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Food's Glossary

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 for desserts.

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 salads.

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 with tapas.

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 stews.

Sea Bream
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
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 Wine
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
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 flavour.

Soba Noodles
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.

Soy Sauce
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.

Sprue Asparagus
The 'thinnings' or first pickings of the asparagus bed. These thin stems have a good flavour and should be cheaper than asparagus proper.

Star Anise
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 five-spice powder.

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 garnish.

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.

Sweet Potato
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 Egg
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 marble.

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 be released.

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.



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