British Veg

This post is all about the different words for vegetables in the US and UK. Many of these plants have the same name in both places, but quite a few have different names, for various reasons.

First, I should start by saying that vegetables are not commonly termed ‘veggies’ in the UK, as they so often are in the States. Here, ‘veggie’ usually is short for ‘vegetarian’, as in a person who eats a vegetarian diet. Rather, the plants themselves are affectionately and collectively called ‘veg’. Which, frankly, I like much better. It’s shorter, it makes a better counterpart to ‘fruit’ in the phrase ‘fruit and veg’. I really think we need to make this a thing in the States.

On to the veg themselves! The following is a list of all the vegetables I can think of (with the help of online shopping and cooking sites) with different names in our respective countries. I have listed the US term first, followed by the UK name, with explanations where I have them. I have also included herbs in this list.

arugula = rocket This bitter-spicy green leaf is pretty ubiquitous in the UK, to the point that I have come to dislike it, simply because it is in every salad and nearly every sandwich I ever get served from a restaurant.

baked potato = jacket potato Both white and sweet potatoes generally have the same names in both countries, thought the varieties you will find here are pretty different. The Russet is unheard-of in the UK (trust me—I’m from Idaho, I know!) and potatoes you will find offered for baking are generally smaller, slightly waxier, and with a thinner peel than the Russets you’ll find back in the States. Once it is baked, though, it is called a ‘jacket potat0’ here, a term that is often played with in the names of street vendors for this cheap and easy meal; my favorite local one is called ‘Dinner Jackets’ (teehee!).

beefsteak tomato = beef tomato

beet = beetroot

Bibb lettuce = round lettuce Also see butterhead lettuce.

bok choi = pak choi The British spelling for this vegetable differs from the American spelling, and the pronunciation usually follows suit. The different spellings result from the fact that we don’t really have an equivalent sound for the initial letter, which in Cantonese (the origin of the name) is an unvoiced bilabial stop—but because it is unaspirated, it sounds more like a ‘b’ to our English-trained ears.

broccolini = tenderstem broccoli It took me ages to work this one out. I had all these recipes calling for broccolini, which is not a vegetable I really used much in the States to begin with, and I could never find it in the shops. I only recently realized that it is called ‘tenderstem’ here.

Brussels sprouts = (Brussels) sprouts A traditional vegetable at Christmas dinner, this lovely vegetable is often maligned due to poor cooking (usually boiled to overdone, so they’re a mushy, bitter mess). They are so common in the UK for both Sunday roast dinner and Christmas dinner that they are often referred to simply as ‘sprouts’—which can really throw if you off if you’re the kind of person who likes to have, say, alfalfa sprouts on your salad or sandwich.

butterhead lettuce = round lettuce Also see Bibb lettuce.

button mushroom = closed cup white mushroom

cilantro = coriander OK, this is a tricky one. In the States, you’ve got the leafy herb cilantro, commonly used in salsas and other spicy dishes, and also the spice coriander, made from the seeds of the cilantro plant. But in the UK, both the leafy herb and the dried spice are called coriander. This still trips me up when I’m in my favorite burrito bar and ask for the ‘cilantro-lime rice’; I’ve had more than a few confused looks, usually followed by a question about where I’m from. (Apparently they get lots of Americans and Canadians in the burrito bars.)

corn = sweetcorn Although occasionally called simply ‘corn’, this American favorite is nearly always referred to as ‘sweetcorn’ in the UK.

cremini mushroom = chestnut mushroom Apparently this mushroom has many names, in both the States and elsewhere, but I’ve had several recipes that called specifically for cremini (or crimini).

eggplant = aubergine This is another one that still trips me up. Even though I don’t really cook with eggplant, that name has been so ingrained in my mind that I find it really difficult to call it ‘aubergine’.

English cucumber = cucumber Cucumbers are easy to find in the UK, but they are usually only the one variety, which are known as English cucumbers in the States. They are longer, skinnier, and more tapered than the common garden variety of cucumbers that are common in the States.

green onion = spring onion

Napa cabbage = Chinese leaf lettuce

Romaine lettuce = cos lettuce Another tricky one, since this lettuce is frequently labeled as Romaine, but also frequently as cos. There is red-leaf cos and green-leaf cos, as well as little gem and sweet gem lettuce, which are very like Romaine, but much smaller.

rutabaga = swede This hearty root vegetable originates in Sweden. But while the Brits have chosen to name it after its country of origin, Americans have gone with the dialectal Swedish word instead. It is often confused with the turnip—I can’t tell you the length of the conversation I had with my friend Lydia during my first year in Nottingham, trying to sort out the differences.

snow pea / snap pea = mange tout (but, sugar snap peas) Just about any pea that is meant to be eaten with pod and all is known as ‘mange tout’ in the UK, a French name that literally means ‘eat all’. The only exception is the sugar snap pea, which is a somewhat sweeter variety of snap pea and is given the same name in both countries.

winter squash = squash Summer squash is not really known in the UK, which is a real shame. There is nothing I love quite so much as yellow crookneck squash, steamed and slathered with butter. Heavenly! But anything labeled as ‘squash’ in the UK will be of the type known as ‘winter squash’ in the US. These are very dense, meaty vegetables with a tough outer skin, including butternut squash and pumpkin … and that’s about it in the UK. (In the US, you’ll easily find other varieties, including spaghetti squash, acorn squash, kabocha, and others, but I have never seen any of these in the UK supermarkets.)

zoodles = courgetti This increasingly popular carb-replacement ‘noodle’ is marketed as ‘courgetti’ the UK, because of the different name for the original vegetable. See below.

zucchini = courgette Another one that is really hard for me to get used to, especially since my dad grew zucchini in our garden when I was growing up, so it was ubiquitous in our household. While Americans use an Italian dialectal name for the plant, the Brits use the French name (see also eggplant and snow peas, above).


Featured image: artichoke flower and veggies, by Dana Payne; used under a Creative Commons License; see original image on Wikimedia Commons

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