Approximately 400,000 years ago, humans realized that they could create fire whenever they wanted to. Not long after, they also realized that raw animal flesh tasted a lot better when it had been subjected to fire.
This was the advent of cooking. Over the following four hundred millennia, we’ve refined our techniques somewhat beyond dropping chunks of meat onto a flame. We’ve even thrown a few spices, glazes and different ways of chopping into the mix.
Of course, with the development of new methods and technologies, new language has to be created to describe them. Here, we will take a look at some of the modern cooking words used in English, and where they came from.
To dice food is to finely chop it into small cubes. Famously, onions are often diced. Dice is also the plural for die, the small cube with numbered sides that is a feature of countless board games. This meaning of the gaming word came around in the early 14th century, while its culinary cousin popped up later that same century. Could those onion cubes on your burger be named after the real MVP of Monopoly?
Mincing is also the act of chopping food into small pieces, although without the emphasis on the cube shape. This one came from the Latin minutiæ, meaning small bits. Minute is also in this family; it is the word for a small (1/60) division of an hour.
Chefs who let their food briefly sizzle in a pan before tossing it into the air are well versed in the art of sautéing. It is the jumping that defines this method, as the direct translation of the French word sauté into English is jump up. This method and term has been used in cooking since the 1820s.
Simply enough, to roast is to cook in a dry heat. This word came from the old French rostir which meant to roast or burn and has been in use since the early 13th century.
Baking is one of the oldest forms of cooking, with Ancient Egyptian bakeries having been unearthed. Technically similar to roasting, the old English bacan meant to cook by dry heat in a closed place or on a heated surface. Note: bacan became bake, but interestingly not bacon (which has a different origin).
A glaze is a shiny coating added to meat, vegetables, or desserts that is often (but not always) sweet. The noun came from the verb – to glaze. The first people to glaze something were 14th century glass workers, who used the middle English word glasen, which meant to fit with glass or to make shine. Thankfully, when glazing ham, we are talking about using honey and not glass.
The noun season (winter, spring, etc.) is quite different to the cooking verb season (to improve flavor by adding spices), however the two might have entangled histories. The verb is from 1300s old French assaisoner, which meant to ripen or season. However, the modern English is both a combination of that word, and the concept of fruit becoming tastier as it ripens, like time passing through seasons.