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I am not the only international user here, and I bet that others are just as confused as I am when we read something on an American-centric resource and the corresponding translation in our language turns out to mean something entirely different.

There are also examples in the other direction, with English speakers reacting with amusement to terms like quark (a cheese) and dickmilch (a fermented milk product).

Some of these items are already present in the question: Translating cooking terms between US / UK / AU / CA / NZ - which are more properly discussed here, because they occur between languages and not within English only.

What are the false friends that we need to be aware of when reading or contributing to international cooking content?

Please add to the existing answer, following the current format. Do not add entirely new answers or change the format for new items.

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There were a few 'false friends' in the other post -- corriander springs to mind, where the UK and US use it to refer to different parts of the same plant. – Joe Jul 11 '11 at 13:56
wouldn't the literal translation of biscuit into german be zwieback? Not that it resembles either a cookie or a scone. But then neither does biscotti. Seems "twice cooked" isn't a brilliant name, but it's popular. – Kate Gregory Jul 11 '11 at 13:57
@Joe I think it is tidier if we leave the false friends within English in the other question and the ones concerning different languages here. But I'd like to know what others think about it too. – rumtscho Jul 11 '11 at 14:08
@Joe I thought about that, but I don't expect to have that many examples from outside English to merit a different question for every possible pair. We can always split it later if it proves so popular as to be too long. And then there is the problem of untangling, because there are sometimes more than two languages involved, see the feta/white brine cheese/bryndza example. Should this information be replicated for any possible pair of the involved languages? I think this would lead to senseless fragmentation. – rumtscho Jul 11 '11 at 15:00
This is an amazing write-up, but it should be an answer. Could you edit this question to be more brief/specific and post this content as an answer? – Aaronut Jul 11 '11 at 23:10

1 Answer 1

Noodles, pasta and dumplings

Polish pierogi and Russian pirozhki (пирожки)

Despite having the same Slavic root meaning "pie", the Polish pierogi are unleavened dough dumplings stuffed with various fillings, most commonly boiled or fried. On the other hand, Russian pirozhki are usually fried (but sometimes baked) buns stuffed with similar fillings. The primary difference is that pirozhki are based on a yeast dough and are egg-washed, whereas pierogi are unleavened. Complicating matters, Russian/Soviet cuisine has a separate name for what the Polish call pierogi, namely varenyky (вареники). This word is derived from a root meaning "to cook" or "boil", emphasizing the fact that varenyky are usually boiled while pirozhki are fried.

Turkish Yufka and Bulgarian (also Bosnian) юфка (yufka)

Originally, the word yufka comes from Turkey. It is an unleavened flatbread, rather dry and crispy. In Bulgaria, ???? is a type of pasta prepared by sun-drying paper-thin phyllo dough until it cracks and falls apart, and boiling the resulting pieces. The name can also (rarely) refer to the non-dried phyllo sheets used for baking.

Italian maccheroni, Enghish and other languages macaroni and French (also English and other languages) macaron

Macaroni, the English spelling of the Italian word maccheroni, is an umbrella term for hardwheat noodles produced through extruding through a machine, rather than rolling and cutting the dough. In some countries (e.g. The Netherlands, cf. this episode of an investigative TV show about food), though, the term 'macaroni' is used to indicate a specific type of noodles, shaped as narrow curved tubes. A macaron is a small baked good based on a meringue mixed with a nut flour.


English hard wheat and German Hartweizen

In English, there is a difference between durum wheat (glassy endosperm, used for noodles), hard wheat (used for bread flour) and soft wheat (low protein content, used for cake flour). In German, durum wheat is called Hartweizen (literally: hard wheat) and soft wheat is called Weichweizen (literally: soft wheat). Specialists know the American hard wheat as Manitobaweizen (literally: wheat from Manitoba), but it isn't imported, so it is very hard to meet somebody who has heard of it.

English bread flour and German Brotmehl

In English, bread flour is a flour with a low mineral and high protein content used for white yeast bread. It is made from hard wheat. In German, the term Brotmehl (literally: bread flour) isn't widely used, but if mentioned, is assumed to mean a flour mix suited for the average German bread, made from ca. 80% wheat flour with high mineral and moderate protein content, and 20% rye flour. It is made from soft wheat, with a high proportion of the bran milled in (but not enough to consider it whole wheat flour).

English biscuit, German Biskuit and Italian biscotti

In English, biscuit refers to any sweet, dry baked confection, which would be referred to as a cookie in the US (UK usage) or a product similar to scones (US usage). In German, Biskuitboden (literally: biscuit layer) is a sponge cake layer, and Biskuitteig (literally: biscuit dough) is sponge cake batter. The word isn't used alone as a countable noun. The English biscuits are likely to be called "Kekse" in German (especially the digestive crackers). There isn't a special word for scones in German, so the catchall term "Kleingebäck" can also be used. Biskuit is not to be confused with German "Zwieback" - it has the same word root, but today, nobody would recognize a piece of German Zwieback as related to any of the products named "biscuit" or similar in the languages mentioned above. The Italian word biscotti has yet a different usage, covering roughly the same things as "Kekse" in German - this includes cookies, petite beurres, sweet crackers and other small hard backed goods.

