vegetable terms

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 14 20:28:51 UTC 2010

Market labels are different from conversational and from cookbook labels.

In my culinary experience, pole beans are, for some reason, labeled
separately in the Northeast markets as a distinct variety. Like
"Kentucky Wonder" beans, the pods tend to be slightly thicker, longer
and more "bumpy", compared to what normally passes for "green beans".
And, of course, there is the "haricot verts" that goes under the name
"French beans" to hide the fact that they are grown in Peru and Costa
Rica--virtually none of them now come from France, not even at upscale
markets. I spend very little time in the South, no matter how South is
defined, so it is no surprise that I have never seen a reference to
"snap beans". There is a brand of pickled beans that comes, I believe,
from Texas that is marketed as "Snappy Green Beans" (although it might
be a Santa Barbara Olive Company product--which is not exactly from
Santa Barbara), perhaps making use of Southern nomenclature /and/ the
fact that they are spiced with hot peppers. Frozen beans are labeled
as "[whole] green beans", "cut [green] beans" and "french-style green
beans" (that's diagonally sliced to make them look like haricot
verts)--same as canned beans. This is aside from the shelled bean
varieties and the multicolor pod varieties, such as yellow (wax),
spotted and purple. What did I leave out? Oh, three more--first, fava
beans, both fresh pods and dry or canned are the larger, flatter and
somewhat hairy variety. The pods are never referred to as "broad"
beans, although the shelled fresh or dry favas occasionally are tagged
as "broad beans" or "flat beans". Second, Asian "long beans" that have
recently become very popular on cooking shows because they don't turn
into mush. In English, I have only seen them labeled as "Long Beans".
Finally, broad beans. This is a bit more difficult. I've seen "broad"
applied to shelled fava beans, although this is uncommon. I've also
seen the term applied to the larger-pod varietals (see above). But,
traditionally, it applies to the Dutch beans that are rarely available
in the US--the kind that is traditionally sliced into 2-cm long
diagonal pieces. Of all these terms, I would say that "green" is the
most generic and "broad" is the most confusing.

I am familiar with "string beans" as a reference, but I am yet to see
it used in commercial situations (except for packaged seeds and
occasional inclusion in "long beans" labels).

Snap /peas/, on the other hand, are dime a dozen these days--well,
quite a few dimes a dozen, but they also tend to come from Central and
South America with corresponding quality consequences. (Farm
controls--both vegetable and fish--are far less stringent in Chile,
Peru, Equador and Costa Rica than they are in the US or even in
Northern Mexico, when the bulk of fresh produce comes from.) There are
three basic kinds of "farm fresh peas" that you can get these
days--[Sugar] Snap (fleshy cylindrical edible pod), Snow (flat,
slightly bumpy edible pod with underdeveloped seeds) and English
[Green] (tough inedible, somewhat bumpy, thick pods), all three in
pods. Shelled peas (that's the "English" kind without the pod) are
occasionally bagged, sometimes sprouted, usually refrigerated. They
don't keep well once out of the pod, so usually you only see them
frozen (see below). I have /never/  seen them referred to as just
"peas" in packaging--it's always either Green Peas, Garden Fresh Peas
or English Peas. An exception is when they are mixed with other
veggies (e.g., "Peas and Carrots") or when the target is black-eyed
peas, which are, of course, beans, not peas. I've seen "Garden Peas"
labels both on shelled and unshelled English peas.

Occasionally, it's Young Garden (or Tender Green or some combination
that involves Young or Tender or Small) Peas, which is usually an
indication of size rather than age (USDA has strict controls on that).
But whenever I've seen peas in a pod--the variety where the pod is
discarded rather than cooked--they've nearly always been labeled
"English Peas". In conversation, you might have the modifier omitted,
but not in labeling. On the other hand, I have /never/ seen shelled
frozen peas labeled as "English Peas". But perhaps it's just personal
experience. The Young/Tender caveat equally applies to frozen and
canned peas. That only leaves out split peas which are usually green
or yellow, but almost always the smooth variety. In fact, it's nearly
impossible to get wrinkled peas outside the lab, although it is the
older and dominant variety. [I know I am not being genetically
accurate here, but that's beside the point.] Once in a while, you can
also find fresh chick peas in a pod, which makes the origin of the
name obvious (just saw some at Whole Foods a couple of weeks ago).

There are two obvious reasons for standardization. First, USDA and FDA
rules concerning labeling produce are fairly strict. Even if that were
not a factor, regional difference would largely be suppressed by
national supermarket chains, many of which preprint shelf tags to be
distributed to each store. The only variations one is going to find
then are in mom-and-pop stores and farm stands. So if most of the
produce comes from the supermarket chains, even the verbal labels will
eventually become more uniform. But that's all speculation, of course,
so feel free to criticize or disagree.


PS: @ Robin--black-eye(d) peas are small light-colored beans (fresh,
dry or canned) with a dark (close to black) spot around the germ (or,
more generally, near the spot where it was attached to the pod). It's
generally a Southern specialty. They are NOT peas.

"Irish butter" is expected to be actual Irish butter, just as much as
French/Normandy butter is expected to be from France/Normandy. A
number of brands are now labeled simply "European butter" which simply
signifies higher butter-fat contents than American butter (about 5-10%
total weight, I believe) and the difference is usually touted by
bakers and foodies who prefer European butter in pastries and sauces.
Places with highly developed dairy culture--Eastern Europe, the
Netherlands--have dairy labels that depend on place of origin, the
feed of the cows, the season and the time of day the milk/cream was
collected. This is not the kind of distinction that works well with US
standardization, but you can still get some of this stuff in specialty
stores. "Irish Butter" is really more of a marketing gimmick than
anything else.

On Fri, May 14, 2010 at 3:30 PM, Charles Doyle <cdoyle at> wrote:
> In the American South, we commonly refer to green/string beans as "snap beans" or "pole beans" (not parallel or distinguishing terms; "snap" refers to the manner of preparation for cooking; "pole" refers to the procedure for raising beans in the garden).
> It's my impression that the term "Englilsh pea" is becoming less common, with simply "pea" mainly serving the purpose--even in the South, where (green) English peas are not necessarily the default kind of peas. In the olden days, at least, "peas" alone would probaby have signified (brownish) blackeyed peas or field peas.
> And recently at a restaurant, my wife having just ordered a sweet potato, I aimed for maximum lucidity by specifying that I wanted an "Irish potato." The server had no idea what I was talking about; my wife helpfully translated my quaint terminology as "baked potato" (even though her sweet potato was also to be baked).
> Charlie

The American Dialect Society -

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