Culinary Dictionary – U-Y


Linda’s Culinary Dictionary – U-Y

A Dictionary of Cooking, Food, and Beverage Terms


Culinary Dictionary

An outstanding and large culinary dictionary and glossary that includes the definitions and history of cooking, food, and beverage terms.

Please click on a letter below to alphabetically search the many food and cooking terms


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Uniq Fruit – This citrus fruit has various, odd shapes and its skin is pot-marked.  It is a cross between a mandarin orange and a Pomelo (the original grapefruit).  The crop isn’t large and its limited supply makes it expensive.  The only problem is that by the time you learn to enjoy them, they are gone from the markets.  They have a very short season and are available from December to April.  To learn more about the Uniq Fruit, check out Uniq Fruit.


Umami  (oo-MOM-mee) – Sweet, bitter, salty and sour are what we all learned as the four basic tastes.  Now a fifth element of taste has been identified called umami.  Umami is the Japanese word for “delicious” or “savory” but is regarded as broth-like or meaty tasting in Western cultures.  The umami taste is most common in Asian foods, soups and stews, mushrooms, tomatoes and aged meats and cheeses.  The most direct way most Americans have experienced this taste is in sauteed mushrooms as glutamate is abundant in all mushrooms.  Other glutamate-rich foods include tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, bonito flakes, and kelp.

The umami taste is conveyed by several substances naturally occurring in foods, including glutamate, better known in the west as monosodium glutamate (MSG).  The artful use of umami can make mediocre fare taste better and good food taste great.  It is sometimes associated with a feeling of perfect quality in a taste, or of some special emotional circumstance in which a taste is experienced.  It is also said to involve all the senses, not just that of taste.

History:  Umami was first identified by Oriental cooks over 1200 years ago.  It was not until the turn of 20th century that scientist’s isolated glutamate and other substances, which convey this distinctive flavor.  In 1908, Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University identified it.  Professor Ikeda found that glutamate had a distinctive taste, different from sweet, sour, bitter and salty, and he named it “umami”.


unleavened (uhn-LEHV-uhnd) – The word which describes any baked good that has no leavener, such as yeast, baking powder, or baking soda.


Vanilla – Vanilla comes from the fruit of a thick tropical vine that is a member of the orchid family.  It is often called “the orchid or commerce” because it is one of the two products of this enormous species with any significant commercial value.  Interestingly, not only is the vanilla orchid devoid of scent, so is the vanilla pod or bean, which must be fermented or cured to develop the vanilla.  Vanilla vines are indigenous to southeastern Mexico, the West Indies, Central America, and northern South America.  Tiny humming birds and a bee called Melipona pollinates vanilla.  When it was transplanted to other parts of the world it did not produce beans until it was discovered that the small orchid blooms could be pollinated by hand.  The vines grow around trees and when the flowers fall, the bean stops growing, thus it is very important to keep the flower from falling.  That is why in Mexico, it was grown under the jungle canopy to protect it from high winds and hurricanes common to the tropics.  It is important not to over pollinate the vine because this will dry it out and kill it.

pure vanilla extract – Amber-colored liquid made from vanilla beans, alcohol, and water.  May contain sugar. Must contain at least 35% alcohol, and is the extractive of 13.35 ounce of vanilla beans.

vanilla flavor – A mix of pure vanilla extract and other natural substances extracted from natural sources other than the vanilla bean.

imitation vanilla – A mixture made from synthetic substances, which imitate the pure vanilla extract smell and flavor.

cookie vanilla – A pure vanilla extract made from a blend of Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla beans, which the Cook Flavoring Company says, is ideal for making cookies.

