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Kitchen Glossary for Geeks

The Cook's Essential Kitchen Dictionary - A Complete Culinary Resource, Second Edition  (2014 Robert Rose Publishing) by Jacques L Roland is the main resource used to compile this list of culinary terms - a highly recommended book. This resource has interesting historical notes as well as lists of food varieties such as types of pastas, pears, apples, and onions. For the list below, I chose the terms that can add to your culinary geekdom and overall understanding of cooking. Thank you Chef Roland who has walked (and sweated) before us. Merci beaucoup.

A

Acetic acid - a clear acid that gives vinegar its distinctive taste, formed by bacteria's effect on the alcohol in wine, beer, or hard cider. 

Active dry yeast - a form of dehydrated yeast sold as dry granules.

Adjust - added in recipes, this means to modify the seasonings to a dish, especially just before it's done or served, and is the final step in food prep. 

Aftersmell - an odor sensation that lingers after swallowing any alcoholic beverage. 

Agar-agar - a gummy substance used for thickening sauces, which comes from an edible red seaweed. 

Age - to store food or spirits under controlled conditions as a means of providing flavor. 

Aigre-doux - a French word for a sauce containing both sweet and sour ingredients. 

Al dente - an Italian word that means "to the tooth" and describes pasta (or other foods) that are just undercooked.

Amaranth - once thought of as a weed, the leaves can be eaten, and the seeds are a WPF intact grain.

Amuse-bouche - a French term that is a single bite or taste before a meal as a "palate teaser" from the chef, which amuses the taste buds. 

Apéritif - this is a French term referring to an alcoholic beverage usually served before a meal to stimulate the appetite such as vermouth, champagne, or dry sherry.

Aromatic - any fragrant or spicy plant used to flavor food or drink. 

 

Arrabbiata - an Italian term that describes pasta sauces which are spicy, usually by adding red pepper flakes.

Artisanal - this describes any food produced by hand rather than a machine.

Astringency - a character taste of beer or wine caused by tannins, oxidized tannins (phenols), and aldehydes that cause the palate to pucker.

 

B

Back of house - a term used in the hospitality business to describe the areas, like kitchens, which are out of view from customers. 

Bain-marie - a French term that describes a set of two pots, pans, bowls or dishes, one fitting on top of the other - designed to allow slow and even cooking or warming of food in the upper part via the steam (from water) in the bottom part. 

Baking stone (aka pizza stone) - a flat heavy piece of stone on the lowest rack in the oven and heated to replicate the brick floor of commercial bread or pizza ovens. 

Baton (aka batonnet) - a French term for little sticks of vegetables cut a bit larger than the julienne style. 

Bento - a Japanese term to describe a box-shaped "plate" with each compartment containing a different item such as rice, pickles, salads, main dishes, and desserts.

Bind - to combine ingredients by adding a thick roux-based sauce, so they don't separate during cooking; also simply means to combine. 

Bitter herbs - these include horseradish, endive, cress, and celery leaf eaten during the Jewish holiday of Passover, to symbolize the bitter time Jews spent in slavery in Egypt. 

Blanch - to pour boiling water over foods (usually vegetables) to briefly cook them, then rinsed or plunged into a bath of water and ice to stop the cooking process; it's also used to peel foods like peppers and tomatoes. 

Bouquet Garni - a bundle of herbs and aromatics, tied together with leeks, cheese cloth, or gauze - used to flavor soups, stews, and sauces. 

Braise - to first brown foods (root vegetables, cabbage, etc) in a pan on the stove, then continue to cook them in a roasting pan, covered, on a lower heat in the oven with a liquid added - this slow, wet method adds flavor to foods.

Brassica - this is a synonym to the term cruciferous when referring to a family of plants which include cabbages, Brussels sprouts, kale, and broccoli. 

Brine - a strong mixture of salt and water, with herbs, spices, (and often sugar), to preserve or flavor foods - similar to the concept of a marinade. 

Broil - to cook food under a high heat source in a short period of time. 

Bruise - to lightly crush ingredients (seeds, nuts, spices, aromatics) with a mortar and pestle, or the flat of a chef knife.

Brunoise - this is a square cut with sides that are approximately 1/8 inch in length - less common than a dice, the brunoise is often used in the garnish. 

 

C

Cacciatore - an Italian term for a sauce made with onions, garlic, tomato, herbs, and wine, then added to other ingredients. 

Canapé - a French term that describes a bite-sized portion of savory foods, usually using a toast base with pastes or dips on top; they can be as simple or as elaborate as a chef desires. 

Capsaicin - the chemical compound found mostly in the seeds and membranes of some chilis that make them hot/spicy.  

Caramelize - to slowly cook food to create a golden brown color, which results in an increase of a food's natural sugars.  

Cassoulet - a French term that refers to a white-bean based casserole, cooked slowly, preferably in a Dutch oven or earthenware pot. 

Cheesecloth - a fine, lightweight natural cotton cloth used for draining and straining sauces to give them a fine consistency. 

Chiffonade - a French term that describes a cutting method for salad vegetables and herbs - the food is gently rolled into a semi-tight cylinder, then cut very thinly to create a kind of "fluffy" or "ragged" effect. 

