A to Z commonly used food's glossary and cooking terms.
The most expensive spice in the world fortunately goes a long way! It's
derived from the stigmas of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativa), which
can only be picked by hand. It takes 250,000 stigmas to make just half
a kilo of saffron.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is native to the Mediterranean. The colour
of the downy leaves and the flavour varies but, in essence, it's a very
strong aromatic herb with a slight bitterness that can withstand long
cooking times and still retain flavour.
Sago is a starch from the pith of the sago palm. It's processed into
sago flour, slightly coarser sago meal or pearl sago - small grains
similar to tapioca. It's used in baking, to make puddings or as a thickener
A salamander is a huge commercial grill that can be heated to very high
temperatures. It's used by professional cooks for glazing, browning
or caramelising savoury or sweet dishes.
Salami is the Italian name for a family of 'cut-and-keep' sausages made
from a mixture of raw meat, such as pork, beef or veal and flavoured
with spices and herbs. Innumerable varieties are made around the world.
Salami can be salted, smoked or air-dried. Salami makes great sandwich
fillers, pizza toppings or salad ingredients, particularly in potato
A spicy relish or dip served cold and made from chopped tomatoes, onions,
chillies and peppers. 'Salsa' means 'sauce' in Spanish.
Crystals of sodium chloride (NaCl) used as a seasoning and preservative.
Salt is available as sea salt or rock salt. Sea salt is more highly
prized than rock salt, which is mined from underground and needs to
be further refined for cooking salt and table salt.
A deep-fried Indian pastry stuffed with spiced vegetables or meat, usually
triangular in shape. Samosas can also be baked. Savoury samosas are
more common, but sweet fillings can also be used.
Marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea), also known as glasswort or pickle-plant,
is a fleshy-leaved green plant that grows on seaside marshes. It has
a sea-salty flavour and a crisp, interesting texture.
A Spanish punch drink made with red wine, sliced fruit and fruit juices,
sugar, soda water and sometimes a splash of brandy. This popular blood-red
drink (from which its name derives) is served over ice and is great
Sardines are baby pilchards. They're an oil-rich fish, usually sold
whole, whether fresh, frozen or tinned. Bought fresh and whole, sardines
are ideal fish for grilling and barbecuing.
A Japanese dish of raw fresh fish and shellfish (without rice), beautifully
presented and served with dipping sauces, vegetables and wasabi.
The sassafras tree is native to the eastern US. The dried, powdered
leaves are called filé, which is an important ingredient in an
authentic gumbo (a traditional Creole dish from Louisiana). The root
can be used to make sassafras tea and the bark of the root is one of
the ingredients used to flavour root beer.
This is a South-east Asian speciality eaten across much of Indonesia
(from where it originates), Thailand and Malaysia. Small pieces of marinated
meat or fish are skewered on small wooden sticks and grilled or barbecued.
Satay is usually served with spicy peanut sauce. It's essentially a
street food, but is good served as a starter or main course with rice.
The herbs summer savory (Satureja hortensis) and winter savory (S. montana)
are both related to the mint family. Both are highly aromatic and can
be used to season a variety of meat, poultry, egg dishes, soups or sauces.
Both types of savory are particularly useful in stuffings. Winter savory
tends to be more strongly flavoured.
The common name scallion is associated with various members of the genus
Allium that lack a fully-developed bulb. They tend to be milder tasting
than other onions and are typically used raw in salads in western cookery.
Diced scallion are often used in soup, noodle, seafood, sauce in eastern
cookery. Scallions are also known as green onions in the American English
and spring onions in the places where Commonwealth English is commonly
used, with the exception of Scotland, where scallions are commonly referred
to as 'Cibies', and Northern Ireland. Confusingly, the term "green
onion" or "spring onion" can also be used.
An expensive but delicious shellfish with a delicate taste, available
in a range of sizes.
A small round teacake made from a soft dough and cooked in a hot oven.
Scones can be sweet or savoury. Sugar, fruit and spices are often added
to sweet scones and they're often served with clotted cream and jam.
