Silverbeet? Brinjal? Rocket Salad? Produce in Translation
You’re in a grocery store in England or Australia; somewhere in the world where the English language is the default, or used widely enough that grocery items and labels are written in English. And yet, what on earth are lady’s fingers (and why would they be in a grocery store)? Why are those vegetables called marrows? Everything looks familiar, but the nomenclature makes you take a step back. Here are nine produce items that are called by different names in English-speaking countries that are not America.
The names of vegetables abroad can be confusing, but fascinating. Foreign produce terms often give you a little peek at history. For example, brinjal, the Indian and South African term for “eggplant,” stems from Portuguese, even though the British (who use the term “aubergine”) ruled in those places for much longer. Old habits die hard. It’s also fun to guess at why leaves like Swiss chard have so many names, including “perpetual spinach” and “mangold.”
We gathered the names on this list partly from anecdotal references made by people we spoke to (co-workers, friends, even baristas) who had lived or traveled abroad in other English-speaking countries. Their memories were surprisingly vivid; I guess we’d remember too if we were scouring the produce section for bell peppers and all we could find was capsicum. Also, most reference pages about vegetables include their vernacular names from around the world.
Not all these vegetables mean the exact same things in other countries, but the terms are often used interchangeably. For example, the general term for cilantro in many other countries is “coriander,” but in America, cilantro and coriander refer to different parts of the same plant and are thus seen as two completely different items. Similarly, the general term for zucchini in England is “courgette,” but these terms refer to different stages in the vegetable’s growth.
Take a look at these vegetables from abroad that we have, under very different names, in the United States.
Many know avocados are also called “alligator pears,” but “butter fruit”? India is not the only country that equates the green goodness with butter; the Vietnamese word for avocado, bơ, is the same as the Vietnamese word for butter. Avocados in India are very expensive, as they are not native to the country, and are thus only grown in very limited quantities in Sri Lanka or areas of South India.
In South Asia and South Africa, eggplant is known as “brinjal,” but it is also called “guinea squash,” “melongene,” and “aubergine” in other countries. Another fun fact: since eggplant is a product of the plant nightshade, it is technically a berry. In the United States, Canada, and Australia, “eggplants” are called so because when immature, they are shaped like eggs. Brinjal comes from the Portuguese word for eggplant, brinjela.