A Dictionary of Cooking Terms

Take the mystery out of mealmaking. Use this handy glossary of cooking- and food-related definitions and terms as a helpful kitchen reference.


acid Describes any food with sour qualities, often a liquid like citrus juices, vinegar, and wine. Acids and acid-rich ingredients like citrus slices are helpful when marinating because they help flavor and tenderize foods.

al dente Italian for “to the tooth.” Describes food such as pasta or a firm vegetable that is cooked to the point where it holds some of its firmness and doesn’t get too soft.

allspice Ground spice commonly used in baking, made from the berries from the pimento tree. Allspice tastes like a combination of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and is sometimes described as “warm” on the tastebuds.

almond milk Dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk,almond milk is made from almonds, sugar, and water.

amaretto Almond-flavored liqueur commonly used in Italian desserts.

anise Spice that tastes like licorice. Both anise leaves and anise seeds can be eaten and are available fresh and dried, usually ground. Star anise is an important spice in Asian cooking.

aperitif Any drink, usually containing alcohol, served before lunch or dinner. A kir (dry white wine with a splash of crème de cassis) is a classic aperitif.

arugula Peppery-tasting leafy green, also known as rocket. The long skinny leaves are bright green and are usually served in salads. Commonly used in Italian cooking.

asian Type of cuisine characterized by the use of rice or noodles as a base, the use of fermented ingredients like soy and tofu, and lots of spices and sauces. There are many different types, as each area has its own specific cuisine: for example, Indian, Korean, and Chinese. Steaming, stir-frying, and frying are common cooking techniques used in Asian cuisine.


bake To cook food with dry, indirect heat, usually in an oven.

balsamic vinegar Made in Italy,balsamic vinegar (often just called “balsamic”) is characterized by its dark color and sweet flavor. Balsamic vinegar is aged in wooden barrels for anywhere from three to over one hundred years.

barbecue sauce Flavorful sauce blend often made with tomatoes, vinegar, and spices, and used to marinate, baste, or sauce meat. Usually used on beef, chicken, and pork, the exact blend preference varies from cook to cook and region to region.

basil Bright green leafy herb and fragrant member of the mint family, described as tasting like licorice and cloves. Often used in Italian cooking, there are also Asian basil varieties such as Thai basil.

basmati A type of rice commonly used in Chinese and Indian cooking.Basmati rice has long grains and a nutty flavor.

baste To pour liquids such as oil, butter, stocks, or sauces over cooking food to keep it from drying out and add more flavor.

batter To coat food in a batter before cooking. Battered foods are usually fried.

bay leaf Leaf from the Laurel tree. Sold both dried and fresh, the savory leaves are usually used to flavor meats and soups.

Béarnaise A classic French sauce made with egg yolks, vinegar, tarragon and other flavorings.

beet Highly-nutritious root vegetable, sometimes called beetroot.Beet varieties range in color from dark red to white. The bright green leaves can also be eaten.

beignet A deep-fried pastry popular in New Orleans, similar to doughnuts. Sweet beignets are usually served hot generously dusted with powdered sugar. Savory beignets are popular as well.

blintz Very thin pancake, like a crepe, that is filled and fried. Fillings can be anything from fruit to meat and cheese. Blintzes are usually served with sour cream.

blood orange Variety of orange with red, almost blood-colored flesh. Blood oranges can be eaten fresh like a regular orange, but may be acidic like grapefruit.

boil To heat a liquid until bubbles break the surface, or to cook food in boiling liquid.

bouillon Broth made by boiling meat or vegetables in water. The water is strained away from the meat or vegetables and becomes the broth. Bouillon is a popular base for soups and sauces, and is available in instant and powdered form.

broccolini Long, thin, bright green vegetable that is a hybrid of broccoli and kale. Tastes like a sweet, peppery broccoli.

broil To cook food directly under direct, intense heat.

brussels sprout Small member of the cabbage family that tastes like broccoli or cabbage.Brussels sprouts can be prepared many ways, from sliced raw to oven-roasted.