The scrag or scrag end is an inexpensive cut of lamb from the neck.
It contains a lot of bone and is best used in casseroles, soups and
A firm-fleshed white fish. There are numerous species available, known
by a variety of names, which can be confusing. Sea bream is sold whole
or as fillets. It has succulent flesh that's ideal for grilling, baking
and frying. Red snapper or sea bass make good substitutes.
A coarse pale-yellow flour ground from hard durum wheat used to make
traditional pasta. Semolina can also be used to make pizza, bread and
gnocchi and is added to biscuits to give a lovely texture. The term
also refers to a British milk pudding of the same name. The semolina
is cooked slowly in milk and sweetened with sugar. It can be served
like porridge with a spoonful of honey or jam stirred through or topped
with fresh or dried fruit.
Sesame oil is used for massage and health treatments of the body, especially
in the ancient Indian ayurvedic system with the types of massage called
abianga and shirodara. Ayurveda views sesame oil as the most viscous
of the plant oils and as such good at passifying the health problem
they call vata aggravation.
Shaoxing wineAn essential ingredient in Chinese cooking and other oriental
cuisines. This sweet wine is made by fermenting freshly steamed glutinous
rice, yeast and spring water. It's low in alcohol and as well as being
drunk like wine, it's used in cooking, marinades and glazes.
One of the cheapest cuts of beef, shin comes from the foreleg. It needs
long slow cooking but has a superb flavour. Use it in casseroles and
stews - it makes the most delicious gravy because the connective tissue
in it turns to gelatine, thickening and flavouring the sauce.
To 'shuck' means to open an oyster shell using a stubby, thick-bladed
knife. It's a skill that takes a little while to master but is easy
once you know how.
Sichuan pepper isn't actually pepper, but the dried red-brown berries
of a type of ash tree. The berries are dried and then sold whole or
crushed to a powder.
Try to buy the freshest berries you can find, because they quickly lose
their lemony, peppery pungency. Sichuan pepper has a characteristic
mouth-numbing quality that's typical of many Sichuan dishes. Sichuan
pepper is also one of the spices in Chinese five-spice powder.
A cheaper cut of beef from the rear of the animal. It's very lean and
contains no bone, making it a good cut for braising or for using in
stews and casseroles - or to make mince.
A prime cut of beef from the back, sold as roasting joints, either on
or off the bone, and as sirloin steaks.
To mix a thickening agent with liquid, such as cornflour or arrowroot.
A non-alcoholic cold drink made up of a mixture of the juices and pulp
of fruit or vegetables mixed into a smooth drink using a blender. Other
ingredients such as milk, yoghurt or honey can be added to thicken and
Thin grey-brown Japanese noodles made from buckwheat (which is gluten-free).
Available dried, they're long and straight and look similar to spaghetti.
They're used mostly in soups and can be used in stir-fries, although
you must stir them carefully because they break apart easily.
A semi-frozen water ice, usually made with fruit, sugar syrup or a liqueur,
traditionally served as a palate cleanser between courses but now eaten
more commonly as a refreshing dessert.
Made from defatted soya beans fermented with salt, water and crushed
barley or wheat, soy sauce (or soya sauce) forms a basic ingredient
in Japanese, Chinese and other Asian cooking. It's either added to dishes
during cooking or used as a table condiment. There are many varieties
of soy sauce that vary in consistency and in strength of flavour.
The 'thinnings' or first pickings of the asparagus bed. These thin stems
have a good flavour and should be cheaper than asparagus proper.
The fruit of a shrub native to the Far East (Illicium verum), star anise
is shaped like an eight-pointed star and contains shiny seeds with an
aniseed flavour, which comes from the essential oil, anethole. It's
used widely in Chinese cooking and is one of the five spices in Chinese
Also known as carambola, this ridged yellow exotic fruit has a waxy
skin and becomes a five-pointed star when sliced widthways. Starfruits
have a quite sour taste so they are often used for decoration or as
A sea mollusc related to the cuttlefish and also known as calamari.
