Cooking Tips

Culinary Misnomers

I was speaking to a friend the other day and she mentioned she was going to make a German Chocolate Cake for her husband’s birthday. As we were discussing this and looking at recipes, we discovered that the name was a bit of a misnomer. In this Cooking Tip, I will explain that and other confusing names in the culinary world.

German Chocolate Cake

The correct name is “German’s Chocolate Cake”. It has nothing to do with Germany. The story starts with an English-American baker, Samuel German, who worked for the Baker’s Chocolate Company. In their employ in the 1800s, he created a new type of baking chocolate that contained more sugar than the average semi-sweet baking chocolate. It was named Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate after its creator. Then, in the 1950s, the Dallas Morning News published a chocolate cake recipe from Mrs. George Clay (Calay), a Texas homemaker. Because she used this German’s Sweet Chocolate, she titled her recipe “German’s Chocolate Cake”. The recipe was picked up by the Baker’s company and widely distributed. Publishers subsequently changed the name from “German’s” to “German”.

French Fries

These tasty snacks did not originate in France. Most food historians feel that these were first made in Belgium. The story is that the residents of some poorer French-speaking regions of Belgium commonly fried up tiny fish from a river. When the river froze over during the winter, they cut up potatoes in the same size/shape of the fish and fried them. It is speculated that they are called “French” after the process of julienning the potatoes, a method of cutting up food that originated in France.


This well-known cereal from Post does not contain grapes or nuts but is made from wheat and barley. There are different explanations for the name. One claims that the name comes from the nutty taste of the cereal and the belief that glucose (grape sugar) is formed during the baking process. A different explanation is merely that the cereal resembles grape seeds.

Long Island Iced Tea

This cocktail is made from vodka, gin, rum, triple sec and/or tequila along with mixers. The original recipe contained no tea at all although today some bartenders do use iced tea. One story is that the drink was created by a bartender on Long Island and it was named for this location. An alternative explanation places the origins in a Tennessee community called Long Island during prohibition. The name “Long Island Iced Tea” appeared very innocent during this time.

Refried beans

Although this name implies that the beans have been fried more than once, they are typically only fried once. Some will argue that the name is appropriate as they are cooked in water first and then fried. However, that is not the way most of us would understand the term “refried”. A better explanation has to do with the translation from Spanish to English. The Spanish name is Frijoles Refritos. The prefix of “re” is often added to words for emphasis. Therefore, refritos means “very fried” or “well fried”. However, when translated to English, the “re” takes on a different meaning, which in this case, leads to a culinary misnomer.

Plum Pudding

This is a classic British Christmas dessert. From the name, you would expect plums to be in the ingredient list. You would be incorrect as there are no plums in it. There are, however, prunes, the dried form of plums along with other dried fruit.

Pork Butt

The names of meat cuts can be confusing and this one is no exception. It does not come from the hindquarters of the pig as you might expect. Rather, it comes from the shoulder area. So, why is it called “butt”? The explanation is that in colonial New England, butchers packed these cuts into large barrels, called butts, for storage and transportation. The name of the cut then took on this misnomer of a name.

Rocky Mountain Oysters

This one is probably fairly well-known. These deep fried bites are not oysters at all. Rather, they are made from the testicles of bulls, pigs or sheep.


If you are expecting a bread that tastes sweet, you would be wrong. These are made from the pancreas and thymus gland from young calves, pigs or lambs. The name might have partially come from the fact that organ meats are typically rich and somewhat sweet in flavor. Along with the fact that the Old English word for meat was brǣd, you get “sweetbread”.

These are just a few of what I am calling Culinary Misnomers. There are many more names that might be confusing due to the country’s language. For example, while Americans have a specific idea of what a “biscuit” is, the British use the same term to mean cookies. When we think of pudding, we think of a soft and creamy dessert. In Britain, it can mean any sweet dessert. Then, there are names that seem to give you no idea of what the food is. In this category are “Bubble & Squeak”, “Ants on a Log” and “Eton Mess”. Do you have a favorite Culinary Misnomer or just strange food name?