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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Used in reference to people of French Acadian descent who were removed from their homeland of Nova Scotia (Canadian province) and settled in Louisiana (USA). Cajun cooking has long been wrongly thought of as synonymous with Creole cooking of the same region. Cajun and creole differ in the fact that, Cajun cuisine relies more on a large amount of animal fat whereas creole cooking utilizes more butter and cream.
A dry apple brandy distilled from apple cider, produced in the French region of Lower Normandy (Basse-Normandie). See Apple-Jack.
A type of “hors d’œuvre” (a French term for appetizer), a small, prepared and usually decorative food, held in the fingers and often eaten in one bite. These bite-size bread or toast portions are either toasted or untoasted, topped with pates or savoury spreads, especially caviar or cheese or a variety of meats or fish that are served as a light accompaniment to cocktails.
A food, usually a fruit, nut, or citrus peel, that has been dipped or cooked in sugar syrup.
Capers are the small buds of a spiny shrub grown in the Mediterranean. They are pickled in vinegar or dried and salted. Found next to olives in the supermarket, capers have an assertive flavour that can best be described as the marriage of citrus and olive, plus an added tang that comes from the salt and vinegar of their packaging brine. While the smaller buds bring more flavour than the larger buds, both can be used interchangeably in recipes.
An Italian coffee drink that is traditionally prepared with espresso, hot milk and steamed milk foam.
Caramelize (or Caramelise)
To heat sugar (the browning of sugar) until it liquefies and becomes a syrup ranging in colour from golden to dark brown in order to give it a special taste. As the process occurs, volatile chemicals are released, producing the characteristic caramel nutty flavour. Whether it is granulated sugar or the naturally occurring sugars in vegetables. Granulated sugar is cooked in a saucepan or skillet over low heat until melted and golden. Fruits and vegetables with natural sugars can be caramelized slowly over low heat by sautéing, roasting or grilling, in a small amount of fat until browned and smooth giving them a sweet flavour and golden glaze.
Caraway (or Meridian fennel or Persian cumin)
A white-flowered aromatic plant which produces seeds used as a seasoning and in medicine that has a spicy smell and aromatic taste. Use in cakes, bread, soups, cheese and sauerkraut.
Sweet aromatic spice native to India made from the seeds of several plants from the ginger family. They are recognised by their small seed pods, triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin, papery outer shell and small black seeds. Used as a spice for coffee cake, sweet breads, fruit salad dressings, cookies, cakes, pickling spice.
A cartouche refers to a piece of greaseproof or baking paper that is used to create a lid over a pot or saucepan. Usually cut in a circle and placed over a dish with a small amount of liquid. In the instance of poaching, it stops steam from escaping, it can also prevent skins from developing on sauces.
To cut or slice cooked meat, poultry, fish, or game into serving-size pieces.
The time-honoured tradition of separating whole roasted meats or poultry in a ceremonial or lavish setting.
The thin, tubular membrane of the intestine used to hold processed meats and forcemeats, as in sausages and salami.
Refers to both a baking dish and the ingredients it contains. A casserole (French: diminutive of casse, from Provençal cassa “pan”) is a large, deep ovenproof dish that has handles on either side and a tight-fitting lid, and the food prepared in it, used both in the oven and as a serving vessel. It can be made of glass, metal, ceramic or any other heatproof material. The word is also used for the food cooked and served in such a vessel, with the cookware itself called a casserole dish or casserole pan. Casseroles may contain a variety of meats, vegetables, rice, potatoes, etc. It is sometimes topped with cheeses or breadcrumbs similar to dishes served au gratin.
Products based on, but not limited to, pork and its offal such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, ballotines, salami, pâtés, confit and similar forcemeats. Also used in reference to the practitioner of this ancient culinary art.
Very hot ground spice derived from the dried cayenne chilli pepper. The cayenne pepper, also known as the Guinea spice, cow-horn pepper, red hot chilli pepper, aleva, bird pepper,’ or, especially in its powdered form, red pepper related to bell peppers, jalapeños, paprika, and others. It is a hot chilli pepper used to flavour dishes. It is named for the city of Cayenne in French Guiana.
