Understanding British and American Food Names
- Sep 14, 2010
- Ben Guthrie
Those who have experienced life in both the United States and the United Kingdom know that despite both countries speaking English, there are numerous differences in their vocabulary. The proliferation of online recipes means that now even those who have spent their entire lives in one country or the other often encounter food names that may be unfamiliar or may not mean what they think.
The following list gives American food terms and their British equivalents. It does not attempt to be exhaustive, but focuses on some of the most common or most easily confused foods. Cases where there is no exactly equivalent British or American food are noted and explained.
- What is called all-purpose flour in the United States is called plain flour in the United Kingdom.
- Baking soda is called bicarbonate of soda.
- Confectioner's sugar (also called powdered sugar in the U. S.) is called icing sugar.
- Corn syrup is rarely available in the United Kingdom. The closest equivalent is golden syrup (unknown in the United States), which has a similar sweetness and consistency, but is not made from corn and is golden rather than clear.
- Dark chocolate is called plain chocolate. Occasionally a U. S. recipe might call for plain chocolate, but it would be referring to unsweetened chocolate if it did. This is definitely not the case for British recipes.
- Gelatin is called jelly.
- Molasses is called treacle. Blackstrap molasses is black treacle.
- Superfine sugar is called castor sugar.
- Whole wheat flour is called wholemeal flour.
Fruits and Vegetables
- What is simply corn in the United States is commonly called sweetcorn in the United Kingdom.
- Eggplant is called aubergine.
- Green onions (scallions) are called spring onions.
- Raisins are variously called raisins, sultanas, or currants, depending on their precise nature. American golden raisins are roughly equivalent to British sultanas, though not identical. Currants are the smallest and tartest form of raisins. Americans should not confuse them with blackcurrants, which are a different type of fruit, not common in the United States.
- Rutabagas are called swedes, after their country of origin.
- Tomato paste is called tomato puree.
- Zucchini are called courgettes.
Herbs and Oils
- Cilantro is called coriander in the United Kingdom. In both the U. S. and the U. K., however, the seeds of this plant are called coriander seeds.
- Peanut oil is called groundnut oil.
Meats and Cheese
- Bacon in the United States is called streaky bacon in the United Kingdom.
- Back bacon is more commonly what is meant when the British say "bacon" generically; it lacks the streaks of fat in streaky bacon.
- Ground beef is called beef mince. Other ground meats follow the same naming pattern.
- Ham is called gammon when in roast form (as a deli meat, the British still call it ham).
- Shrimp are called prawns.
- Swiss cheese is called by the more specific name Emmental.
"Jelly" can refer to two things in the U.K. As mentioned above, it can refer to the dessert Americans call gelatin. It may also refer to the same thing that it does in America: a fruit preserve that contains only juice, not seeds or pieces. Jam (which contains fruit or seeds) is almost always distinguished from jelly in America. The British may refer to both types as jam, since jelly can have an entirely different meaning. In America, people may also use the term preserves, especially when chunks of fruit are present. In the U. K., people may use the term conserve.
Potato chips are called potato crisps, and french fries are called chips. The typical British chip, however, is thick cut unlike the typically thin American french fry.
These explanations should provide a solid foundation for confidence when using either British recipes or American recipes. Happy cooking!