The words that we choose to describe our food can be straightforward. Here’s an apple. Here’s an orange. When you dig a little deeper, though, you’ll uncover so many subtle nuances.
The way that you understand prunes and plums may only be partially true and you might not really know the difference between ricotta and cottage cheese. In these cases, we’re actually talking about two different food items. What happens when you have different words to refer to the exact same thing, as would be the case with garbanzo beans?
Garbanzo Beans vs. Chickpeas vs. Ceci
If you’ve ever had hummus, then you’ve eaten a garbanzo bean. The most common term for this legume is a chickpea, which is less commonly spelled as two words: chick pea. It’s what you see at the top of this post and it could be one of the earliest cultivated legumes, dating as far back as 7,500 years ago.
Whereas the term “chickpea” has its origins in French, the term “garbanzo” came into use in American English from an old Spanish word. But these aren’t the only words to refer to the same legume. Go to an Italian restaurant like Campagnolo Restaurant and you might find it listed as ceci. Go to Pakistan or India and it might be called chana. But they’re all the same thing.
Haricots Verts vs. Green Beans
Green beans, which are also sometimes called string beans, aren’t exactly the sexiest of vegetables. They’re a common item on many menus across North America. If you want to elevate your menu and give it an extra hint of sophistication, you might want to call them haricots verts instead.
That’s a French term and it refers to the exact same plant. “Haricots” is the term for beans and “verts” tells us that they are green. The singular term would be haricot vert. Curiously, while a can of black beans in Canada would also be labelled as “haricots noirs,” I don’t think I’ve ever seen that term used on a restaurant menu. Go figure.
Laver vs. Nori vs. Konbu
It’s all seaweed, right? Yes and no.
The Japanese seaweed that you use as a wrapper for sushi is most commonly called nori. The important differentiation here is that “nori” is a dried, seasoned and prepared seaweed. By contrast, laver refers to the actual seaweed itself, including in its raw form. All nori is laver, but not all laver becomes nori. The packages of prepared seaweed that you eat as a snack could be labelled as either nori or laver and neither would be incorrect.
Konbu is also a seaweed (more accurately an edible form of kelp), but it’s of a different family and usually prepared differently.
Black Tea vs. Red Tea
Several general families of tea exist. You’ve got your green teas and your herbal teas, for instance. And for the longest time, I had assumed that black tea and red tea was the same thing. The tea that you would normally call “black tea” in English would be referred to as “red tea” in Chinese, at least based on my upbringing… but that would only be partially true.
One system for classifying tea would indeed equate modern day black tea to red tea, but a true black tea is a different category altogether. True black teas, better represented by modern day pu-erh, were prepared for longer transport and thus needed to last longer. The resulting tea is decidedly darker than a red/black tea, due to the fermentation process, even if no one really refers to this class of tea as a “black tea” anymore.
It’s also important to note that herbal teas and other floral infusions are technically not teas at all. They’re more accurately referred to as tisanes. There’s your word of the week.
Regional Dialects and Word Preferences
In Canada and the United States, we might like to eat our eggplant. Over in the United Kingdom, they have aubergine. In Vancouver, we might go to the convenience store to pick up a bottle of pop. Depending on where you are, you might be getting some soda, fizzy drink or soft drink instead. I always thought it was strange that some places refer to all soft drinks as coke.
Are there any food terms that have always bothered you? Do you find that some food products are labelled differently if they are in the “ethnic” aisle as opposed to the rest of the supermarket?