What is an Aftertaste?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

It is not unusual for consumers of certain beverages, foods and medicines to notice a lingering flavor after swallowing. This could be a sense of heat from a spicy ethnic dish, or a very disagreeable bitter flavor after swallowing a liquid cough syrup. Some people may experience a chemical taste after consuming a diet beverage, while others may notice a pleasant smoky or buttery flavor after sipping gourmet coffee. These are all examples of a phenomenon known as an aftertaste.

Gourmet coffee may have a distinct aftertaste.
Gourmet coffee may have a distinct aftertaste.

In some cases, an agreeable aftertaste can be a good thing. Professional taste-testers of gourmet wines and coffees, for example, evaluate the aftertaste of a product for such qualities as smokiness, smoothness or longevity. A pleasant lingering flavor, also known as finish, is considered a positive element of wines and coffees. Some beverages may have little to no aftertaste, or one that is very short-lived or unpleasant. A gourmet beverage's finish often depends on how long it lingers on the drinker's taste buds.

An aftertaste lingers on the taste buds after food is eaten.
An aftertaste lingers on the taste buds after food is eaten.

Under other circumstances, however, an aftertaste may be considered a bad turn of culinary events. Spicy ethnic foods may feature spices with a slow burn effect, but those lingering spices often create an unpleasant aftertaste until the palate is completely cleansed. Other ingredients such as cooking wine or acidic sauces could also leave an unpleasant taste, especially if the diners are not accustomed to such strongly flavored dishes.

A wine's aftertaste is one of the qualities that may be judged by a professional taste-tester.
A wine's aftertaste is one of the qualities that may be judged by a professional taste-tester.

Perhaps the most noticeable example of an aftertaste occurs with artificial sweeteners. Many consumers of diet soft drinks and other products made with sugar substitutes complain of a noticeably bitter flavor immediately after swallowing. Even sugar substitutes created from sugar can leave a chemical aftertaste. Some consumers do become accustomed to this after repeated use, but for others the bitter or unpleasant flavor is considered a real deterrent. Producers of products containing sugar substitutes spend a great deal of time and money addressing the aftertaste issue, with varying levels of success among consumers.

Cough syrup has a distinctly bitter aftertaste that most people find unappealing.
Cough syrup has a distinctly bitter aftertaste that most people find unappealing.

Many liquid medications can also create an unpleasant aftertaste. The use of flavoring agents may help to mask some of this flavor, but many oral medications cannot be altered to eliminate it completely. Home remedies such as cod liver oil are often singled out for their extremely unpleasant aftertastes. Some people find the burning or medicinal finish of alcohol-based mouthwashes to be quite disagreeable, while others may notice a strong aftertaste following a dose of cough medicine or oral antibiotics.

Condiments may change a food's aftertaste.
Condiments may change a food's aftertaste.
Diet soft drinks made with sugar substitutes may have an aftertaste.
Diet soft drinks made with sugar substitutes may have an aftertaste.
Oral antibiotics may have an aftertaste.
Oral antibiotics may have an aftertaste.
Spicy ethnic foods may feature spices with a slow burn effect.
Spicy ethnic foods may feature spices with a slow burn effect.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


@fify - Coffee (no matter what kind I try) always leaves quite the aftertaste in my mouth as well! But I need my coffee, so I have a bottle of mouthwash at work so that I can feel less conscious about my coffee breath and get rid of that aftertaste.

I am sure that some of the mouthwashes leave bad or bitter aftertaste in your mouth, but I have found that the minty ones do not leave a bad aftertaste for me; I think that is because the mint overwhelms or neutralizes the alcohol effects.


Liquid cold medicines always leave a bad aftertaste in my mouth. I will usually put up with it because the liquid medicines are what helps me sleep when I am suffering from a bad cough and cold.

Either I will have something else to drink to get rid of the aftertaste, or brush my teeth to get that bad taste out of my mouth.

At least there are easy things to do that will quickly get rid of the bad aftertaste. I can't imagine how awful it would be if that taste lingered for days.


The first time I tried diet soda, I thought the aftertaste was terrible. Since I like the carbonation and didn't want the extra calories, I got used to it and began drinking diet soda all the time.

After awhile the aftertaste really started bothering me and I read so many negative things about artificial sweeteners that I eliminated soda from my diet.

The rare times that I do drink one, I will order a regular soda. Even if I take one small sip of diet soda now, I just can't get rid of the aftertaste. What is the point of drinking something that tastes so bad?


I like to watch a lot of cooking shows and it seems like many of them were recommending pine nuts in, or on top of a salad.

I had never tried these before and since I like the taste of most nuts, thought I would give them a try. The pine nuts left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth that lasted for several days.

When I went online and did some research, I found out this is very common. My aftertaste didn't linger as long as some people, who can't stand to eat anything for a week or two.

