Words at Play

10 Surprisingly Odd Food Names

The Sometimes-Sweet, Sometimes-Unsavory Story Behind Some Bizarre Foods
Last Updated: 13 Apr 2022

top 10 surprising food words sweetbreads

Neither sweet nor bread.

Sweetbreads are the thymus or pancreas of some young animal, usually a calf.

(A prettier name, certainly, than "offal".)

top 10 surprising food words headcheese

A jellied and compressed loaf made from the head, feet, and often heart and tongue of a pig.

Cheddar it's not.

A dish that a vegetarian could safely order: melted cheese poured over toast or crackers.

The name may have originated among the English as a dig against their neighbors, the Welsh. Rabbit was a much more expensive dish than cheese and toast, but if you were Welsh, that's probably what you made do with.

Since there is no rabbit at all in this dish, folk etymology created the variant Welsh rarebit, which upgrades it from a poor man's dish to a purported delicacy.

These oval delicacies are the testicles of any of various animals - sheep, bull calf, mountain goat - found in the Rockies.

The mountain men of the Old West were known for robust humor.

top 10 surprising food words boston cream pie

It's really a split sponge cake filled with custard and topped with chocolate glaze.

Delicious, yes, but not pie. (It originated at Boston's Parker House, and nobody really knows how it got its name.)

top 10 surprising food words lady fingers

With apologies to Hannibal Lecter, these are merely sponge cakes in a delicate fingerlike form.

Because these biscuits are dry, they're best soaked in something. That's how they're used these days in tiramisu - and also how they're used in this 1820 poem by John Keats:

"Fetch me that Ottoman, and prithee keep / Your voice low," said the Emperor, "and steep /Some lady's fingers nice in Candy wine"

top 10 surprising food words tripe

The stomach lining of a ruminant, like an ox or sheep.

The fact that the word tripe has developed a second meaning as "something poor, worthless, or offensive" might tell us something ... although some cultures make it a delicacy.

top 10 surprising food words scotchwoodcock

With an odd name that is probably a dig by the English against the Scots, this dish is actually buttered toast spread with anchovy paste and scrambled egg.

The woodcock is a game bird, but there's none of that here.

top 10 surprising food words cold duck

Ducking might be a wise response to an offer of this fizzy concoction of sparkling burgundy and champagne (a serious wine lover would probably prefer beer).

The drink had its heyday in the 1970s, and the name comes from a translation of the German Kalte Ente.

top 10 surprising food words alewives

Neither soused spouses nor barmaids, alewives are members of the herring family. (The origins of this odd name have been lost to history.)

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