What Do They Really Mean? Commonly Confused Cooking Terms

What Do They Really Mean? Commonly Confused Cooking Terms

I’ve been thinking about it lately as I’ve been cooking and writing about it. There are a few terms that seem to be commonly confused, and a few that I don’t even know the difference between.

These terms seem to often be used interchangeably, but there has to be a difference in the, otherwise why would they be different words. Other than, you know, the English language can be really confusing in itself.

Frosting vs Icing

What Do They Really Mean? Commonly Confused Cooking Terms

When I was working on my peppermint blondies last week, the original recipe that I based it off called it an icing but I kept saying frosting. So this made me wonder what the difference really is.

Frosting: a sweet mixture, cooked or uncooked, for coating or filling cakes, cookies, and the like.
Icing: a sweet, creamy spread, as of confectioners’ sugar, butter, and flavoring, for covering cakes, cookies, etc.

So according to dictionary.com, there really isn’t much of a difference in the two terms. I have also heard, though, that typically frosting is able to be spread on something, such as frosting a cake or the frosting on the brownies. Icing usually refers to one that is thinner and able to be drizzled on something, such as the icing that comes with a container of cinnamon rolls.

Dough vs Batter

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Recipe

So this one also had me intrigued while working on the peppermint brownies. I know what a dough is when it comes to bread products, but what’s the difference between a brownie batter and a cookie dough? Why do we call one dough and the other batter?

Dough: flour or meal combined with water, milk, etc., in a mass for baking into bread, cake, etc.
Batter: a mixture of flour, milk or water, eggs, etc., beaten together for use in cookery

Again, not much of a difference. From looking through a few different sources, it seems that it mostly has to do with the consistency. One that is more of a liquid is considered a batter, and anything that’s more firm is typically considered a dough. This explains why cookies are made from a dough since it’s thick enough to scoop and brownies are made from batter because it’s a liquid that can be poured.

Baking Soda vs Baking Powder

What Do They Really Mean? Commonly Confused Cooking Terms

I know there’s a difference. One can’t be substituted for the other. But what’s the difference?

Baking Soda: sodium bicarbonate
Baking Powder: any of various powders used as a substitute for yeast in baking, composed of sodium bicarbonate mixed with an acid substance, as cream of tartar, capable of setting carbon dioxide free when the mixture is moistened, causing the dough to rise

Well now that we’ve cleared that up….. Or not. Basically, baking soda is used to react with an acid in a recipe, such as brown sugar, to create the carbon dioxide needed to help your baked goods rise. This is usually used for cakes and cookies and similar recipes.

Baking Powder is actually made with baking soda and a few other ingredients. Baking Powder is a leavening agent, and it gets activated twice, first when it comes in contact with any wet ingredients and second when it is heated. Since it contains both an acid and a base (baking soda), it is usually used in recipes that don’t have an acidic ingredient in them.

Stock vs Broth vs Consommé

What Do They Really Mean? Commonly Confused Cooking Terms

Some recipes call for chicken broth. Others call for chicken stock. Or beef, or vegetable. Is there a difference between the two? And don’t forget about the consommé as well!

Broth: any liquid that has had meat, fish, vegetables, or legumes cooked in it
Stock: liquid from bones, simmered for a long time to extract their gelatin and flavor
Src: http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-stock-and-broth-word-of-mouth-71199
Consommé: a clear soup made by boiling meat or chicken, bones, vegetables, etc., to extract their nutritive properties

Broth also is usually seasoned and can be consumed as it is with little to no additions. A stock is left unseasoned for cooking with. Consommé is made from taking a broth and adding egg whites and lean ground meat to the top while simmering so those pull all the tiny food particles out, leaving a clear liquid behind.

In general, a broth is used when it is going to be consumed as is, or with very few things added. A stock is used for making more elaborate soups or sauces when you will be adding a lot of seasonings in since it is not already seasoned (meaning you have more control over the flavor). Consommé is good for serving hot, as is, similar to a broth.

Sweet Potato vs Yam

What Do They Really Mean? Commonly Confused Cooking Terms

With the holidays fast approaching, I hear a lot of family and friends talking about what they make for their big family dinners. Some mention sweet potato casserole, other mention candied yams, but they both seem to be talking about a similar dish. Are sweet potatoes and yams the same thing? They get interchanged often, but what are they really?

Sweet Potato: a plant, Ipomoea batatas, of the morning glory family, grown for its sweet, edible, tuberous roots
Yam: the starchy, tuberous root of any of various climbing vines of the genus Dioscorea, cultivated for food in warm regions

Umm…. what? So are they the same? No, they are both very similar, both starchy tubular roots that come from plants. But they come from different plants. And from my research, most people have never actually eaten a true yam. They are imported from Asia and Africa and are often in specialty international stores only.