I have not eaten any pine nuts since and don't think I will ever try them again. When I bought them, they seemed kind of expensive, but I thought I would get several meals from them.

I guess you never know how you are going to react to something until you try it. If I never tried anything new, it would get pretty boring eating the same things all the time. There are many people who don't have this aftertaste to pine nuts and eat them on a regular basis.


I am familiar with the antibiotic aftertaste. Even if the pill only sits on my tongue for a second, I can taste it after I swallow it.

With antibiotics, the aftertaste often doesn’t go away. I have taken some types that caused everything I ate while on the medication to taste bitter. This really took the fun out of eating. On the bright side, I lost a couple of pounds during those two weeks.

The most powerful kind of cough medicine also has a bad aftertaste, though this one goes away and doesn’t taint my sense of taste. It contains alcohol, and it tastes like a strong liquor that burns going down. I have to brush my teeth and my entire mouth after taking it, because the aftertaste will make me sick if I don’t get rid of it.


@lighth0se33 - Since you have a break, you could try carrying a portable toothbrush and toothpaste with you to work. I find that brushing the roof of my mouth and my tongue gets rid of an aftertaste. It helps to swish water in your mouth after you brush and spit it out.

If that’s not feasible, then you could try one of those tiny dropper bottles of breath freshener. The liquid is as powerful as mouthwash, so it probably could cut through the film and get rid of the funk. I like to squeeze several drops into my mouth and swish it around.


I have a problem with the aftertaste of donuts. They are so incredibly delicious that I cannot resist eating them, but they make my mouth feel weird afterward.

Every Monday morning, I have to attend a meeting at work. The boss always brings donuts, and I feel it would be rude not to eat any. Truthfully, I just want to eat them. However, it’s hard to talk and give my presentation with a filmy mouth.

Does anyone have any suggestions for how to get rid of the aftertaste? I have tried chewing gum right afterward, because we generally take a break after eating before we start the official business, but it doesn’t help.


Cranberry juice has the worst aftertaste! I drink it for my health, but I would not drink it for pleasure.

The first sip tastes good going down, but within seconds, a bitter aftertaste coats my mouth. Each following sip seems to coat it with another layer of bitterness. I have to either chew peppermint gum or use mouthwash to get rid of it.

I do enjoy crangrape juice, however. It has a pleasant, sweet aftertaste that I don’t feel the need to wash away. Sadly, it’s not as beneficial to my body as pure cranberry juice, so I only drink it occasionally.


@manykitties2-- You could try brown sugar which is better than white sugar or good old honey.

There are also different glucose syrups sold in stores for cooking purposes. I have one made from the cassava plant which works as well as sugar.

All of these either have no after-taste, or a good aftertaste and I think you would be okay with all of them.

If you're avoiding sugar altogether because of diabetes, I agree that stevia would be a good option. I have tried sodas with stevia though and it's really different. I don't remember it having an after-taste, but the taste of the sweetener itself was very different than what I'm used to.


@fify-- I do think that some foods have enzymes that cause a bad after-taste. I'm not a coffee drinker so I can't say anything about coffee, but I have the same experience you described with some fruits and vegetables, especially cantaloupe.

Whenever I have cantaloupe, it tastes really sweet and fragrant at first and then there is a weird aftertaste that I can't describe too well. The taste lingers for hours, even if I eat and drink other things afterward.

I wonder if some people react differently to the different enzymes in different foods, causing that bad aftertaste?


I love having coffee and I do drink it everyday. It tastes really good while I'm drinking it but when it's finished, I always get a really unpleasant after-taste in my mouth. I always have to have a small snack, a fruit juice or chew gum after having coffee for that reason.

I'm not sure why this happens, especially since it tastes so good at first. I think it might be the oils in the coffee, but I'm not sure. I've also suspected the brand I use and have tried different brands but the bad after-taste remains. I guess it's just a downside of having coffee that I have to put up with since I really love it otherwise.


@manykitties2 - Finding a really good natural sugar substitute isn't hard, but it can get a bit expensive as you will probably have to order from an online store, as it is still a bit of a specialty ingredient.

First, you may want to try stevia or luo han guo, which are both natural sweeteners extracted from plants (a herb, and fruit respectively) and are quite sweet. They haven't been researched heavily by the FDA, but have been used for many years in various countries.

I think if you want to avoid having a bad aftertaste in your mouth you should really try to switch off diet colas for good.


Does anyone know a really good natural sugar substitute?

I have tried all sorts of diet products and am starting to think I should just find an alternative to white sugar. The diet drinks I have leave the worst chemical aftertaste in my mouth and I find it actually makes me a bit sick in the stomach.

The only thing I can do to avoid the aftertaste from diet sodas is to stop drinking them for a few days then try again. I think that the aftertaste gets really strong the more of them I drink. I hate drinking something that leaves a bad aftertaste in my mouth.

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