Reading about a food can be inspiring and an insight into other cultures. It can lead to discovery of new foods and restaurants, perhaps even a new favorite cuisine. There’s one major problem with learning about food solely through reading, though — you’re often left with little idea of how to pronounce any of it.
Avoid the awkwardness of stumbling through an order (or worse, confidently saying a food the wrong way without knowing). These are the correct pronunciations for some of the most commonly mispronounced foods.
1. Açaí berry
Commonly mispronounced as: ah-kai
Correct pronunciation: ah-sah-ee
This blueberry-like fruit is originally from Brazil and Peru, and recently enjoyed a swell of popularity in the United States. Açaí is a popular ingredient among the wellness set, though its health benefits are disputed. Near the Amazon River, fresh açaí is a food staple and a main source of nutrition for the people living there. However, in North America, you’ll most commonly find açaí blended into smoothies and sold in bowls with bananas, strawberries, chia seeds, and shredded coconut.
Commonly mispronounced as: anne-is
Correct pronunciation: ah-nees
This licorice-flavored spice (otherwise known as aniseed) is similar to fennel. Anise was first cultivated in Egypt and the Middle East, and is now used widely throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, and Southeast Asia to flavor food and alcoholic drinks. The most popular application of anise is probably in liquor. You’ll find anise in Greek ouzo, French absinthe, and Italian sambuca. It’s found a home in candy, too: Black jelly beans are sometimes flavored with anise, as are chocolate-covered aniseed balls. In the Netherlands, the Dutch sprinkle sugar coated anise over bread for the dessert muisjes. In Mexico, anise is sometimes used to flavor atole, a hot, creamy drink similar to horchata.
Commonly mispronounced as: boo-lahn
Correct pronunciation: bool-yan
Bouillon is simply French for broth. Dehydrated bouillon, made with vegetables, meat stock, MSG, and salt, is sold in cubes to flavor soups, sauces, and stews. The dry ingredients are mixed into a paste and then molded into cubes. Bouillon cubes come in both beef and chicken varieties, but tend to be high in sodium so seasoned cooks prefer to make their own bouillon. Homemade bouillon requires simmering beef or chicken alongside vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions for at least an entire day. It can then be used as a base for dishes like French onion soup or beef bourguignon.
Commonly mispronounced as: broo-sheh-tah/bruh-shetta
Correct pronunciation: broo-skeht-ta
This Italian antipasto (appetizer) can be found at almost every Italian restaurant, and it’s a common sight at dinner parties. Laborers originally created bruschetta as a post-work snack that also doubled as the perfect way to make use of stale bread. It’s typically made with round slices of bread that are rubbed with oil, salt, and sometimes garlic. Then come the near infinite combination of possible toppings. The most popular include cured meats, mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes. However, bruschetta is the perfect canvas for the creative. You’ll find bruschetta adorned with honey, peaches, goat cheese, and figs.
It’s important to note that when pronouncing Italian words with two of the same consonants next to each other (see ciabatta and gnocchi, also, below), be sure to pronounce both letters, with a stronger popping emphasis on the first syllable.
Commonly mispronounced as: ca-kay-oh
Correct pronunciation: kah-cow
Cacao, otherwise known as the cocoa bean, is the dried and fermented seed of the cacao tree. Cacao is mostly cultivated in Indonesia, Africa, and Central America. The large pods are broken open and the bitter, nutty pods are removed. The Olmecs in Mexico were most likely the first civilization to domesticate cacao, where it was consumed as a drink mixed with water and chilies, before the cultivation process spread to the Aztec and Mayan peoples. Around this time, the cacao bean was used a form of currency. Cacao seeds can be eaten raw, but of course are most famous as the basis for chocolate. Around 3 million pounds of cacao beans are consumed every year.
Commonly mispronounced as: chia-batta
Correct pronunciation: cha-bhat-ta
Ciabatta is an Italian white bread made with wheat flour, olive oil, salt, and yeast. Though it looks like a rustic bread, it’s actually a relatively new invention. Arnaldo Cavallari, a baker in Verona, first produced ciabatta (batta translates to slipper, so named for the loaf’s broad, flat shape) in 1982 in response to the popularity of French baguettes in Italy. Typically, ciabatta has a light, airy texture and crisp, dense crust.
