What is the Difference Between Sweet and Savory?

A Kaminsky

Humans like different flavors in their foods. Therefore, we have both sweet and savory foods. What is the difference between sweet and savory? The most basic definition is that sweet food has the flavor or taste of sugar or honey, while savory food is not sweet, but rather full-flavored and sometimes spicy.

Bacon, along with other types of meat, is considered a savory food.
Bacon, along with other types of meat, is considered a savory food.

Sweet and savory foods often complement each other at a dinner. A salad may have savory cheese and bacon bits, but may also include sweet fruit such as apples or strawberries. Sweet and savory foods can often be combined to produce complex flavors, as well.

Strawberries, along with many other fruits, are sweet.
Strawberries, along with many other fruits, are sweet.

Many people think of sweet and savory foods as two separate categories, and sometimes they are. Savory food is often categorized as anything not inherently sweet. Meat, for instance, is usually savory. Vegetables, in general, are also savory. Snack foods, finger foods and hors d’oeuvres are most often savory, too. Foods prepared with a minimum of sugar and with no focus on a sugary taste are considered savory. Also, a fragrant herb called savory can be used to flavor meats and meat sauces.

Chocolate is sweet.
Chocolate is sweet.

Sweet, the other half of the sweet and savory duo, is produced by sugar. This may come from the natural sugar in fruit, or it may take the form of chocolate or other candy flavors. Most people have an affinity for all things sweet, and all have their personal preferences. Some prefer fruit-flavored sweets, some chocolate, some vanilla, some caramel, and some will not be happy with anything other than a peanut butter flavor. As with savory foods, sweet tastes may be paired together. For instance, chocolate and orange or raspberry are often used together, or chocolate and peanut butter or butterscotch.

An apple, which is sweet.
An apple, which is sweet.

Nuts are the bridge between sweet and savory. They can be coated in sugar or toasted in butter and used in sweet foods like cookies or brownies. They can also be roasted with salt and garlic and eaten out of hand, lightly toasted to top a savory dip or thrown into an Asian stir-fry.

A savory tapenade served with a slice of bread.
A savory tapenade served with a slice of bread.

Sweet and savory flavors often go together in the same dish. Pork roast may have a glazed apple topping. Asian dishes often have sweet sauces, but are also flavored with garlic and onions. Glazed carrots blend sweet and savory flavors, as does sweet corn cooked with salt and pepper. Sweet pineapple is a popular topping, along with ham, for pizza with a Hawaiian flair.

Pineapple can be used as a sweet topping for pizza.
Pineapple can be used as a sweet topping for pizza.

It is sometimes difficult to make a distinction between sweet and savory. Both work together and separately and allow cooks to give food maximum flavor and appeal.

Honey is a food with a sweet taste.
Honey is a food with a sweet taste.
Peanut butter is a popular sweet spread.
Peanut butter is a popular sweet spread.

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Discussion Comments

anon989277

Shrimp prepared with a diced mango and pineapple.

anon930008

Is mango mousse accompanied by espresso a savory sweet treat?

anon322762

I want to know is it good or bad to eat sweet items in between lunch or dinner.

LisaLou

The best combination I can think of for a sweet and savory dish is pork chops baked with apples on them. At first you wouldn't think this would taste all that great, but it is a wonderful combination.

There is a favorite restaurant we like to eat at and I will often order one of their specials which is pork served with a cranberry sauce and cream cheese. The very first time I tasted this I was hooked and find myself craving this combination every so often.

As far as sweet things go chocolate and peanut butter have to be one of the most popular combinations. I don't care for either of these foods that much on their own, but when they are mixed together there is something about the taste that makes it hard to resist.

myharley

When I started trying to make some healthy changes in my diet I stopped eating potato chips and replaced that snack with almonds. I know that eating raw almonds is the healthiest for you, but they have so many great seasonings that enhance the taste so that is what I usually go for.

I love to eat almonds that have sea salt on them and I found one recipe where you toast the almonds and add vanilla and ginger. You can go either way with almonds, making them sweet or savory depending on what you mix them with. This is just one of the reasons they are such a versatile snack.

SarahSon

I love chocolate just about any way it is made, but one of my favorite combinations of sweet foods eaten together is chocolate and fresh fruit. If I am at an event where they have a chocolate fountain with fresh fruit, I could make a meal out of it. Strawberries with chocolate on them are probably my favorite, but chocolate and raspberry, banana and pineapple are pretty good too.

honeybees
I like both sweet and savory foods and it usually depends on what I am in the mood for. After any meal I usually want a little something sweet. It doesn't have to be a huge bowl of ice cream, but just a small taste of something sweet will satisfy me.

Eating something sweet like that doesn't always sound very good before a meal. I think eating sweets like that really does spoil your appetite. If I eat a handful of cookies before dinner, I notice that I am not nearly as hungry as I would have been otherwise.

Ana1234

@browncoat - I'm not a huge sweet fan myself. But it is nice to have something like a sweet hot drink or something cold as a way to kind of clean the palate after eating.

I've always liked the Chinese way of thinking about food, which is to divide it into different flavors including sweet and savory and others. A meal isn't considered complete unless it has a mixture and balance of all the different flavors.

Which is probably why we get dishes like sweet and sour pork from China. Although I'm sure the sweet and sour pork you get from the local fast food Chinese place isn't anything like the traditional dishes eaten in the actual country.

browncoat

@anon103372 - Actually, that's a cultural thing. There are other cultures where the first course is the sweet course and later courses are savory.

However, I also think it's to do with rewards. Most people prefer the sweet foods and once they were much more expensive than the savory ingredients because sugar was once very rare and difficult to make. So, you get a small portion of sweets after the meal because there wasn't much to go around and because it was a reward for eating the meal (this might be more for kids than adults).

anon103372

Why do we usually prefer to eat savory food first and follow with sweet flavors?

oasis11

Sunshine31- I usually don’t like Cannoli pastries too much because I prefer sweeter pastries.

I do love Sweet and Sour Chicken and Honey Chicken. Both sauces provide a sweet taste to the savory chicken which is wonderful. I don't eat it often because both dishes are very high in calories.

sunshine31

Greenweaver- I love trail mix. It tastes so good. I also love a savory pastry like a cannoli with the rich ricotta cheese filling. It is just the right snack to have with some espresso coffee.

GreenWeaver

And savory foods come in many forms. For example, many Thai dishes are both sweet and savory. Pad Thai for example, offers a savory taste of noodles with the sweet taste of peanut sauce. This combination makes the dish sweet and savory.

Sometimes the snacks can be made to be sweet and savory as well. I love the taste of grapes with cheese. The grapes offer a sweet taste while, the nuts are more savory.

Also many trail mix combination are sweet and savory. They usually contain raisin and chocolate chips which prvide the sweet taste while the various nuts provide the savory taste.

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