To create small V-shaped grooves over the surface of fruits or vegetables for decorative purposes using a channel knife. The fruit or vegetable is then sliced, creating a decorative border on the slices.
A thin a loose-woven gauze-like 100-percent-cotton cloth with either a fine or coarse weave used primarily in cheese making and cooking. Cheesecloth is used in cooking to bundle up herbs, strain liquids, and wrap rolled meats. Look for it among cooking supplies in supermarkets and specialty cookware shops.
A French culinary term for a food that is wrapped (in puff pastry, for example) or coated (a thick sauce poured over the top).
Chervil (or garden chervil)
A delicate aromatic annual herb related to parsley cultivated for its finely divided and often curly leaves for use especially in soups and salads. Fresh or dried, has a delicate flavour. It’s good when subtle seasoning is desired. It is commonly used to season mild-flavoured dishes and is a constituent of the French herb mixture fines herbs.
A French culinary term for a dish where the ingredients are arranged overlapping each other, such as sliced beef or cutlets.
In cooking, this French word, meaning “made of rags”, is a chopping technique in which herbs or leafy green vegetables (such as spinach, basil or lettuce) are cut into long, thin strips. This is accomplished by stacking leaves, rolling them tightly, and then slicing the leaves perpendicular to the roll. The technique can also be applied to crepes or thin omelettes to produce strips. Those shredded or finely cut vegetables and herbs are usually used as a garnish for soup.
Chilli Oil (or hot chilli oil or hot oil)
A fiery vegetable oil flavoured (infused) with chilli peppers that’s used as a seasoning. It is commonly used in Chinese cuisine, East and Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Particularly popular in Sichuan cuisine, it is used as an ingredient in cooked dishes as well as a condiment. It is sometimes used as a dip for meat and dim sum. It is also employed in the Korean Chinese noodle soup dish jjamppong.
Chilli Paste (or Chilli pepper paste)
A condiment available in mild or hot versions that’s made from chilli peppers, vinegar, and seasonings. Some are used as a cooking ingredient, while others are used to season a dish after preparation. In Korean cuisine, red pepper paste is used to create red pepper sauce, which is a common seasoning in the cuisine.
To cool food to below room temperature in the refrigerator or over ice. When recipes call for chilling foods, it should be done in the refrigerator.
A culinary term referring to the backbone of an animal and its addition or removal from cuts of meat.
Chipotle (or Chilpotle)
A smoke-dried jalapeño pepper that tends to be brown and shrivelled. A key ingredient of Mexican and Mexican-inspired cuisines, such as Mexican-American, Tex-Mex, and southwestern dishes. Chipotle imparts a relatively mild but earthy spiciness to many dishes. It is currently stored in a red sauce (adobo) of tomato puree and onions, and sold in small cans. You can find it in any grocery store that carries ethnic food.
Mild, sweet herb with a flavour reminiscent of the onion, to which it is related.
A sweet food made from cocoa and sugar. In general, six types of chocolate are available at the supermarket:
It is at least 10% pure chocolate with added cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids.
Semisweet and bittersweet chocolate
It can be used interchangeably. They contain at least 35% pure chocolate with added cocoa butter and sugar.
It is dark chocolate that contains at least 15% pure chocolate with extra cocoa butter and sugar.
It is used for baking and cooking rather than snacking. This ingredient contains pure chocolate and cocoa butter with no sugar added.
Unsweetened cocoa powder
It is pure chocolate with most of the cocoa butter removed. Dutch-process or European-style cocoa powder has been treated to neutralize acids, making it mellower in flavour.
It has a mild flavour, contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids. Products such as white baking bars, white baking pieces, white candy coating, and white confectionery bars are sometimes confused with white chocolate. While they are often used interchangeably in recipes, they are not truly white chocolate because they do not contain cocoa butter.