Commonly mispronounced as: croo-dite
Correct pronunciation: crew-di-tay
This French appetizer is simple but elegant: Raw sliced or whole vegetables are served plain or alongside a vinaigrette dipping sauce (crudité literally means “rawness”). Crudité platters often consist of cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, carrots, bell peppers, and radishes, and are common at family reunions, office meetings, and birthday parties. While ranch is the most popular dressing for crudité in America, more sophisticated dips include spinach and artichoke dip or hummus. Crudité first surfaced in 20th-century France, and given the ease of both eating and preparation, it quickly spread through the globe as a common snack.
Commonly mispronounced as: jai-roh/guy-roh
Correct pronunciation: yee-roh
One of the most popular Greek-American dishes, the history of the gyro goes back to the Turkish doner kebab, a vertical rack of meat from which slices are cut while it cooks. Immigrants brought the dish to Greece, where it was renamed the gyro, made with a block of minced and spiced pork or chicken (rather than slices of meat), and served with tzatziki sauce. By the 1970s, it had become a well-loved fast food in both Greece and the United States (where it’s made with a combination of beef and lamb). Gyros weren’t mass produced until they found their way to Chicago. These days, a gyro is typically served wrapped in pita bread with onions and tomatoes, and includes a side of fries. In Greek, gyro means turn, likely because the meat for this dish is prepared on a rotating vertical spit (also called a “gyro cone”).
Commonly mispronounced as: guh-noh-chi
Correct pronunciation: nyohk-kee
These soft, doughy dumplings are a type of Italian pasta commonly made with potatoes. The finger-sized pasta is pressed with a fork to create indentations that hold sauces like brown butter sage or pesto. Though the history of gnocchi is a little mysterious (flour versions probably first emerged during the Renaissance, in the 16th century), some speculate that the name comes from the word nocca, meaning knuckle.
Commonly mispronounced as: lee-chee
Correct pronunciation: lai-chee
This sweet, bulbous fruit is native to China and has a tough, spiky red shell. Once unburdened of its outer layer, the fragile lychee has an almost transparent skin and contains a black seed about the size of an olive. Lychee has been popular since at least Imperial China’s Song dynasty (960-1279). Now, lychee is grown in the United States, Africa, and South America. Lychee gained a reputation in the United States as a common flavor for tea and cocktails like Martinis, Mimosas, and Mojitos. The flavor is distinctly tart and floral, and is often compared to rose water and pears.
Commonly mispronounced as: mars-car-pony/mars-car-pone
Correct pronunciation: mas-car-po-nay
This part savory, part sweet Italian cream cheese is made with heavy cream and either vinegar or lemon juice. Mascarpone is famous as the creamy layers in tiramisu, but it has a wide variety of uses: It can be a topping for pizza, added to pasta sauce, between the layers of lasagna, in cheesecake, or as a dip for fruit. Mascarpone originated in the Lombardy region of Italy in the 16th century, where dairy farmers became well-known for selling their fresh cheese curds. Mascarpone now enjoys P.A.T. status, meaning that no other place on Earth can claim it was invented there.
Commonly mispronounced as: nee-coiz
Correct pronunciation: nee-swaz
This French salad is traditionally made with olives, anchovies, a hard boiled egg, and tomatoes. Capers and tuna are sometimes added as well. It originated in Nice, France, and was originally considered a dish for the poor. There is much debate over how to properly assemble a niçoise salad. Some believe the salad should be comprised mostly of tomatoes and dressed only with olive oil. However, it’s not uncommon to see potatoes and green beans added to the mix.
Commonly mispronounced as: fo
Correct pronunciation: fuh
Phở is one of the most well-known Southeast Asian food imports in America. This hearty comfort food, perfect in cold weather, is made with a rich broth, rice noodles, and usually beef, but sometimes chicken as well. It’s garnished with bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, and lime. The modern version of the dish emerged around 1900 during the early years of Vietnam’s colonization by the French. From the beginning, street vendors with portable carts sold phở, and although you’ll see many restaurants dedicated to phở in North America, it remains a popular street food in Vietnam to this day.
