al dente An Italian term that means “to the tooth,” and refers to the degree to which certain foods, usually pasta and vegetables, are cooked. These foods are cooked until done, but still have slight texture when bitten. They are not raw, or crunchy, nor are they soft.
antioxidants Molecules that slow oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation can produce free radicals, which trigger chain reactions that damage cells. In addition to preventing these reactions, antioxidants can inhibit them once begun.
baste To coat food with fat or liquid as it cooks in order to preserve moisture. A bulb baster is a suction-based tool.
blanch To boil briefly then submerge in ice water to halt cooking. The process is used to loosen skin and intensify the color of vegetables and fruits. Also referred to as parboiling.
botulism A potentially fatal food-borne illness, caused by ingestion of the nerve toxin botulin, most commonly occurring from improperly canned foods.
capers Small buds from an evergreen shrub, pickled in salty, vinegar-based brine.
caramelized To cook food until the sugar, naturally occurring or added, darkens to an amber “caramel” color. Caramelizing brings out the food’s deep, sweet, rich flavors.
celery root The edible, bulbous root of the celery plant. Also known as celeriac.
cheesecloth A fine linen mesh cloth, traditionally used in cheese making to strain whey from curds. Used by chefs for fine straining of all foods, as well as a covering, wrapping, or steeping foods.
chutney A chunky condiment from Southern Asia and India, sometimes cooked and jam-like, made with fruits or vegetables and often spiced with chilies.
currants These tiny raisins are made from dried miniature seedless grapes.
curry powder A spice blend originated by the British during their colonial rule of India so they could bring home the flavor of the regional curry dishes. The flavor of the powder found in supermarkets is fairly generic, but throughout India and other parts of Asia, there are dozens of unique curry sauce variations.
daily value This percentage is the recommended daily intake of key nutrients based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Its listing on food labels is meant as a guide to help determine the relative nutritional value of foods.
diuretic A drug that increases the body’s excretion of water through urine. The most common household diuretic is caffeine.
E. coli A bacterium (
electrolytes This is the scientific name for electrically charged salt ions. They are what your cells use to maintain and conduct electric impulses. Kidneys help to maintain electrolyte balance, but through sweat and other body fluid loss, electrolytes are lost as well. Several beverages on the market, including sports drinks, contain added electrolytes.
empty calories This term denotes foods that contain calories but no viable nutrients. The category encompasses all “junk” foods.
fish sauce A liquid condiment and ingredient similar in appearance to soy sauce, made from fermented fish. Popular in Asia, fish sauce was known in ancient Rome.
garam masala The most common spice blend from Northern India. The word garam means “warm,” or “hot,” and while it can be spicy, the name denotes the toasting of the spices prior to grinding.
garum The ancient Roman name for fish sauce, a condiment made from fermented, aged fish. Similar sauces are still made and used today throughout Asia.
gluten A protein in flour that, when moistened and agitated, becomes firm and elastic. This effect traps the gasses of fermentation, which allows dough to rise.
Gorgonzola Commonly referred to as a blue-vein cheese, this Italian cow’s milk cheese has veins that appear more green than blue. Made since the Middle Ages, Gorgonzola can be creamy, crumbly, or firm. Its piquant flavor comes from the addition of bacteria, added and allowed to germinate into mold.
Gruyere A nutty, semifirm cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland.
herbes de Provence A spice and herb blend commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine, including lavender, thyme, sage, marjoram, basil, rosemary, fennel, and savory.
hydrogenated Unsaturated fat (vegetable based) that is artificially saturated by the introduction of hydrogen.
infuse To steep two foods or flavors together.
injera A spongy, pancake-like Ethiopian bread, used as a utensil to scoop up the traditional spicy stews.
Italian seasoning A spice and herb blend commonly used in Italian recipes, including fennel, rosemary, basil, and oregano.
jicima A sweet, crisp tuber, with white flesh and thin brown papery skin, usually eaten raw.
julienne A classic knife cut that looks like long, thick matchsticks.
kalamata Greek black olives marinated in wine and olive oil.
legume A plant with long seed pods containing beans or seeds, such as lentils, peanuts, and soybeans.
macerate To soak food, usually fruit, in liquid to infuse flavor.
madras A mild to hot red curry sauce from India.
millet A tiny, bland grain packed with protein, which can be boiled like rice or ground into flour.
mortar A bowl, usually made of ceramic or stone, in which spices, herbs, or vegetables are crushed by a pestle, a hard instrument shaped like a small baseball bat.
nutrient-dense This term refers to foods that are rich in nutrients but low in calories. Nutrient-dense foods in general are considered the opposite of “empty calories.”
polenta Cornmeal mush from Northern Italy.
pulse The dried seeds of legumes.
puree Any food pulverized to a smooth paste of varying consistencies.
quinoa An ancient Incan grain, and one of the few vegetable sources of complete protein.
rancid Oxidation of oil that results in foul flavor and odor.
raw cuisine The promotion of the consumption of uncooked, unprocessed, and usually organic foods. It is generally believed that consumption of raw foods can prevent and heal many forms of sickness and chronic disease. Also known as raw foodism.
reduce A culinary term meaning to cook the water out of a dish, reducing its volume, intensifying its flavor, and thickening its consistency.
Roquefort A French blue cheese made specifically from sheep’s milk, exposed to Penicillium roqueforte mold spores, and aged in limestone caves in southwestern France.
rotini An Italian pasta shaped like a corkscrew.
roux A thickening agent made with equal parts melted fat (usually butter) and flour.
sake A Japanese rice wine.
sauté To cook food quickly, over high heat, constantly stirring for even browning. The term comes from the French for “to jump,” and sauté pans are designed with a curved lip, making constant motion as easy as a flick of the wrist.
sear To brown food, usually meat, on all sides at very high temperature, ostensibly to seal in the meat’s juice. The ability to retain the liquid in food by this method is under some scrutiny.
seize A term that refers to the thickening and hardening of melted chocolate that occurs when a small amount of moisture is added.
star anise A potent anise-flavored spice from a star-shaped fruit from an evergreen tree.
tahini A paste made of ground sesame seeds.
tortilla A Spanish word with several meanings; it refers to flat bread in Mexico and an open-faced omelet in Spain.
zest The colorful outermost rind of a citrus fruit, containing a high concentration of the essential oils and flavor compounds that flavor the fruit itself.