How to Describe Flavours in Latin?

Written by Dyami Millarson

Ever wondered how to express flavours in Classical Latin? If you wish to describe your culinary experiences in Latin, it is definitely relevant to wonder about this.

Food is timeless; a lot has changed in this world since ancient times, but we still need to eat and drink like our ancestors, so it is definitely interesting to think about describing flavours and tastes in ancient languages like Latin.

In this light, I believe that talking about food flavours is essential to the revival of Latin. Talking about food flavours connects us with the Latin speakers and writers of yore.

Here are some adjectives used to describe flavours and tastes in Latin:

  • Bonus, good.
  • Malus, bad.
  • Suāvis, sweet, delicious.
  • Dulcis, sweet.
  • Ācer, bitter, sour.
  • Acerbus, bitter, sour.
  • Melliculus, honeysweet.
  • Dēliciōsus, delicious.
  • Sapidus, tasty.
  • Conditus, spicy, seasoned.

This list of flavour adjectives is obviously not exhaustive, but it is to give you a very basic idea of how to express flavours and tastes in Latin using adjectives.

Another useful strategy or method used to describe tastes is to compare or relate new tastes and flavours to familiar ones:

  • (Sīc)ut vīnum, (exactly) like wine.
  • (Sīc)ut mel, (exactly) like honey.

Ut means as and sīc means so. The use of (sic)ut is similar to the use of (zo)als in Dutch, which means so as literally as well. One may say in Dutch: Het smaakt als honing, it tastes like honey. However, one may also say: Het smaakt zoals honing, it tastes like honey.

One may also use a flavour adjective with such a comparison to create a strengthening effect:

  • Ācer ut vīnum, sour like wine.
  • Suāvis ut mel, sweet like honey.

Other expressions to the same effect include: ācer sīcut vīnum as bitter as wine, tam ācer ut vīnum, sīc ācer ut vīnum.

Finally, it is not usual in Classical Latin to employ ‘to taste’ as an impersonal verb as in the Germanic languages, but it is better to express taste with the verb esse to be and the subject of this sentence may be the food item itself, it may be gustus taste, flavour or the subject may be omitted as might be expected in Classical Latin conversations and texts.

One should bear in mind that the form of the adjective changes according to the subject of the sentence and if the subject is omitted such as in the short sentence ācre est, it is bitter, the best first assumption to go by is that the subject is neuter as shown with ‘it’ in the English translation and as indicated with the neuter form ācre that is used instead of ācer in Latin; in other words, both Latin and English employ different strategies to demonstrate that the subject is neuter and in the case of Latin, one needs to heed the adjective and make sure it is neuter when it is supposed to be.

To finish this article on a high note, I would like to share this famous yet appropriate Latin saying: Dē gustibus nōn est disputandum, there is no (point in) disputing about taste. This saying exists in Dutch as: Over smaak valt niet te twisten.

17 comments

  1. I just thought about this word, maybe because I learned English first, it is difficult for me to associate these words with food. For example, bonus🙄🙄I thought it is welfare 🙄🙄🙄are there any story about these words? Like connecting the word with background.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is interesting how Latin is only taught in what I class as the ‘Elite Schools’ today. Yet it connects so may languages across Europe. Very interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was lucky o have Latin and Greek taught at middle, and high school, you were not able to be fluent on neither language, but at least was a good base, unlike today when in many countries have abandon completely such subjects, unfortunately.

    Like

  4. Wonderful report on Latin tasting and flavors (or flavours). I had to go back to one of my old high school Latin texts for the “de gustibus” phrase and was reminded that there is a similar saying, “de gustibus et coloribus…” (and colors), there is no disputing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the feedback, we love languages here! I was thinking about that saying ‘dē gustibus et colōribus nōn est disputandum’ as well when I wrote the article.

      Like

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