Think you know every culinary term used in your kitchen? Get ready to think again.
Reading a recipe and aren’t sure about some of the ingredients, terms, and recipe techniques included?
Recipes can sometimes be a minefield of terms, jargon and foreign words. Even for the most gifted Chefs, there are terms in a recipe that make them stop and say “huh?”.
Don’t worry, we have compiled an extensive list of common culinary terms to help you out!
Some of the most common are defined here. Take a look at our list to get cooking.
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Spice ground made from the dried fleshy covering (outer shell) of the nutmeg seed.
To soak in a flavoured liquid, such as wine, alcohol, vinegar, or simple syrup; usually refers to fruit or vegetables, so that it takes on the flavour of the liquid. Can also be used to soften or breaking into pieces dried fruit.
Rich amber fortified wine originated on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Madeira is produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry wines which can be consumed on their own as an aperitif to sweet wines more usually consumed with dessert. Cheaper versions are often flavoured with salt and pepper for use in cooking.
A portion of meat from the breast of duck presented with the skin and underlying layer of fat still attached.
French for “house”, the term is generally used to denote a specialty of the particular restaurant.
A tool usually made with a sturdy handle and a striking surface used to flatten thin cuts of meat or poultry. Also called a meat pounder.
A frilled paper used to decorate projecting bones of a chop, roast, or leg.
A hand-operated slicing and cutting apparatus used to cut fruits and vegetables evenly.
Marble (or Marbling)
To gently swirl one food into another. Marbling is usually done with light and dark batters for cakes or cookies. Marbling also refers to small pieces or flecks of fat that run through a cut of meat aiding in the tenderness and flavour.
A product generally made from vegetable oil or animal fats with milk that was developed in the late 1800s as a substitute for butter used for spreading, baking, and cooking. When baking, be sure to use stick margarine that contains at least 80% fat. Check the nutrition information: It should have about 100 calories per tablespoon.
A seasoned savoury liquid, either cooked or uncooked, in which meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or vegetables are soaked for varying lengths of time before being cooked to flavour and sometimes tenderize them. In many cases, the marinade may be used for deglazing or to make an accompanying sauce. The liquid in question, the ‘marinade’, can be either acidic (made with ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, or wine) or enzymatic (made with ingredients such as pineapple, papaya or kiwifruit). In addition to these ingredients, a marinade often contains oils, herbs, and spices to further flavour the food items.
Marinate (or Marination)
The process of soaking foods in seasoned and acidic liquid before cooking for hours or days, to flavour, tenderise and moisturize pieces of meat, poultry, seafood or vegetable by soaking them in or brushing them with a flavoured liquid mixture of seasonings known as a marinade. Dry marinade mixtures composed of salt, pepper, herbs or spices may also be rubbed into meat, poultry or seafood. When marinating foods, do not use a metal container, as it can react with acidic ingredients and give foods an off flavour. Always marinate foods in the refrigerator, never on the kitchen counter. To reduce cleanup, use a plastic bag set in a bowl or dish to hold the food you are marinating. Discard leftover marinade that has come in contact with raw meat. Or if it’s to be used on cooked meat, bring leftover marinade to a rolling boil before using to destroy any bacteria that may be present.
A pungent, aromatic herb used dried or fresh to season meats, particularly lamb, poultry, seafood, vegetable, and eggs.
The soft tissue found in the centre of certain bones of an animal, commonly prepared by baking or poaching, also used to fortify soups and stews.
A fortified amber Italian wine that can be either dry or sweet from the area of Marsala in Sicily. Sweet Marsala is used both for drinking and cooking. Dry Marsala makes a nice pre-dinner drink.
Pasty candy made of crushed almonds and sugar (or honey), sometimes augmented with almond oil or extract. It is often made into sweets; common uses are chocolate-covered marzipan and small marzipan imitations of fruits and vegetables. It is also rolled into thin sheets and glazed for icing cakes, primarily birthday, wedding cakes and Christmas cakes. This use is particularly common in the UK, on large fruitcakes. Marzipan (or almond paste) may also be used as a cake ingredient, as in stollen. In some countries, it is shaped into small figures of animals as a traditional treat for New Year’s Day. Marzipan is also used in Tortell, and in some versions of king cake eaten during the Epiphany or Carnival season. Traditional Swedish princess cake is typically covered with a layer of marzipan that has been tinted pale green.