cacao or cocoa Chocolate powder made from crushed and dried cocoa beans. The powder is used in chocolate dishes and mixed with ingredients like sugar and milk powder to make cocoa mix.

can To preserve food in a jar or can.

candy To coat with sugar or candy. Candying is often done to fruits and edible flowers, and preserves food colors and flavors by sealing them in with raw or cooked sugar.

canola oil Oil commonly used for cooking and making dressings due to its mild flavor and low-saturated fat content.

caramelize Process of heating food to break down its natural sugars. Caramelization gives foods a sweet, nutty flavor and causes them to brown.

carrot Edible orange-colored root of a plant from the parsley family. Can be eaten raw or cooked.

catouche A piece of paper that is used to cover the saucepan or pot to prevent steam from escaping or skin developing over a sauce.

cayenne Spicy red powder made of ground dried chili peppers.

celeriac Also known as celery root, celeriac is the root of a celery plant. Celeriac is a knobby, brown bulb that tastes like celery and parsley, and ranges in size from that of an apple to a small cantaloupe. Celeriac can be eaten fresh or cooked.

chervil An herb with feathery, dark green leaves that taste like a mix of licorice and parsley. Most recipes call for the leaves which are available dried and fresh, but the root is also edible.

chives Related to onions and leeks,chives are thin, bright green plants that taste like mild onions.

chop To cut food into small pieces.

chorizo Flavorful,spicy pork sausage commonly used in Mexican and Spanish cuisine.

cilantro Bright green stems and leaves of the coriander plant. Has a very fresh, herby flavor. Can be used fresh or in cooked dishes, goes well with highly spiced dishes.

cloves A warm spice made from the dried flower buds of the clove tree.Cloves are used whole or ground to flavor everything from pies to roasts and rice.

cod Mild tasting saltwater fish.

cornstarch A very fine, powdery corn flour used to thicken dishes like sauces, soups and puddings.

crème de menthe A clear or green mint flavored liqueur commonly used in cocktails and desserts.

cube To cut food into small, even cubes, larger than pieces that are diced or minced.

cumin A spice commonly used in Latin American, Indian and Mediterranean cooking. Cumin is available as whole seeds or ground into a powder.

curry A popular Indian dish made with meat, vegetables, and curry sauce. Also, a flavorful spice mixture from South Asia made with up to twenty different spices commonly used in Indian cooking.


deep fry To cook food by fully submerging it in hot oil, with or without a batter. Makes food very crispy.

demi-glace A rich, brown sauce reduction that can be used as a base for other sauces or as a sauce itself, usually over meats.

dice To cut food into tiny cubes.

dill A bright green herb with feathery leaves and small brown seeds. The leaves are available fresh and dried and the seeds are available whole. Dill leaves are used to flavor meats and salads, and dill seeds are commonly used when making pickles.


egg whiteClear liquid inside an egg. Good source of protein.

eggplant Technically a fruit, not a vegetable, the most common variety is large and dark purple. Japanese eggplant has a long, narrower bulb. Eggplant is very spongy and can be cooked many different ways, including grilling, baking, and frying.

endive A bitter tasting green, with two main varieties: curly endive and Belgian endive. Endive has small pale green leaves that are commonly used in salads, and can be eaten fresh or cooked. Endive is commonly mistaken for chicory, another small green. Belgian endive has firm, pale, boat-shaped leaves.

espresso A very strong coffee made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee beans. A cappuccino is espresso topped with hot foamed milk; a latte is espresso with hot steamed milk.


farfalle A type of pasta. Also known as “bowtie” or “butterfly” pasta, farfalle are small, flat, ruffle-edged pieces of pasta pinched in the center.

farm-to-table A social, community-based initiative to help people understand where their food comes from and that emphasizes the progress food makes and takes from the farm to the table.

fava bean A large, flat bean that looks like a big lima bean. Favas are available dried, canned, and fresh. Fresh beans should be removed from their pods and blanched before being cooked.

