Word Traveler: The ABCs of food words

This feature is for all word lovers as well as those studying for the SAT and seeking to learn new vocabulary.

Here are some snippets about food words that start with A, B, and C. These may whet your appetite and interest in learning more about these words.

  • A1 steak sauce is so named for its being 'the very best' and it was created in 1824
  • aioli is French for ai 'garlic' and oli 'oil' - mayonnaise seasoned with garlic
  • Alfredo sauce is named for Alfredo di Lelio, the Italian chef who invented it
  • angels on horseback are oysters wrapped in bacon, grilled and served on buttered toast, while devils on horseback are prunes doing the same
  • apple is one of the oldest English words and first referred to fruit in general
  • apricot is from Arabic al-barquq and the Latin praecoquum 'early-ripening peach' and praecoquere 'to cook or ripen before,' due to the apricot's tendency to ripen early
  • Asti Spumante originated in Asti, Italy; spumante is Italian for 'sparkling'
  • au gratin literally translated means 'with scrapings' - which originally involved scraping dried or toasted bread from the bottom of a pan and mixing it with grated cheese
  • au jus 'with the juice' or 'in broth' should be pronounced oh-ZHOO
  • avocado comes from the Aztec word ahucatl 'testicle' and guacamole comes from ahuacatl-molli 'avocado sauce'; the plural of avocado is avocados
  • bagels take their name from the Austrian-German word for stirrup - beugel or bugel
  • baguette means 'little rod' and is derived from Latin baculum 'staff, stick'
  • baked Alaska was said to have been created at Delmonico's in New York City to commemorate the purchase of Alaska in 1869; the term dates in print at least to 1905 and was used by Fannie Merritt Farmer in the 1909 edition of her cookbook
  • banana comes from Arabic banayna meaning 'fingers, toes' and bananas were once called Indian figs; the banana 'tree' is really a giant herb with a rhizome instead of roots and its 'trunk' is made of leaves, not wood
  • a banana split is so named for the split banana in it
  • barbecue was originally a word for a wooden framework for sleeping or for drying or storing meat or fish and the word derives from Arawak or Haitian or Taina barbacoa and became Spanish barbacoa, 'wooden frame on posts' or 'framework for meat over fire.' Barbeque is the variant spelling. In English, the word's first meanings were the framework and the animal roasted on it; the usage of 'social entertainment' is not recorded until 1733.
  • the Bartlett pear is named for Enoch Bartlett, a merchant who sold the pears in the early 1800s
  • basmati (the rice) is from the Hindi word meaning 'fragrant' as this rice has a delicate fragrance
  • Béarnaise sauce is from Béarn, a region of Southwest France
  • Bechamel sauce is named after Marquis de Bechamel, a French financier and steward of Louis XIV
  • beef jerky and jerked beef come from Spanish charqui, which Spanish borrowed from Quechua c'arqi; nothing is 'jerked' in the preparation of the dried meat, as folk etymology sometimes assumes
  • beef Stroganoff is named for Russian Count Pavel Stroganov (1774-1817)
  • beer's etymology is uncertain but it came to us through West Germanic, perhaps from Latin biber, 'drink,' from bibere, 'to drink'; beer originally distinguished a drink flavored with hops from (unhopped) ale - and now it is mainly a more general term that encompasses ale, lager, and stout
  • bento / obento is a complete Japanese meal served in a lacquered box or lunchbox divided into sections
  • a berry is any fruit enclosed in a fleshy pulp - like a banana or tomato
  • biscotti is from Latin bis coctus 'twice cooked' and zwieback is German for 'twice baked'; biscotti is actually plural - one is a biscotto
  • blue plates divided into compartments were once used for fixed-price restaurant meals, which gives us blue plate special
  • bouillabaisse is French for 'to boil and settle or lower,' which is how it is cooked
  • bruschetta should be pronounced BROO-sketuh; it is derived from Italian bruscare 'to toast'
  • the burrito was so named 'little donkey' for its curved shape when filled, like a donkey's back
  • butterscotch has no liquor in it; the original meaning of scotch is 'to score, cut, or mark' and butterscotch may be so-named as the toffee may perhaps have been first made by the Scotch or the root may be 'cut butter squares'
  • ask for a head of cabbage and you are repeating yourself because cabbage means 'head' (from Latin caput 'head') - and it is probably the most ancient of vegetables
  • Caesar salad was probably invented by Caesar Cardini, a Tijuana, Mexico restaurant owner
  • canapé is French for 'couch, mosquito-netted sofa' or 'covering' and is bread upon which other items sit on for their being served before dinner
  • cappuccino commemorates the dull gray-brown clothing of the (Italian) Capuchin monks and its "formula" is one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third foamed/frothed milk
  • caramel comes from Spanish caramelo and is literally 'honey cane,' possibly from Latin cannamella 'sugar cane plant'
  • the word catsup was dropped by Del Monte in 1988 as they followed Heinz and Hunt's by using ketchup instead; this word is apparently originally from the Amoy dialect of Chinese koe-chiap, ke-tsiap 'brine of pickled fish or shellfish,' borrowed into Malay as kechap, taken by the Dutch as ketjap, then to English
  • the dish Chateaubriand was named after French diplomat and writer Vicomte François René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848)
  • chowder derives from French chaudière 'pot' and was originally a hodge-podge prepared in the fishing villages of Brittany, who probably carried the custom to Newfoundland, from which it spread to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and New England
  • the source of the word cinnamon is Semitic or Hebrew qinnamon and was borrowed into Greek as kunnamon - and it is the inner bark of an East Indian tree
  • corned beef has no corn and means 'preserved in salt' - getting its name from corn's sense 'particle, granule' for the particles of salt that permeate the beef as it soaks in brine
  • cuisine is French for 'kitchen' and first meant that or 'a culinary establishment'
  • cutlery includes knives but there is no association with 'cut,' rather being from Old French coutelier 'cutler's art' from coutel 'knife'
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