7 Flavors and Tastes in Chinese

by | Aug 28, 2023

7 Flavors and Tastes in Chinese

Many expats living in China are fascinated about Chinese food in that quite a few Chinese dishes feature a blend of different tastes. Meanwhile, it’s necessary to describe what flavors or tastes you prefer when ordering food at a restaurant. In this article, you’ll have the opportunity to learn how to describe 7 flavors and tastes in Chinese.

1. Sweet, 甜 (tián)

Sweet taste | That's Mandarin

Sweet food or dishes don’t play a significant role in Chinese food culture. Expats living in China sometimes complain that many Chinese dishes are too oily and often have strong flavors. However, there are still some regional cuisines that are famous for dishes with a sweet taste, such as Shanghainese cuisine. Meanwhile, different types of sweet soft drinks are prevailing across China, with 奶茶 (nǎichá), “bubble tea” being the most popular one.

2. Sour, 酸 (suān)

Sour taste | That's Mandarin

Vinegar is often considered one of the indispensable ingredients when it comes to Chinese culinary culture. Sour taste can be found in many typical Chinese dishes like 酸菜鱼 (suān cài yú), “sauerkraut fish” and 咕咾肉 (gū lǎo ròu), “sweet and sour pork”.

3. Bitter, 苦 (kǔ)

Bitter taste | That's Mandarin

Although the word “bitter” usually has a derogatory meaning, it turns out to be the “predominant taste” of those herbs used to prepare Chinese medicine. Many old people in China even believe that the “bitter components” are what helps cure illnesses.

4. Spicy, 辣 (là)

Spicy taste | That's Mandarin

This is the most “well-known” taste that comes to expats’ minds in terms of Chinese dishes. It’s generally agreed that 四川菜 (Sìchuān cài), “Sichuan cuisine” reflects the quintessence of spicy Chinese dishes. 四川火锅 (Sìchuān huǒguō), “Sichuan hotpot” is considered an ideal choice for a joyful get-together.

If you haven’t had a chance to try Chinese hotpot, this article will help you gain a basic understanding of some of the most popular types of hotpot in China. 

5. Salty, 咸 (xián)

Salty taste | That's Mandarin

As has been mentioned above, many Chinese dishes have a strong taste due to a fairly large amount of ingredient like soy sauce used when preparing them. Despite the fact that the intake of an excessive amount of salt is harmful for health, “saltiness” is an inalienable part of Chinese food culture.

6. Fragrant, 香 (xiāng)

Fragrant taste | That's Mandarin

香 (xiāng) can be used to describe anything that smells nice. In China, if a dish is considered impeccable, it should be 色香味俱全 (sè xiāng wèi jù quán): perfect in color, aroma and taste. Meanwhile, 香 (xiāng) is often used to describe cosmetic products. For example, 香水 (xiāng shuǐ) means “perfume” (literally it means “aromatic water”).

7. Stinky, 臭 (chòu)

Stinky | That's Mandarin

In China, there are a few kinds of food that smell “terrible” but taste “terrific”, with 臭豆腐 (chòu dòufu), “stinky tofu” being the symbol of “smelly Chinese food”. What western people can’t stand about stinky tofu is its pungent smell which immediately makes them lose their appetites. However, some of them have become addicted to it after taking the first bite.

Take it Further!

Which of these 7 flavors and tastes in Chinese is your favorite? Share your opinion in the comments below! To find out more interesting facts about life in China and Chinese language and culture, check out That’s Mandarin official Instagram Profile.


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