History:  It is not known with any certainty just how the vanilla bean was discovered as a flavor or how the techniques for processing vanilla were developed.  But several tribes living the southeastern Mexico may have discovered vanilla at least 1,000 years ago.  The Spanish conquistadors recorded its use by the Aztecs.  Correll (1953) states the “Bernal Diaz, a Spanish officer under Hernando Cortes, was perhaps the first white man to take note of this spice when he observed Montezuma, the intrepid Aztec emperor, drink “chocolatl”, a beverage prepared from pulverized seeds of the cacao tree, flavored with ground vanilla beans which the Aztecs call “tlilxochitl”, derived from “tlilli”, meaning “black”, and from “xochitl” interpreted here as meaning “pod”.  Vanilla beans were considered to be among the rarer tributes paid to the Aztec emperor by his subject tribes.  Legend has it that Cortes in 1520 was given chocolate flavored with vanilla by Montezuma, served in golden goblets.

Bernardino de Sehagun, a Franciscan friar, who arrived in Mexico in 1529, wrote about vanilla, saying the Aztecs used it in cocoa, sweetened with honey, and sold the spice in their markets.  But his work, originally written in the Aztec language, was not published until 1829-1830.  The Spaniards early imported vanilla beans into Spain, where factories were established in the second half of the sixteenth century for the manufacture of chocolate flavored with vanilla.

Francicso Hernandez, who was sent to Mexico by Philip II of Spain, gave an illustrated account of vanilla in his Rerum Medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus, which was first published in Rome in 1651.  In it he translated “tlilxochitl” as “black flowers’, a fallacy which Correll (1953) say remained in the literature for many years, although the flowers are greenish yellow in color.

Hugh Morgan, apothecary to Queen Elizabeth I of England, suggested vanilla as a flavoring in its own right.  He gave some cured beans to the Flemish botanist, Carolas Clusius, in 1602 and the latter describes them in his Exoticorum Libri Decem of 1605.  William Dampier observed vanilla growing in 1626 in the Bay of Campeche in southern Mexico and in 1681 at Boco-Toro in Costa Rica.  Formerly, vanilla was used in medicine, as a nerve stimulant, and along with other spices had a reputation as an aphrodisiac. It was also used for scenting tobacco.

The plant appears to have been taken to England prior to 1733 and was then lost (Purseglove, 1972).  It was re-introduced by the Marquis of Blandford at the beginning of the nineteenth century and flowered in Charles Greville’s collection at Paddington in 1807; Greville supplied cuttings to the botanic gardens in Paris and Antwerp.  Two plants were sent from Antwerp to Buitenzorg (Bogor), Java, in 1819, only one of which survived the journey.  It flowered in 1825, but did not fruit.  Plants were taken to Reunion and from there to Mauritius in 1827.  Vanilla was taken to the Malagasy Republic about 1840.

Although the plants grew well in the Old World tropics, fruits were not produced because of the absence of natural pollinators.  It was not until Professor Charles Morren of Liege discovered the artificial means of pollination for the production of capsules in 1836.  Edmond Albius, a former slave in Reunion, developed a practical method of artificial pollination in 1841, and which is still used, that commercial production was possible in the eastern hemisphere away from the center of origin.

Thomas Jefferson discovered vanilla during his stay in France.  When he found that there wasn’t any vanilla in Philadelphia (the capital at that time), he wrote to William Short (the American charge d’affaires in Paris) to send him 50 pods wrapped in the middle of a packet of newspapers.  After they arrived, Philadelphia had the reputation for the finest vanilla ice cream in the world.


Veal Oscar – A classic Swedish dish.  Traditional preparation for Veal Oscar has veal medallions topped with crab meat and asparagus and a little bernaise sauce.

History:  Historians agree that Veal Oscar was named in honor of King Oscar II (1829-1907), king of Sweden and Norway who liked to have veal prepared in a similar way.


Vegemite – Vegemite is considered as much a part of Australia’s heritage as kangaroos and the Holden cars.  It is actually an Australian obsession that has become a unique and loved symbol of the Australian nation.  A Vegemite sandwich to an Australian kid is the equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to an American kid – but the taste is QUITE different!  Australian children are brought up on Vegemite from the time they’re babies.  It is said that Australians are known to travel all over the world with at least one small jar of Vegemite in their luggage, for fear that they will not be able to find it.

