Macaroons vs. Macarons: 12 Oft-Confused Culinary Terms

By Noni Cabrera/August 28, 2013

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The world of gastronomy is replete with alien words, concepts, and terminologies that some people can’t even pronounce, let alone comprehend. It is not that hard to get these words jumbled up and confused. While some errors can be dismissed as innocent mistakes, other blunders can get you laughed out of the room.

If you live in fear of being embarrassed because of your lack of food-related vocabulary, don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ve compiled twelve of the most commonly confused or interchanged culinary terms. Familiarize yourself with these words and concepts, and be confident the next time you’re put on the spot about food.

1. Macaroons vs. Macarons

1 macaroons

While both macaroons and macarons are made from sugar and an egg white meringue base, their main difference is the desiccated coconut folded into the macaroons” meringue mixture. This coarse batter is then baked until it’s crispy on the outside and chewy in the inside. They are then commonly dipped in chocolate ganache. One Filipino spin on the macaroon yields a chewy baked confection of condensed milk and coconut that’s usually served in fluted cupcake liners.

Macarons, on the other hand, are the dainty almond meal-based cookies that have recently taken Manila bakeshops by storm. Instead of coconut, almond meal is added to the meringue. The perfect macaron is a light cookie with a shiny, eggshell-like domed top, and a crinkled “foot” around the base. The cookies are then glued together with a rich buttercream filling to make adorable little sandwiches.

2.  Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda

Baking isn’t rocket science, but it can still be intimidating for the terrified souls braving the hand mixer and the oven for the first time. Amateur bakers learn quickly that confusing baking soda with baking powder (or vice versa) leads to disastrous results. While both are used as leavening agents to make dough or batter rise, they function based on two very different chemical reactions.

2 baking soda

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. To activate it, you must add acid to induce fermentation. The carbon dioxide by-product of the fermentation process makes your baked goodies rise. On the other hand, baking powder is a mixture of processed baking soda (a weak alkali), and cream of tartar (a weak acid), which is easily activated by the addition of fluids such as water, milk, or egg whites. Baking powder is often required in delicate recipes wherein strong acids such as vinegar or citrus juices can throw off the flavor balance.

If you somehow end up with two unlabeled jars of these baking staples, you can use tap water to easily identify which one is which (baking powder will froth and bubble). Baking powder is very fine and velvety to the touch, whereas baking soda is crystalline and has a coarser texture.

3. Cilantro vs. Coriander

3 cilantro

Coriander is to Jamie Oliver (or Curtis Stone) as cilantro is to Bobby Flay. They’re the same exact herb. Brits and Aussies call it coriander, and Americans prefer to call it cilantro. It’s just one of those you say tomato, I say to-mah-to things.

4. Bananas vs. Plantains

4 plantains

Plantains and bananas are close cousins. However, bananas are eaten readily once they ripen, but it is uncommon to eat plantains raw. The latter tend to be very starchy and require cooking before they could be eaten. Plantains are considered a staple source of carbohydrates in Latin America and Africa. They closely resemble green bananas, but are more slender with thick, pithy skins.

5. Chocolate Eh vs. Chocolate Ah 

Local cafés seem to be throwing the words chocolate eh and chocolate ah around a lot these days. To the uninitiated, it could be a little baffling. While most of us are familiar with our native hot chocolate (made with a batirol from tablea), people are less aware of its different variants. Going back to our long-forgotten Noli Me Tangere lessons from high school will help us easily tell the two apart.

5 tsokolate

In Noli, Padre Salvi is described as a mean and abusive Spanish friar who liked rubbing elbows with people of influence to further his own political and personal agenda. The eh in chocolate eh was actually Padre Salvi”s code for the Spanish word espeso, which literally translates to thick or concentrated. On the other hand, the ah from chocolate ah is short for aguado, which is Spanish for diluted or watered-down.

When Padre Salvi receives VIPs as guests in his convento, he would call for his servants to “Give Don Felipe some chocolate, eh?” and the maids would serve up the rich, thick chocolate reserved only for the very important. On the other hand, when poor indios arrive, he would order the maids to “Please give Simoun chocolate, ah!” referring to the bland and half-assed chocolate drink.

