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Behind every ‘first taste’ of a dish is a reaction; a reaction powered by emotion; an emotion that is triggered by memories, preferences, and literally: personal taste. Our history with certain foods are often tied to different experiences; experiences that shape the preferences and opinions we hold to be true about food. All the senses engage to form these opinions; smell, taste, sight, touch- our bodies catalog our food experiences and often unconsciously assign emotions to accompany, much like a side dish. 


One of the biggest influencing factors in our taste and subsequently our food preferences, are spices. Spices have been used for centuries to enhance the flavor of food; helping to formulate certain cultural distinctions between cuisines and also, through time, forming flavor profiles that can be categorized for easy understanding. The four most well-known flavor categories or ‘profiles’ are bitter, salty, sour, and sweet. While those 4 broadly cover the scope of all food, a true ‘foodie’ cannot be limited to just 4 categories…. There are many many more equally identifiable flavor characteristics! 


Below are 15 of the most commonly used sensory characteristics and some of the common spices associated with each. Originally compiled and described by


Bitter: Alone, not a good flavor for humans, who are extremely sensitive to it. Presented in coffee, chocolates, and beer; bitterness is also present in most raw vegetables.

Bitter Spices: Bay Leafs, Celery, Clove, Cumin, Horseradish, Oregano, Thyme.


Cooling: Those that give the mouth a refreshing sensation; think mint in a tall glass of water on a hot day. 

Cooling Spices: Spearmint, Dill, Sweet Basil


Earthy: Foods that are intimately tied to the earth, such as potatoes or beets are often described as Earthy. While some will say this flavor is undesirable, when combined with other flavor profiles, it can sometimes be referred to as ‘umami’; a Japanese word for ‘pleasantly savory taste’ often associated with mushrooms and other earthly-tied foods.

Earthy Spices: Cumin, Saffron


Floral:  A flavor experience of the Spring; commonly associated with teas.

Floral Spices: Coriander, Lemongrass, Rose Petals, Lavendar


Fruity: Sweeter and often give off a fruity scent as well!

Fruity Spices: Fennel, Anise, Tamarind


Herbaceous: Flavors that are herbal in nature— unfortunately no other language to describe this… it’s so commonly known what ‘herbal’ smells and tastes like! Think summer herb garden!

Herbaceous Spices: Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Tarragon, Thyme.


Hot: Characterized by the ability to heat up your mouth quickly, sometimes leaving you coughing or ‘ruining’ a dish when used incorrectly. 

Hot Spices: Black Pepper, CHiles, Horseradish, Mustard, Wasabi


Nutty:  Foods that are associated with this flavor are….nuts! People often report a butteriness about the nutty flavor. Cashews, Peanuts, Almonds, Walnuts… these spices are congruent with nuts.

Nutty Spices: Cardamom, Coriander, Fenugreek Seed, Poppy Seed, Sesame Seed


Piney: If you’ve stuck your face in a Christmas Tree, you have a vague idea of pine flavor…one that when used on it’s own can be overwhelming, but when combined with other profiles is quite pleasant.

Piney Spices: Bay Leaf, Rosemary, Thyme


Pungent: Strongly flavored and often have distinct aromatics as well.

Pungent Spices: Allspice, Garlic, Ginger, Onion, Paprika, Wasabi


Sour: Flavors that make your mouth pucker, often making one salivate more than usual; reported to compliment sweet foods nicely.

Sour Spices: Sumac, Amchur, Tamarind


Spicy: Notice the distinction between ‘Hot’ and Spicy…. Foods and spices thought to be spicy give a nice burst of strong flavor, not necessarily heat.

Spicy Spices: Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Cumin, Curry, Ginger, Nutmeg


Sulfury: This profile is hard to describe… some would say it has an almost egg like taste to it. Most arguably this profile has more to do with scent than taste, but since the two are so closely related, it can be used to describe foods that fit several flavor profiles.

Sulfury Spices: Chives, Garlic, Onion


Sweet: Defined by how much sugar our tongue can discern in a good; usually sweet foods are paired with sour or salty. The contrasting flavors are pleasing to the tongue.

Sweet Spices: Cinnamon, Cloves, Dill, Nutmeg, Poppy Seed, Granulated Honey or Molasses.


Woody: Tasting vaguely of wood; sometimes used to describe coffee or wine. 

Woody Spices: Cardamom, Juniper, Lavender, Rosemary



Be Creative Catering seeks to partner with each client when choosing menu items; we believe that each event is unique, each host unique, and that food can be the gateway to a true positive emotional experience, regardless of the occasion! Using describing words about your taste preferences and the overall goals of your menu is a helpful way to guide planning discussions.

Visit to see our standard menu, many of which use the above 15 flavor profiles! Our award winning chef and planning team is ready to help transform your next event into a flavor fiesta!