What is Savory?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Savory is, for one thing, a category applied to foods that are not sweet; it suggests either spicy or tart flavors. There are a number of foods that have both a sweet and a savory preparation. For example, sweet potatoes, paté a choix, cous cous, quiche, polenta, crepes, popcorn,and soup can all be served as a sweet or dessert course, or prepared as a savory.

Savory is an herb used to make salami.
Savory is an herb used to make salami.

The word also refers to an annual herb in the mint family, Labiatae, with two varieties that are commonly used by people: winter and summer savory. The winter type is sometimes referred to as spring savory. Another variety, Satureja douglasii, is the "good herb" — Yerba Buena — that served as the early name for the city now known as San Francisco.

A savory dish of meatballs.
A savory dish of meatballs.

Summer savory is Satureja hortensis. Originating in southeast Europe, it has been naturalized elsewhere, and it is the type that is most often found in herb gardens and used as a seasoning. It can be found in recipes for foccacia, marinades, stuffing, pilaf, meatballs, soups, bean dishes, eggs, and fish, and is sometimes included in the premade seasoning blend called Italian seasoning, along with oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, sage, and rosemary. Dried savory is available year round, and fresh herbs can be used during the summer months.

Savory can often be found in commercial toothpaste.
Savory can often be found in commercial toothpaste.

Winter savory is Satureja montana. It has pink and white flowers and leaves that are a bit leathery. This herb is stronger than summer savory, but can be substituted for it when necessary.

Savory grilled polenta.
Savory grilled polenta.

Savory is used in commercial toothpaste and soap. It has been recommended for a variety of medicinal purposes, from gargling to aiding digestion to using it as a disinfectant. Virgil suggested planting it near beehives for the flavor it adds to honey, and it is also used in salami, showing what a wide gamut of uses it has.

Oregano is a common Italian seasoning.
Oregano is a common Italian seasoning.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


Cauliflower, carrots and potatoes, seasoned any way you like, and lightly coated with a thick sauce - creamy or tomato based, makes a wonderful filling for savory crepes.

When I think of savory, I usually think of a really good, well prepared steak. It should have a combination of flavors and textures that is about more than the richness of the beef fat. It should highlight the gaminess of the beef, the contrast between the charred outside and the pink inside, and be seasoned properly. When done correctly, it is heaven on a plate.

I am the only person in my family who prefers savory sweet potatoes to the sweet kind. My mother is always making sweet potato pie or casserole covered in marshmallows and baked with sugar. To me, sweet potatoes are so much more than that.

I absolutely love sweet potato fries. I really had never heard of them until a few years ago when restaurants in my area started serving them.

I make my own version at home, and I bake them to make them less greasy and fattening. I simply toss them in olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. I put them on parchment paper and bake them at 375 for thirty minutes, turning them over after fifteen.


I have some Italian seasoning that contains both savory and thyme. I have no way of knowing exactly what either flavor tastes like alone, though.

Can anyone describe the flavor of pure savory to me? Is it too bitter to be used alone? I've never seen it for sale as a dried herb by itself.


@StarJo – Yes, savory foods can be salty. However, not all savory foods are salty. The only requirement for food to be considered savory is that it not be sweet.

I found two recipes for zucchini bread. One was for the savory version, and the other was for the sweet. The savory bread contained cheese, and the sweet version contained applesauce and cinnamon.

I liked the fact that the word “savory” was used in the title of the non-sweet recipe. That let me know right up front that I wouldn't be making a sweet bread.


Can savory foods also be salty instead of sweet? I know the article says they can be spicy or tart, but I thought that savory actually meant salty.


warmed up crepes with fruit and cream cheese/vanilla filling stuffed with almost any fruit also makes for a real great treat. top with with a fruit syrup or more of that fruit and you have a great dessert.


@obsessed: you can use the same batter for sweet and savory crepes, but i like to add a little sugar to the batter itself when making dessert crepes.


Savory crepes for instance would be made from the same batter as sweet crepes, just the filling would be different. For instance a savory crepe might have turkey and cheese filling, or salmon and cream cheese filling.

Or maybe spinach and chicken for a healthier option. Any good combination that one can think of, is a delectable treat, and change from the ordinary.

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