fennel A member of the parsley family, fennel has small, green, feathery leaves on long, thin stems, and some varieties have a large white bulb at the base. Fennel seeds are sold whole and ground. The leaves, stem, seeds, and bulb are all edible and taste like mild licorice.

feta A salty cheese traditionally made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. Feta cheese is very crumbly and is commonly used in Greek cooking.

fig A small, sweet fruit that ranges in color from white to deep purple. Soft and full of tiny edible seeds, figs are sold fresh, dried, candied, and canned.Fresh figs should be used right away.

filet, fillet Any boneless piece of meat, poultry, game, or fish. Also, to cut meat, poultry, game, or fish away from bones to create a filet.

fish sauce A sauce also known as nam pla, commonly used in Asian cooking.Fish sauce is made from fermented fish, is very salty, and has a strong fish flavor.

five-spice powder A seasoning popular in Chinese cooking. The five main spices are usually cinnamon, cloves, anise, peppercorns, and fennel seed.

freezer burn Dryness and discoloration of food due to improper storage in a freezer. Freezer-burned food is safe to eat, but will have a different taste and texture than normal.

frittata An Italian omelet. Unlike omelets which are cooked quickly over high heat and fold their fillings inside,frittatas have toppings mixed into the eggs and are firm because they are cooked for a long time at low heat.

fry To cook food in hot oil or melted butter.


ganache A rich, semisweet chocolate mixture used as an icing and a filling for desserts. Semisweet chocolate and cream are melted and blended, then either cooled and poured over cakes, or whipped and used as a filling.

garam masala A hot spice mixture commonly used in Indian cooking. Garam masala is made of up to twelve spices, and the exact blend varies from cook to cook.

garnish An edible decoration or flavor enhancer, or to add an edible decoration onto a dish, such as fresh herbs.

gastronomy The art or practice of fine dining and/or cooking.

gelatin A thickening agent. Gelatin has no flavor or color and is used when making jellies, puddings, and other dishes that need to be thickened.

ginger A root with a spicy, sweet, peppery flavor. Available fresh, pickled, candied, and powdered. Used in both sweet and savory dishes, and commonly used in Asian cooking.

gluten A protein in wheat that makes a dough made with flour stretchy and fluffy.

gnocchi Italian for “dumpling”, a pasta variation made with potatoes and flour. Cheese and spinach are popular additions to the dough. Gnocchi are usually formed into small balls, then cooked and served with a sauce.

gratin A topping that forms a brown crust under a hot grill, like breadcrumbs or grated cheese.

grill To cook on a grill over an open flame or hot coals.


hard-boil, hard-cook To cook something, typically an egg, in boiling water until it is cooked through and solid.

heavy cream A rich cream with a high milk fat content. Heavy cream is commonly used to make whipped cream and ice cream.

heirloom Usually refers to produce grown from seeds and spores that have a longer history of pollinating without human intervention. Heirloom fruits and vegetables are produced on a smaller scale than regular fruits and vegetables. Some of the more popular heirloom foods are tomatoes, carrots, and corn.

hollandaise A rich, creamy sauce made of egg yolks and butter and usually flavored with lemon juice and pepper. Hollandaise is commonly used to top poached eggs, fish, and vegetables like asparagus.

horchata A milky drink popular in Spain and Mexico. Horchata is made by steeping ground nuts or grains like almonds and rice in water and cooling it. Horchata is usually sweetened with sugar; sometimes cinnamon is added.

horseradish Large, spicy root vegetable. The radish is large and white and has long green leaves that are also edible. Horseradish is available fresh, dried, and jarred, and is usually used in sauces or as a condiment.

hull the husk, shell or external covering of a fruit.

hummus Middle Eastern spread made of chickpeas, garlic, oil, and lemon juice. Hummus is often served as a spread or dip with pita bread, chips, and vegetables.


indian Cuisine from India. Characterized by the use of lots of spices, mainly curry. Lentils, spices like garam masala and curry, and fresh vegetables are staples of Indian food.