To press or beat a food to remove lumps and make a smooth mixture. This can be done with a fork, potato masher, food mill, food ricer, or electric mixer. For potatoes or other root vegetables, use a ricer, masher or food mill. While food processors provide a smooth texture more like a puree or a paste, they should not be used for potatoes.
To determine the quantity or size of a food using a utensil.
The flesh of birds and animals used as food, meat is composed of small fibres which are bound together in bundles to form the muscle of the animal. There are three main categories, red meat (beef, lamb, etc.), white meat (pork, rabbit poultry, etc.), and dark meat (venison, pheasant, duck, etc.).
Small, round cuts of beef, chicken, veal, or other meats taken from the tip or end cut, or formed in a mould.
Mei Yen Seasoning
A blend of seasonings designed to enhance the natural flavour of most foods without introducing flavour overtones of its own. A delicate seasoning long a favourite in oriental cooking. Intended for seasoning vegetables and mild-flavoured meats; also has an affinity for dishes with acid ingredients, such as tomatoes and wine.
A small, bowl-shaped tool used to cut oval or round-shaped pieces of melon, or other fruits and vegetables, that varies from around 1 centimetre to 3 centimetres (about 3/8 inch to 1 inch). They are mostly for decoration and generally used in a fruit salad.
To heat a solid food, such as chocolate, margarine, or butter, over very low heat until it becomes liquid or semi-liquid.
A delicate mixture of egg whites (or aquafaba) and sugar, and occasionally an acid such as lemon, vinegar or cream of tartar, that is beaten stiff and browned in the oven. A binding agent such as salt, cornstarch or gelatin may also be added to the eggs. The cooked soft mixture is usually used on desserts as a topping for pies and cakes, and the cooked “hard” mixture as a dessert shell. Pastry made of a meringue shell that is filled with fruit or whipping cream. The addition of powdered sugar, which usually contains corn starch, to the uncooked meringue produces a pavlova, a national dish of Australia or New Zealand. The key to the formation of a good meringue is the formation of stiff peaks by denaturing the protein ovalbumin (a protein in the egg whites) via mechanical shear. Meringues are often flavoured with vanilla, a small amount of almond, or coconut, although if extracts of these are used and are based on an oil infusion, an excess of fat from the oil may inhibit the egg whites from forming a foam.
A powder made primarily from dehydrated egg whites that can be mixed with water and used as a substitute for egg whites in many recipes. One advantage of meringue powder is that you can store it in your pantry, and it has a much longer shelf life than regular eggs. In particular, it’s a great substitute for egg whites when making royal icing because it’s safer to consume than fresh, raw egg whites.
A salad consisting of tender mixed greens that originated in Provence, France. The traditional mix usually includes chervil, arugula, leafy lettuces and endive, while the term may also refer to an undetermined mix of fresh and available baby salad greens, which may include lettuces, spinach, arugula (rocket, or roquette), Swiss chard (silverbeet), mustard, endive, dandelion, frisée, mizuna, mâche (lamb’s lettuce), radicchio, sorrel, chicory, herbs, edible flowers or other leaf vegetables.
Refers to a method of preparation), primarily for fish where it is dredged with flour and sautéed in butter. To cook something à la meunière is to cook it by first dredging it in flour.
A meunière sauce is a simple preparation—brown butter, chopped parsley, and lemon—and the name refers to its unelaborate rustic nature.
Roughly cracked or coarsely ground peppercorns, used for au poivre dishes or for a mignonette sauce.
A condiment usually made with minced shallots, cracked pepper, and vinegar. It is traditionally served with raw oysters. The name originally referred to a sachet of peppercorns, cloves, and spices used to flavour liquids, but now simply means cracked pepper. Though different mignonette sauces may use different types of vinegar, all contain pepper and shallots.
Milk and Milk Products
Cream in Canada is defined to be the liquid obtained from milk after separating the various components to increase the milk fat content. Varieties include:
Buttermilk – The liquid remaining after butter has been separated from milk or cream. Buttermilk is a low-fat or fat-free milk to which a bacterial culture has been added. It has a mildly acidic taste. Sour milk, made from milk and lemon juice or vinegar, can be substituted in baking recipes.