A small cut of meat taken from the rib section and commonly including a portion of the rib itself. Also referring to quick, heavy blows of a cleaver or knife when preparing foods, i.e. to cut solid foods into smaller pieces, using a sharp knife, cleaver, food processor or other chopping devices. Chopped food is more coarsely cut than minced food.
Chorizo (or Chouriço)
Chorizo (Spanish) or chouriço (Portuguese) is a term originating in the Iberian Peninsula encompassing several types of spicy pork sausages used in Mexican and Spanish cuisines. Spanish chorizo is made with smoked pork; Mexican chorizo is made with fresh pork. Traditionally, chorizo is encased in natural casings made from intestines, a method used since Roman times.
An inexpensive cut of beef taken from the section between the neck and shoulder blade.
A spicy (highly seasoned) sauce or relish of fruits often used in Indian cuisine that’s made from chopped fruit (mango is a classic), vegetables, herbs and spices enlivened by hot peppers, fresh ginger, or vinegar. It can vary from a tomato relish to a ground peanut garnish, may contain a combination of raisins, fruits, dates, and onions or a yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip.
Anyone of several umbelliferous plants, of the genera Myrrhis, Osmorrhiza, etc.
Cilantro (or Fresh Coriander or Chinese parsley)
Green, leafy herb resembling flat-leaf (Italian) parsley with a sharp, aromatic, somewhat astringent flavour.
A popular sweet spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees that is used in both sweet and savoury foods. The term “cinnamon” also refers to its mid-brown colour. It is sold as sticks or ground.
Clarified Butter (or drawn butter)
Sometimes called drawn butter, clarified butter is best known as a dipping sauce for seafood. It is butter that has had the milk solids removed. Because clarified butter can be heated to high temperatures without burning, it’s also used for quickly browning meats. To clarify butter, melt the butter over low heat in a heavy saucepan without stirring. Skim off foam, if necessary. You will see a clear, oily layer on top of a milky layer. Slowly pour the clear liquid into a dish, leaving the milky layer in the pan. The clear liquid is the clarified butter; discard the milky liquid. Store clarified butter in the refrigerator up to 1 month.
To separate and remove solids from a cloudy liquid, thus making it clear. Most often refers to butter, where the milk solids and water are rendered from the butterfat. This is done by gently melting the butter, allowing the two to separate and then skimming off the solids. The resulting clear liquid can be used at a higher cooking temperature and will not go rancid as quickly as unclarified butter. To clarify liquids, such as stock, egg whites and/or eggshells are commonly added and simmered for approximately 15 minutes. The egg whites attract and trap particles from the liquid. After cooling, strain the mixture through a cloth-lined sieve to remove residue. To clarify rendered fat, add hot water and boil for about 15 minutes. The mixture should then be strained through several layers of cheesecloth and chilled. The resulting layer of fat should be completely clear of residue.
A heavy large butcher knife that varies in its shape but usually resembles a rectangular-bladed hatchet. A good cleaver has a well-balanced weight and is largely used as a kitchen or butcher knife which can easily cut through bone as well as chopping vegetables. The knife’s broadside can also be used for crushing in food preparation (such as garlic).
Rich and aromatic East African flower buds spice used ground in baked goods and whole in pickling brine and as a seasoning for baked hams. Provides flavour to both sweet and savoury recipes.
A culinary term for surrounding a food with another either before or after cooking, as with coating in breadcrumbs, flour, or a batter before baking or sautéeing or topping a finished product with a sauce prior to serving. Meat, fish, and poultry are often coated before cooking.
When a liquid, usually a custard, is thick and viscous enough to coat a spoon and doesn’t drain off.
Coat the back of a spoon
A technique used to test the doneness of cooked, egg-based sauces and custards, i.e. the sauce is done when it leaves an even path on the spoon when it is drawn.
