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Is there really anything that is truly "flavorless"?

People will say things like, "this dish is flavorless" when in fact it is just not true, and most likely hyperbole.

What they really mean is that the dish lacks flavor, but is not truly without any flavor.

So with that said, is there any thing out there -- either a dish or an ingredient -- that is truly without any flavor whatsoever?

Even something as bland as rice has some flavor to it -- be it a bit nutty, or a tad sweet. Rice, even in it's most neutered and adulterated form as parboiled rice, has some flavor to it (maybe not good flavor, but flavor nonetheless).

And water, that bland liquid from our faucet, certainly cannot be said to be flavorless, right? I, for one, can discern distinct flavor permutations between the tap from different municipalities that I've visited and lived at.

And one of my former bosses swore he could tell the difference between Evian and other bottled waters. When called on it, he passed a blind taste test. So, yes, I guess water is not without flavor.

What say you? Is there anything that is truly flavorless?

Gelatin maybe?

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  1. I think freshly distilled water might be a candidate. Not the stuff that's been in a plastic bottle, surely, but newly made, straight from the still into a glass. If it can't be said to be utterly flavorless, it could be considered a sort of baseline for neutral flavor.

    14 Replies
    1. re: eclecticsynergy

      I had some water from a stream in Wyoming once that was truly flavorless. It was just wet, otherwise nothing. Other than that, every tap water and every bottled water is totally different. Glad I had the experience of true nothingness once in my life. It does exist.

      1. re: coll

        That sort of reminds me of the water I had at Glacier National Park.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          good way to catch giardia. Not Advised for People At Home. (except if the stream's been tested).

          1. re: Chowrin

            Mine was from a stream running through my BILs yard, been in the family for 100 years or more. I trusted him when he said "Drink this"! And glad I did. But don't worry, I watch Survivor Man and know the drill.

            1. re: coll

              Doesn't matter whose property the stream was running through, there were deer and beavers and heaven knows what else upstream, creatures that carry giardia.

              1. re: EWSflash

                Just lucky I guess! That was in the mid 1980s, when I was young and carefree...I'll have to ask him sometime, maybe it was from a spring?

        2. re: coll

          When my son was young, we were having dinner at Grandma's house in a different state than ours. He took a drink of his water, and then said "This water tastes glassier than ours".

          It did, too. I never would have thought to describe it that way, though.

        3. re: eclecticsynergy

          Distilled water, for sure. (Bottled spring water doesn't count, nor does tap water.) Also vodka without added flavorants.

          1. re: John Francis

            I knew it wouldn't take long for someone to post that vodka has no flavor. That is entirely incorrect. Anyone who has tasted more than one brand of vodka (and that includes me) can distinguish different tastes between brands, if not actually identifying the brand. And, it only takes a single sip to know that vodka is not water.

            1. re: Virginian

              Agreed. Vodka is generally my hard drink of choice and I'm picky about the brand. Water, not so much.

              1. re: Virginian

                People can also tell the difference between water from different sources, but that's because of of the presence of elements besides H and O. I believe that's also true of vodka, which if it consists only of water and ethanol after being distilled, has no flavor that I can detect.

                1. re: John Francis

                  Really? You actually can't taste the ethanol? I certainly can.

                  1. re: Virginian

                    Me too. I have not yet experienced anything without flavor. I quite like the taste of jicama, tofu and water chestnuts not so much.

            2. re: eclecticsynergy

              I'd go along with the distilled water (freshly distilled straight from the still, that is) being the baseline for neutral "taste".

            3. Pure water is flavorless.... it has no chemicals that your nose or tongue can detect.

              1. Icicles, and one of my old girlfriend's cooking, and tofu.

                15 Replies
                1. re: Veggo

                  Tofu has flavor. I love eating plain tofu, but there are certain brands that I don't like for plain use because they have such a distinct flavor difference from my preference. Those ones are still enjoyable in other preparations though.

                  1. re: Tovflu

                    OK, I'll move on to jicama, which is as flavorful as waterlogged styrofoam. I'll save water chestnuts for later.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Ah, jicama! I'd forgotten that one. We may be in agreement there, right down to the'waterlogged styrofoam.'

                      1. re: Veggo

                        Jicama is not flavorless.. It's slightly sweet and is a great addition to salads. Its texture is not like styrofoam, but more like a fresh, crisp apple.

                        1. re: cheesemaestro

                          You are right. I'm spoofing a bit. I was trying to imagine the most visually unappealing meal - maybe baked cod or halibut, boiled cauliflower, jicama salad with water chestnuts and tofu, mashed potatoes, all served on a white plate. Horchata for beverage, tapioca for dessert. But it would be a tasty meal.