induction cooking Induction stovetops use energy to cook food instead of direct heat. While only pans constructed with induction-suitable bases can be used on induction cooktops, they provide excellent temperature control.


jam Spread or filling for cookies and bread made of cooked fruit and sugar.

jerusalem artichoke The knobby edible root from a sunflower, resembling fresh ginger. Can be eaten fresh in salads or steamed as a side dish. Jerusalem artichokes are nutty and sweet.


kale A dark green leafy vegetable. Kale tastes like a mild cabbage and is best in the winter.

kimchi,kimchee, gimchi, gimchee Spicy pickle condiment from Korea. Kimchi is made by pickling cabbage with chilies to preserve the cabbage. Kimchi is commonly used in Asian and especially Korean cooking.

knead To work dough with a machine or by hand until it is well mixed and smooth.

kumquat A small orange-colored fruit related to the citrus family. The outside peel is sweet, while the flesh is very sour, so the whole fruit is eaten together. Kumquats are available fresh, candied, pickled, and as preserves.


lasagna Large, flat pieces of pasta layered with meat, cheese, and tomato sauce. Lasagna is a traditional Italian oven-baked pasta dish.

leeks A vegetable related to the onion, leeks have large, flat, green leaves. Leeks can be eaten fresh or cooked and taste like mild onions.

legume A plant with seed pods that have edible seeds. Some of the more common legumes are beans, lentils, and peanuts.

lemongrass An herb with long pale green leaves that smell and taste mildly like lemon. Lemongrass is an important ingredient in Asian cooking and is used to flavor everything from soups to tea. The lemongrass itself is not eaten.

lox Brined salmon. Lox is very salty and is usually served on bagels with cream cheese.

lychee A small fruit from China. The lychee fruit has a rough red skin and soft, sweet flesh. Lychees are available fresh, canned, and dried.


marinade, marinate Any liquid or sauce that a food sits in for a period of time in order to flavor the food or change its texture; to marinate is the process of letting a food sit in a marinade.

marjoram An herb with small, pale green leaves that taste like mild oregano. Marjoram is available fresh and dried and is often used to flavor veal, lamb, and vegetables. Wild marjoram is another name for oregano.

meringue Whipped egg whites and sugar. Meringue can be used as a creamy, moist topping for pies and cakes or piped onto a cookie sheet and baked until firm and dry. Meringues can be many different flavors and are often filled with different sauces.

mince To cut up food really small, usually done with some type of machine.

mint An herb with bright green, edible leaves. Mint is sold fresh, dried, and as an extract (a flavoring made with the flavorful, aromatic oils in the mint).

miso A paste made of fermented soy beans. Miso comes in various flavors such as red and white, is used in making soups, sauces, and dressings, and is also used alone as a condiment. Miso is commonly used in Japanese cooking.

molasses A thick, sweet syrup made during the sugar refining process. Molasses is usually used in baking and sauces.

morel An edible mushroom. A morel has an unusual-looking, cone-shaped cap and is very spongy. Morels have a very strong smoky, nutty flavor and are available fresh, dried, and canned.

mousse A rich, fluffy dish that can be savory or sweet. Mousse can be very creamy and rich or light and fluffy depending on whether it is served hot or cold and how it was prepared.

mozzarella Soft white cheese made from cow’s milk. Available fresh, packaged in water, prepared, things like shredded and string cheese. Often used in Italian cooking, such as in pizzas, pastas, and salads.


napa cabbage Also called Chinese cabbage, Napa cabbage has long green leaves that taste mildly of cabbage. Napa cabbage is commonly used in Asian cooking and can be eaten fresh or cooked.

nutmeg An aromatic spice often used in baking, made of ground seeds from the nutmeg tree. The flavor is often described as “warm” and sweet.


okra Edible green pods from the okra plant are long, thin, and slimy. Available fresh, canned, and pickled, okra pods can be cooked many ways, including baking, frying, and boiling in soups and stews.