The liquid that comes made from the grated meat (coconut pulp) of a brown coconut that’s often used in Southeast and South Asian, Indian, Southern China, the Caribbean and north of South America cooking. Coconut milk is not the clear liquid in the centre of the coconut (coconut water), nor should it be confused with cream of coconut, a sweetened coconut concoction often used to make mixed drinks such as piña coladas. The colour and rich taste of coconut milk can be attributed to the high oil content. Most of the fat is saturated fat.
To coddle something is to cook it in water just below boiling point. More recently, the term specifically applies to eggs using a device called a coddler. The low cooking temperature produces a much softer egg than if you were to boil it. Coddle (sometimes Dublin coddle) is also an Irish dish which is often made to use up leftovers, and therefore without a specific recipe. However, it most commonly consists of layers of roughly sliced pork sausages and rashers (thinly sliced, somewhat fatty back bacon) with sliced potatoes and onions. Traditionally, it can also include barley.
Dry spirit distilled from wine and, strictly speaking, produced in the Cognac region of France. Other good-quality dry wine-based brandies may be substituted.
A cooking term from the French concasser, “to crush or grind”, meaning to roughly chop raw or cooked food by peeling, seeding, and chopping to make it ready to be served or combined with other ingredients. This term is particularly applied to tomatoes, where tomato concasse is a tomato that has been peeled, seeded (seeds and skins removed), and chopped to specified dimensions. Specified dimensions can be rough chop, small dice, medium dice, or large dice.
A culinary term used to describe a substance in which the water content has been reduced to a certain thickness.
A spice, sauce, or other accompaniment that is added to food to impart a particular flavour, to enhance its flavour, aid in digestion, preserve the food, stimulate the appetite or in some cultures, to complement the dish. The term originally described pickled or preserved foods but has shifted meaning over time.
Confit (French, pronounced or in English “con-fee”) comes from the French word confire which means literally “preserved”. It is any type of food that is cooked slowly over a long period of time as a method of preservation. It’s usually a cooked meat or poultry that is prepared and stored in its own fat (or other fat if necessary), at a low heat. Duck and goose are common to this ancient technique of cooking and storage.
A highly flavourful clear soup (broth) served hot or cold, made from richly flavoured stock or bouillon that has been clarified. The broth is clarified using a “raft” of egg whites during preparation to remove fat and sediment. As the whites cook they attract the various sediments like a magnet.
Plant, animal, or synthetic fat liquids at room temperature made from vegetables, nuts, or seeds used in frying, baking, and other types of cooking. It is also used in food preparation and flavouring not involving heat, such as salad dressings and bread dips, and in this sense might be more accurately termed edible oil. Common types for general cooking include corn, soybean, canola, sunflower, safflower, peanut, and olive oil. For baking, cooking oils cannot be used interchangeably with solid fats because they do not hold air when beaten.
Originally a blue ribbon worn by the members of France’s highest order of knighthood, it has extended to apply to a food preparation of the highest standards and also in reference to the cook that prepared it. It’s an escalope of veal, chicken or pork stuffed with ham and cheese, then breaded and fried.
A perforated, bowl-shaped kitchen container with holes in it used for draining liquid from solids such as pasta or rice. A colander is also used to rinse vegetables. It can be made of metal, plastic, or ceramic.
To remove the seeds or tough woody centres from fruits and vegetables that are not usually eaten.
A knife or other tool designed to remove the core from fruit or vegetables. It is usually made of stainless steel and comes in different shapes. An all-purpose corer has a medium-length shaft with a circular cutting ring at the end.
Coriander (or cilantro, Chinese parsley)
Herb having leaves used in cooking and small spicy-sweet seeds (whole or ground) of the coriander plant, used as a seasoning. Particularly used for sausages and variety meats.
Corn Meal (or Cornmeal or Polenta)
Granular (coarse) flour, ground from the dried kernels of yellow or white corn, with a sweet, robust flavour. It is a common staple food, and is ground to fine, medium, and coarse consistencies, but not as fine as wheat flour. In the United States, very finely ground cornmeal is also referred to as corn flour. In the United Kingdom, the word cornflour denotes cornstarch, cornmeal is sometimes known by the Italian term polenta, and finely ground corn flour (for making bread or tortillas) is known as maize flour.
