How to Write a Menu Describing Your Food
When it comes to writing a menu, word choice is very important. The words you use to describe food on your menu could entice customers and increase sales if you choose them well, but they could also turn customers off or confuse them if you’re not careful. Below, we break down the key components to menu writing and offer a list of descriptive words for food to get you started.
Words to Describe Taste
The flavor of your food is what most customers focus on when they are deciding what to eat. How you present the dishes on your menu can help build anticipation, and a good menu description could even convince a hesitant customer to try something new. With this in mind, it's important to be precise and thorough when choosing words to describe your food's flavor.
Here are some words that are commonly used to describe taste:
Acidic: A food with a sharp taste. Often used to refer to tart or sour foods as well.
Bitter: A tart, sharp, and sometimes harsh flavor.
Bittersweet: A less harsh taste than bitterness. Couples tartness with sweetness.
Briny: Another word for salty.
Citrusy: A bright flavor like that of lemons, limes, oranges, and other citrus fruits.
Cooling: A taste that mimics the feeling of cold temperature. Often used to describe mint.
Earthy: Reminiscent of fresh soil. Often used to describe red wines, root vegetables, and mushrooms.
Fiery: A taste that feels as though it gives off heat. Another word for spicy.
Fresh: A light and crisp taste. Often used to describe produce or herbs.
Fruity: Any taste reminiscent of sweet fruit flavors.
Full-bodied: Rich flavor that can feel heavy in the mouth. Often used to describe wines.
Herbal: A bright, fresh, or sometimes earthy taste created by the incorporation of herbs.
Honeyed: A sweet or candied taste that may be reminiscent of honey.
Nutty: Any taste similar to the flavors of nuts. Often used to describe cheeses.
Rich: A full, heavy flavor. Often used to describe foods containing cream.
Robust: A rich taste with some earthiness. Often used to describe wines or aged liquors.
Sharp: A harsh, bitter, or tart taste. Often used to describe acidic foods.
Smoky: A taste reminiscent of the smell of smoke.
Sour: A biting, tangy, tart flavor.
Spicy: A burning taste from hot spices.
Sweet: A sugary flavor.
Tangy: A tart, biting taste that feels tingly in the mouth.
Tart: A sharp, bitter, or sour flavor. Often used to describe acidic foods.
Yeasty: An earthy taste reminiscent of yeast. Often used to describe beer and breads.
Woody: An earthy, sometimes nutty taste. Often used to describe coffees or cheeses.
Zesty: A fresh, vivid, or invigorating flavor.
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Words to Describe Texture
Another consideration when describing your food is texture. Matching the right texture words to your dishes helps your guests to imagine what it will be like to eat your food before they order it.
Here are some words that are commonly used to describe texture:
Airy: A light, pillowy texture often created by the incorporation of air.
Buttery: A smooth and creamy texture similar to that of butter.
Chewy: The texture of a food that needs to be chewed thoroughly before swallowing. Can be light and bouncy or heavy and sticky.
Creamy: A smooth and rich texture that usually comes from the incorporation of dairy.
Crispy: A light texture with a slight crunch.
Crumbly: The texture of a food with a loose structure that falls apart into small pieces or crumbs.
Crunchy: A firm, crisp texture often identified by the sharp, audible noise that the food makes when being eaten.
Crusty: The texture of a food with a hard outer layer and soft interior.
Delicate: A light, fine texture that may come apart easily.
Doughy: A soft and heavy texture that is often coupled with pale coloring.
Fizzy: A texture brought on by the presence of many small bubbles, usually referring to carbonated liquids.
Flaky: A light texture characterized by layers that come apart during eating.
Fluffy: A light and airy texture.
Gooey: A viscous, sometimes sticky texture arising from the presence of moisture in a dense solid food.
Hearty: A firm, robust texture.
Juicy: A succulent, tender texture characterized by the presence of liquid in a solid food.
Silky: A fine, smooth texture characterized by a sleek feel in the mouth.
