According to the dictionary definitions, the word "savory" has two different meaning:

  • Pleasant to smell or taste. (=delicious)
  • Tasting of salt or spices and not sweet.

But the question lies here! Aside from two connotations of this word, whether "savory" (normally) means something "delicious" / "tasty" or usually when people use it, it makes sense of something "not sweet"?

What would native speakers take by hearing this word out?

Meanwhile, if they mean the same, is it as formal as "delicious" or it's somehow informal / less formal when it comes to the easant taste realm?

  • 1
    In my experience, meaning 1) is archaic or literary. If it is used in speech, I would always understand it in meaning 2), unless the context made it plain that that wouldn't fit. The word "unsavoury" (I prefer British spellings!) is sometimes used, in a metaphorical sense derived from 1, ("an unsavoury business", "unsavoury acquaintances") but "savoury" is not often used in that way.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 27, 2019 at 16:08

1 Answer 1


The usual connotation is "both non-sweet and delicious". In a particular context one or other meaning may be emphasised. But you wouldn't normally say "the cake was savoury". Nor would you say "The rotten eggs were savory".

You could say

We have some savoury snacks on the table

(Here emphasising the "non-sweet" meaning, but still including the "delicious" meaning)

You could also say,

There was an unsavoury smell of fish coming from the kitchen.

Here it means "not-delicious".

And "savoury" is often used metaphorically to mean "morally acceptable".

The CIA is used for less savoury operations, when the regular army is thought to be too public.

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