Squid can be grilled or fried. Larger squid can be added to stews or
stuffed or cooked in their own ink. Their shape makes them very good
for stuffing with vegetables or other kinds of seafood. They're also
very good deep-fried or stir fried.
An Austrian dessert made from very thin layers of strudel pastry - similar
to filo pastry - wrapped around a filling of fresh fruit, most famously
apple, dried fruit and spices. Strudels are usually sweet but savoury
versions can be made too.
In Japanese cuisine, sushi is a food made of vinegared rice combined
with a topping or filling of fish, seafood, vegetables, or egg. The
topping may be raw, cooked, or marinated; and may be served scattered
in a bowl of rice, rolled in nori, laid onto hand-formed clumps of rice,
or stuffed in a small tofu pouch. In Japan the word sushi refers to
a broad range of food prepared with sumeshi or sushi meshi, which is
vinegared rice. Outside Japan, sushi is often taken to mean raw fish.
It is sometimes confused with sashimi, which is delicately sliced seafood
served with only a dipping sauce.
A technique in which vegetables are cooked very slowly in a covered
pan using just a small amount of butter or oil, so that they soften
but don't brown. Sweating plays an important part in tenderising vegetables,
especially finely diced onions, before other ingredients are added.
A root vegetable that resembles a potato, although it's quite different
in taste and texture (and isn't related to the potato). It has a pinkish-orange
skin and deep orange flesh.
Sweet potatoes can be cooked in a variety of ways. They have a slightly
sweet flavour and a lovely creamy flesh, much lighter and fluffier than
the potato. They can be cooked in similar ways to the potato - baked,
mashed, roasted or used in vegetable soups and bakes, or added to risottos,
pasta dishes and curries.o
A syllabub is a type of dessert that dates from the eighteenth century
at least. It is usually made from sweetened cream thickened with gelatin
and whipped together or curdled with fruit juices or alcoholic beverages
(nowadays Tequila is typically used).
Tabasco is the trade name of a range of hot, spicy chilli sauces made
in the US state of Louisiana. The original Tabasco sauce is fiery red
and made from a variety of chilli pepper called Tabasco, combined with
vinegar and salt and matured in oak barrels. Other varieties include
a milder green Tabasco sauce made from jalapeño peppers and green
peppers. Just a few drops of Tabasco adds a spicy, chilli flavour to
meats, sauces, burgers, salad dressings or cocktails.
Tabouli (or tabbouleh) is a Middle Eastern vegetarian salad. Its primary
ingredients are typically bulgur, lemon juice, tomato, mint, parsley
and other herbs. It is served cold.
A taco is a traditional Mexican dish comprising a rolled or folded,
pliable tortilla (of either maize or wheat flour) filled with meat (generally
grilled beef or pork), chili-based salsa, guacamole, and garnishes such
as pico de gallo or cilantro. It may also contain just about any other
filling that lends itself to it, generally meats or vegetables that
are chopped and fairly dry. There are many subvarieties of the taco,
and most of them have a certain set of traditional fillings. The normal
presentation of the taco is served flat on a tortilla that has been
warmed up on the comal; since the tortilla is still soft, it can be
folded over or pinched together into a U-shape for convenient consumption.
Morocco and other Northern African peoples can be experienced more fully
using a tagine (or tajine). The conical lid provides the enclosure that
makes it act like an oven. Most can be used to cook either in the oven
or on top of the stove.
Long thin ribbons of pasta sold either in curled nests or straight,
like spaghetti. Tagliatelle can be plain or green (flavoured with spinach)
and is available fresh or dried. It goes well with thick creamy sauces
that cling to the pasta well.
A tamale or tamal (from Nahuatl tamalli) is a traditional Latin American
food that begins with corn (maize) flour mixed with water and lard.
This mixture (masa) is then filled with meat or cheese or any preparation
according to taste. Tamales are an ancient American food, made throughout
the continent for over 5000 years. Their essence is the masa dough,
usually filled with a sweet or savory filling, wrapped in plant leaves
or corn husks, and cooked, usually by steaming, until firm. Tamales
were developed as a portable ration for use by war parties in the ancient
Americas, and were as ubiquitous and varied as the sandwich is today.