6.  Truffle vs. Truffle

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Truffles are both the obscenely expensive and rare fungi that Catherine Zeta-Jones (in No Reservations) kept under lock and key in her pantry, and the divine confections made out of chocolate and heavy cream you can buy from fancy bakeries. Both are luxurious and sinfully addictive, and both can be seriously expensive.

A distinction should also be made between truffles (the chocolate kind) and bonbons, which are just chocolate-filled sweets. Even chocolatiers and confectioners always confuse those two. All truffles are bonbons, but not all bonbons are truffles. Is your head spinning yet?

7. Ubad vs. Ubod

This one’s pretty simple and straightforward. The oft-interchanged ubod and ubad are both the fleshy and soft cores of young trees. Ubod comes from palm trees, while ubad comes from banana tree trunks. Both can be used in savory stews, soups, and salads and are best when combined with meat or other local vegetables in season.

8.  Sherbert vs. Sherbet vs. Sorbet

There is a distinction between sherbet and sorbet, though they are commonly interchanged. Sherbet, which is an alternative word for sherbert, is a product that is made from fruit and dairy, which contains 1 to 3 percent fat from milk or cream. Anything above 3 percent is generally labeled as ice cream.

8 sorbet

On the other hand, a sorbet is a fruit-based frozen dessert with little or no dairy. Alcohol is often added to lower the freezing temperature, which results in a softer and finer texture. A sorbet is similar to the Italian granita.

9.  Pâte vs. Pâté

Pâte and pâté are two tricky culinary terms. Yes, they both derive from the French word for paste, but the difference lies in the diacritic (that’s the tiny line over the e) on the last letter.

Pâte usually refers to dough. Pâte a choux, for instance, refers to the light and airy pastry made with eggs that are used for French éclairs and profiteroles.

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On the other hand, pâté is a rich, savory paste made from mixing together finely minced meat, vegetables, and herbs. It is most commonly made from liver. The word pâté usually doesn’t stand alone, and it must be followed by de plus the type of liver used (for example, you say pâté de campagne for coarse pork liver, and pâté de foie gras for fattened goose liver). It is usually served on small slices of toast as an amuse geuele, a side dish or a snack in itself.

10. Egg Rolls vs. Spring Rolls

Our humble lumpia is always a big hit during Filipino-hosted parties in the States. My American friends refer to them as egg rolls, not spring rolls as I have been brought up to call. To set the record straight though, egg rolls are a mixture of meat or vegetables rolled and deep-fried in a wrapper made out of flour and eggs. On the other hand, spring rolls are meat and vegetables rolled in cold and delicate rice paper, which are then eaten as a sort of rolled or wrapped salad.

10 egg rolls

The Vietnamese have rice spring roll papers that are soaked in cold water prior to being served. Chinese egg roll wrappers (similar to wonton dough) are made with flour, eggs, salt, and water. In Filipino cooking, these lines are blurred since the same ubiquitous store-bought lumpia wrapper can be used both for egg roll and spring roll preparation. That said, the dense, deep-fried lumpiang shanghai qualifies as an egg roll, while our beloved lumpiang ubod or lumpiang sariwa are spring rolls.

11.  Crab Fat vs. Crab Roe

11 crab fat

The term aligue is synonymous to taba ng talangka in Filipino, but that is actually confusing fat with the roe (or the eggs) of the crab. People probably regard roe and fat as one and the same because, let’s be real, either can send you right to the cardio ward if you indulge a little too much. Though the Filipino vernacular doesn’t care for proper terminologies as far as this sinful substance is concerned, it is important to be aware of the difference (especially when following a recipe).

12.  Onions vs. Shallots

Anyone who watches The Food Network has encountered shallots as an ingredient in sautés and stir-fries. Personally, I dismissed shallots as a fancy name for smaller onions, as opposed to the bigger, more serious sibuyas the size of apples. I always thought they were technically the same, so imagine my bewilderment when I found a recipe for a yoghurt chip dip that called for both shallots and onions. As it turns out, the two are different.

Onions are typically round, with nested concentric layers. They have a very aggressive taste profile that is only slightly diminished during the cooking process. Onions also tend to maintain their firmness and shape, and are often used in dishes wherein other strong components, like tomato or meat, can balance its flavor.