English brown sugar and German brauner Zucker, also Belgian Dutch Cassonade

In English-speaking countries, recipes which specify brown sugar assume wet light brown sugar. In continental Europe, this kind of sugar is generally not available. The local terms for brown sugar are used to denote crystal sugar with some molasses content, known in the US as raw sugar. The difference is that this type of sugar is dry, and does not give the same texture to baked goods, e.g. chewy cookies. An acceptable substitute is to wet white crystal sugar with molasses or another syrup and mix well, preferably in a food processor.

Belgian Dutch speculoos and Netherlands Dutch speculaas

Both cookies are traditionally eaten for St. Nicholas day. In English, they seem to be both translated as spekulatius. The Belgian version is a simple shortbread cookie. The Dutch version includes a special speculaas spice mix, which contains cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, cloves, coriander seeds and cardamom, giving it a very different flavor.

Polish czerstwy and Czech čerstvý

Practically the same word used to describe a bread freshness. In Polish 'czerstwy chleb' means 'stale bread', in Czech 'čerstvý chléb' means 'fresh bread' – the quite opposite.


English (also French, Spanish, Turkish and other languages) Nougat and German Nougat

In most countries, nougat is a word for a confectionery made with dried whipped egg whites and nuts and/or dried fruit. It is also sometimes called turron. When a German says "Nougat", he or she is probably thinking of gianduja, which is a mix of chocolate and hazelnut paste (Nutella is considered a kind of nougat in Germany). Turron is referred to as "white nougat" in Germany, but isn't very widespread. The other name for it is türkischer Honig (literally: Turkish honey), not to be confused with Lokum, which is called Turkish delight in English.


UK English black beer and German Schwarzbier

In the UK, black beer is a fortified wine flavored with dark malt. In Germany, Schwarzbier (literally: black beer) is a very dark lager beer brewed in some regions of Germany. It seems that US usage is consistent with German usage, using "black beer" for the dark lager. There is no definite German term for the fortified wine, but a best deskriptive term would probably be "Malzlikör".

Hindi (also Urdu, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, and other languages) chai and US English chai

In many languages the word chai (or the basic root cha) is a generic word for tea. In the United States, however, the word chai specifically refers to masala chai (spiced tea). In Hebrew, chai is the romanization for the word "חי", which is a symbolic word meaning "living".

English latte, German Latte and Italian latte

In Italian, the word latte simply means milk. In the US, it is used as a contraction of caffelatte, which is a drink made with steamed milk poured into espresso, often including latte art. In Germany, it is a contraction of Latte macchiato, which is (in its Germanized form) a beverage made from a layer of milk, a layer of espresso, and a layer of milk foam in a tall, transparent glass, often garnished on top with cocoa powder or other spices.


Greek (also English, German, probably other languages) Feta and Danish (also Bulgarian, Russian, probably other languages) Feta

The original Greek feta cheese is a semihard brined cheese from sheep's milk. Today, it has a protected designation of origin status, and only cheese produced in Greece may be called feta. However, many similar cheeses exist on the Balkans, and they are marketed as feta-style or balkan cheese. In their country of origin, they are usually called just the local word for "cheese" (Bulgarian: сирене Serbian: сир), with every other type of cheese needing a qualifier (Bulgarian: сирене чедър for cheddar), and the official designation is "white brine cheese" (Bulgarian: бяло саламурено сирене).

Before the designation was legally established, Denmark produced a different type of cheese called Feta. It was a type of bryndza - a spreadable white cheese from cow milk, not closely related to Greek feta. The name is also widely known in countries which imported this version and use the term "white brine cheese" for Greek-type feta. I couldn't find information on the new name of the Danish "Feta".

English Quark and German Quark, Dutch Kwark

In English, a quark is a subatomic particle. In German and Dutch, it is a kind of cheese not widely known in English speaking countries. It is a type of cream cheese made from the curds of fermented milk (buttermilk). It has a lower fat content than cream cheese, and a ricotta-like texture. The term Topfen is the Austrian word for exactly the same cheese. Other countries have very similar cheeses which can be substituted with excellent results, for example Russian творог (tvorog), Hungarian turo and Bulgarian извара (izvara). Ricotta is acceptable if no better substitute is available, but will change the taste. The subatomic particle is also called a Quark in German, as a homonym to the cheese.


US English wiener, Germany German Wiener Wurst and Austrian German Wiener Wurst

The English words for these are (1) wiener for a small smooth canned sausage in gut casing made from a blend of meats including poultry, (2) hot dog for a longer sausage with similar consistency to 1, made from a beef-pork blend, and (3) an Austrian sausage which doesn't have a special name in English. The American wiener (1) is called Mini Würstchen in Germany. (3) doesn't have a special name, but is considered a type of Schnittwurst. In Austria, (2) is called Frankfurter Wurst. Also, the English word hot dog is used in Germany for the complete sandwich made with (2), a short baguette, and mustard.