oregano A member of the mint family, oregano has large, flat, green leaves that can be eaten fresh or dried. Oregano has a very strong flavor and is commonly used in Italian cuisine.

orzo Pasta that looks like grains of rice. Orzo is commonly used in soups, but can be served as a side, cooked in a casserole, or added to a salad.


pan fry To cook food in a small amount of hot oil over medium-high heat on the stove.

paprika A red-orange savory powder made of crushed red peppers. Paprika is used both as a main flavor and as a garnish.

parsley An herb whose long, thin stems and bright green leaves can be eaten fresh or dried.

pecorino An Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk. Pecorino cheese tastes like a stronger version of parmesan, is very hard, and is usually grated over savory dishes.

penne Small tube-shaped pasta. Penne are cut diagonally and while most are smooth, some varieties have ridges.

pesto A sauce made of herbs, usually basil, finely blended with ground nuts, oil, and cheese. Often used as sauce for pasta and sandwiches. Commonly used in Italian cuisine.

pine nut Edible seeds from the pine tree. Pine nuts are very expensive because they have to be harvested from pine cones, and are commonly used in Italian and Chinese cooking.

pluot A hybrid of plums and apricots. Pluots have darker, smooth skin and taste more like plums than apricots.

poach To cook food in almost-boiling liquid.

polenta A cornmeal paste from Italy. Polenta can be eaten hot or can be cooked, cooled, and fried. Polenta can be used as a main dish or a side dish.

port A sweet wine traditionally served after dinner with cheese and fruit.

portabello A large edible mushroom. Portabello mushrooms can be up to six inches across and have a strong earthy flavor. Portabellos are available dried and fresh and can be eaten fresh in salads or cooked in soups or on burgers.


quesadilla Tortilla filled with cheese and toppings like chicken and vegetables. The tortilla is filled, folded in half and toasted, usually on a comal or griddle or in a frying pan.

quiche A pie crust filled with various savory toppings, thickened with eggs. Can be served as an appetizer or entrée.


radish A peppery-tasting root vegetable. Radishes can be cooked, but are usually used fresh in salads and as garnishes.

risotto Creamy Italian rice dish traditionally made with Arborio rice. The creamy texture is achieved by adding stock a half cup at a time, making the dish somewhat labor-intensive. Risotto is commonly flavored with onions, wine, and herbs.

roast To oven-cook food, usually uncovered, at high temperatures. Works best with tender meats and vegetables.

rosemary An herb with very small, thin leaves that look like pine needles. Rosemary grows on large bushes and tastes like a combination of lemon and pine. Rosemary is available fresh, dried and ground and is often used to flavor soups, meats, and fillings.


saffron A spice made from the yellow-orange “threads” of the saffron plant. Saffron threads are used to flavor and color foods like paella and risotto. Available whole, the fine-thread form, and powdered, saffron is very expensive because each plant only produces around 10 threads.

salsa A spicy tomato sauce usually made with fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, and fresh herbs. Salsa is the Spanish word for “sauce”.

sauté To cook food quickly in a small amount of hot oil.

scallion A member of the onion family, they have small white bulbs at their bases and long green leaves. Scallions are commonly called “green onions” and have a mild onion flavor.

sear To brown meat quickly in a very hot pan on all sides. Seals in juices, makes a nice crust on the meat.

shallot A member of the onion family, shallots are small bulbs with a mild onion flavor.

sherry A wine originally from Spain now made all over the world. Usually served as an aperitif.

soft boil To cook something, like an egg, in boiling water until it is partially set but not cooked to complete doneness.

sorrel An herb with bright green leaves that looks like spinach leaves. Sorrel is available in the spring and is acidic tasting. Usually used to flavor soups and meats, its younger leaves are occasionally used in salads.

soufflé A French dish made with a creamy egg yolk sauce and beaten egg whites. The beaten egg whites make the dish light and fluffy. Soufflés can be sweet or savory, can be prepared by baking, freezing, or chilling the soufflé mixture, and are usually served with a sauce.

