WORD LISTS

Food and Drink Words with Arabic Roots

July 23, 2014
Most words come to us from the English language's Germanic roots, as well as a lot of Latin and Ancient Greek. There are, however, many English words that are actually derived from Arabic. Most of these have to do with chemistry, astronomy or mathematics - but here's a list of words to do with food and drink that have their roots in Arabic.

Scientific words entered Europe following the Renaissance, as many scientists and philosophers looked to the texts of the Arab World and their translations of classical works. The words in this list mainly reach English through Portuguese and Spanish, as Iberia was under the control of Arabs from 710 - 1492 AD. As the Portuguese and Spanish were in such close proximity to Arabic on a daily basis, many of the food and drink items featured here were first introduced to them, before they passed them on to the rest of Europe.
albacore
Albacore ( albacora in Portuguese) is from the Arabic al-baqara, which means "cow". The Arabs named the albacore tuna the 'cow of the sea' because of its size.
Officials advised limiting white albacore tuna to six ounces a week.
Washington Times (Jun 10, 2014)
alcohol
Originally meaning a substance produced from sublimation, this word comes from al-kuhul in Arabic, which refers to a dark powder used as an eyeliner. It came to its current usage in English through the idea of a sublimated substance being the chemically pure spirit of solids or liquids.
Nearby, several trees were painted with moth bait, a mixture of fruit, alcohol and sugar.
New York Times (Jul 22, 2014)
apricot
In the 1550s this word had the form abrecock from abercoc in Catalan and albricoque in Portuguese. The Arabic root of the word is al-barquq.
Across much of the Arab world, a juice made from sweet apricots is a staple of Ramadan iftars.
US News (Jul 21, 2014)
artichoke
Al-khurshuf in Arabic eventually became artichoke in English via Spanish alcarchofa, Italian arcicioffo, and French artichaut.
It wasn’t bad, with a flavor that reminded me a little bit of nuts, lettuce, and artichokes—all mixed together.
Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut's Story
aubergine
What Americans call eggplant the Brits call aubergine. This came into the English language from the Arabic al-badinjan through Catalan alberginia, which the French borrowed to make aubergine, later borrowed by the British.
Some bumblebees are commercially bred to pollinate tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in greenhouses.
Scientific American (Apr 2, 2014)
carafe
So this isn't a drink, but it is something you can pour drinks from! Initially gharraf, meaning 'something you serve from', it became garrafa in Spanish and carafe in French, before coming into English.
Wines by the glass, for example, are poured from individual carafes.
Seattle Times (May 22, 2014)
caraway
From Arabic karawiya the Spanish derived alcaravea which later became our caraway.
I added caraway seeds to the mix because I love the flavor of caraway with cabbage.
New York Times (Apr 21, 2014)
coffee
Coffee, from French café and Italian caffe, can be traced back to the Turkish kahve, which in turn comes from the Arabic qahwah.
Asked the secret to her seemingly boundless energy, she replies, "Perhaps it’s the four cups of coffee I drink every day!"
Architectural Digest (Mar 17, 2014)
couscous
From the Arabic kuskusi, this word originally came into French in the 16th Century and found its way from there into English.
My most recent grain salad experiment is Israeli couscous, an ingredient that requires several caveats.
Los Angeles Times
hummus
This is a direct derivation from the Arabic. Tahini, with which it's frequently paired, is also Arabic (from tahina).
Instead, use fresh, seasonal ingredients to create a balanced meal that includes vegetables, salads and healthy snacks like hummus.
US News (Jun 17, 2014)
lemon
Lemon comes from laymun, through limon in French.
The recipe for the condiment — ketchup, lemon, chili sauce, mayonnaise — comes straight from the hotel archives and stands the test of time.
Washington Post
lime
This one is from the Arabic word lima, meaning 'citrus thing'.
On the side: tortillas, pickled vegetables, lime wedges and a range of salsas.
Seattle Times (Jul 13, 2014)
mocha
Mocha was a town in Yemen that gave its name to a finer, stronger coffee that was highly prized in Europe. Eventually, it came to mean coffee and chocolate together.
You hop in the car and race to your favorite coffee shop drive-thru and quickly order a double mocha with three Splendas, as always.
US News (Jul 18, 2014)
saffron
Saffron came to be used as a color in reference to the yellow spice called za'fran in Arabic. It came into English from Spanish azafran and Italian zafferano.
Think beef Bourguignon spiced with ginger, cumin and Aleppo pepper or a white bechamel sauce tinted a pale yellow with saffron
Los Angeles Times (Jul 17, 2014)
spinach
Isbanakh is the Arabic root, becoming espinac in Catalan and espinache in Old French, before passing into English.
“I’ll teach you to leave snails in the spinach!” roared the cook.
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
syrup
Sherbet and sorbet also have the same root: sharab, Arabic for 'beverage'. Jarope in Spanish and siroppo in Italian, this word came to English from Old French sirop.
Typically a dessert item made with sugar syrup and fresh fruit juice, the granita is a humble relative of the sorbet.
Washington Post
tamarind
Literally 'Indian date', tamar hindi in Arabic.
Behind the baskets of incense, tiger nuts and tamarind, women carve huge lumps of pure shea butter.
New York Times (Jul 18, 2014)
tangerine
Another one named after a place, tangerine comes from the port city of Tangier in Morocco. Britain imported the fruit from there in the early 1800s and gave it the name tangerine orange, meaning 'orange from Tangier'.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday August 5th, 1:41 PM
Comment by: Daphne B.
So this list has 18 words but 16 of them are not being tested? Most of my questions don't have anything to do with food or drink - are they being taken from the Challenge?
Tuesday September 9th, 12:06 PM
Comment by: Rafire W. (OR)
Daphne B, even I thought the same.

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