Through My Kitchen Window – The Language of Food

Edamame is the Japanese name for fresh soybeans. Stock image.
Edamame is the Japanese name for fresh soybeans. Stock image.

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, and Spanish languages, food is a language all-its-own!

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

If the French word a’ blanc (pronounce ) proceeds your entrée, such as “pork chops a’ blanc”, your chops will be served “in white” or without any browning or searing.

Adobo sauce (pronounce ) originated in Mexico, and is found as a spicy paste, sauce, or canned with chiles to make chipotle chiles. Adobo is made from ground chiles, vinegar, and herbs. Use it as a marinade or serving sauce


The sweet, mild flavored agave syrup (pronounce ) is used in baking or alcoholic drinks such as Tequila. It comes from the century plant, a succulent grown in the southwest US, Mexico, and Central America.

The next time you eat at an Italian restaurant, try the bagna cauda (pronounce ). It is a sauce made of olive oil, butter, garlic and anchovies, from Piedmont, Italy, served warm as an appetizer with raw vegetables for dipping.

A baker’s peel is a flat, smooth, shovel like tool used to slide pizzas and yeast breads onto a baking stone or sheet placed in the oven. It is made of hardwood and can usually be found in gourmet specialty shops.

Edamame (pronounce ) is the Japanese name for fresh soybeans. You can find them in the shell, fresh or frozen in the supermarket. Eat them like lima beans, although they are not as mushy.

A foodie is a person who has an avid interest in the latest food fads.

Fasnacht or fastnacht (pronounce ) is a diamond-shaped, yeast-raised potato doughnut. They first appeared in Pa, of Dutch or German origin on Shrove Tuesday, as a way to use up fat before lent.

The delicious gyro (pronounce ) is a Greek specialty. Minced lamb is molded around a spit and vertically roasted. The meat is then sliced, folded in a pita, and topped with grilled onions, sweet peppers and cucumber-yogurt sauce.

Nouvelle cuisine (pronounce ) is a type of French cooking that features lighter dishes with lighter sauces and very fresh ingredients.

The edible pumpkin seeds called pepitas (pronounce ), are a popular ingredient in Mexican cooking. They are sold salted, roasted, raw, and with or without hulls in Mexican stores and supermarkets.

The delicious puttanesca sauce (pronounce ) often seen as “alla puttanesca” in menus and recipes, is a spicy olive oil based sauce with tomatoes, onions, capers, black olives, anchovies, oregano, and garlic served over pasta.

Queso fresco (pronounce ) also known as queso blanco, is a white, slightly salty, fresh Mexican cheese with a similar texture to farmers cheese, or also comes in tubes with a similar texture to cottage cheese.

Radicchio (pronounce ) is a red-leafed form of Italian chicory. Use its tender, slightly bitter leaves as a salad green, grilled, sautéed, or baked.

The Japanese term umami (pronounce ) refers to a taste sensation that is meaty or savory. It’s a relatively new word, first used in 1979.

Wasabi or wasabi (pronounce ) closely resembles horseradish. It’s used in Japanese cooking as a green colored condiment with a sharp, pungent, fiery flavor. It comes both as a paste and a powder, or the fresh wasabi can be grated like horseradish. Wasabi is often served with sushi.

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