German Frikadelle, Dutch frikandel

In Germany, a Frikadelle is a squished meatball made from seasoned ground meat, often with addition of egg and soaked bread. It is shallow fried in a pan. In Dutch, a frikandel is also made from ground meat, but it is rod-shaped, and it is deep-fried instead of pan-fried.

French Filet mignon, US English Filet mignon

Filet mignon in French is usually pork tenderloin and so a relatively casual piece whereas in the US, filet mignon is one of the most tender beef cut, and represent just one steak slice of the beef tenderloin. The French filet mignon usually means the whole pork tenderloin.

Fruit and vegetables

English (and German, also other languages) endive and Belgian Dutch (also other languages) chicory

There is some confusion if these terms are the same or if they refer to related plants of the same family, or to different parts of the same plant. For details, see this answer.

English marmalade and German Marmelade

In English-speaking countries, marmalade is a fruit preserve made with citrus fruit, such as bitter orange marmalade. Similar preserves made with fruit other than citrus are called jam. In modern EU-conform German legislation, Marmelade is consistent with this use, so officially only citrus-containing preserves use the word. However, historically Marmelade is a German word used for all types of fruit preserves, such as "Erdbeermarmelade" for strawberry jam. This usage is still popular among hobby cooks, so it is common to find recipes which use the word Marmelade for any type of jam.

Italian peperoni, English pepperoni and German 'peperoni'

In Italian, peperoni means pepper, the fruit of the plant capsicum. In English, it is used for a type of salami, which contains paprika (dried pepper powder). The salami has Italian origin, but is produced mainly in the USA by immigrants. In German, peperoni is normally used for a specific type of pepper (thin, long and green), especially pickled.


French (also English and other languages) vinaigrette and Russian винегрет (винегрет)

In many languages, vinaigrette (of French origins) refers to an emulsion of oil and vinegar, often used to dress salads. In Russian cuisine, however, the term (винегрет) refers to a specific style of salad that is made with the dressing. The salad usually contains beet root, pickled cucumber, boiled potatoes, carrot, and cucumber.

Herbs and spices

English cumin, Swedish kummin, Finnish kumina, Polish kminek

In English, cumin is the name of the seeds of the plant Cuminum cyminum, used as a spice. Many other languages have a similar word for this. However, the Swedish word kummin and Finnish word kumina are used for the seeds of the plant Carum carvi, which is called caraway in English. The appearance is similar, but the aroma of both spices is different. The Finnish and Swedish names for cumin are juustokumina and spiskummin, respectively. In Polish, kminek is the word for caraway, while cumin is called kmin rzymski.


English diet, German Diät

In English a diet is the sum of the food consumed by an organism or group. In German a Diät is Dieting (the deliberate selection of food to control body weight or nutrient intake). The German translation of diet would be Ernährung or Ernährungsweise.


English bland, Spanish Blando

In English bland food is one that doesn't have much taste, and bland diet is a soft one. In Spanish blando means soft or tender. The term dieta blanda exists, meaning the same as bland diet, but it might be a poorly traslated term; probably dieta suave would fit better with the English bland diet term.


English pound/ounce, Dutch pond/ons

Dutch speakers use grams and kilograms, but often also "pond", 500 grams, which sounds like "pound" and is fairly close (1 pound is 454 gram), and also "ons" 100 grams, which sounds like "ounce" but is way off (1 ounce is 28 gram). Be careful using English recipes if you're Dutch (and vice versa)!

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"English (and German, also other languages) endive and Belgian Dutch (also other languages) chicory " and in Dutch (Netherlands) it's different again from the Flemish. What the Belgians call chicory we call 'whiteleaf' or 'Brussels' leaf' (it was first cultivated near Brussels), while there's another vegetable we call chicory. – jwenting Jul 14 '11 at 8:18
@jwenting this is why I wrote "Belgian Dutch" and not generally "Dutch". But I don't know which other vegetable you mean, could you post a picture of it (in the other answer, so we can keep it in the same place)? Once we have sorted it out, we can update the answer. – rumtscho Jul 14 '11 at 9:16
@rumtscho The vegetable called 'witlof' in Dutch (NL) (and I believe 'witloof' in Flemish?) is called Belgian Endives here in Canada. The wikipedia article for 'Chicory' does a pretty good job of explaining the different related plants and plant parts. – Erik P. Feb 20 '12 at 3:42
Macaroni does not exist in Italian, the correct term is maccheroni. – nico Mar 18 '12 at 18:20
Swedish kummin, finnish kumina is not cumin (english), it's caraway. Cumin is spiskummin (swedish), juustokumina (finnish). – johnny Mar 18 '12 at 19:01

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