Through My Kitchen Window – The Language of Food

If you’ve ever felt stumped by the words a food blogger, culinary TV host, or foodie is using then you’re not alone. They really are speaking a different language. The language of food contains hundreds of cooking and baking terms, not to mention all the names and varieties of the food we grow, buy, and cook. And considering that many of our cooking terms come from the French, Italian, Indian, and Spanish languages, food is a language all-its-own!

In the fall of 2011, we looked at 30ish food words like umami, braise, risotto, and torte. The grammar geek within me was begging for more, so…

Here is a short list of head-scratching food terms that will further your culinary prowess:

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Annatto: Pronounce . Also called achiote or annotto, it is a seed used as both a spice and a yellow dye. In food it is commonly used in whole or ground form in Indian and Mexican cooking, and adds the yellow color to margarine.

Balsamic Vinegar: Pronounce . A black or deep purple vinegar originating in Modena, Italy made from Trebbiano and Lambusco grapes. It is most often used as a base in salad dressings and sauces.

Carob Powder: Is used as a substitute for cocoa powder. It comes from the ground seed pods of the carob tree.

Collagen: Pronounce . A protein our body uses to make connective tissues such as scars, ligaments, tendons, and also is a key building block in teeth and bones.

Curry: Means “sauce” in India. It refers to a number of hot and spicy, gravy-based dishes of East Indian origin made from curry powder and other spices.

Elephant Garlic: A variety of garlic with very large bulbs and a mild flavor similar to field garlic.

Harissa: Pronounce . A North African and Middle Eastern condiment made from chiles, garlic, cumin, caraway, and other spices. It is used to flavor soups and rice, or mixed with olive oil as a dip for bread.

Legumes: Pronounce or . The plant family containing peas and beans.

Mace: The outer covering of a nutmeg nut. It is ground and used in European, Asian, and Indian cuisines.

Nori: Pronounce . A paper-thin sheet of dried seaweed used to wrap sushi or toasted for breakfast.

Pad Thai: A popular Thai noodle dish that usually includes rice noodles, chiles, tofu, garlic, and eggs in a nam pla (fish) sauce.

Piquant: Pronounce . A term used to describe food that is agreeably stimulating in taste, often spicy.

Star Anise: A star shaped spice that is commonly ground and used in Chinese five-spice powder. It has a strong licorice anise flavor.

Steel-Cut Oats: Whole oats groats that are cut into pieces. It takes a few more minutes to cook than traditionally processed oats.

Tamari Sauce: Pronounce . An Asian sauce similar to soy sauce. It is thicker and wheat-free.

Trifle: Pronounce . An English dessert made from lady fingers (sponge cake) and covered in alcohol (usually sherry), jam, custard, whipped cream, chocolate, nuts, and fruit.

Wasabi: Pronounce . Made from the root of the Japanese wasabi plant (similar to watercress). It is similar to horseradish in taste and often used in sushi or as a coating on snacks.

Wheat Berries: An unprocessed grain of wheat that still has the bran, germ, and endosperm intact. Use in recipes like oats or rice, and soak overnight before cooking.

Xanthan Gum: Pronounce . A thickener similar to cornstarch that is widely used in the food industry. It is also used in wheat-free bread recipes as a replacement for gluten.

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