Did you know the Aztecs invented chocolate over 3,000 years ago?
The Spanish-speaking world is home to some truly incredible culinary cuisines, some of which date back millennia.
So, if you’re a foodie who’s also learning Spanish, then you’re in luck!
Learning about a region’s typical foods can provide fascinating insights into the region’s history, culture and way of life. It’s also a great way to practice a second language while enjoying yourself at the same time.
Plus, many of the foods of Spain and Latin America are just plain delicious, from the refreshing ceviche of coastal Peru to the belly-warming cocido of Madrid and everything in between!
Whether you’re interested in the history or just in the fantastic flavors, Spanish and Latin American food is definitely worth learning about.
If you’re a beginning or intermediate Spanish learner—or if you’re just starting to dabble in the world of food vocabulary—then start off with FluentU’s guides to Spanish food vocabulary and restaurant vocabulary.
For advanced speakers, or those who’ve checked out those guides already, read on. The 22 terms in this article will equip you to learn and talk about food in Spanish at an advanced level.
22 Spanish Food Words That Every Foodie Should Have in Their Vocabulary
Learning Spanish Through Food
There are many ways to learn Spanish and eat delicious foods at the same time, even if you don’t live in a Spanish-speaking place. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Find Spanish-language recipes online. Yes, English is the language of the Internet, and it’s easy enough to find an English-language recipe for Spanish tortillas or Salvadoran pupusas. But where’s the fun in that? Seek out recipes in Spanish and you’re more likely to learn the traditional way to prepare a food. Plus, you’ll be practicing your Spanish at the same time.
To save you some search time, we’ve put together five of our favorite traditional Spanish recipes in a how-to video on our YouTube channel. Now you can start learning to cook delicious Spanish dishes while also improving your Spanish!
- Visit a local Latin grocery store or restaurant. You can find Cuban, Mexican, Argentinean, Peruvian and many other types of Latin American restaurants all over the English-speaking world. In addition, cities with immigrant populations are likely to have grocery stores that specialize in Latin American products. If you visit these places, you’ll get to try delicious new foods, practice a little Spanish and support local businesses in the meantime.
- Watch cooking shows online. YouTube is full of great videos by food vloggers and chefs. Start with Canal Cocina, a Spain-based channel that provides recipes and also teaches cooking techniques.
Like learning with videos like cooking shows? Then you should also check out FluentU.
Spanish Vocabulary About Food Origin
Is your food organic? Locally sourced? Farm-to-table?
People who love food are generally curious about where it comes from. Use these words to talk about your food’s origin.
1. Denominación de Origen
English meaning: Designation of Origin
In Spain, Denominación de Origen is a food classification and labeling system. Food and wine producers in specific regions can use Denominación de Origen labels to certify that their products come from specific regions.
Wine, olive oil, vinegar, cured ham, cheese and other products can have denominación de origen status. Generally, these labels are a certification of good quality.
2. De Temporada
English meaning: In season
What tastes better than a perfectly ripe tomato or peach? Look for the phrase de temporada (in season) in supermarkets to assure you’re buying fresh, seasonal foods all year round.
Additionally, you may see this phrase on restaurant menus, such as pescado de temporada (seasonal fish) or fruta de temporada (seasonal fruits).
English meaning: Organic
When describing organic foods, the Spanish language has a few different words at its disposal. In some parts of the Spanish-speaking world, people will use the cognate, orgánico. Alternatively, you may see the word ecológico.
An alimento ecológico (organic food) is produced without chemicals or pesticides. Additionally, the word ecológico implies that the food is produced in an environmentally-friendly way.
English meaning: Genetically modified
Alimentos transgénicos are genetically modified foods, or foods whose DNA has been changed in some way by scientists.
Spain, El Salvador, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia all require genetically modified foods to be labeled as such, so you can expect to encounter this word a lot if you’re traveling in those countries.
English meaning: Vintage (wine)
The word vendimia refers to a wine’s vintage, or the time in which the grapes for a certain wine are picked. Be prepared to use this word in the world-class wine regions of the Spanish-speaking world, such as Argentina, Chile and Spain.
Spanish Food Preparation Words
Fresh, delicious ingredients are only tasty if they’re prepared well. Use these words to talk about various methods of food preparation.
English meaning: To dress (a salad)
To talk about adding seasonings or flavors to a dish, use the word aliñar. I’ve most frequently heard it used to describe putting salt, vinegar and oil on salads, but it can also be used to talk about a variety of dishes. Some other similar words you might hear are sazonar, condimentar or aderezar.
If you ever find yourself in Cádiz, Spain, be sure to try the patatas aliñadas, a delicious summer dish made from potatoes, spices and olive oil.
From aliñar you can also derive the helpful noun el aliño, which refers to a dressing, marinade or vinaigrette.
English meaning: To melt
Spanish actually has two words for the English word melt: fundir and derretir.
These two words may seem quite similar to English speakers, but there’s actually a fundamental difference between them.
When talking about something that melts naturally due to ambient temperature or by accident (like ice or ice cream), use derretir. But when talking about something that melts due to a purposeful application of heat, use fundir.
