Don't be fooled by these 12 foods with really tricky names

Rocky Mountain oysters aren't actually oysters

Published November 24, 2017 9:00PM (EST)

 (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


"What’s in a name?” Shakespeare once asked. Well, everything. Food-wise, when it comes to names, the particular label or nickname an ingredient or dish carries can mean the difference between enjoying your meal or being repulsed by testicles when you really wanted seafood. Naming mistakes can also lead you to miss out on the treats of the world, like Russia’s herring in furs (?!).

When it comes to the following foods, the names just don’t suit the edible item they’re describing. Read on so you won't be misled the next time you look at a menu.

1. Rocky Mountain Oysters

These rustic-sounding fruits de mer may appeal to the Western-loving diner, but don’t be fooled by this dish's regional appeal. Not bivalves or seafood in the least, Rocky Mountain Oysters (also called prairie oysters) are the cooked testicles of bulls, sheep and other animals, with, well, meatballs.

Rocky Mountain Oysters made with bison testicles, served at the Fort in Morrison, Colorado. (image: Wally Gobetz/Flickr)

Typically served deep-fried, this dish is indeed more popular in land-locked regions, where the thought of swallowing an entire piece of seafood raw may inspire some gagging.

2. Herring in Furs

This traditional Russian dish sounds … fuzzy? “No one knows how it originally got this name, but herring in furs — also known as herring under a fur coat — was most likely some kind of culinary joke made over 100 years ago,” says Ilya Denisenko, the chef at Teremok in the United States. (The chain has more than 300 locations in Russia.)

Herring in furs, also known as dressed herring, is a traditional dish served at Christmas and New Year celebrations in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other countries of the former USSR. (image: Paul Frankenstein/Flickr)

The name refers to a salad made with diced pickled herring covered with layers of grated vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, beetroots and chopped onions. It's comparable to whitefish salad or egg salad, Denisenko says of the fur-free dish. “The vegetables add a nice textural contrast to the herring.”

3. Sweetbreads

One of the most misleading culinary names on menus today, sweetbreads are neither sweet nor bread. Instead, sweetbreads are made from the pancreas and thymus glands of animals, usually lamb or calf.

Country-fried sweetbreads served with a honey-mustard cucumber salad and hot sauce. (image: Lucas Richarz/Flickr)

These tender nuggets of meat are often served fried and savory, not sweet, and are served at Michelin-starred restaurants around the world.

4. Spotted Dick

Though it may sound more like an STI symptom than a dessert, spotted dick is a traditional English cake made with mutton fat and raisins or dried fruit for the spots, and rolled into a circular shape.

Spotted dick was first mentioned in Alexis Soyer's The Modern Housewife or Ménagère, published in 1849. (image: SarahPresleey/Flickr)

5. Toad in the Hole

While the name of this breakfast dish may evoke images of an adorable toad peeking out of a lily pad, it is completely amphibian-free. Toad in the hole is made in a variety of forms; the English places sausage links in Yorkshire pudding, while Americans fry an egg in a piece of toast with the center cut out.

A cooked toad-in-the-hole in a baking dish. (image: Robert Gilbert/Wikipedia)

6. Blood Oranges

These gorgeous ruby-hued oranges may be the gem of the citrus family, but blood? Pass. Scarlet oranges, crimson oranges or vermilion oranges may be more appetizing names for this sweet and visually appealing fruit.

Blood oranges. (image: Jessie Pearl/Flickr)

The dark red color of blood oranges comes from anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant pigment common to many flowers and foods, like blueberries, black rice and purple cauliflower.

7. Grapefruit

We already have grapes. We already have fruit. If anything should be called a grapefruit, it should be actual grapes. If oranges get to be named by their color, why can’t grapefruits be called yellows or pinks? Or tart oranges?

The grapefruit started as a hybrid of the Jamaican sweet orange and the Indonesian pomelo. (image: liz west/Flickr)

Its name, etymologists suggest, comes from the fact that grapefruits grow in clusters, like grapes on a vine.

8. Chicken Fingers

Cows are beef, pigs are pork and sheep are mutton, but there is no euphemism for chicken flesh. Some perverse cook decided to let us delude ourselves even further into eating parts of a chicken it doesn’t even have.

Chicken fingers are made from the pectoralis minor muscles of a chicken. (image: raymondtan85/Flickr)

Chicken talons or chicken feet may be a more accurate way to describe chicken fingers. Chicken tenders, on the other hand, refer to a piece of the chicken breast that is indeed called a tender.

9. Submarine Sandwich

There’s probably no worse food to eat underwater than a sandwich loaded with meats and mayo and who knows what else, because a sub sandwich can refer to pretty much anything slapped between two slices of bread. Even a foot-long turkey provolone on a baguette does not look like an actual submarine.

Submarine sandwiches are also known as subs, hoagies, heros, grinders, spuckies,po' boys, and wedges. (image:jeffreyw/Flickr)

10. Ants on a Log

This nickname for celery sticks filled with cream cheese or peanut butter and often topped with raisins or other crunchy snacks isn’t super appealing, nor is it helpfully descriptive. Ants on a log has no standard preparation, nor does the dish involve ants or logs. Unless you’re an upscale New York chef, that is. Alex Stupak, at Manhattan’s Empellón, recently debuted an “ants on a log" rendition that indeed uses the protein of the future: Ants.

Ants on a log served in a bento box. (image: Bunches and Bits {Karina}/Flickr)

11. Head Cheese

Not in any way a dairy product, this charcuterie item, often found chilled in the deli case, is indeed made from boars' (or pigs') heads. A sustainable way to practice snout-to-tail eating, head cheese uses the entire pig’s head, cooking it in a stock pot with vegetables and aromatics in order to gelatinize and form the loaf that will later become a sandwich ingredient.

Head cheese, also known as brawn, originated in Europe. Above, commercially sold Dutch preskop (a type of head cheese) as a cold cut on bread. (image: Takeaway/Wikipedia)

12. Duck Sauce

Unlike oyster sauce, this ingredient typical to American Chinese restaurants does not have any duck in it. In fact, the jelly-like, sweet orange sauce is completely vegetarian. Originally served alongside fried duck, the sticky condiment gets its name from its ideal protein pairing, rather than how it’s made, and is often served as a sugary complement to egg rolls, wonton strips or other fried foods.

Packets of duck sauce commonly accompany Chinese takeout meals. (image: Plastic klinik/Wikipedia)

By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner

Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in New York. She is a writing fellow at Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She’s written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Glamour, AlterNet, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Architectural Digest, Them and other publications. She holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Columbia University and is also at work on a forthcoming novel. Follow her on Twitter: @melissabethk.

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