What's the Difference Between Penne, Ziti, and Rigatoni?

It’s been almost a year and a half of What’s the Difference-ing, and we have yet to delve into the vast, varied world of pasta shapes. So why, you may ask, would we start with ones that are so… basic? Why not deal in the reginettis and the pizzocheris and the strozzaprettis, the show-offy, fun-to-say varietals that will make you sound sofisticato at your next dinner party? 

I ask you this: Do you know the difference between penne and ziti? I didn’t. 

Let’s start with what makes them confusing. Penneziti, and rigatoni are all hollow, cylindrical pastas made using the extrusion process, where the dough is forced through a die into the desired shape. Their large surface areas are wonderful transportation vehicles for meaty sauces as well as simpler ones. And, like all pastas, they are very good to eat.

For the differences, I turned to The Geometry of Pasta for help. It’s time to get out some graph paper.

PENNE

Length: 2.12 inches
Width: 0.4 inches
Wall thickness: 1 mm

“Penne” comes from the Italian word for “quill,” and if you take a thoughtful look at it, it’s not hard to see why: the pasta, like its namesake, has its ends cut at an angle, gifting it with a particularly large surface area for a sauce to be drawn into the tubes. Penne can be smooth (lisce) or ridged (rigate), with the ridged ones being a bit sturdier and more soak-up-the-sauce-able than its smoother siblings. 

ZITI

Length: 2 inches
Width: 0.4 inches
Wall thickness: 1.25 mm

A whopping 0.12 inch shorter and 0.25 mm thicker than penne, ziti is a smooth-exteriored pasta that hails from Naples, Italy. Notably, its ends are cut straight rather than at a diagonal, making it possible to distinguish it from penne without pulling out a ruler. The word “ziti” comes from the world for “bridegroom” or “the betrothed,” and it’s traditionally served as the first course of a wedding lunch. It’s closely related to ziti candele (or just candele), another type of pasta that’s twice the width and three times the length and needs to be broken up into pieces before cooking so it can fit into a pot. 

RIGATONI

Length: 1.8 inches
Width: 0.6 inches
Wall thickness: 1 mm

Slightly shorter and wider than ziti and penne, rigatoni can be straight or slightly curved, depending on the extrusion process. It’s always ridged, with square-cut ends similar to ziti. “Rigatoni” comes from the Italian word “rigare,” which means “to furrow” or “to rule”—and its ridges give a sauce plenty of area to furrow into. Also: rigatoni rules!!

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Biodegradable and Compostable?

I think I can speak for us all when I say: we’re trying our best. We try to be good people: to say “please” and “thank you,” to be kind unto others, to pick up after ourselves when we make a mess, to recycle the things that we can. But our best becomes even better when we’re more informed—which is what brings us to the difference between “biodegradable” and “compostable.” Because without context and information, the labels slapped onto stuff don’t actually mean anything—and, as it turns out, can actually do more harm than good. Let’s get into it, shall we?

Compostable products are those that decompose into natural, nutrient-rich elements, stuff that’s actively good for the environment, within a certain period of time—typically 90 days. However, compostable products are only compostable if they’re in a compostable setting. That means they’re in a special environment with enough nitrogen (food waste, green clippings), carbon (dead leaves and branches), and oxygen to fuel the microorganisms that break all the stuff down. If compostable stuff is put into the trash, it’ll take much longer to decompose, and the resulting sludge won’t have the positive effect on the environment that it would have in a compost pile. But if it’s put in recycling, the effect is even worse: it’ll contaminate the whole batch.

Compostable products are a sub-set of biodegradable products, which are things that bacteria and fungi break down into carbon dioxide, water, and organic material that isn’t harmful to the environment. The problem: pretty much everything is biodegradable at some point, though it can take hundreds of thousands of years for some stuff to break down. (Biodegradable stuff can only be considered “compostable” it breaks down within one compost cycle.) So what makes something “biodegradable,” then? To be labeled as such, it needs to break down within a “reasonable amount of time”: a wishy-washy guideline, for sure. There’s no real legal enforcement for the label, but the loose standard is one year. 

So where does biodegradable stuff…go? The most important answer: NOT IN THE TRASH. In order for biodegradable stuff to break down, it needs oxygen—and you’re not getting a lot of oxygen when you’re buried in a landfill. When biodegradable stuff breaks down without oxygen—or “anaerobically”—it produces methane gas, which is actively harmful to the environment. Some landfills collect the methane gas produced in its bogs to create electricity, but many don’t. So you’re better off recycling the stuff that’s labeled biodegradable, and composting the stuff that’s compostable.

