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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.