Corn Starch (or cornstarch, corn flour or maize starch or maize)
The starch (fine, powdery flour ground) derived from the endosperm of corn (maize) grain, the white heart of the kernel, and used as a neutral-flavoured thickening agent in some desserts, sauces or soups, and is used in making corn syrup and other sugars.
Light, or dark, coloured neutral tasting syrup extracted from the starch of maize (called corn in some countries). Corn syrup is used in foods to soften texture, add volume, prevent crystallization of sugar, and enhance flavour.
Preserved or cured with salt. Corned, as in corned beef, has nothing to do with corn, the vegetable. While today most corned beef is cured in brine, in Anglo-Saxon times the meat was dry-cured by being rubbed with “corns” of salt. Corning, or brining beef, is a way of preserving less tender cuts of meat such as brisket, rump or round. Spices and herbs such as peppercorns, coriander seeds and bay leaf are often added to the brining mixture for extra flavour. The pink colour of corned beef usually remains after cooking because nitrite used in the curing process fixes the pigment in the meat.
Beef brisket, or sometimes other cuts, cured for about a month in a brine with large crystals (corns) of salt, sugar, spices, and other seasonings and preservatives to produce a meat that when slowly simmered in water, develops a moist, tender mixture, mildly spiced flavour, and bright purplish-red colour.
Small French-style sour pickled cucumbers no more than two inches or so in length.
A thick sauce made with puréed and strained vegetables or fruits used as a base or garnish. A vegetable coulis is commonly used on meat and vegetable dishes, and it can also be used as a base for soups or other sauces. Fruit coulis is most often used on desserts. Raspberry coulis, for example, is especially popular with poached apples or Key Lime Pie.
Court-bouillon (or Court bouillon)
A flavoured vegetable broth used for poaching or quick-cooking foods. Traditional uses include poaching fish and seafood, but it is also used for poaching vegetables, eggs, sweetbreads, cockscombs, and delicate meats. For fish, make sure to add the fish to the cold broth. Alternately, seafood is plunged into boiling broth. Ready-to-use dehydrated court-bouillon is available in cubes or bags.
A traditional granular dish of semolina (granules of durum wheat) popular in North Africa, which is cooked by steaming. It is traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. Couscous is a staple food throughout the North African cuisines. Look for it in the rice and pasta section of supermarkets.
A dairy product composed of the higher-butterfat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization (The butterfat portion of milk). Also, to beat ingredients (at room temperature), usually sugar and a fat such as butter or shortening, either alone or with sugar, to a light, fluffy consistency, making a smooth, soft paste. May be done by hand with a wooden spoon or with an electric mixer. This process incorporates air into the fat so baked products have a lighter texture and a better volume. The terms light and heavy describe cream’s butterfat content and related richness. Light cream has a butterfat level varying from 18-30%. It is sometimes called coffee cream or table cream. Heavy whipping cream, sometimes simply labelled heavy cream, has a butterfat content of at least 36%.
Cream of tartar
An acidic powder used as an additive to meringue to stabilize egg whites and for heat tolerance. Used as a leavening agent most commonly with baking soda to make baking powder and an ingredient in syrups to prevent crystallization.
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 than U.S.-style sour cream, and has a lower viscosity and a higher fat content. It’s made from whipping cream and bacterial culture, which causes the whipping cream to thicken and develop a sharp, tangy flavour.
If you can’t find crème fraîche in your supermarket, you can make a substitute by combining:
- 1/2 cup whipping cream (do not use ultrapasteurized cream)
- 1/2 cup dairy sour cream
Cover the mixture and let it stand at room temperature for two to five hours or until it thickens. Cover and refrigerate up to one week.
