Zesty: how strong is that taste?


Français – Québec

I often translate or proof-read food sector documents and packaging, where zesty is too often translated by "piquant" (hot), which most of the time is misleading: having tasted several so-called "zesty" product, I can say for a fact it is usually not hot, but then, how would you define zesty for a non-English-speaking person?

Here are the more relevant definitions I found (excluding the reference to citrus peel, which do not apply to my question)

– having a strong, pleasant, and somewhat spicy flavor
– lively and pleasing : full of zest
(where zest is defined as: 1. a lively quality that increases enjoyment, excitement, or energy; 2. piquancy, i.e. the quality or state of agreeably stimulating to the palate, especially : spicy; 3. keen enjoyment : relish, gusto)

[you have to go a little far to find the reference to "relish" and "gusto", even though they seem very relevant:
relish – a. characteristic flavor; especially : pleasing or zestful flavor; b. enjoyment of or delight in something that satisfies one's tastes, inclinations, or desires; c. something adding a zestful flavor; especially : a condiment (as of pickles or green tomatoes) eaten with other food to add flavor.
gusto – a. an individual or special taste; b. enthusiastic and vigorous enjoyment or appreciation]

(WordReference – adaptation from the definition of "zest", also excluding citrus peel)
– producing invigorating or keen excitement or enjoyment
– producing added interest, flavour, or charm; piquancy
– characteristic of something added to give flavour or relish

By what I can understand, the idea is more strongly related to "flavourful" than to "hot".

French translations I can think of that would include both ideas to some degree are:
– relevé
(Rendu fort par un assaisonnement [cf. Le Robert] / Dont le goût est prononcé [cf. Druide Antidote] => made strong by seasoning / whose taste is pronounced)

– assaisonné
(participe passé d'assaisonné: Accommoder un mets avec des produits qui en relèvent le goût [cf. Le Robert] / Ajouter des épices, des aromates à un mets afin d’en relever le goût [cf. Druide Antidote] => past participle: add seasoning to food in order to make its taste more pronounced / Add spices, aromatics to food in order to make its taste more pronounced)

– épicé
(Assaisonné d'épices [cf. Le Robert] / Qui contient beaucoup d’épices fortes [cf. Druide Antidote] => seasoned with spices / that contains a lot of strong spices)
[based on Druide Antidote's definition, however, that would be too much]

Anyone has more comprenhensive, clearer or more concise English definitions, or better French equivalents?
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  • "bien relevé" rather than "épicé" which implies the use of spices whereas "relevé" means that there is something which heightens the taste but which is not spices.
    I would not use "piquant" which is a little derogatory.
    I don't think zesty necessarily means spicy. You can add zest to a dish with mustard, salt, lemon juice, tamarind juice, vinegar...

    All we know for certain is that it means having a strong, pleasant and somewhat spicy flavour. (Merriam-Webster wrong again!). As Petit1 suggests in #3, it's sharp rather than mellow, however.