Double cream – Double cream is the British term for heavy or whipping cream in the United States, but it is a little thicker than our whipping cream. It contains about 48% butterfat. Double cream is so rich, in fact, that it is easy to over whip it and get it too thick.
Cereal cream – One producer calls it coffee cream; another calls it Creamo™ light cream. Product with the most butterfat in the light cream category. In Francophone areas: crème à café 10% and sometimes crème légère 10%. Main uses: Poured over hot cereal as a garnish. Ideal in sauces for vegetables, fish, meat, poultry, and pasta. Also in cream soups. Minimum milk fat:10%.
Clotted cream (or clouted, Devonshire or Cornish cream) – A thick (a very high-fat 55%) cream made by indirectly heating full-cream cow’s milk using steam or a water bath and then leaving it in shallow pans to cool slowly. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and forms “clots” or “clouts”. It forms an essential part of a cream tea. Common in the United Kingdom. This is similar to Indian malai.
Crème Fraiche (or Mexican crema or cream espesa) – A soured cream containing 10–45% butterfat and having a pH of around 4.5. It is soured with bacterial culture, but is less sour or as thick as than U.S.-style sour cream, and has a lower viscosity and a higher fat content. European labelling regulation disallows any ingredients other than cream and bacterial culture. Mexican crema (or cream espesa) is similar to crème fraîche.
Evaporated milk – Made from whole milk, canned evaporated milk has had about 50- 60% f its water removed from fresh milk; it lends a creamy richness to many recipes. Measure it straight from the can for recipes calling for evaporated milk. To use it in place of fresh milk, dilute it as directed on the can (usually with an equal amount of water) to make the quantity called for in the recipe. Evaporated milk is also available in low-fat and fat-free versions. Evaporated milk, known in some countries as unsweetened condensed milk, is not interchangeable with sweetened condensed milk, which contains added sugar.
Fat-free half-and-half – Made mostly from skim milk, with carrageenan for body, this product can bring a creamy flavour to recipes without adding fat. Experiment using it in cornstarch or flour-thickened soup, sauce, and gravy recipes that call for regular half-and-half.
half-and-half – Half-and-half is exactly what it sounds like, equal parts whole milk and light cream. To whiten coffee (and tea). It contains about 12% (range 10.5%-18%) fat, which makes it richer than whole milk (which contains 3.5% fat), although less rich than light cream. This makes it a popular addition to coffee because it lends a little more richness to the cup than whole milk does, but not as much as cream. It doesn’t, however, contain enough fat to be whipped, but it can be used in place of whipping (heavy) cream in many recipes for less fat cooking. So enjoy it in your mug or try using it in desserts that call for equal parts milk and cream, like pannacotta.
Heavy (whipping) cream – This cream whips denser than whipping cream. Whips up well and holds its shape. Doubles in volume when whipped. It’s pretty much indistinguishable from whipping cream — both can be whipped, churned into ice cream, and added to soups and sauces without the risk of curdling. We also wouldn’t tell anyone if you splash a little into that coffee or drizzle a bit onto your morning bowl of oats. For whipping when pert stable peaks are desired. Also used as a luxurious pourable garnish on fresh fruit and hot cereals. Fat content: 36-38%
Light cream (or Table cream) – Pretty much the same as half and half. Also know as coffee cream or table cream. Will whip if it contains 30% butterfat but will not be very stable. Generally contains only 20% butterfat. While richer than half-and-half, it still doesn’t contain enough fat to be whipped, so it’s a good choice if you want even more creaminess in your coffee. It’s also nice drizzled over fresh fruit, pound cake, or fruit crisps or crumbles. Light cream could potentially curdle when a substantial amount is heated in a soup or sauce, but you won’t run that risk if you add just a splash to scrambled eggs before cooking them — the result will be extra creamy. Also known as single cream. The cooking version is formulated to resist breaking when heated. Light cream is not available everywhere. 20% fat (range 18-30%)
Manufacturing cream (or Manufacturer’s cream) – Used in commercial and professional production applications. Not generally available at retail until recently. Fat content:>=40%. Crème fraîche is also 40–45% but is an acidified cultured product rather than sweet cream.
