A useful post by @Martin indicated that probably the naming of Sweetwater town is because of the sweet tasting lead compounds in it's water.
Then my question arose. I know that the taste of any material is dependent on which tongue buds it provokes. Now, my question is, which chemical property of an element defines or is directly related or is causing the chemical property of taste? (I deliberately avoid asking this for all chemical species to prevent very broad answers, if you think you can give not-too-long answers, my question is about all chemical species.)
Note that by a responsible chemical property I mean things related specifically to an atom, like e.config.


2 Answers 2


TL;DR: Don't taste pure elements. They either taste of nothing, taste foul, or kill you. Or all of the above.

Edit: Also, for clarification, elements don't have a taste. Taste is a biological reaction to chemical interactions happening with an element, not a property of the element itself. So, like everything else in chemistry, the taste is decided by the electron configuration of the element.

Taste as we know it happens in chemical reactions between our taste buds and the chemical species in question. Most of the taste is actually governed by the nose, where very specific receptors interact with very specific chemicals to send very specific signals to the brain, the chemistry of which is, while not trivial, also not interesting. It's your basic, run of the mill presumptive test.

In the taste buds, however, the receptors look for certain specific characteristics of the species being tasted. As an example, acids are sour, indicating that our sour taste buds are actually pH meters (although there might be more to it than this).

Similarly, most sugars have similar characteristics, that can be detected by a relatively simple chemical detector.

If, however, you go around tasting elements, you'll find two very interesting things.

First, you'll find that you're dying from all kinds of poisonings. At a rough count, all of the periodic table is poisonous in its pure form, with only a few exceptions (carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, silicon, titanium, noble gases, gold and platinum, possibly a few others).

Second, you'll find that the pure elements don't taste much at all, if anything. Taste is a completely biological concept, and these elements simply aren't found in nature, meaning that the tongue and nose have no frame of reference.

Most metals will taste metallic, due to tarnishes forming on their surface, mostly oxides, which all have the familiar, metallic taste. The non-metals are mostly fairly reactive, and taste absolutely foul as they react to the air in your moist mouth.

Gases like chlorine and fluorine may react and form chloride and fluoride, which taste sour, and then dissolve your mouth and nose, and then kill you.

The more radioactive metals will seem to taste of blood, but that's actually just acute radiation poisoning setting in, actually filling your mouth with blood. If they didn't kill you, they'd probably taste metallic like the rest of the metals, but they do, so they don't.

Finally, the alkali metals like lithium and its friends will taste bitter, also kill you.

"But wait!", I hear you scream, "What of, say, lithium in pharmaceuticals?"

When elements like lithium are ingested, they are done so in a rather more controlled fashion. You don't get a brick of pure, elemental lithium and told to go crazy when you go crazy, but rather, delivered in pills, in conjunction with a delivery agent, in this case, lithium citrate.

Most elements have some biological role or other, but if they are in the kind of quantity you could taste, they are most likely poisonous, and in many cases, fatally so.

  • $\begingroup$ Strangely, I have licked iron and lived $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 9:49

I don't know how many variables determine the taste but we recently found out that materials can have completely different properties just by the amount. We know that with different structures of atoms materials get completely different like diamond and graphit but, we know at least since the discovery of graphene that the periodic table might be much more complicated than we had imagined.

Every element gets completely different properties with just the quantity of atoms. If you take for example a really small amount of an element with a spoon it glows yellow, then you take with an other spoon a bigger amount and it glow red, then you take a bigger amount it glows blue. Currently it doesn't make any sense why this happens since you don't change the atomic structure of the material.

In the future the periodic table will get a 3rd dimension with every element becoming different with just the amount. This is not about the structure of the atoms or something, just the amount.

For the colors of matrials we have the wave lenght of the light as a reference but for the taste there are to much variables since we taste with our nose and our tongue.



  • $\begingroup$ This is simply not correct. The differences between allotropes of carbon are structural, not do with "amount". $\endgroup$
    – J. LS
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ Yes this is what I said and additionally with the amount. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 10:10

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