 AM

I've never thought of "savory" as meaning meaty/umami. For me, it's simply the opposite of sweet.

Chronos 12-06-2011 12:48 PM

Quote:

Wait... what? This is really a British thing? No snark, honestly... I'm just genuinely surprise that this is one of those differences between us. Huh, who'dathunk it.
If it's really a British thing, it's also really an American thing.

WordMan 12-06-2011 12:52 PM

Foodies: what does 'savory' mean?
 
This came up with my kid when a chef show was on. After I tried some of the explanations mentioned upthread, he thought for a moment and said:

Quote:

Oh - savory tastes brown.
Any questions? ;)

John Mace 12-06-2011 01:04 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Charley (Post 14535130)
Wait... what? This is really a British thing? No snark, honestly... I'm just genuinely surprise that this is one of those differences between us. Huh, who'dathunk it.

Maybe it's just me, but I've never encountered Americans using the word that way. The only ones I've heard are expat Brits living here. In fact, it happened just the other day. A bunch of us were in a restaurant, and the waitress (a Brit) said something about sweet vs savory, and we all went... huh? None of us knew what she meant.

Quote:

Savoury ( ;) )
Why do you hate America? :)

gurujulp 12-06-2011 01:08 PM

Quote:

Oh - savory tastes brown.
I can totally see this.

What is the flavor chain created in turkey crisping, and in the roast beef browning?

That is a classic 'savory, meaty' flavor, and is indeed called browning, or some such.

That is a pretty amazing leap for a child, however... How old?

WordMan 12-06-2011 01:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by gurujulp (Post 14536312)
I can totally see this.

What is the flavor chain created in turkey crisping, and in the roast beef browning?

That is a classic 'savory, meaty' flavor, and is indeed called browning, or some such.

That is a pretty amazing leap for a child, however... How old?

I think he was 11 at the time. And I just kinda stopped and said "well, yes, yes it does..."

John Mace 12-06-2011 01:22 PM

I still have a problem wrapping my head around a taste that puts beef and spinach (even when cooked) in the same category. Don't get me wrong, I like them both, but they don't naturally fall in the same taste category for me. Maybe I was just conditioned to think of meat and vegetables as being different things.

Which reminds me... a vegetarian acquaintance once asked me to describe what a good steak tastes like, as opposed to a mediocre one. I had to resort to the portobello mushroom analogy for lack of anything else. Maybe I should have said: Really good spinach!

AllShookDown 12-06-2011 01:29 PM

Savory has always meant "not sweet" to me.

gurujulp 12-06-2011 01:31 PM

This is what I am talking about, with the browning, and I think it is what you are looking for, John Mace, to describe the good steak flavor. It happens to beef when it is cooked right.

The Maillard reaction.

Tom Tildrum 12-06-2011 02:15 PM

Savory is also the name of a particular spice.

Deegeea 12-06-2011 05:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kylede (Post 14533070)
The human sense of taste reacts to 5 different chemicals resulting in 5 basic tastes

Sweet - caused by the presence of sugars
Sour - caused by the presence of H+ ions(hydrogen) in solution (acidity)
Saltiness - caused by the presence of Na+ ions (sodium) in solution
Bitterness - caused by the presence of alkaloids (like quinine)
Umami - caused by the presence of glutamates and nucleotides - referred to by many "foodies" as 'savory'

This sounds about right to me, but I'd add

Spicy - caused by capsaicinoids

Probably not technicallly correct, but it seems like it is.

kaylasdad99 12-06-2011 06:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WordMan (Post 14536241)
This came up with my kid when a chef show was on. After I tried some of the explanations mentioned upthread, he thought for a moment and said:
Quote:

Oh - savory tastes brown.
Any questions? ;)

Just one wise-ass one:

You mean like a Hershey bar?

:D

typoink 12-06-2011 06:26 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Deegeea (Post 14537356)
This sounds about right to me, but I'd add

Spicy - caused by capsaicinoids

Probably not technicallly correct, but it seems like it is.

Yeah, as I understand it, spicy isn't considered a flavor on its own because capsaicin doesn't trigger taste receptors.

It certainly affects the taste of the food, but through a different mechanism. I'd put spiciness in same category as things like temperature, moisture, texture, and astringency.

