Culinary Lesson #9 - What's the Difference?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Rather than narrowing in on one main topic this week, I thought it would be fun to come up with a list of visually similar ingredients and delve into their differences (if any).

  • Ground cayenne pepper vs. paprika
    • From a culinary standpoint, the main difference between these two red spices is found within their heat levels.  Cayenne pepper ranks between 30,000 and 50,000 SHUs (Scoville heat units), whereas paprika essentially has zero SHUs.  [Side note:  The Scoville heat scale was developed in 1912 as a way to rank various peppers based on their heat level.  The test essentially consisted of a panel of tasters who were given a controled amount of capsaicin ("the hot stuff") from a specific pepper, followed by as many drops of sugar water as was needed to dilute the heat.  Bell peppers required no sugar water, resulting in 0 SHUs, while peppers used for pepper spray, for example, resulted in enough drops of sugar water to warrent SHUs in the millions.  Obviously the test wasn't perfect due to it being so subjective, but it gave a nice guide to the relative level of hotness to expect with each type of chili.  Today, modern science has been able to come up with a much more accurate method].
    • As the name implies, cayenne pepper (the spice) comes from a variety of dried and ground cayenne peppers and is most widely known for giving heat to hot sauces.  Paprika, on the other hand, is typically made from dried and ground bell peppers and is used to add color and/or a bit of sweetness to a dish, rather than heat.  If your paprika does have a hint of heat, chances are it's because a small amount of cayenne pepper has been added.
  • Scallion vs. green onion
    • Have you ever been disappointed to only find scallions at your grocery store when a recipe called for green onions, or vice versa?  Some of you might be surprised to learn that these two vegetables are actually one and the same!  The difference in names is purely geographic, just as Wisconsinites have a clear boundary between 'pop' and 'soda'.  Regardless where you're living, this vegetable is a mix between chives and onions - both in taste and looks - and consists of white bases and green stalks, both of which are edible.
  • Anchovy vs sardine
    • Physically speaking anchovies are bluish-greenish oily fish with longitudinal silver stripes on both sides, have an overhanging mouth, and can grow up to seven inches long.  They are typically preserved in a brine (rather than served fresh) and then packed either in salt or oil.  Culinarily speaking, anchovies are commonly used in Worcestershire sauce, fish sauces such as garum, remoulades (similar to tartar sauces), or on top of pizzas and Caesar salads.
    • Like anchovies, sardines are also bluish-greenish fish, but have one to three sets of dark spots on their sides (rather than a silver lining) and can grow longer than 12 inches.  Unlike anchovies, sardine is a general name (rather than a specific species) that can be used for quite a large number of fish in the herring family.  Sardines are either cooked fresh, or else preserved in a brine and tightly packaged in oil in a pull tab rectangular can.
  • Baking soda vs. baking powder
  • Pancetta [pan-CHET-tah] vs. prosciutto [pro-SHOOT-oh]
    • Both of these meats are cured cuts of pork, but come from different parts of the animal.  Pancetta comes from the belly and is cured and air-dried before consumption (unlike its cousin, bacon, which is cured and then smoked).  Pancetta is often diced and sauteed at the beginning of recipes (similar to bacon) to pack a nice salty flavor to any dish.  Prosciutto comes from the hind quarters of the animal, and is cured and never cooked.  Typically you'll find prosciutto shaved into paper-thin slices and either wrapped around vegetables, like asparagus, or else served as-is next to some cheese or fruit as an appetizer.  As far as general cooking and serving methods go, pancetta is most relatable to bacon, whereas prosciutto is most relatable to ham.

The previous list just touches on some of the first few pairings that came to mind.  What other pairs of ingredients can you think of that you'd like an explanation of their differences?

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  1. Stumbled on this when wondering about paprika & cayenne pepper but learned something new from the other comparisons too! Thanks for posting!

    1. Glad it helped out, and thanks for the comment!

  2. Yay! Learned something new! Thank you!