A type of soy sauce that's made without wheat and is therefore suitable
for those with wheat allergies or coeliac disease. Tamari is dark in
colour and has a rich flavour, making it useful in marinades and dressings.
It's also good as a dip. If you can't find it, substitute dark soy sauce.
A red, egg-shaped tropical fruit about the size of a plum. It's sometimes
called a tree tomato.
A flavouring agent made from the fruit of the tamarind tree. The fruit
is shaped like a long bean, inside which is a sour pulp. The pulp can
be pressed to form a 'cake' or processed to make a paste. Small pieces
of tamarind cake can be broken off and infused to create an acidic liquid
flavouring used in Asian and Caribbean cooking.
A tandoor is a tall, cylindrical clay oven found in countries stretching
from the Arabian peninsula to India. Naan breads, as well as various
meats and kebabs, are traditionally cooked in a tandoor. The term 'tandoori'
pertains to dishes cooked in such a clay oven.
A generic name given to numerous small orange citrus fruits, more commonly
known as mandarins. Satsumas are simply a different variety and clementines
are a hybrid between the tangerine and the sweet orange.
Tapenade is a spread consisting of, at the least black olives and olive
oil pureed or chopped finely. It can also contain anchovies, capers,
garlic, or parsley.
Tapioca is an essentially flavourless starchy ingredient, or fecula,
produced from treated and dried cassava (manioc) root and used in cooking.
It is similar to sago.
A thick, creamy Greek dip made from olive oil, fish roe, breadcrumbs
and seasonings. It’s usually served as a mezze dish or as an hors
d'oeuvre. It can be bought ready-made but avoid tubs of electric pink
taramasalata with too much food colouring.
An aromatic herb, often used in French cooking. Its long, soft green
leaves have a distinctive aniseed flavour and can be used to flavour
oils and vinegars. Dried tarragon retains much of the flavour of fresh,
so it's fine to use if you can't find fresh. It's one of the herbs that
makes up fines herbes and is also used in béarnaise sauce. Tarragon
is particularly good with chicken but also use it to flavour salads
and egg dishes and as a flavouring for fish.
The term tartare can be used in two ways. Tartare sauce is made from
mayonnaise, gherkins and capers and is the traditional accompaniment
to fish. Steak tartare is made with minced beef served raw with egg
yolk and seasoning.
Tea eggs are simply hard boiled eggs that have been further stewed in
a salted tea liquid. The shell of each egg is lightly cracked without
peeling before being stewed. This serves the dual purpose of letting
the flavour of the tea into the egg, while colouring the surface egg
white with a blurry cracked pattern that is somewhat reminiscent of
Tempe is made of whole, cooked soybeans infused with a culture to form
a dense, chewy cake. It is a good source of fiber protein, polyunsaturated
fats and lecithin, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and
some B vitamins.
Tempura refers to classic Japanese deep fried batter-dipped seafood
and vegetables. The batter is made of ice cold water, flour, and egg
yolks. Small dry bite-sized pieces of food are dipped in flour, then
in batter, and then deep fried for 2-3 minutes. In high class restaurants,
sesame oil or a mixture of sesame and other cooking oils is used. Because
of the cost of sesame oil, this is rarer in lower grade restaurants.
Western chefs frequently include tempura dishes on their menus but seldom
with 'authentic' results. This largely stems from a misunderstanding
about mixing the batter which, in classic cookery, must be beaten until
homogeneous. Good tempura batter is mixed with chopsticks, for only
for a few seconds. This leaves numerous lumps in the mixture and results
in the unique tempura structure when cooked. Also crucial is that tempura
batter be made freshly, in small batches.
Tequila is a strong distilled alcoholic beverage made primarily in the
area surrounding Tequila, a town in the western Mexican state of Jalisco,
50 km from Guadalajara. It is made from the agave plant (also called
maguey) - a succulent, similar to the lily, which is native to Mexico.
Usually, a Japanese dish consisting of beef, chicken or fish that has
been marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, ginger and seasonings
before being grilled or fried. However, the term can be used to describe
the sauce itself or the cooked dish made with the sauce. The sugar in
the marinade gives the cooked food a slight glaze.