In case you needed any more of a reason to try to follow these guidelines, here’s a little context for how long some stuff takes to break down in a landfill—many of which could be composted or recycled instead:

Apple core: 1 to 2 months or longer
Paper bag: 1 month
Aluminum can: 80-200 years
Plastic milk jug: 500 years
Disposable diapers: 550 years
Glass bottle: 1 to 2 million years
Styrofoam: LITERALLY NEVER, THIS STUFF SHOULD BE ILLEGAL

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Crudo, Sashimi, Tartare, and Carpaccio?

Memorial Day Weekend has come and gone, which means it’s essentially summer: the season of hot dogs and milkshakes and curly fries and all the crumbles and cobblers and pandowdies you can get your grubby hands on. It’s also the season of the uncooked—like your skin was this weekend before your first day at the beach, perhaps, or like the things you feel like eating when the temperature starts to rise. Here are the differences between the crudos, carpaccios, sashimis, and all the other raw stuff you’ll be dining on this summer.

Let’s start with the most general term: crudo. “Crudo” is the Italian and Spanish word for “raw,” and it refers to a dish of uncooked stuff—usually fish, shellfish, or meat—dressed with some sort of seasoning, such as olive oil, citrus juice, and/or a vinaigrette-type situation. “Crudo” implies no specific size, shape, or technique involved with how said uncooked stuff is sliced, so it can serve as a blanket term for anything that’s raw and dressed. 

Carpaccio is a type of crudo, but one in which the uncooked stuff is sliced or pounded super thin. It’s oftentimes made with fish, but you’ll also see meat or even vegetable carpaccios as well (though calling a salad a “crudo” would be a particularly eye-rolly thing to do). Like the others in the crudo category, carpaccios are dressed/drizzled, usually with an olive oil/lemon combo, and usually have some sort of garnish as well.

Another type of crudo is tartare, which is made of raw meat or seafood that’s chopped up and bound with some sort of sauce, dressing, and/or other seasonings. Like carpaccios, tartares are defined by the shape in which the raw stuff is sliced—in this case, usually minced or diced rather than sliced thinly. 

Moving on: a raw preparation not in the crudo category is sashimi. Sashimi is made with carefully sliced raw fish that’s rarely marinated, sauced, or garnished; it’s more about the quality of the fish and the technique of the chef preparing it rather than any vinaigrettes or seasonings. For classic sashimi, the fish is killed in the manner of ike jime, in which a spike is inserted into its brain. This method, which kills the fish instantly, preserves its flavor and texture and keeps it fresher for longer.

While it’s not technically raw, it’s worth noting a crudo-family cousin: the ceviche. Ceviche is made up of raw seafood that’s marinated in citrus juice, which cures (or, in this case, “cooks”) it. Ceviche recipes call for around eight times the amount of acid found in dishes like crudo or tartare, and the fish sits in it for longer, allowing it to penetrate the raw stuff and transform its texture. Ceviche can be found all over Latin America, and its ingredients and garnishes totally vary on its locale; a ceviche in Peru, for example, is going to be different from a ceviche in Colombia or Mexico.

Tiradito is essentially a mash-up of all the stuff we’ve talked about; it’s made of raw fish, sliced thinly (like carpaccio or sashimi) and then marinated in an acidic mixture (like ceviche). It only cures for twenty or so minutes, however, rather than the longer baths that a ceviche typically gets. Tiradito is a part of Nikkei cuisine, a form of Japanese-Peruvian cooking that evolved after a nineteenth-century influx of Japanese immigrants to Peru. Turns out a lot of cultures have ways of making raw food delicious—and that great stuff happens when those traditions intertwine.

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between a State and a Commonwealth?

If you grew up in the United States, you probably have the 50-states song burned into some indelible part of your memory. (If you’re like me, it’s the same place where a song made up of 62 prepositions sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and the entirety of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which for some inane reason I was forced to memorize for seventh grade Social Studies class, also live.) What was not taught to me in school, however, was the simple difference between a state and a commonwealth—and all of the nuances the term “commonwealth” encapsulates. Less Schoolhouse Rock, sure, but just as important.