Chow-chow - a Chinese term that describes a relish of chopped mixed vegetables traditionally seasoned with orange peel, ginger, and a sweet syrup; now it's often flavored with mustard.

Compote - a term to describe something whole that remains in a sauce; fruits and vegetables are often chopped and cooked with a variety of liquids, but are not smashed or pureed before serving. 

Coulis - a thick sauce or puree.

D

Danger zone - foods are considered in the "danger zone" when they're between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F (5 degrees C and 60 degrees C), because this is the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. 

Dash - an imprecise measurement of any seasoning, often less than 1/8 teaspoon (.5mL).

Digestif - a French term referring to a drink such as brandy or cognac taken after a meal to help digestion. 

 

E

Egg wash - traditionally, this is whisked egg yolks brushed onto dough to create a brown and shiny texture; plant-based milks are excellent substitutes. 

Epicurean - someone with discriminating taste who is dedicated to the sensual enjoyment of food and drink; synonymous with the term gourmet. 

Étouffée - a style of cooking over low heat in a covered pan, allowing the steam to develop flavors more quickly and to keep the ingredients moist; this also refers to a Cajun dish with seafood, vegetables, and a dark brown roux.

F

Fermentation - a chemical process that breaks down carbohydrates and glucose in foods, which produces effervescence, decomposition, and/or alcohol. 

Flash point (aka fire point) - refers to the lowest temperature when cooking oil ignites, which is between 600 degrees F and 700 degrees F (315 degrees C and 370 degrees C).

Folding - a method of lightly combing ingredients to prevent over-stirring; this term is usually found in baking recipes. 

Frizzle - to bake (or fry) until the edges of foods are crisp and curled. 

G

Gastronomy - this term means the art of good eating from the Greek word "gastros" (stomach) and "nomos" (law). 

Gremolata - a kind of Italian condiment with finely chopped parsley, lemon peel, and garlic, which is added before serving.

H

Hichis - a French term referring to a finely chopped mixture of flavorful ingredients such as onions, garlic, mushrooms, herbs, and bread crumbs, which are sprinkled over foods before baking or added to dishes such as stuffings. 

Hard water - water which contains above-average amounts of calcium and magnesium; it can have a negative effect on foods especially during the baking process.  

Haute cuisine - highly sophisticated food presented in a fanciful way and prepared with a high level of expertise. 

Hull - the outer coating of a seed, nut, or fruit. 

Hydroponics - a method of growing plants in enriched water instead of soil. 

I

Infuse - to extract flavor from an ingredient by steeping it in a hot liquid, or by adding a flavoring ingredient such as vanilla bean, chili peppers, or orange peel to a liquid (usually a spirit such as vodka), and then letting the flavors "infuse" the liquid over time.

 

J

Julienne - a culinary term used to describe foods which are cut or shredded into fine matchstick-shaped strips.

K

Knead - a method of pressing, folding, and stretching dough in order to develop the flour's gluten; along with yeast and other leavening ingredients, kneading then causes the dough to rise.

Kosher salt - a pure coarse-grained salt without additives, which is made in accordance with Jewish dietary laws; it's used by many chef's in professional kitchens, kosher salt has less nutritional value than iodized table salt or sea salt.

 

L

Libation - traditionally, this term referred to an ancient religious ritual when wine, milk, oil, or blood were sprinkled on the ground or at an alter to honor the gods; today, this term ironically refers to an alcoholic beverage.

 

M

Macerate - to soak a food in liquid to soften and flavor it; an example: fruit mixed with alcohol, citrus, or maple syrup and rested for 15 to 30 minutes. 

Marinate - to soak food and let stand in a wet, seasoned mixture before cooking. 

Menu - a French term from the Latin "minutus" (small or detailed); the oldest menu known is a Sumerian clay tablet from around 3000 BCE which lists in cuneiform (logo-syllabic script used to write several languages of the Ancient Near East) a proper meal for the gods. 

Millet - a tiny yellow set of cereal grass (panicum miliaceum); popular in North Africa, it is now eaten elsewhere as a WPF intact grain. And yes, it's also used as a key ingredient in bird seed!

Mirepoix - a mixture of diced carrots, celery, and onions; this sauce, soup, and culinary base was created by the personal chef of the Duke of Levis-Mirepoix (1699 - 1757), a French field marshal and ambassador of Louis XV.

 

N

Nouvelle cuisine - a term that emerged in the 1970's which means "new cooking" and refers to a shift from heavy dishes served in large portions, to dishes with a fresh-market approach, small portions, lighter sauces, and served creatively on over-sized plates. 

 

O

Organic - a term referring to a specific farming method which maintains and replenishes the fertility of the soil, without the over-use of pesticides and fertilizers - or use none at all. 

P

Pan-broil - to cook in an uncovered skillet with little or no fat. 

Pan-fry - to cook in an uncovered skillet with a much smaller amount of fat than deep-frying. 

Parchment paper - a silicone-coated cooking paper used to line baking sheets and dishes which is resistant to moisture and oil; it can also be used to wrap foods and aromatics into a kind of "package" which steam-cooks savory items (aka papillote). 