                          1. re: Veggo

                            Only needing some raw,unsalted zucchini ribbons to up the anti,flavour or looks

                          2. re: cheesemaestro

                            Also agree re jicama. It *definitely* has a taste and great texture.

                            Cooked jicama is a prominent ingredient in various SE Asian dishes. Malaysian popiah (YUM!!) to me would be unimaginable without jicama.

                            1. re: huiray

                              I have to say my experiences with jicama has been limited. The most recent time I can remember having it was raw from a salad bar selection and it struck me as tasting like extremely pure water.

                              I've never had it cooked though. Does it retain it's stiff texture/structure after cooking?

                              1. re: Tovflu

                                To an extent. It becomes somewhat limp/softened but still has a slight crunch. A common way to prepare it is to shred or julienne into strips (after peeling the corm, of course), somewhat like what I imagine you might have had on that salad bar. Cooking times affect the final result. The sweetness becomes more noticeable on cooking. Of course, it is often cooked w/ seasonings added as well so obviously the "natural" taste is no longer the only taste in those cases.

                            2. re: cheesemaestro

                              Jicama is not flavorless, but it is about the closest that a food can come, that i have ever had.

                              1. re: TroyTempest

                                Well, I can summon up the flavor and taste of jicama ("sar kot") in my mind quite easily.

                            3. re: Veggo

                              Agreed! Jicama tastes like crunchy water.

                            4. re: Tovflu

                              I'm not sure if Tofu has flavor. I can't get past the appearance (gray) and a slight sickening smell.

                              1. re: sueatmo

                                Gray?

                                I don't know any type of tofu that is GRAY in color, except certain types of preserved fermented tofu after it has been exposed to air and oxidation has occurred - when it could HARDLY be said to be tasteless.

                                In any case, I agree with the poster above that tofu does indeed have taste. (Let alone different kinds of texture) Different preparations of tofu have different tastes too. I think millions and millions of people also consider that different types of tofu have different tastes, too. ;-)

                            5. Well, we would not eat flavorless food, would we? Unless we were starving and desperate for any calories at all?

                              If you have ever eaten old iceberg lettuce, you know that food can come close to being flavorless. Plain Minute rice comes close too, having only mouth feel going for it and only a very slight flavor.

                              1. "Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity." ~Voltaire

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                  If Voltaire had been my age when he turned that phrase, he would have included bowel movements along with eating and drinking as pleasurable necessities.

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    For information, the book where that quotation appears ("Les Adorateurs, ou les Louanges de Dieu") was published when Voltaire was 75. It claims to be a translation of another book by a certain "Monsieur Imhof", but I'm not sure what to make of that.

                                2. Not entirely flavorless, but fairly close: shirataki, the little bundle of noodles made from konyakku (a root vegetable). There are no calories, but it is oddly filling. Often found in Japanese dishes such as sukiyaki and oden.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                    This is the only thing I could think of. The flavor, when they're prepared properly, barely registers. It's still there, but just barely.

                                    1. re: Tripeler

                                      I know they are totally different, but konyakku sort of reminds me of the wax paper that's used in Chinese White Rabbit candy.

                                    2. While some same pure refine oil or even deionized water is flavorless.

                                      Really, your saliva is flavorless to you. Meaning it's the base level of flavor noise that any change in is detected.

                                      1. Someone will have to verify this for me - but the purely gelatin/cartilage items (i.e. sharks fin, birdsnest) are supposedly not about any taste but rather texture. I've had sharks fin soup once, and don't recall the sharks fin itself really having any flavor - but I'm hardly an expert so I'm very open to being wrong.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: cresyd

                                          You are exactly right. Shark fin is tasteless cartilege, shrouded in myth.

                                          1. re: Veggo

                                            Taking this one step further - Iron Chef Japan basically used to rank sea cucumber/sharks fin/ birds nest in that order of high quality/specialness. So would people in the know say that sea cucumbers have any taste?

                                            1. re: cresyd

                                              I have been a diver for 24 years, and I have seen countless sea cucumbers lope along sand flats defenselessly because none of the thousands of sea predators has any interest in them.

                                              Then along came man....

                                        2. Aloe, gelatin, water, Truvia (& not worth spending $ on to find out).

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: HillJ

                                            Aloe? It's the most bitter thing I have ever tasted, I think. Straight from the plant I'm talking about. Yuck.