Powdered milk (or Dried milk or Dry milk powder) – A manufactured dairy product made by evaporating milk to dryness. One purpose of drying milk is to preserve it; milk powder has a far longer shelf life than liquid milk and does not need to be refrigerated, due to its low moisture content. When reconstituted, this milk product can be used in cooking. Powdered milk and dairy products include such items as dry whole milk, non-fat (skimmed) dry milk, dry buttermilk, dry whey products, and dry dairy blends.
Sour cream – Common in many countries including the U.S., Canada, and Australia, is cream (12-16% or more milk fat) that has been subjected to a bacterial culture that produces lactic acid (0.5%+), which sours and thickens it.
Sour cream and yoghurt – Sour cream is traditionally made from light cream with a bacterial culture added, while yoghurt is made from milk with a bacterial culture added. Both are available in low-fat and fat-free varieties.
Sweetened condensed milk – This product is made with whole milk that has had water removed and sugar added. It is also available in low-fat and fat-free versions. Sweetened condensed milk is not interchangeable with evaporated milk or fresh milk.
Thick cream – A thick, heat-sterilized cream with a slightly caramelized flavour that’s also known as ‘spooning cream’. The thick, smooth consistency is delicious as a topping on fresh berries, fruit or your favourite dessert and can also be used as a replacement for cream when cooking. Fat content: 25%
Whipping cream (or Heavy Cream) – Cream with enough butterfat in it to allow it to thicken when whipped. The higher the fat content, the thicker the cream, and the easier it is to whip into stable peaks (or whipped cream). It contains 35% (range 30–36%) fat. Higher-fat creams are also more resistant to curdling, so they are a better choice in soups and sauces when the cream is heated. Used in sauces and soups and as a pourable or whipped garnish. Some products labelled “whipping cream” contain small amounts of gelatin as an added stabilizer for improved whipping. Whipped cream is made by whisking or mixing air into the cream with more than 30% fat, to turn the liquid cream into a soft solid. Nitrous oxide, from whipped-cream chargers, may also be used to make whipped cream. The main uses are whips into a creamy and smooth topping that is used for pastries, fresh fruits, desserts, hot cocoa, etc. The cooking version is formulated to resist breaking when heated (as in sauces). Almost all whipping cream is now ultra-pasteurized, a process of heating that considerably extends its shelf life by killing bacteria and enzymes.
Whole, reduced-fat, low-fat or light, and fat-free milk – Because these milk types differ only in the amount of fat they contain and in the richness of flavour they lend to foods, they may be used interchangeably in cooking.
To cut, grind, or finely chop food, usually with a chef’s knife or food processor, into extremely small (very fine) pieces, smaller (finer) than diced or chopped foods, as with minced garlic.
Plant of the genus mentha (genus of fragrant herbs including peppermint, spearmint, and horsemint, etc.). The most common commercial types of mint are spearmint and peppermint. Refreshing, sweet herbs used fresh or dry to flavour lamb, poultry, vegetables, and fruits.
An essential condiment used in Japanese cuisine. It is a type of rice wine similar to sake, but with a lower alcohol content and higher sugar content. The sugar content is a complex carbohydrate formed naturally via the fermentation process; it is not refined sugar. The alcohol content is further lowered when the liquid is heated.
Mise en place
Literally “put in place” in French, as in set up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to the preparations (organizing and arranging before starting cooking) of ingredients for cooking, setting out bowls, pots, and pans and measuring, washing, peeling, and chopping and mincing ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for the menu items that are expected to be prepared during a shift. The practice is also effective in home kitchens.
To stir or beat two or more foods together until they are thoroughly combined. May be done with an electric mixer or a rotary beater, or by hand with a wooden spoon.
Food made from a mixture of various meats, poultry, seafood and vegetables barbecued or grilled and served together.
Any of various electrical appliances used to beat, mix, whisk or whip foods. There are two major kinds: stationary (or stand) and portable (or hand-held). The stand ones are more powerful, but they also take up more counter space. Portable ones can be used anywhere, mainly on smaller tasks, since their motor is small.
To add enough liquid to a dry ingredient or mixture to make it damp but not runny.
A wild mushroom shaped like a folded parasol with a distinct nutty flavour. Morels are most easily obtained dried.