Yet if you go to the produce section of a grocery store, you are likely to see two different things, one labeled yam, and the other sweet potato. There are two main varieties of sweet potato, the ones that are firmer (even after cooking) with a paler flesh, and those that are softer inside with a more copper-colored flesh. Grocery stores tend to call the firmer ones a sweet potato, and the softer ones a yam. So when you are eating the orange-colored sweet potato, while that is technically a sweet potato, you are eating what the grocery stores label as a yam.

Still confused? Don’t look at the name on the labels. Just know if you want a firm potato and grab the paler ones, or a soft potato and grab the copper ones. PS: sweet potato casserole is usually made from the soft ones, labeled yams, so should we call it yam casserole?

Rind vs Zest

What Do They Really Mean? Commonly Confused Cooking Terms

Oftentimes, recipes say to garnish with lemon zest or to add orange rind to something. I have a zester tool that works great at shredding little pieces of the rind of a lemon. So am I using a lemon zest then or lemon rind?

Zest: the peel, especially the thin outer peel, of a citrus fruit used for flavoring
Rind: a thick and firm outer coat or covering, as of certain fruits, cheeses, and meats

So the zest is the outermost part, and the rind is the entire peel of a fruit. When you are making a recipe that calls for zest you are going to use just the outermost part, which is where all the flavor happens to be on the rind. Once you get to the white part of the rind, you have gotten to the most bitter part of the fruit. The zest has almost all the same flavor as the inner part that is typically consumed, without adding in all the chunks and liquid from the fruit.

Jelly vs Jam vs Preserves

What Do They Really Mean? Commonly Confused Cooking Terms
Src: http://www.finecooking.com/article/jelly-vs-jam-vs-preserves

Ok, this one still baffles me. The boys say they want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The stuff I have in the refrigerator is technically a preserve. And then when you go to the grocery store, there are not only jelly and preserves but also jam. So which one do we really want?

Jelly: a food preparation of a soft, elastic consistency due to the presence of gelatin, pectin, etc., especially fruit juice boiled down with sugar and used as a sweet spread for bread and toast, as a filling for cakes or doughnuts, etc.
Jam: a preserve of whole fruit, slightly crushed, boiled with sugar
Preserves: to prepare (fruit, vegetables, etc.) by cooking with sugar, pickling, canning, or the like

For the most part, the difference comes down to texture. A jelly is strained when prepared, so there are no chunks of the fruit left in it at all. Jam is made from fruits that are chopped and crushed or pureed, meaning a bit of the pulp is left in there, giving it a slightly chunky texture. Preserves use either large pieces or the entire fruit when being prepared, and those pieces are left in, leaving it with large chunks of fruit and the thickest texture of the three.

Knowing this, when you are making foods such as a pb&j, it really comes down to preference on which you prefer. Now that I know the difference, I can say I prefer a jam or preserve over jelly. There’s just something strange about it being so smooth to me that I don’t like, and the chunks of fruit in jams and preserves add to the flavor.

Source: all definitions are from dictionary.com unless otherwise stated.

What Do They Really Mean? Commonly Confused Cooking Terms

What Do They Really Mean? Commonly Confused Cooking Terms

20 thoughts on “What Do They Really Mean? Commonly Confused Cooking Terms”

  1. Ha ha! I LOVE LOVE LOVE this article! I totally learned something new about baking powder and I am very excited about finally knowing what it does chemically in a recipe. I admit I might still be confused about Yams…lol.

  2. This was extremely helpful. I can follow a recipe well and I like to think I’m a good cook but for some reason I would always confuse baking powder and baking soda. Mystery solved!

  3. This is SO fantastic! The only one I felt I was sure on was the frosting vs icing. But I wasn’t exactly right there either. I thought of it as you did, that icing was thinner and able to be drizzled. I’m also intrigued that I have probably never eaten a true yam!

  4. This is such a great resource! It seriously can get so confusing in the cooking world with all these different meanings or words that mean the same thing but how would anyone know that! Thanks to this – they will!

  5. This is nice explanation, its true it get confusing and this is really was helpful. Gonna have to share with family and friends. Great job!

  6. theclutterboxblog

    The icing verses frosting is not one I have thought about but is interesting. I always took batter has something you poured where dough was far too thick for that. I had no idea the differences of broth, stock, and consomme. What a fascinating post!

  7. YES to the lemon zest, orange too! My dad just made stock with the turkey bones…
    Thanks for this interesting post, I never thought about it until now and I love thinking about new things like this and learning : )
    fun read!

  8. I’m a jam girl myself. Jelly is too jiggly and watery. I do like preserves when I want to be fancy and eat them at a hotel or something. Strangely I don’t buy preserves though. Weird shopping habits I guess.

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