What is the Difference Between Pudding and Dessert?

Steamed Sponge and Custard. A Great British Pudding. Getty

Question: What is the Difference Between Pudding and Dessert?

In both British and Irish food, the difference between pudding and dessert is quite confusing even to natives. Some believe it is a hang over from the class system, and to some extent this does have some influence though the edges are now very blurred. There are more easily defined differences that have to do more with the content of the dish, whether it is light in substance and content, stylish restaurant style or homely.

However, the clearest difference between a pudding and a dessert is that a dessert must be sweet, but a pudding can be both sweet and savoury. 

Confused, I am not surprised.

Here are the answers in the simplest terms.

Pudding Can Be Sweet or Savoury, Dessert Must be Sweet.

British and Irish food is awash with savoury puddings - Yorkshire Pudding, served with Roast Beef in a traditional Sunday Lunch, Black Pudding or a winter-warming Steak and Kidney Pudding.  These dishes are all called puddings but are most definitely, not sweet.

A Pudding is More Homely and Rustic

A pudding is often considered a more homely, rustic or a traditional recipe. Often, but not always true, when the word pudding is used in Britain or Ireland it conjures up an image of great British puddings like Spotted Dick, Rice Pudding, Roly Poly.  A pudding will often be baked and will almost always contain a good helping of starch and can often contain suet, just think about a Traditional Christmas Pudding or a steamed sponge with custard.

A Dessert is Lighter, More Sophisticated

A dessert is often not cooked and if it is cooked will be lighter and more sophisticated than the nursery style puddings mentioned above. Good examples are Chocolate, a Mousse, light, refreshing Champagne Jelly,  Souffle, Fools, Brulees, or Trifle. There are of course many, many more.

A dessert is also a more cheffy confection than a home-spun recipe.

Class Makes a Difference?

Though many don't like to admit it, using the term pudding or dessert has connotations of class. Using "Dessert" is thought to be posher than a homely pudding. Yet, in upper class circles (or those who aspire to be) you will rarely hear the word dessert used.

The class distinction has eroded with more traditional recipes making a fashionable comeback in recent times; many restaurants (including top end eateries) using Pudding to refer to the sweet course on menus.

The Difference Between Pudding and Dessert Also Depends on the Country

The term pudding when used to reference the sweet course following a main, is a typically British term. In the US and many other countries it is a dessert.