Food and Cooking Terms: Achiote to Au Gratin

anise seeds
Anise Seeds. Maximilian Stock Ltd/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Cooking Terms - A


Achiote - A hard seed from the annatto tree, achiote is pounded into a powder or made into a paste. It has a mild, earthy flavor.

Adjust seasoning - To taste the dish before serving to determine the need for salt, herbs, or other seasonings.

Al denté - Describes foods, especially pasta, cooked only until soft enough to eat, but not overdone. The Italian translation is "to the teeth." 

Allspice - Usually used in ground form, allspice has a flavor like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Allspice is used in both savory and sweet dishes. 

Amaretto - An almond-flavored liqueur, often made with kernels of apricot pits. 

Amandine - This French term refers to dishes garnished with almonds. Often spelled Almondine. 

Ambrosia - A dessert of chilled fruits combined with coconut. Oranges and bananas are the most common fruits used. Ambrosia may also be served as a salad.

Anadama Bread - A yeast bread made with flour, cornmeal, and molasses. The bread originated in New England, and there are many stories about how it got its name. One popular story is that a Massachusetts fisherman's wife named Anna fed her husband nothing but cornmeal and molasses. One night, so the story goes, he mixed the molasses and cornmeal with some flour and yeast, saying to himself, "Anna, damn her!"

Andouille sausage - A spicy sausage made with pork. The sausage is seasoned with garlic and Cajun spices. Andouille is traditionally used in Cajun dishes, like jambalaya and gumbo. It is usually found smoked and is widely available in the US.

Anise Seed - Related to parsley, this spice has a mildly sweet licorice flavor.


Appetizer - A small portion of food served at the beginning of a meal. 

Apple Brown Betty - A dessert with layers of apples and buttered crumbs or oats and spices. The dessert was first mentioned in print in 1864, but the origin of the name is unknown.

Arborio Rice - An Italian high-starch, short-grain rice. Traditionally used for Risotto and desserts, such as rice pudding.

Aromatic Rice - Rice with a nutty or popcorn aroma and flavor. Basmati, jasmine, Wehani, and Texmati are aromatic.

Arrowroot - A starchy, tasteless powder used as a thickening agent. Advantages of using arrowroot instead of cornstarch are the neutral flavor and sauce made with arrowroot freezes well. However, sauces made with dairy products become slimy when arrowroot is used to thicken them. Substitute 1 tablespoon of flour or 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch for 1 1/2 teaspoons of arrowroot.

Arroz Con Pollo - A Spanish-American dish which means "rice with chicken." The dish was first mentioned in print in 1938. 

Au Gratin - A dish, such as a casserole, topped with cheese, butter, or bread crumbs, then browned. Recipe: Au Gratin Potatoes