Semiotics of taste: Application in China for International (and Local) Food and Flavor Industries

Vladimir Djurovic, Nadège Depeux


This article is based on a methodology designed and applied during a 2009 study sponsored by Givaudan and executed by Labbrand for the Chinese market. It originated from a shared interest in exploring how applied semiotics could be used to better grasp the elusive question of flavor experience and enable improved flavor innovation.

In this paper we define flavor and taste, and understand the difference between the two, in the following way: Flavor is a sensory experience produced by food or other substances, mainly determined by the chemical senses of taste and smell. Taste sensors are mostly on the tongue and can detect only basic sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and saltiness. Smell plays an important role and enables us to distinguish an almost infinite variety of flavors: floral, smoky, fruity, etc. Other senses such as sight also greatly influence flavor experience.1) Taste, on the other hand, is "a sense by which flavor is known", a sensation caused in the tongue by things placed on it" (Oxford dictionary). As we can see from these definitions, flavor and taste are closely linked. Out of the five senses, taste is the most abstract, and therefore the most difficult to describe. Moreover, it is often tied to another sense such as touch, smell or sight.