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Shallots tend to be elongated and irregular. They have a mellow flavor that melds well with other ingredients. When cooked, shallots sort of melt, thus incorporating beautifully with the texture and flavor of the dish. Opt for shallots when preparing delicate and subtler dishes such as quiches, cream sauces, or custards.


It pays to be informed about culinary terms that are often thrown around indiscriminately. Though some people can be such sticklers for food trivia, discovering and romancing food should be a fun and enjoyable pursuit.

Do you know of any other food items that people often confuse with another? Tell us all about it by leaving a comment below.


Image Sources: Pastry Studio / Cooking for Stella / Cook Think / The Nibble / Yahoo / / Simply Recipes / The Guardian / Steamy Kitchen / Red Cook / How Stuff Works

Noni Cabrera

Contributor

Noni Cabrera’s voracious appetite for rich Italian cuisine, Korean barbecue, and comforting Southern fare is only paralleled by his equally ravenous hunger for second-hand bookstore bargains, foreign languages, and offbeat destinations. He is an e-Learning subject matter expert, and the slave driver of his team of graphic artists, web developers and animators. His high tolerance for caffeine was built up during his stint as a barista. This Consular and Diplomatic Affairs graduate desires to sample the food of the world, one succulent bite at a time. See More.

  • Carl Tomacruz

    How come French culinary terms get their diacritics retained but terms from other languages do not?

    • Abbu Cabrera

      That’s a valid point, Carlitos. I’m thinking maybe because only the French document gastronomy to the point of paranoia, and also, since many words can mean different things when a different diacritic is used. I don’t think other languages are quite the same. Maybe Spanish, yes, but some people don’t bother to use diacritics and umlauts because they could be a bother to type if you don’t have the shortcuts.

      • Carl Tomacruz

        French has more diacritics than Spanish and Italian, but a lot of people do go through the trouble of getting French diacritics right, but not the latter. To me it smacks of laziness and double standards to not get the diacritics of other languages correctly.

  • Casey

    Ah I’ve always thought that “macaroon” is the English translation for “macaron” as the French guttural “r” is not always used in other countries. And also the term used to the coconut ones (which the French call “congolais”).

    I’ve always referred to it as French macaroons for macaron and just plain macaroons for the coconut one.

    • Carl Tomacruz

      The French have another term for the macaroon: “rocher à noix de coco”.

      Pretty mouthful isn’t it?

  • Addi dela Cruz

    Thank you for this!

    • Abbu Cabrera

      At your service, ser!

  • Den

    Tonkotsu/Tonkatsu. ;)

    • Abbu Cabrera

      Thanks, Den! I don’t like ramen (gasp) so I didn’t know there is such a thing as tonkotsu. I learned something new. :)

    • Midge K. Manlapig

      The former is a thick, collagen-rich broth made with pork bones, seasoned with salt. The latter is everyone’s favorite super-tender pork fillet or cutlet dredged in panko and deep-fried. :D

  • vhabes

    thanks a lot for this informative article^_^

  • Dez

    This is a great article, thanks a lot!

  • Erica Tee

    Really great that someone put out the 411 on all these terms!

  • http://curiousweekends.blogspot.com/ Leah

    forgive my ignorance, so shallots are sibuyas na pula? *yikes runs away*

    • Abbu Cabrera

      Onions, such as red onions (sibuyas na pula) and sweet onions come from the family of “common onions” with the scientific name Allium cepa var. cepa. Shallots come from the Aggregatum Group of cultivars, Allium cepa var. aggregatum. Therefore, sibuyas na pula ≠ shallots. :) O diba? Kuya Kim? :P

      • http://curiousweekends.blogspot.com/ Leah

        Nice! but is there a tagalog term for that? I mean, I cannot buy in Palengke saying shallots. :| haha!

        • http://spewingwordvomit.blogspot.com/ Noni Cabrera

          You know, I’m not sure if shallots are even sold in local markets. Maybe in specialty stores or supermarkets that import produce, but I’m really not certain.