Pork and duck terrineThis term usually describes a kind of pâté
and is also the term to describe the ovenproof dish that pâté
is cooked in - usually ceramic and similar to a loaf tin.
Thyme is often used to flavour meats, soups and stews. It is used in
French cuisine, where it is an important element in a bouquet garni,
as well as in Herbes de Provence. It is also widely used in Caribbean
cuisine. In Jordan the condiment zahtar contains thyme as vital ingredient.
Thyme should be added early in cooking so that its oils have time to
Tilapia has white or pinkish flesh that's firm, low in fat, sweet and
mild in flavor. The tender skin is edible. Tilapia can be baked, broiled,
grilled, or steamed. In the U.S., all tilapia is farm-raised and of
lesser quality than the wild variety harvested in Asia and Africa. Tilapia
is often marketed as a lower-priced substitute for red snapper, although
its meat is not nearly as prized.
An Italian dessert, similar to a trifle, made with Italian sponge biscuits
or macaroons soaked in coffee, brandy or liqueur, with mascarpone cheese
and chocolate. Tiramisu translates as 'pick me up'.
White and wobbly and often misunderstood, tofu (also called bean curd)
is an important protein source in oriental cooking. It's extremely versatile
and, with the right addition of flavours, tofu can be delicious.
Categorized botanically as fruits, are eaten as a vegetable, enjoyed
for their combination of sweetness and acidity. They are at their best
during summer, although fresh varieties are available all year. Colors
vary from red to yellow to green and purple and shapes from the bulky
beefsteak and the large common tomato to the small cherry tomato. At
other times of year, plum, or Roma, tomatoes, may have the best flavor
and texture. Tomatoes are sold fresh or in cans. Sweet, chewy dried
tomatoes come plain or packed in oil.
This is a prime lean cut of beef from the rear of the animal, usually
sold rolled and tied with a layer of fat for roasting. It can also be
pot-roasted, braised or boiled.
A staple of Mexican and Central American cuisine, a tortilla is a kind
of unleavened bread, made from maize (corn) or wheat flour. The Spanish
tortilla, an unrelated dish, is a type of omelette. Indians have a similar
dish, Roti which is made essentially from wheat flour.
Trans Fatty Acids
A trans fatty acid (commonly shortened to trans fat) is an unsaturated
fatty acid whose molecules contain trans double bonds between carbon
atoms, which makes the molecules less kinked compared with those of
'cis fat'. Research suggests a correlation between diets high in trans
fats and diseases like atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. The
US National Academy of Sciences recommended in 2002 that dietary intake
of trans fatty acids be minimized.
The stomach of a cow, pig, sheep or ox - ox having arguably the best
flavour. Tripe is usually sold specially prepared or cleaned for cooking
and is very much an acquired taste. Depending on which animal it comes
from, it will have a different appearance ('honeycomb' tripe is reckoned
by some to be the best for cooking).
Trout meat is usually pale orange-pink, sometimes a deeper red-pink
(though young trout are often white-fleshed). It is rich and full-flavored,
with a firm yet creamy texture and moderate to high fat content. Note:
Wild trout are usually much more flavorful than the farm- raised variety.
Whole trout is often stuffed and baked. Fillets can be pan-fried, poached,
steamed, broiled, or grilled (use a grilling basket). Look for bright,
shiny skin and flesh that shimmers reflectively.
A fairly expensive flat sea fish with good-flavoured firm flesh, on
a par with Dover sole. It's available as fillets, steaks or whole. Buy
it whole when you can because the bones help to add flavour to the flesh,
but the fillets are good for poaching or grilling and can be served
with sauces such as parsley sauce or hollandaise.
A bright yellow spice that comes from the rhizome of a plant in the
ginger family. It's sometimes available fresh, but is usually sold dried
and ground, in powder form. Turmeric is often a component of curry powder
and it's used on its own in many Asian dishes, including fish curries,
dhals, pilafs as well as in many North African meat and vegetable dishes.