An onion-flavoured Béchamel sauce with shredded or grated Gruyère cheese and egg yolk added. Some variations use different combinations of Gruyère, Emmental cheese, or white Cheddar.
Mortar and Pestle
A set that includes a bowl-shaped vessel (the mortar) and a club-shape utensil (the pestle). A mortar is a bowl-shaped container made of hard wood, marble, pottery, or stone, to hold ingredients or substances to be crushed and ground. The pestle is a heavy and blunt bat-shaped tool that is used to grind inside the mortar (bowl) and pulverize food substances. The substance to be ground is placed in the mortar and ground, crushed or mixed using a pestle. The pestle is rotated against the bottom of the mortar to pulverize the ingredient between them to the desired consistency. Crushing the fibres of herbs releases the full range of essential oils they contain. Used to grind things, such as spices, coffee, etc.
The base sauce used to make other variations of the original sauce; there are five variations: brown or espagnole, velouté, béchamel, tomato sauce, and emulsions.
To whisk cold butter, piece by piece, into a warm sauce for smooth texture, flavour, and sheen. Each piece of butter must be thoroughly incorporated before a new piece is added so that the sauce does not break (or separate into liquid and fat).
A mousse is a prepared food that incorporates air bubbles to give it a light and airy texture. It can range from light and fluffy to creamy and thick, depending on preparation techniques. A mousse may be sweet or savoury. Dessert mousses are typically made with whipped egg whites or whipped cream, flavoured with chocolate, coffee, caramel, puréed fruits or various herbs and spices, such as mint or vanilla. Sweetened mousse is served as a dessert, or used as an airy cake filling. It is sometimes stabilized with gelatin. Savoury mousse may be flavoured with hard boiled egg, herbs, fish or liver.
The French word for “mustard”, a spicy condiment made from the mustard seed (usually in the form of a spread or a powdery spice).
A rindless white, mild-tasting Italian variety of cheese, traditionally made from water buffalo’s milk (Mozzarella di Bufala) by the pasta filata method and sold fresh. Commercially produced and packaged, cow’s milk mozzarella is now much more common, although it has less flavour. American ‘mozzarella’ can be made from pasteurized cow’s milk.
Muffin Tin (or Muffin pan or Muffin tray or Bun tray)
A mold in which muffins or cupcakes are baked. A single cup within a regular muffin tin is 100ml (3 and 1/2 ounces) and most often has room for 12 muffins, although tins holding 6, 8, 11, 24, and 35 muffins do exist. Each standard cup is about 7 cm in diameter. A single cup within a mini muffin tin is 60ml (2 and 1/8 ounces), and because these are more uncommon, there is no standard number of cups per tin. Mini muffin tins of 6, 12, and 24 cups per tin do exist. A single cup within a jumbo muffin tin is 240ml (8 and 3/16 ounces), and again because these are more uncommon, there is no standard number of cups per tin. Jumbo muffin tins of 4, 6, and 12 cups per tin do exist.
To slowly heat a beverage, such as wine or cider, with spices and sugar.
Red wine heated with sugar and mixed with any citrus fruit (also fresh apple) and spiced with spices (such as cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg) and sometimes raisins. It is served hot or warm and may be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. It is a traditional drink during winter, especially around Christmas and Halloween.
Dried mushrooms swell into tender, flavourful morsels. Simply cover them in warm water and soak for about 30 minutes. Rinse well and squeeze out the moisture. Remove and discard tough stems. Cook them in recipes as you would fresh mushrooms. Popular choices include oyster, wood ear, and shiitake.
Plants in the fungus family, mushrooms come in many colours and shapes, with flavours ranging from mild and nutty to meaty, woodsy, and wild.
Mustard is available in three forms: whole seeds used in cooking, powdered (referred to as dried mustard) used as a spice, and prepared spread (which is made from powdered or coarsely ground mustard seed mixed with a liquid such as vinegar or wine) used as a condiment.
The flesh of a castrated and fattened male full-grown sheep that is over one year old. Mutton is best at the end of the winter and in the spring, in summer months the odour of the oils from the wool impregnate the flesh giving it a much stronger smell. Firm, dark red flesh and hard, pearly white fat are signs of good quality when choosing mutton.
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