Vegemite is one of several yeast extract spreads sold in Australia.  It is made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract (a by-product of beer manufacture) and various vegetable and spice additives.  It is very dark reddish-brown, almost black, in color.  It is thick like peanut butter, very salty, and it tastes like – well let’s just say that it is an acquired taste!

History:  Check out History of Vegemite.


vegetable oil – This is an expensive and an all-purpose blend of oils made from plant sources such as vegetables, nuts, and seeds.  Most vegetable oils are made from soybeans and are high in polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat but low in saturated fat.


vegetable shortening – Vegetable oil (soybean or cottonseed) that is hydrogenated so it will be a solid fat.  It is 100 percent fat with no water, milk fat, or other solids added.  It is nearly flavorless and is used for imparting flakiness and tenderness.


veloute sauce (veh-loo-TAY) – Also called sauce blanche grasse or fat white sauce, rich white sauce.  One of the five “mother sauces.”  It is a stock-based white sauce that can be made from chicken, veal, or fish stock thickened with white roux.  See Mother Sauces for more information.

allemande sauce – Veal veloute with egg yolk and cream liaison.

supreme sauce – Chicken veloute reduced with heavy cream.

vin blanc sauce – Fish veloute with shallots, butter, and fines herbs.


verjus, verjuice (vair-ZHOO) – Verjus is a French term that when translated into English mean “green juice.”  It is a medieval condiment that was once a staple of French provincial cooking and is now enjoying a worldwide revival.  Verjus is made from semi-ripe and unfermented wine grapes.  The grapes are hand-picked from the vine during a period called veraison, when the grapes change in color and the berries begin to soften enough to press.  Sugars at this harvest can range between 13 and 15 brix.  Because verjus is made from wine grapes and shares the same acid-base as wine, it is an elegant and delicate alternative to vinegar and lemon juice as it is  “wine friendly” and will not distort the essence of the wine you serve.


vermouth (ver-MOOTH) – All vermouths, both white and red, are made from white wine that is flavored with aromatic herbal extracts and spices.  Dry vermouth is white and contains less sugar than red vermouth.  It can be served as an aperitif.  White vermouth can be substituted for dry white wine in cooking.


vinaigrette (vihn-uh-GREHT) – A sauce made with vinegar or a combination of vinegar, oil, and seasonings.


vinegar (VIN-ih-ger) – Vinegar is a natural product.  It is simply fermented fruit juice that’s become acidic.  Vinegar is one of the oldest fermented food products known to man (predated only by wine and possibly by certain fermented foods made from milk).  The word “vinegar” is derived from the French word “vin” (meaning wine) and “aigre” (means “sour”), indicating that it first occurred naturally from the spoilage of wine.  Vinegars are made from a variety of ingredients, including wine, beer, hard cider, and grain alcohol.  All vinegars are made be the same process – fermentation.  Under the right conditions, specific bacteria convert the alcohol in wine, beer, or other alcoholic liquid into acetic acid.  The best vinegars ferment naturally and are then aged in wooden casks to develop complex and intense flavors.  Some producers bypass the slow fermentation process with heat and chemicals.

History:  It was the soldiers of Caesar’s army who filled the hills of Dijon France with mustard seeds and who helped name vinegar.  It is said that the conquered French called Roman wine that had fermented “vinaigre,” meaning, “sour wine.”  The Babylonians in 5,000 B.C. made vinegar as an end produce of a wine from the date palm.  The Chinese also made vinegar from rice wine, 3,000 years ago.  Since that time, vinegar has been used as a condiment, a food preservative, a medicinal agent, a primitive antibiotic, and even as a household cleaning agent.

distilled white vinegar – Made from a grain-alcohol mixture, it is commercially processed from grain alcohol.  This vinegar is used widely in processed foods and preserves.

wine vinegars – These are made from red, white or champagne wines.

