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What’s in a Name?


FOOD FOR THOUGHT - November 12, 2003
Mark R. Vogel - - Archive of other articles by Mark Vogel

Pink peppercorns are not peppercorns.  Common black pepper comes from black peppercorns, which along with green and white peppercorns, are all the same berry, (at various stages of ripeness), from a pepper plant. The pepper plant is a vine native to India and Indonesia.  Pink peppercorns are the berries from a rose plant in Madagascar. Likewise, black pepper and chile peppers are entirely different plants as well. 

Pork butt (also known as Boston butt) is not a cut of meat from the pig’s posterior, but rather the shoulder.

Sweetbreads are not bread. They are the thymus glands, often of veal, but from pork, lamb or beef as well. The two thymus glands are located in the neck and near the heart and play a role in the organism’s immune system.

Chinese parsley is not parsley.  It’s another name for cilantro.

Cream of tartar is not a cream of any kind.  It is the crystallized acidic deposit found inside wine barrels. It is used mostly in baking and when added to whipped egg whites will increase their volume.

Peanuts are not nuts.  They are legumes, i.e., plants with pods containing edible seeds. Soybeans, green beans, peas, and lentils are also legumes.

Pot roast is not roasted.  It is braised, a wet heat cooking method whereby an item is cooked in a small amount of liquid at lower temperatures for an extended period of time. Roasting is a dry heat cooking method performed in an oven or over a fire.

Wild rice is not rice. It is a kind of grass.

Cuttlefish are not fish but a type of cephalopod related to squid and octopi.  Cephalopods are a sub classification of mollusks.

Buttermilk does not contain butter.  Way back when, buttermilk was the liquid left over after the butter was churned. Nowadays it is made by adding special bacteria to low fat milk. 

Head cheese is not cheese. It is a sausage made from meat from the head of a calf or a pig.


Mountain oysters are not oysters.  They are the testicles from a calf, sheep or boar. (How gross is that?)

Elephant garlic is not garlic. It is a relative of the leek and notably less pungent than actual garlic.

Allspice is not a collection of spices.  It is the berry of an evergreen pimiento tree native to the West Indies and South America. Its name is derived from the fact that it tastes like a mixture of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. 

Lemon grass, although somewhat lemony in taste, is not a lemon.  It is an herb.

Idaho potatoes are not necessarily from Idaho. The proper name is a russet potato. They have become eponymously named for the state of Idaho since it is a major producer.  Some believe russets from Idaho are superior to other geographic locations.

White Zinfandel is not white wine. It’s red.  It’s not as red in color because the skins of the grapes are removed from the juice shortly after the grapes are pressed.  The skins are what gives wine it’s color.

Boston cream pie is not a pie but a two-layer sponge cake with a custard filling.

Hamburgers are not made from ham, but from ground beef.  (You knew that one, right?)

Chile powder is not chili powder, (notice the spelling). Chile powder is nothing but dried chile peppers. Chili powder is a mixture of chile powder and other spices, usually garlic, oregano, coriander, cumin and cloves.

Pan-broiling is not broiling at all, if done on top of the stove as it usually is.  It involves cooking an item in a pan with little or no fat. True broiling is where items are cooked by a radiant heat source above the food.

Oxtails do not come from oxen, (although they did in years gone by). Today they are the tail meat of calves or beef. 

2% milk has not had 98% of the fat removed, nor has 1% milk had 99% of its fat removed.  Milk is 4% fat. Thus, 2% milk has had 50% of its fat removed.

Jerusalem artichokes are not artichokes but a variety of sunflower.

Asian black bean sauce is not made from black beans, (as in the black beans used for black bean soup and other Latin dishes).  They are made from fermented soybeans.  (OK, the soybeans they use are black, but “black beans” usually connotes the Latin variety).

White chocolate is not chocolate but the natural vegetable fat found in the cocoa bean.  Sugar, milk solids, and vanilla are added to flavor and sweeten it.

Sweet potatoes are not potatoes but a root belonging to the morning-glory family. (They’re not yams either.  That’s another species). 

Herbal tea is not tea. It is made from a conglomeration of herbs and spices, not tea leaves. 

Chicken-fried steak has no chicken in it.  It is a thin steak that is breaded, fried, and served with gravy.

And just for the record, even though its name is not a quandary, tomatoes are not vegetables. They are fruits. So are chile peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, and even corn. Botanically speaking, a fruit is the organ that emanates from the ovary of the plant and contains the seeds. But for culinary purposes, if it’s sweet, it’s a fruit, and if not, it’s a vegetable.

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