Gustatory Imagery

Imagine savouring a warm piece of chocolate cake, or biting into a juicy slice of watermelon on a hot summer day. Gustatory imagery is a literary technique that can make you experience the taste of food and drink through the power of words. It's a feast for the senses and can transport you to a world of flavours and sensations. Whether it's the tanginess of a lemon or the sweetness of honey, gustatory imagery can make your mouth water and your taste buds tingle.

Gustatory Imagery Gustatory Imagery

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Table of contents

    Gustatory imagery: definition of imagery

    Imagine you are eating your favourite meal. How would you describe the taste to someone who has never eaten it before? Describing something that you imagine in detail is an example of imagery. But what is imagery and why is it used?

    Imagery is descriptive language that creates a mental image of different things, such as experiences, places, objects and ideas. Imagery is a type of literary device, so is often used by writers to help convey their message to the reader, and evoke the reader's emotions. Imagery helps us to make sense of the world around us. We can often use it to appeal to the reader's senses.

    There are five basic senses, which are:

    • Sight
    • Hearing

    • Touch

    • Smell

    • Taste

    For each sense, we can use different types of imagery to describe them. These types of imagery are as follows:

    • Visual - associated with our sense of sight.
    • Auditory - associated with our sense of hearing.
    • Tactile - associated with our sense of touch.
    • Olfactory - associated with our sense of smell.
    • Gustatory - associated with our sense of taste.

    Today, we will focus on gustatory imagery.

    Gustatory imagery definition

    Gustatory imagery, a literary device, refers to the author's use of language to represent experiences or sensations of taste. The goal is to create a vivid mental picture that stimulates the reader's taste buds, making the description more immersive and engaging. Such imagery can describe a wide range of taste sensations, from the delectable sweetness of honey to the harsh bitterness of medicine, and everything in between. This type of imagery is particularly effective in food-related texts but can be found across a wide variety of literary genres.

    One sentence summary: Gustatory imagery is a type of descriptive language that is used to describe things that we can taste. It helps to create a mental image so the reader can imagine what something tastes like.

    Effect of gustatory imagery

    Gustatory imagery can often be used to evoke certain memories or emotions in the reader.

    For example, if a writer describes the taste of something that the reader is already familiar with, they may associate it with a memory from the past and will be able to remember the taste.

    Gustatory imagery examples

    Now we know that Gustatory imagery pertains to descriptive language that appeals to the sense of taste, here are a few examples:

    1. In Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist (1838), he writes: 'The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery.' This stirs the taste of the gruel, a thin, tasteless porridge.

    2. In William Carlos William's 'This Is Just To Say' (1934): 'Forgive me/ they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold' Here, the reader can almost taste the sweet plums from the icebox.

    These examples use gustatory imagery to evoke a sensory reaction in the reader related to the experience of taste. Gustatory imagery can be literal, such as describing the actual flavour of food/drink. The five main tastes of food and drink are as follows:

    • Sweet
    • Umami (savoury/meaty)
    • Salty
    • Bitter
    • Sour

    Some people may consider 'spicy' to be a taste, but it is not. Spice is actually a sensation that triggers a feeling of pain. This is why eating spicy food is not always pleasant!

    Adjectives, nouns, and adverbs

    To describe the literal taste of something, adjectives can be used. For example:

    The juicy apple tasted tangy and sweet.

    Here, gustatory imagery is created through the use of the adjectives 'juicy', 'tangy' and 'sweet'. This creates a mental image for the reader, which helps them to understand what the apple tastes like.

    Gustatory Imagery Photo of an apple StudySmarter

    Fig. 1 - Food can be described by using adjectives.

    Adjectives can also be turned into nouns to describe something. For example:

    The sourness of the lemon complimented the creaminess of the icing.

    Here, the adjectives 'sour' and 'creamy' are turned into nouns by adding 'ness' to the end. These nouns are used to create gustatory imagery as they describe the different qualities of the food.