fruit and herb vinegars – These are wine vinegars that have been infused with other ingredients.

sherry vinegar – Made from sherry wine and is aged for a minimum of 6 years in a network of oak barrels.

authentic balsamic vinegar – See balsamic vinegar.

commercial balsamic vinegar – Is actually red-wine vinegar fortified with concentrated grape juice and sometimes caramelized sugar.

white balsamic vinegar – Cooked down grape juice is added to ordinary white wine vinegar to give it an amber color and slightly sweet flavor.

cider vinegar – It is milder and sweeter than most wine vinegars.  Good cider vinegar is slightly cloudy, like fresh cider, and has a fruity, apple flavor.

rice vinegar – It is also called rice-wine vinegar. It is made from grain and not grapes.  Japanese rice vinegar is milder and sweeter than the Chinese that tends to be more acidic and sharp.  Look for “pure” rice vinegar to avoid those that are seasoned or sweetened.

malt vinegar – It is traditionally made from beer and is sometimes colored with caramel and infused with wood shavings.


vol-au-vent (vawl-oh-ven) – A French term that means “flying in the wind,” which refers to the pastry’s lightness.  It is a classic French puff pastry shell or cup with a lid that can be filled with a cream-sauce mixture with meat or vegetables.  Also filled with fruit/custard mixture as a dessert.  The shells can range in size from small individual ones to eight-inch ones.  Can be served as an appetizer or an entree.

History:  Said to have been created by French chef, Marie Antoine Care (1784–1833).  Careme, who considered the normal pastry used in the making of pie too ordinary and not fancy enough to be presented at the luxurious banquets of the time, created this light and airy pastry that “flew with the Wind when if left the oven.


waffle (WAHF-fuhl) – A crisp, pancake-like batter product that is cooked in a specialized iron that gives the finished product a textured pattern, usually a grid.  Also a special vegetable cut which produces a grid or basket weave pattern.


Waldorf salad – Also called Waldorf Astoria Salad.  A classic American fruit salad that usually consists of apples, lemon juice, celery, walnuts, and mayonnaise.

History:  To learn about the history of the Waldorf Salad, check out History of Salads and Salad Dressings.


walnut – One of the most valuable of nuts.  The two most popular varieties of walnut are the English and the Black Walnut. English walnuts are the most widely available and are available year-round.  Walnuts also make fragrant, flavorful oil.

History:  Walnuts have been recognized as one of the oldest tree foods known to man, dating back to about 7000 B.C.  Considered food for the gods in the early days of Rome, walnuts were named “Juglans regia” in honor of Jupiter.Today, they are commonly called “English” walnuts, in reference to the English merchant marines whose ships once transported the product for trade to ports around the world.  Historians prefer the name “Persian” walnuts, referring to Persia, the birthplace of walnuts.  The Franciscan Fathers are credited with bringing walnuts to California from Spain or Mexico.  The first commercial planting began in 1867 when Joseph Sexton, an orchardist and nurseryman in the Santa Barbara County town of Goleta, planted English walnuts.


walnut oil – An expensive and strongly flavored (nutty) oil, which is popular in Middle Eastern cooking, sauces, main dishes, and baked goods.  It is often blended with more mildly flavored oils.  To prevent rancidity, refrigeration is best.


wasabi, wasabe (wah-sah-bee) – A member of the same family as horseradish and is very similar in flavor (less harsh and more aromatic).  Wasabi is mainly used with sushi and sashimi in Japanese cooking.  The root is usually grown on a small scale and is an expensive luxury.  What is usually served in Japanese restaurants as wasabi, is really a paste made from wasabi powder.  Wasabi is now being grown outside of Japan in Oregon, Taiwan, and New Zealand.  Your better or high-end Japanese restaurants are using the “real thing.”  Wasabi is a highly valued plant in Japanese cuisine, used primarily as a condiment for seafood dishes.  More recently it has found widespread appeal in western cuisine due to its unique flavor.  Used as an ingredient in dressings, dips, sauces, and marinades, wasabi is a versatile spice and is rapidly becoming one of the most popular new flavors.  Wasabi, if used as a fresh spice, has a heat component that unlike chili peppers is not long lived on the palette and subsides into an extremely pleasant, mild vegetable that even people normally adverse to hot food enjoy. It is also called Japanese horseradish.