Parboil - to partially boil foods such as root vegetables before roasting, so that the interiors will be cooked at the same time as the exteriors, when the cooking process is finished in the oven. 

Persillade - a French term which means either a finely chopped addition of parsley to a dish like a garnish... or a mixture of parsley, garlic, and/or shallots sprinkled over a cooked dish before serving. 

Phytophagous - from the Greek "phyton" (plant) and "phago" (to eat), this adjective describes people who only eat plants. 

Pith - the spongy section found at the center of most flowering plants, as well as the white substance found between the skin and the pulp of citrus fruits. 

Poach - to cook food immersed in liquid just below the boiling point. 

Pomology - the study of fruit from the Latin "pomum" (apple) and the Greek "logos" (discourse). 

Prix fixe - a French term meaning "fixed price" and is usually made up of several courses on a restaurant menu. 

 

Q

Quick bread - this is made without kneading or rising, and it's leavening comes from baking powder or baking soda; examples are muffins, biscuits, and sweet fruit and vegetable "breads" using carrots, zucchini, and bananas, for example.

R

Ramekin - a small ceramic dish used to bake smaller portions of a dish, like a personal mini-casserole for sweet and savory foods alike.  

Reduction - to boil a liquid down to a thicker consistency which adds a concentration of flavor.

Relax - a baking term to describe letting dough rest after forming but before rolling or cutting; this allows the flour's gluten to rest and helps decrease the possibility of the food shrinking while baking. 

Relish - a pickled raw or cooked condiment made with fruits and/or vegetables. 

Restaurant - from the French "restaurer" (to restore), the first restaurant in the world was opened in Paris in 1765 serving only one item on the menu: sheep's feet simmered in a white sauce; some food historians site other restaurants as being the first and may have opened as early as 1762 (the debate rages on).

Ricer - a culinary tool which looks like a large garlic press, used to mill cooked potatoes, making them into soft rice-like shapes (hence the term). 

Roux - equal parts of a flour mixed with a fat while being heated, to create a paste which thickens sauces, soups, and stews. 

S

Samovar - a Russian urn with a spigot used to boil water for tea. 

Sauté - from the French "sauter" (to jump), this is a method to cook foods quickly in a pan; in culinary terms, it means to tip the pan down to let the food collect to one side, then flick the pan quickly to lift the food into the air which "stirs" it while cooking. 

Scald (aka blanch) - to briefly plunge fruits and vegetables into boiling water, then into an ice-bath to loosen up the skins for peeling; it also means to heat milk to just below the boiling point.

Score - for plant-foods, this means to cut the top of a food before cooking in a pattern to make it look decorative when it's done; the word comes from an Old Norwegian word for "to cut". 

Sear - describes a process of placing a piece of meat, plant protein like tofu, or starchy vegetable in a pre-heated, un-oiled pan or skillet; this creates a kind of "crust" on the surfaces before "finishing it off" in an oven. 

Slow food - an international movement started around 1989 which focuses on artisanal methods of cooking and food production; from farms to chefs, the movement emphasizes organic products and traditional methods of preparation, with the intention of producing healthier food... while creating long-term sustainability and equilibrium for eco-systems.  

Slurry - a combination of starch (corn starch, flour, arrowroot, etc) and cold water which is mixed together, and is then used to thicken sauces, soups, and stews; if a starch is added directly to a dish, it can become clumpy. 

Steam - to cook food by moist heat using a steamer or perforated pan over boiling water, making sure the food doesn't touch the water. 

Steep - to soak in or infuse a hot liquid with flavor such as teas or herbs. 

Sweat - to cook very gently to draw out the juices of a food before cooking it with other ingredients; this method is often used before creating soups and casseroles.

T

Tempering - a process used for melting and then cooling chocolate, usually for coating or filling a mold. 

Terroir - a wine term which refers to a vineyard's soil type, climate, degree of slope, and exposure to sun; all of these give each wine a distinct character. 

Truss - from the Old French "trousser" (to bundle), this is a method of tying food in a bundle to secure the finished cooked food when cutting; this can also create a beautiful presentation.

V

Vandyke - to cut the rind of citrus fruit and the skin of melons and tomatoes into zig-zag shapes to make them look beautiful. 

Vat - a large container to hold liquids during the fermentation process.

Vintage - the year a wine's grapes were picked or when the wine was made; this does not refer to when the wine was bottled. 

W

Whip - to beat ingredients in order to incorporate air, which makes the food light and fluffy.

Whisk - a kitchen tool with open spaces between wires (or plastic), which combines ingredients well; the verb, to whisk, means to use a whisk while combining ingredients. 

Wok - a round-bottom pan with curved sides which lets the heat distribute throughout the pan evenly, and is usually used with higher heats. 

 

Z

Zest - as a noun, this is the rind of citrus fruit used for its color, aroma, and enhanced flavor; as a verb, it means to use a zester tool to peel slivers of the zest to add to foods. 

Zymurgy - the chemistry name dealing with fermentation, such as brewing beer, making wine, and the preparation of yeast and vinegar.  

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