So when talking about the wonderful, melty, cheesy goodness atop an Argentine pizza fugazzeta, use fundir.
English meaning: Crush
This handy word actually has a number of English equivalents, including crush, grind, pound and pulverize. When I use machacar, I think of crushing spices or any other dry ingredient using a mortar and pestle.
The word machacar is quite similar to the word triturar. The Real Academia Española only differentiates the two by saying that triturar produces a finer consistency than machacar.
English meaning: Batter-dip, bread and fry
The verb rebozar doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English. This word refers to a food that’s covered in flour, egg or some other ingredient and fried until crunchy.
Aros de cebolla (onion rings), nuggets de pollo (chicken fingers or chicken nuggets) and the common South American dish milanesa are all examples of foods that you have to rebozar.
English meaning: Season with salt and pepper
Salpimentar differs from aliñar in that it’s more specific. In case you couldn’t tell, the word salpimentar refers specifically to the action of adding sal (salt) and pimienta (pepper) to a dish.
The Spanish language sure does have a lot of words to describe seasoning food!
English meaning: Spread
Note that untar is different from the verb difundir, which also commonly translates as “spread.” Difundir refers to a metaphorical spreading (such as of ideas) or a diffusion of light, sound, color or smell.
When talking about spreading butter, cream cheese or another food substance, make sure to use untar.
Spanish Words to Describe Flavors
Sure, you can get by with “está muy bueno” or “no me gusta,“ but use these words to add a little more spice to your descriptions.
English meaning: Heavy, overwhelming.
Contundente can be a negative commentary on a food, implying that it’s overpowering or leaves one without energy. However, it can also have a positive connotation, implying that a food is hearty, satiating or robust. In this case, context is what really matters.
English meaning: Sickly sweet
Words like contundente can have a positive or a negative connotation, but empalagoso is definitely negative. It refers to a food that’s overwhelmingly, cloyingly sweet—the type of dessert or snack where you feel obligated to drink a huge glass of water immediately after finishing it.
Pro tip: Empalagoso can also be used as an insult to describe a person who’s overly sentimental or mushy.
14. En su punto
English meaning: Cooked to perfection
This phrase literally translates to “in its point.” Use it to talk about meats, cakes, breads or any other food that has been cooked just the right amount of time. It’s much more specific than just saying “está bueno,” and saying it makes you sound like a fancy gourmet chef.
English meaning: Exquisite
The meaning and usage of this English-Spanish cognate is simple enough. Use it when bueno, rico and even delicioso just don’t quite cut it.
English meaning: Greasy, oily
Hey, everyone loves some delicious fried food every so often. (If you don’t, you’ve clearly never tried tostones, chicharrón, empanadas, churros or any of the other fried delicacies of the Spanish-speaking world.)
But when the chef goes too heavy on the oil, you can use the word grasiento (greasy) to express your disapproval.
English meaning: Tasteless
Food that lacks flavor or seasoning, and particularly food that lacks salt, is described as soso. To say the opposite, you can use salado (salty).
Be careful: the word blando is a false friend and does not mean “bland.” It actually means soft or tender.
English meaning: Warm
Not quite caliente (hot) and not quite frío (cold), use templado to describe warm food. Although you can use templado disdainfully when the food you’re served isn’t heated to your liking, this isn’t its only use.
The word templado shows up in a number of menu items, such as ensalada templada (warm salad). You can also request leche templada (warm milk) with your coffee if you don’t want it to be too hot.
For one step below templado but still not quite frío, use del tiempo (room temperature).
Words for Eating and Enjoying Food
Food is meant to be savored and shared! These words will help you talk about various ways to eat and appreciate food.
English meaning: Tasting
Food and drink tastings are a super fun way to try new foods and learn new things about food culture.
Both cata and degustación refer to tastings, and they also both have convenient verb forms: catar and degustar. To talk about trying or tasting a food in a more general, informal sense, use the verb probar (to try) instead.
English meaning: Palate
Just like its English equivalent, the word paladar has two distinct meanings. First, it refers to the upper inner part of the mouth. Second, it refers more metaphorically to a person’s ability to discern, recognize or appreciate flavors. So, you can compliment somebody by saying they have un buen paladar, which means that they have a fine appreciation for foods or flavors.
English meaning: Aspect, appearance of food
This versatile little word has a wide variety of meanings. It can mean pint, marking or the third-person singular present tense of the verb pintar (to paint).
But colloquially, if you say that a food tiene buena pinta, it means that the food looks appetizing. If you see a food that looks good, you can exclaim ¡Qué pinta!
English meaning: Variety or assortment
In a nice restaurant, you may frequently see a surtido de quesos (assortment of cheeses) or surtido de fiambres (assortment of cold cuts) featured on the menu.
If you’re into trying lots of new foods, go for it! A surtido refers to an assortment, and ordering one allows you to try a little bit of everything. What could be better?
Are you hungry yet? For those who love food, learning Spanish can be a gateway to new culinary traditions.
And immersing yourself in the food of other cultures can help you reinforce your language skills as well.
¡Buen provecho! (Enjoy your meal!)
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