          • Alyza Mae Alvarez

            We have something in Cavite that is called sibuyas na tagalog. Based on the description of shallots, they seem very similar. The problem is, for us Filipinos, no matter what the size, taste and shape are, sibuyas pa rin yan lahat. :)

          • http://curiousweekends.blogspot.com/ Leah

            hahaha point taken! Basta mukang sibuyas, sibuyas na siya! lol. This is the reason why I get too confused looking at shallots in t.v and thinking parang ‘sibuyas na pula’, but then it again when I go to palengke and look at the round shape of sibuyas na pula it would confuse the hell out of it parang ‘it doesn’t look like shallots naman’. :))

            but i think it’s the shape. Me thinks! :)

          • Kvbelt

            and the size. and shallots have a milder taste :)

          • noel

            shallots have a milder onion taste with a hint of garlic flavor. super good with salad dressings

          • http://curiousweekends.blogspot.com/ Leah

            yup, like you said we can’t be certain. Some palengke sells lemon, cilantro, and asparagus — at least in our wet market. So it still pays to ask :)

        • Ebs

          That’s true! lol

        • Clarissa

          I always assumed the native na sibuyas is same as shallots. hahaha. well. :)

        • Kvbelt

          shallots are sibuyas iloko as far as I know. they’re these little red onions (no bigger than a 5 peso coin) sold in bunches.

  • carleen

    Are truffles mushroom?

    • Abbu Cabrera

      Nope. :) Both mushrooms and truffles are fungi, though. You have to dig up truffles from the ground. Actually, special dogs and pigs are trained to dig them up because they can find it faster with their sense of smell. They look like rocks or irregular potatoes. Mushrooms grow above-ground, and are usually characterized by their gills and caps.

      • carleen

        Very interesting. Thanks for this great post!

      • Anne S

        they stopped using pigs and use dogs intead coz the pigs would eat the truffle after digging it hahahahah

        • http://spewingwordvomit.blogspot.com/ Noni Cabrera

          Yeap, that’s true. :)

  • Jezreel Joy Nicolas

    Thanks for this =)

  • Essie Atienza

    Interesting. Are plantains like saging na saba?

    • Abbu Cabrera

      Interesting question. Ask 10 people what plantains taste like and you’d get 10 different answers.

      I would say not quite, because saging na saba is still pretty sweet. Overripe saging na saba can even be eaten like a normal banana. On the other hand, plantains are very starchy and I remember that the mouthfeel, the texture and the flavor reminded me a lot of potatoes. Tostones, which are fried green plantains taste a lot like crispy french fries, sort of like savory banana chips, even. It’s a good source of carbs, and is a staple in Latin American cuisine.

  • sillywilly

    Thank you for number two :D

  • B

    macaroon |ˌmakəˈruːn|nouna light biscuit made with egg white, sugar, and ground almonds or coconut.
    Although I use the term “macaron” more often than its English counterpart, (I lived in Europe for most of my life) I just thought I’d mention that “macaroon” is also acceptable.

  • Anne S

    :O :O you no like ramen?! hehehhehe

    something random, most liver pate is made with butter, but when i top it on some pita, i still add butter and mix it in. hahahahha yummmily rich. xD

    • http://spewingwordvomit.blogspot.com/ Noni Cabrera

      I think the standard way to eat pâtés is with crostini or bruschetta, and it is common to butter the bread or toast first before putting on the spread :)

  • Mark

    Sorry I’m posting so late. Can someone please clarify something about the shallots? how come when I watch some cooking shows, they say shallots and they whip out this green leafy thing that looks like spring onions? speaking of which, what is the difference between green onions and spring onions? is it like corriander/ cilantro?

    last na, how can I tell the difference between the fat and the roe of crabs?

    thanks in advance!

    • http://spewingwordvomit.blogspot.com/ Noni Cabrera

      I don’t think there’s such a thing as crab fat per se, because fat in animals are adipose tissues that collect as fatty deposits beneath the skin or marbled around the meat, such as the translucent fat right under the skin in pork, or the slimy layer of fat in fish. Crabs have exoskeletons, and I don’t think they have adipose tissues even. I’m not so sure.

      Regarding onions, this source tells us that they are one and the same.
      http://asiansupper.com/theslurp/scallions-vs-green-onions

      • Mark

        ahh, ok. So the soft orange thing that we see in crabs are…roe? and the hard orangey red stuff are..fats? Am I getting that right?
        I was taught that those two are both fats and they’re different because of the sex of the crab. The orange and softer “fat” is from the females and “bakla” (not my term, thats what they really call it in the palengke) and the red one is from the guys. The eggs daw are usually the stuff that you find in that thing that connects the carapace to the underside of the crab.