soybean Small beans used to make soy-based dishes like tofu, soy milk, and soy sauce. Soybeans are popular among vegetarians because they are high in protein. Soybeans are available fresh, dried, and in pre-prepared forms.

stevia A plant from South America used as a sweetener. The leaves are much sweeter than sugar and are used fresh, dried, and ground to sweeten foods.

stir fry To cook food quickly on high heat in little oil while stirring constantly. Stir frying is usually done in a wok or other large, open pan and is common in Chinese and other Asian cooking.

sweetbreads Thymus glands of young cows and sheep. Sweetbreads must be soaked and blanched before cooking and are usually grilled or fried.


tahini A paste made of toasted sesame seeds. Tahini is used in Middle Eastern cooking and is commonly used to flavor hummus.

tarragon An herb with long, thin, bright green leaves that taste mildly like licorice. Tarragon is available fresh, dried, and powdered and is commonly used in French cooking.

tempura Japanese style of deep frying. Seafood and vegetables are coated in a thin batter, quickly deep-fried, and served hot and crisp with soy-flavored sauce.

terrine A pâté made in a terrine, a long stone dish. The terrine is a meat or vegetable mixture that is cooked then allowed to cool before being sliced and served.

thyme A lemony-tasting herb with woody stems and small dull-green leaves. Thyme is available fresh, dried and powdered and goes well with most meat and vegetables.

tofu Commonly used in Asian and vegetarian cooking, it is made from soybeans. Soybeans are ground and cooked then pressed to release the excess water. Tofu can take almost any flavor and its texture can range from very soft to firm.

truffle A mushroom that grows underground, mostly found in France and Italy. Truffles are difficult to grow and find, so they are very expensive.

dessert truffle is usually chocolate melted with cream, sugar, and other flavorings, cooled and shaped into a ball, then rolled in cocoa powder, nuts, or other flavorings for easier handling.


udon Japanese rice-flour noodles, similar to spaghetti noodles. Udon is available fresh and dried in most Asian markets. Udon also refers to a soup or other dish featuring udon noodles.

umami The fifth “flavor,” after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Umami means “delicious” or “savory”. Once it was determined that monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a major source of umami flavor, MSG was added to many dishes, especially in Asian cooking to increase the umami content.

underdone Food that is not completely cooked.


vanilla Flavoring made from the tiny seeds in vanilla pods that are native to Africa, Tahiti, and South America. Available as whole vanilla beans, vanilla extract, or imitation vanilla. Mostly used for sweet dishes and baking, and also good in savory dishes.

veal Meat from a young cow. Veal is very tender and not as flavorful or fatty as beef.

vegan Somebody who does not eat or use any animal products. Veganism is similar to vegetarianism, but stricter due to the fact that vegans don’t consume anything derived from animals; that includes milk and butter.

venison Meat from large game animals like deer; can also be moose, or other animals like deer. Venison is not very fatty and can be hard to cook properly.


wasabi Japanese condiment commonly mixed with soy sauce and served with sushi. Wasabi paste and powder are made from the green root of a mustard-like plant and are very spicy. Wasabi is sometimes called Japanese horseradish.

whip To incorporate air into food by beating it quickly, usually with a fork,whisk or machine.

whisk A utensil made of loops of metal wires used to whip or stir ingredients together, or to whip air into something

wok Large, deep frying pan used mostly for stir-frying and in other Asian cooking.


yam Root vegetable, similar to the sweet potato. Sweeter than sweet potatoes, yams come from Central and South America and Africa.

yeast Microorganism that eats sugars, causes dough to rise, and helps in the fermentation process.

yolk Yellow part inside an egg. Holds all of the fats in an egg, good source of protein.

yogurt, yoghurt A thick, creamy dairy product.Yogurt can be flavored in the same ways ice cream can and is often served frozen like ice cream.


zest To scrape off the outermost, colorful peel of a citrus fruit. Used to flavor or garnish dishes.

zucchini Green variety of squash with a mild flavor. Zucchinis can be cooked many different ways, including grilling, steaming, and frying.