wasabi powder – This is not real wasabi.  The customary ingredients in the powdered version are horseradish powder (dried and ground regular horseradish), mustard powder, cornstarch, and artificial color (blue and yellow).  It is convenient and inexpensive but tastes nothing like real wasabi.


wassail – Wassail is an ancient beverage and toast coming from the time in England when the Saxon lords and ladies cried out “waes hael,” meaning “Be of good health.”  Originally, wassail was a beverage made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, nuts, eggs, and spices.  In some parts of Britain it is still customary to perform the tradition, though the type of ceremony performed varies from one region to the next.  As a result, no one knows exactly how many types of wassailing ceremonies exist; however, three of the most popular are wassail in the hall, wassail door to door and wassail in the orchards.

History:  The custom of wassail originated as a pagan agricultural festival to help increase the yield of apple orchards.  During the Christmas season, a procession of people would visit selected trees from the various orchards and either sprinkle the wassail mixture or break a bottle of it against the trunk.  From this came the custom in England to drink a toast of “wassail” or “health” from a great punch bowl filled with hot ale spiced with nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.  Traditionally it was served in wooden bowls and loving cups or poured from “Susans.”

Over the centuries, a great deal of ceremony had developed around the custom of drinking wassail.  The bowl is carried into a room with great fanfare, a traditional carol about the drink is sung, and finally, the steaming hot beverage is served.

It became popular for carolers to go from house to house singing.  At each stop they were treated to a cup of wassail (some historians think that the carolers brought the wassai with them).  Some framers began bringing wassail bowls into the barnyard to toast the health of their cattle, fruit trees, and fields.


water chestnuts – A walnut-sized bulb covered by a tough russet-colored skin.  In China they are eaten raw, boiled plain in their jackets, peeled and simmered with rock sugar, or candied.  Except in the southern China, they are never used in cooking.  In the U.S., water chestnuts are popular as an ingredient in cooked dishes.  They are available fresh or in cans, either whole or sliced.


watermelon – Watermelon has been popular throughout the world, beginning with the Egyptians more than 5,000 years ago.  It is said that explorer David Livingstone found watermelon vines in the Kalahari Desert in the 1850s.  Many historians theorize that watermelons could also have originated in the U.S., since French explorers found Native Americans growing watermelons in the Mississippi Valley.  According to a number of sources, watermelon ripeness is primarily determined by three things: the fruit feels heavy for its size, its skin has a healthy sheen, and the underside of the fruit (where it sat on the ground) has turned a pale, buttery yellow.  Look for watermelons that are symmetrical and free of bruises, cuts, and dents.


waxy-rice flour – Also called sweet-flour, this flour is ground from waxy-rice and is used extensively in frozen foods.  Waxy-rice flour is able to withstand syneresis during freezing and thawing.  This resistance to liquid separation is attributed to its high amyl pectin content.


wheat berries – They are the hulled whole kernels of wheat from which flour is milled.



wheat germ – It is the inner part of the wheat kernel.  It is a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals, and protein.  It adds a nutty flavor to baked goods and can be sprinkled over breakfast cereals, yogurt, or fruit.


whitebait fish – There are nearly 100 species of whitebait around the world. In England the term often refers to sprats, in America silverside, and in Japan young sea perch.  Whitebait are minute-size, thread-like, almost transparent, and very tender fish, which owing to their size you eat whole.  Always wash and drain prior to cooking.