Commonly mispronounced as: pros-uh-toh/pros-key-utto/pro-schoot
Prosciutto is a dry-cured Italian ham. The most coveted version is Prosciutto di Parma. Italians have been eating prosciutto since the days of the Roman Empire. Back then, as now, Italian farmers were especially adept at curing meats, and raised entire herds of pig solely for prosciutto. Prosciutto di Parma must be made in certain regions of Italy, including Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, and Piedmont. The cured meat is made from the hind legs of a pig that are rubbed in salt, washed, fried, and left to age anywhere from 10 months to two years. It is a favorite antipasto ingredient, appearing frequently in salad and on bruschetta.
Commonly mispronounced as: roo-boss
Correct pronunciation: roy-biss
The rooibos plant is native to South Africa, and is most popular as an herb for black tea. Though native South Africans have long drank tea from the rooibos plant, Europeans didn’t discover it until the late 1700s. Dutch settlers drank it as a cheaper alternative to the imported traditional black tea. Rooibos wasn’t massed produced until around 1948, however. In South Africa its known as bush tea, and in England as redbush tea. The deep, rich red tea is sometimes compared to hibiscus, with an earthy taste. It is a gentler, smoother alternative to other stronger caffeinated black teas.
Commonly mispronounced as: shur-burt
Correct pronunciation: shur-bit
Sherbet is not to be confused with sorbet. Sorbet (pronounced “sor-bey”) is a frozen dessert made with fruit and ice (similar to an Italian ice). Sherbert, on the other hand, adds a little milk or cream to give it a richer flavor. While it might be easy to confuse sherbet with ice cream, there is one crucial difference: By law, sherbert must less than 2 percent fat, so it’s not quite as creamy as traditional ice cream.
Commonly mispronounced as: sky-eer
Correct pronunciation: skee-er
Skyr is an Icelandic dairy product with a texture similar to Greek yogurt and a sweeter, less tangy taste. Despite its appearance, Skyr is technically a cheese. Skyr is mentioned in Icelandic literature dating back to the 17th century, and it’s at least 1,000 years old. Vikings often brought it along with them on long journeys. Skyr is protein rich and naturally low in sugar, and is gaining popularity in the United States, where it’s sold alongside traditional yogurt. In Iceland, it’s often eaten with a splash of milk and topped with fruit.
Commonly mispronounced as: zat-zee-key/tat-zee-key
Correct pronunciation: tsah-see-key (or Greek: cha-chiki)
This creamy, tart sauce is popular in Greece and the Middle East. It’s made with salted yogurt mixed with cucumber, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Sometimes lemon juice, dill, mint, or parsley are added as well. Tzatziki probably first emerged during the Ottoman Empire, when the Persians, inspired by Indian raita, wanted a sauce to cut through spicy foods. Tzatziki is a popular dipping sauce for vegetables and gyros. In Greece, tzatziki is often served alongside meat dishes with pita bread.
Commonly mispronounced as: vee-chi-so-isse
Correct pronunciation: vi-shee-swaz
This thick potato- and leek-based soup has a contentious origin story. Julia Child credited the Americans with inventing vichyssoise, and French chef Louis Diat, who ran the kitchen at the Ritz in New York City in the early 1950s, is often considered the original creator of vichyssoise. However, a recipe for potage parmentier, which could be an early precursor to vichyssoise, shows up in French cookbooks written after the Seven Year War ended in 1756 during a famine. One thing is certain: True vichyssoise must be served cold. Why cold? One legend contends that King Louis XV (who reigned from 1714 to 1774) was afraid of being poisoned and he insisted that so many servants taste test his potato soup that it grew cold before it reached him.
Commonly mispronounced as: wors-turh-shire
Correct pronunciation: woos-turh-shur/woos-turh-sheer
This fermented sauce is named for the English town where it was created in the 19th century, Worcester. Known for its distinct umami flavor, Worcestershire is commonly used on steaks and burgers, as well as to dress salads. A drop of Worcestershire is sometimes used in Bloody Marys, and a cult hangover cure called the Prairie Oyster is made with a mix of raw egg and Worcestershire. The company Lea & Perrins famously first commercialized the production of Worcestershire in 1837. The original recipe included vinegar, molasses, anchovies, garlic, and pickles.
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