    Adverbs can be used alongside adjectives or nouns to either emphasise or downplay the flavour of something. For example:

    The sauce was extremely rich.

    VS

    The sauce was slightly acidic.

    Here, the adverbs 'extremely' and 'slightly' create gustatory imagery as they are used to describe the extent of the flavour in a more specific, in-depth way.

    Figurative language

    Gustatory imagery can also be created through the use of figurative language (such as metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, etc).

    Figurative language is a type of language that is not taken literally. It can be used to create gustatory imagery by emphasising a flavour or comparing the taste of something to another thing. For example:

    The ice cream tasted as refreshing as a dip in the pool on a hot day.

    In this example, a simile is used to compare the taste of the ice cream to a physical experience. A simile is a figure of speech that compares two different things using 'like' or 'as.' This helps the reader to visualise the sense of taste. For example, we are able to imagine how refreshing a dip in the pool would be, and can compare this to the refreshing taste of the ice cream.

    Gustatory Imagery Photo of a pool and sunglasses StudySmarterFig. 2 - Figurative language can be used to compare tastes to other things or experiences.

    The sardines were so salty that I needed to drink five gallons of water.

    Here, the saltiness of the sardines is largely emphasised. This is an example of hyperbole (and should not be taken literally). A hyperbole is a figure of speech that is used to purposely exaggerate something in an extreme way. We know it is highly unlikely that someone would need to drink five gallons of water after eating sardines!

    Gustatory imagery in Literature

    There are many examples of gustatory imagery in Literature. The following example is from Nigella Lawson's cookbook, Forever Summer (2002):

    The sweetness of new potatoes, fresh peas, broad beans, the grassy herbalness of asparagus and then the uncompromisingly radiant sunniness of the basil."

    In this example, the food is described literally through words such as 'sweetness' and 'grassy herbalness.' Figurative language is also used, as the basil is described as having a 'radiant sunniness.' We know that basil cannot actually taste 'sunny', but it is compared to the sun to emphasise its nice flavour!

    Gustatory imagery In Poetry

    This example of gustatory imagery in poetry comes from Robert Frost's 'To Earthward' (1923):

    I craved strong sweets, but thoseSeemed strong when I was young;The petal of the roseIt was that stung.Now no joy but lacks salt,That is not dashed with pain

    The poem involves a juxtaposition of sensory experiences that relate to both taste and touch, enhancing the emotional depth of the poem. The craving for 'strong sweets' creates an image of rich, sugary foods that the reader can almost taste. It also introduces a nostalgic element, reflecting on a time when these intense flavors were more desirable or enjoyable.

    Gustatory Imagery - Key Takeaways

    • Gustatory imagery is a type of imagery that is used to describe things that we can taste.
    • Gustatory imagery is one of five types of imagery used to describe the senses. The other types are: visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory.
    • Gustatory imagery can be created by using both literal and figurative language.
    • To describe the literal taste of something, adjectives or nouns can be used. Adverbs can be added alongside them to emphasise or downplay the flavour of something.
    • Figurative language (not taken literally) can be used to compare the taste of something to something else or exaggerate the taste of something.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Gustatory Imagery

    What is an example of gustatory imagery?

    An example of gustatory imagery is:


    The juicy apple tasted tangy and sweet.

    What imagery is sense of taste?

    The sense of taste can be described by using gustatory imagery.

    Why is gustatory imagery effective?

    Gustatory imagery is effective because it can help create a mental image so the reader can imagine what something tastes like.  

    What are the imagery five senses?

    The five types of imagery we can use to describe our senses are:


    1. Visual - sense of sight.
    2. Auditory - sense of hearing.
    3. Tactile - sense of touch.
    4. Olfactory - sense of smell.
    5. Gustatory - sense of taste. 


    What is gustatory imagery?

    Gustatory imagery is a type of descriptive language (imagery) that is used to describe things that we can taste.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following is not a taste of food/drink?

    Spice is not considered to be a taste.True or false?

    Gustatory imagery can be ________.

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