white confectionery coating – The technical name for white chocolate.  According to the FDA, “white chocolate” cannot legally be called chocolate because it contains no cocoa powder, a component of chocolate.  True chocolate contains pulverized roasted cocoa bean, consisting of cocoa butter and cocoa solids.  White chocolate contains no cocoa solids and thus technically is “white confectionery coating.”  Beware–some white confectionery coatings do not even contain cocoa butter.  Even in “real” white chocolate the chocolate flavor is subtle at best, being to real chocolate what white soul is to soul.


wild rice – Wild rice is an annual aquatic grass, which produces an edible seed. It grows in the shallows of lakes and rivers throughout eastern and north central North America.  Native North Americans have harvested and eaten wild rice for centuries.  Since they first presented wild rice to the early North American explorers and fur traders, this unusual cereal grain (the only one native to North America) has been prized for its distinctive natural flavor and texture.  Natural stands of wild rice grow in the clear lakes of northern Manitoba.  Preserved wild rice grains have been found at North American archeological sites.  These findings seem to indicate that wild rice has been an important North American native food for at least 1,000 years.


wonton, won ton (WAHN-tahn) – Wonton literally means, “swallowing a cloud” in Chinese.  They are a very popular Chinese delicacy.  They are small shapes of very thinly rolled dough, filled with sweet or savory mixtures.  The size and shape of wontons, and the type of filling used, vary according to the different culinary traditions in each region of China.  They may be boiled, steamed, or deep-fried and served as an appetizer, snack, or side dish (usually with several sauces).


Worcestershire sauce (WOOS-tuhr-shuhr) – A condiment that was developed in India by the British.  This thin, dark, spicy sauce got its name from the city where it was first bottled, Worcester, England.  It is used to season meats, gravies, and soups.  The formula usually includes soy sauce, onions, molasses, lime, anchovies, vinegar, garlic, tamarind, as well as other spices.  The exact proportions of the ingredients remain the manufacturer’s secret.


XXX, XXXX, 10X – An indicator on a box of confectioners’ sugar of how many times it has been ground.  The higher the number of X’s the finer the grind.


yeast (yeest) – Yeast is alive!  It is a microscopic, single-cell organism that, as it grows and ferments, produces alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The carbon dioxide bubbles get trapped in the gluten strands of bread, causing it to rise.  The most commonly available form is active dry yeast; the tiny organisms are dehydrated, and therefore dormant due to the lack of moisture.  Yeast should be “proofed” (or “activated”) in water heated to approximately 110 degrees F.

active dry yeast – A granular powder used to leaven bread. Available in 1/4 oz. pkg. or jars.  Store in a cool, dry place and use before the expiration date.  Store jars of yeast in the refrigerator after opening.

compressed yeast – Also known as “cake” or “fresh” yeast. Available in 2 oz. cakes in the Dairy Department. Store in the refrigerator.

quick rise yeast – Also called rapid rise yeast.  Quick rising yeast can replace active dry yeast in practically any bread recipe, except sourdough starter, pastry, and croissants.  Quick rise yeast makes dough rise approximately in a third less time than active dry yeast.


yogurt, yoghurt
(YOH-gert) – The word is Turkish.  It is a dairy product made from milk curdled with bacteria.  Recipes that most often call for yogurt are East Indian, Balkan, Russian, and Middle Eastern in origin.  Cooks in those areas use yogurt in marinades and sauces.  Because of its acidity, yogurt can be used to marinate and tenderize meats (as it often is used in India and the Middle East).  Yogurt can also be used to bind ingredients loosely together, as in a sauce or salad dressing.  Yogurts made in the U.S. are made of cow’s milk.  Those of India and the Middle East are more likely to be of the richer goat, sheep, or yak milk.


Yorkshire Pudding
(YORK-sheer) – First cousin to the popover, this is a traditional English accompaniment to roast beef.  The batter for Yorkshire Pudding is exactly the same as a popover batter, but it is baked in roast beef drippings and becomes a main course “pudding.”  It may be cooked in one large dish or in muffin tins as small individual puddings.  It takes its name from England’s northern county of Yorkshire.





Culinary Dictionary   

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