What Is the Difference Between Sweet and Savory?

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We are hearing so much that some foods are sweet and some savory, but what is the difference? Is there any truth that savory foods are an aphrodisiac? And can a dish be both sweet and savory? Basically sweet foods have a sweet taste usually from sugar, or honey, chocolate, or natural sugars found in fruit. Examples include candy, cakes, cookies, fudge, pasties, puddings, and chocolate bars.

Savory foods have no focus on being sweet. Their primary flavor would come from the combination of herbs and spices making the dish appetizing, pleasant and agreeable to the senses like a Mediterranean inspired chicken cooked with cumin and turmeric, or a garlic and paprika roast beef. Meat, vegetables, finger foods are usually savory because they are prepared with a minimum of sugar and no focus on a sweet taste.

And yes, a dish can be both sweet and savory. You see this often times in Asian cooking like sweet and sour chicken, or a turkey sauce made with sophisticated spices and sweetened with plums, raisins, or honey. Honey mustard dishes are another example of sweet and savory.

But there is more to the story…

Since the time of the Saxons, savory, the bold and peppery herb, has come to mean not just the herb itself, but also a whole segment of cooking. Savory is a Mediterranean aromatic herb in the mint family and has two varieties: summer savory and winter savory. Summer savory has the aroma of mint and thyme. Winter savory is best used for long cooking dishes such as stews and sauces, or can be added to water when cooking dried beans. Both varieties have a peppery bite to them, but summer savory is milder. The savory herb is used to flavor meats, soups, and salads.

Fun Facts

Savory is reputed to be an aphrodisiac. The Roman naturalist and writer, Pliny the Elder, in the first century AD, gave the herb its name “satureja” derived from “satyr” (the half-man, half-goat with the insatiable sexual appetite). According to lore, the satyrs lived in meadows of savory, thus implying that it was the herb that made them so passionate. And as recently as this century, noted French herbalist, Messeque, claimed he used savory in love potions he made for couples. As a boy his father told him it was the herb of happiness.

The original name of San Francisco, Yerba Buena, means the “good herb.” This is a variety of savory: Satureja douglasii. The early settlers learned to dry the herb and drank it in tea to cure a variety of ailments, thus earning its name “good herb.” It is commonly used today in toothpaste and soaps.

Sweet and Savory

Sweet and savory flavors go nicely together in the same dish such as: turkey roast with glazed apple topping, sweet and sour chicken, glazed carrots, garlic and onion, pineapple chicken, and pineapple pizza.