A type of very thin delicate pancake, usually made from wheat flour (crêpes de froment) or buckwheat flour (galettes). The word is of French origin, deriving from the Latin crispa, meaning “curled”. While crêpes are often associated with Brittany, a region in the northwest of France, their consumption is widespread in France, Belgium, Quebec and many parts of Europe, North Africa and the Southern Cone of South America. Crêpes are served with a variety of fillings, from the simplest with only sugar to flambéed crêpes Suzette or elaborate savoury galettes.
To pinch or press pastry or dough together using your fingers, a fork, or another utensil. Usually done for a piecrust decorative edge.
A term that describes the state of vegetables that have been cooked until just tender but still somewhat crunchy. At this stage, a fork can be inserted with a little pressure.
From the French “croquer”, “to crunch” is a small deep-fried round roll (usually shaped into a ball, cylinder, disk, or oval shape) of ground meat (veal, beef, chicken, or turkey), shellfish, fish, cheese, mashed potatoes, or vegetable coated with egg and breadcrumbs. Usually mixed with béchamel or brown sauce, and soaked white bread, egg, onion, spices and herbs, wine, milk, beer, or any of the combination thereof, sometimes with a filling, e.g. sautéed onions, mushrooms, or boiled eggs (Scotch eggs). It gained worldwide popularity, both as a delicacy and as fast food.
Traditional French appetizers (served as an hors d’oeuvre) consisting of sliced or whole raw vegetables which are sometimes dipped in a vinaigrette or other dipping sauce. Crudités often include celery sticks, carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, bell pepper strips, broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, mushrooms, and asparagus spears; sometimes olives, depending on local custom.
Fine particles of food that have been broken off a larger piece. Crumbs are often used as a coating, thickener, or binder, or as a crust in desserts. Recipes usually specify either soft or fine dry bread crumbs, which generally are not interchangeable.
To smash food into smaller pieces, generally using hands, a mortar, and pestle, or a rolling pin. Crushing dried herbs releases their flavour and aroma.
To cut food into small (about 1/2- inch) cubes.
Cumin (or cumin)
A Middle Eastern spice with a strong, dusky, aromatic flavour used as a seasoning. Use in chilli, marinades, and basting sauces, and add to huevos rancheros or other egg dishes.
Curdle (or Curdling)
To separate into lumpy curds and liquid. This can happen with eggs if they are added to a mixture too quickly or if the mixture is too hot or when egg-based mixtures are cooked too quickly and the protein separates from the liquids, leaving a lumpy mixture behind. Egg custards tend to curdle when they are exposed to prolonged or too high heat, or in the case of milk, combined with acid. Cake batters can sometimes curdle if very cold eggs are added too quickly to beaten eggs and sugar. (Beating in a small amount of the flour will usually restore smoothness.). Curdling is intentional and desirable in making cheese and tofu; unintentional and undesirable in making sauces and custards. Curdling occurs naturally in milk if the milk is not used by the expiration date, or if the milk stays out in warm temperature.
A non-heated method of cooking to preserve meats where it is packed and left so that the moisture draws out. Smoking, salting, pickling (in an acid-base), Corning (with acid and salt), are some of the many ways to cure foods which removes water.
A blend of herbs, spices, and fiery chiles that’s often used in Indian and Thai cooking. Look for curry paste in Asian markets. Curry pastes are available in many varieties depending from the region and are sometimes classified by colour (green, red, or yellow), by heat (mild or hot), or by a particular style of curry (such as Panang or Masaman).
Generic term for a blend of spices commonly used to flavour East Indian-style dishes. Most curry powders will include coriander, cumin, chilli powder, and turmeric.
A method of blending, usually for pastry, where fat is combined with flour. To distribute a solid fat, such as shortening, butter, or margarine, into dry ingredients, such as in flour using a cutting motion, until divided evenly into tiny pieces. This is usually done using a pastry blender, two knives in a crisscross fashion, your fingertips, or a food processor. Usually refers to making pastry.
A thin cut of meat from the leg or rib section, usually from lamb, veal, pork, or mutton.
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