                                            1. re: coll

                                              I make smoothies with aloe juice because I like what it does to the texture of the drink.
                                              I also believe in its digestive benefits.

                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                My mother used to take it for allergy reasons, she bought it in a plastic jug. I have only tried it from my houseplant, when I burnt my tongue, but it was pretty vile. Guess the jug isn't so bad?

                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                  To me (supertaster), aloe juice definitely has a taste. I think it's all a matter of sensitivity ...

                                                  1. re: foiegras

                                                    Interesting, foiegras. I experience texture over taste. Have a name for that? :)

                                            2. I'm thinking glass noddles. The most flavorless solid food I can think of. Great at taking on other flavors, though.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: alliegator

                                                i agree. i have a pretty hard time detecting the flavor from bean thread / glass noodles. everything else mentioned (except for distilled water) i can taste distonctly

                                              2. Any relatively cheap ingredient used primarily as "filler" such as celery or rice. Their purpose is to give substance to a mixture without altering the taste of the main, more costly, ingredient thus allowing less of it to be used.

                                                15 Replies
                                                1. re: mucho gordo

                                                  But celery adds a distinct flavor... namely, that of celery. It's why a good (tomato) sauce often starts with the trifecta of onion, carrot & celery.

                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                    Aside from the onion, for me, the other 2 ingredients do nothing to improve any primary ingredient(s). Their fairly weak flavors do more to offset or neutralize than enhance.

                                                    1. re: mucho gordo

                                                      Mucho, mirepoix is part of life, my friend.

                                                      1. re: mucho gordo

                                                        Well, that's just your opinion, man '-D

                                                        1. re: linguafood

                                                          Exactly, linguafood, it's my opinion. The tomato sauce you mention above is fine for pasta which, by itself, has no flavor but, a beef dish, such as meatloaf, suffers when covered by a tomato based sauce. I want to taste the beef, not the sauce.

                                                          1. re: mucho gordo

                                                            Pasta has flavor, too. Dough & salt, to be exact.

                                                            1. re: linguafood

                                                              Technically, I suppose you're right.

                                                        2. re: mucho gordo

                                                          Interesting. I find that fresh good celery had a strong and distinct taste that I quite like, and am happy to eat plain. Plain white rice does have a distinct flavour and aroma, but it's more subtle. I find it does vary between different rices.

                                                        3. re: linguafood

                                                          To me, celery is a fairly strong flavor, detectable a long ways off ... OTOH, I use organic celery and cook with the leaves as well. Still ... celery?!

                                                          I make a risotto with only onion, carrot, celery, chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Each of the ingredients is bringing something, and if it didn't, it would be eliminated.

                                                          If they didn't have flavor, why would celery and carrot soups exist?

                                                          Pasta also obviously has a flavor ... that's why I make sure to buy the good imported Italian stuff, and salt it well. And why good handmade pasta is worth a drive ...

                                                          Boxed rices definitely have a flavor ... a bad one. I hate the taste of converted rice ... I won't eat it.

                                                          1. re: foiegras

                                                            Hubby and I have been talking about this for a while. He doesn't taste any flavor in rice or pasta, and I detect a lovely flavor in each.
                                                            Until he quit smoking a few years back, he thought parsley had absolutely no flavor. Now he can tell, but still, it's faint. There are several green herbs that he simply can't taste.

                                                            1. re: jmcarthur8

                                                              I'm another who finds that rice has a taste. It's subtle but it is there.

                                                              1. re: jmcarthur8

                                                                Rice definitely has flavor, especially fragrant varieties like basmati. Rice cakes, on the other hand, are getting pretty close to a food that's as tasteless as can be.

                                                                I had jellyfish once a long time ago. My recollection of it is that, by itself, it conveyed very little flavor.

                                                              2. re: foiegras

                                                                I agree, celery *definitely* has a taste. Also, adding celery to any soup or broth or stew produces an unmistakable change in the taste and smell profile.

                                                                Celery leaves is still "celery", why shouldn't it be?

                                                                1. re: huiray

                                                                  My point was that organic growing intensifies the flavor, and celery leaves are more flavorful than stalks, but even given that the celery I choose and the way I use it intensifies the flavor, celery still seems a very odd choice to me for 'flavorless.'

                                                          2. does anyone think that say Uncle Ben's or most boxed basic white rices have a flavor?

                                                            1. My wife eats shirataki noodles (the konjak type not the tofu type) and I think they're tasteless (I see people on the web comparing their flavor and texture to "rubber bands" and that seems about right to me).