Sticky: A texture characterized by gluiness in the mouth.
Smooth: A consistent texture free of grit, lumps, or indentations.
Succulent: A tender, juicy texture.
Tender: A soft texture that is easy to break down.
Velvety: A smooth and rich texture.
Words to Describe Preparation Method
One of the best ways to describe food on your menu is by indicating how it was prepared. So long as your customer recognizes the words you choose, it will give them a clear picture of your food's flavor and appearance.
Here are some words that indicate preparation method:
Baked: A food that was cooked in an oven, often resulting in a crispy outer coating.
Blanched: A food that was scalded in boiling water and then moved to cold water to stop cooking. Results in a softened texture.
Blackened: A food that was dipped in butter and coated with spices before being cooked in a hot pan, resulting in a blackened appearance.
Braised: Food that is briefly fried in a small amount of fat and then is slowly stewed in a covered pot. Results in a seared, crispy exterior coupled with a tender interior texture.
Breaded: A food that was coated with a breadcrumb mixture or batter that is then baked or fried into a crispy outer layer.
Broiled: A food cooked with intense radiant heat, as in an oven or on a grill. Often results in a darkened appearance and crispy texture.
Caramelized: A food that has been cooked slowly until it is browned and becomes sweeter in taste.
Charred: Food that is grilled, roasted, or broiled and gains a blackened exterior coupled with a smoky flavor.
Fermented: A food that has been introduced to bacteria, yeast, or another microorganism to produce organic acids, alcohols, or gases. May result in a pungent, biting flavor.
Fried: Food that is cooked by submerging partially or fully into hot oil. Often results in a crispy or crunchy texture and golden color.
Glazed: A food that becomes moistened by having a flavorful coating dripped or brushed onto its surface. May result in a glossy appearance and thin, crisp outer layer.
Infused: A food that has been steeped in liquid with another ingredient in order to extract the flavor of the ingredient. Often used with herbs.
Marinated: A food (usually meat) that has been soaked in liquid containing flavorful ingredients like herbs, spices, vinegar, and oil.
Poached: Food that has been cooked in nearly boiling liquid. Often results in a tender, moist texture.
Roasted: Food that has been cooked with dry heat in an oven or over a fire. Often results in a browned exterior and crisp coating.
Sauteed: A food that has been cooked quickly in a small amount of fat.
Seared: A food that is cooked in a small amount of fat until caramelized and then finished by roasting, grilling, or another method. Results in a crisp outer texture and tender interior.
Smoked: Food that is cooked or preserved by long exposure to smoke from smoldering wood. Results in a distinctive, bold flavor.
Whipped: Food that has been beaten to incorporate air. Often results in a light, fluffy texture.
Choose Positive Words to Describe Your Food
The easiest way to accidentally influence your customers into passing over a menu item is to use a word with a negative connotation. Before you put a word in your menu description, take a moment to think about how that word is commonly used. Does it bring a positive image to mind, or is it unappetizing? Additionally, the positive alternatives to negative words are often more specific, so they give your customers a more precise idea of what your food is like.
Here are some examples of negative describing words and the positive adjectives that you can use to replace them:
Dry vs. crispy: Chicken with a dry breading compared to Chicken with a crispy breading
Greasy vs. velvety: Pasta in a greasy sauce compared to Pasta in a velvety sauce
Sugary vs. honeyed: Pears with a sugary drizzle compared to Pears with a honeyed drizzle
Burned vs. blackened: Burned salmon compared to Blackened salmon
Tough vs. hearty: A piece of tough bread compared to A piece of hearty bread
Mushy vs. tender: A mushy crabcake compared to A tender crabcake
When you're trying to find the right words to describe the food on your menu, be sure to explore the hundreds of options that you have. Remember to use words that are appealing enough to catch a customer's eye, common enough to explain your food at a glance, and specialized enough that you don't have to resort to cliches. Next time you add a new dish or want to overhaul your menu, keep in mind that the time you invest in your menu descriptions can help sell your food to customers.