Irishman 12-06-2011 06:26 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by John Mace (Post 14536295)
Maybe it's just me, but I've never encountered Americans using the word that way. The only ones I've heard are expat Brits living here.

Data point: the friend I heard this from is American, but she married a Canadian.

pulykamell 12-06-2011 06:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by RealityChuck (Post 14533084)
It certainly affects the taste of the food, but through a different mechanism. I'd put spiciness in same category as things like temperature, moisture, texture, and astringency.

And there's also different kinds of spiciness. The spiciness of mustard or horseradish is different than heat in peppercorns, which is different than the heat of chile peppers.

Chefguy 12-06-2011 07:18 PM

Pretty much "not sweet" for me.

Oatmeal with brown sugar=sweet.
Oatmeal with herbs and maybe an egg on top=savory.

billfish678 12-06-2011 07:55 PM

Reading this thread made me note one thing. Hearing/reading the word "savory" makes my mouth water a bit (I am not a foodie by any stretch). So, for me, its a "taste" that makes the mouth water (I don't get that for the other "flavors"). Exactly what that is...well thats what this thread is about I guess.

OpalCat 12-06-2011 08:01 PM

It just means "seasoned without being sweet" to me. As a vegetarian I definitely don't take it to mean "meaty" as that would mean that nothing I eat is savory, which is a falsehood.

digs 12-14-2011 10:18 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chronos (Post 14533928)
I'm another one who considers "savory" to be the proper English translation of the Japanese "umami". It means "meaty", or "brothy", or something along those lines.

I grew up in the States, and always understood "savory" to mean "tasty" (I help with a Feeding The Homeless event called "Savory Sunday").
But then I was greeted at an Aussie friend's home on a Saturday morning with "I made scones! There's a plate of blueberry ones here, or if you'd prefer savory ones, they're in the kitch." I thought "Are you saying only the ones in the kitchen taste good?"

So I embarked on a year-long research project, and decided that it does indeed involve "umami". When I first heard that term, I remembered as a younger lad tasting something and thinking "Oh, it's got that Dark Taste I like..."

Cartoonacy 12-14-2011 10:30 AM

Rule of thumb: If the average person might eat it as (or along with) the main course for lunch or supper, it's probably savory. If it's more likely to be dessert, then it's sweet.

Irishman 12-14-2011 04:00 PM

Sweet potatoes/candied yams - they're a main dinner side dish, not dessert, but are sweet.

Acsenray 12-14-2011 07:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Charley (Post 14535130)
Wait... what? This is really a British thing? No snark, honestly... I'm just genuinely surprise that this is one of those differences between us. Huh, who'dathunk it.

Yeah, in day-to-day American speech, you rarely hear "savory" and it's not common in eating-out speech. There are people who use it, but they tend to be the ones who have some knowledge of food. The term is also used in advertising ("rich, savory goodness") in which it just means "tastes good" without specifying any particular flavor.

Quote:

Originally Posted by OpalCat (Post 14537933)
It just means "seasoned without being sweet" to me. As a vegetarian I definitely don't take it to mean "meaty" as that would mean that nothing I eat is savory, which is a falsehood.

"Meaty" does not mean "has meat in it." It means "having some of the culinary qualities of meat" and there's a lot of vegetarian food that can accurately be described as having a "meaty" quality, including almost any kind of mushroom.

OpalCat 12-14-2011 07:57 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by typoink (Post 14537653)
Yeah, as I understand it, spicy isn't considered a flavor on its own because capsaicin doesn't trigger taste receptors.

It certainly affects the taste of the food, but through a different mechanism. I'd put spiciness in same category as things like temperature, moisture, texture, and astringency.

Do you have any other info on this? It sounds fascinating and I've never heard of such a thing.

OpalCat 12-14-2011 07:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Acsenray (Post 14566748)

"Meaty" does not mean "has meat in it." It means "having some of the culinary qualities of meat" and there's a lot of vegetarian food that can accurately be described as having a "meaty" quality, including almost any kind of mushroom.

Yeah, I guess I can see your point. Thinking of a food as tasting "meaty" feels weird though, I can't deny it.


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