As a food writer, I've come across tons of food terms that are definitely not English in origin: espresso, gyro, tapas, and pho, to name just a few. Most of the words I find on a daily basis, however, come from the food capital of the world: France.

It is well known that the French have been a major influence on food, but did you know that many food words and phrases we use daily actually mean different things in French? Here are some of my favorites.


What it means: to fry something quickly in a little hot fat (butter, oil, etc).

What it literally means in French: "Sauté" comes from the verb "sauter", meaning "to leap." Since frying food and oil "jumps" in the pan, this word perfectly describes this cooking method.


What it means: This technique is used in the dessert "crème brûlée," which is vanilla custard topped with a layer of sugar. The sugar is then burned by a blowtorch to create a crispy, caramelized crust.  

What it literally means in French: This word comes from the French verb "brûler", meaning "to burn". This refers to the burnt sugar crust of the previously mentioned and utterly delicious dessert.

Hors d'Oeuvres

hors d'oeuvres

Elton E Photography on Flickr

What it means: A small bit of food, often served on crackers or toast, for eating with drinks or before a meal. It can also be described as an appetizer before a larger meal.

What it literally means in French: It translates to "outside the work," meaning "outside of the main set of courses in a meal." Fun fact: this usage of the word dates all the way back to 1705.


What it means: A dish of hot liquid, such as cheese, oil, or chocolate, in which small pieces of food are dipped or cooked. 

What it literally means in French: This word comes from the the verb "fondre," which means "to melt." Excuse me while I dream about pools of melted chocolate.


Homemade Herb Croutons

lisaclarke on Flickr

What it means: A small piece of toasted, hard bread used as a garnish for soups, salads, or other dishes.

What it literally means in French: It comes from the word "croûte," which means "crust." Croutons are great for adding texture and flavor to a dish, but if you're counting carbs, here's some alternatives to add to your next salad.


What it means: A light baked dish made fluffy by the use of beaten egg whites. This dish can be made as either a savory dish or a sweet dessert.

What it literally means in French: This word is from the verb "souffler," which means "to blow or puff." The trickiest part of making soufflé is incorporating air into the batter without over or under-mixing, but successfully baking one can be done with practice.

What I learned from my adventure into French food terms and their origins is that the French have definitely had an influence on the vocabulary of cooking. The next time you encounter a strange term in a recipe or article, look it up, and you might be surprised when you learn about the country that it's from. Bon appétit!