Let’s get to the first definition of commonwealth. Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Kentucky are all commonwealths. So what makes them different from the rest of the 50 states? Literally nothing. They are commonwealths simply because their state constitutions say they’re commonwealths. Turns out you can just slap on the term “commonwealth” to your name, like “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” and you’re a commonwealth! Who knew. 

So why these states in particular? According to the Massachusetts state website, “In the era leading to 1780, a popular term for a whole body of people constituting a nation or state (the body politic) was the word ‘Commonwealth.’” Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Massachusetts all adopted constitutions between the years 1776 and 1780, so we can assume that calling yourself a “commonwealth” during that era was somewhat in vogue. Kentucky didn't call itself a commonwealth until its Third Constitution of 1850, so I guess they were just late to the party.

However, this version of “commonwealth” is clearly different than the commonwealth that is Puerto Rico, considering the above examples are states and Puerto Rico is not. Both Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands, a group of 22 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, are also commonwealths, but with different relationships with the United States than the states that happen to also call themselves commonwealths. According to Merriam Webster, they are territories that have “local autonomy” but are “voluntarily united with the United States.” Under this arrangement, Puerto Rico has political autonomy on local matters, such as elections, taxation, education, health, housing, and language, while the U.S. government controls more external-facing affairs like citizenship, immigration, customs, defense, currency, foreign trade, and diplomacy. Residents are U.S. citizens, but do not pay federal taxes and only have non-voting representatives in the U.S. Congress. They also cannot vote for president; residents of Puerto Rico have no votes in the Electoral College, while residents of the North Mariana Islands who have lived on the U.S. mainland can vote in the most recent state that they lived in. 

So, in short: “commonwealth” can mean something that is the exact same thing as a state, but also something that is decidedly not the same thing as a state. Cool, guys. Definitely makes sense. 

But wait! There’s more. All of these various versions of commonwealths should not be confused with the Commonwealth, with a capital C. The Commonwealth is made up a collection of countries formerly under British rule, as well as other countries who voluntarily opt into it (such as Mozambique, which was not a former British colony but decided to join in anyways). It’s composed of 53 countries and represents around 30% of the world’s population. (And if you'd like to learn more about the differences between the Great Britain, England, and the United Kingdom, I have just the thing for you.)

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between a Cook and a Chef?

Suppose you fancy yourself a culinary genius. You slice and dice and sauté and roast your way to sensual bliss each evening, concocting unforgettable feasts out of the sheer force of your creative prowess. Does that make you a cook or a chef? Well, it depends. 

chef is technically a professional cook, someone who runs the kitchen of a restaurant or hotel. He/she has some sort of codified training, whether it’s through culinary school or just working his/her way up through a restaurant kitchen, and there’s a management component to the role; it means you’re in charge of a kitchen, not just making great food. As cookbook author, TV personality, and Domestic Goddess Nigella Lawson told Eater, “Chef means a degree of professionalism either because you've got the qualification or because you've worked in a restaurant kitchen. I have done neither. My only qualification is in Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford. A chef means in some sense that you are a professional and I feel like I am a passionate amateur.”

Nigella, then, would consider herself a cook. In a general, non-restaurant setting, a cook is anyone who prepares food; it has more of an amateur association than the word “chef,” simply because it implies the person doesn’t cook professionally. (The delineation doesn’t come from the actual quality of the food being prepared—you can be a badass home cook that makes better food than someone considered a “chef.”) In a restaurant setting, a cook is anyone below the sous chef in the chain of command; they’re the people who are literally cooking the food each night rather than creating recipes and/or managing the kitchen.

While we’re here, let’s dig a bit into the hierarchy of a restaurant kitchen, shall we? Most kitchens operate under some version of the brigade system, a model that was devised by Auguste Escoffier over one hundred years ago and is still used today. Here’s a very top-level look at the brigade de cuisine and the types of cooks and chefs you’ll find in a restaurant kitchen.

CHEFS

Executive Chef
The top of the food chain. This is the chef who supervises the staff, creates the menu, and manages the business. Depending on the restaurant, this could be more of a figurehead role or someone who is more hands-on.

Chef de Cuisine
The chef who is actively in charge of kitchen. In smaller restaurants, this can be the same as the executive chef; in larger operations, especially ones with many locations, the chef de cuisine reports to the executive chef, who may not be present every day.

Sous Chefs
The managers of the kitchen. They’re the people taking inventory, dealing with invoices, making sure the stations are set up on time, and overseeing the food before it gets sent out into the dining room. 

 COOKS

Line Cooks/Chefs de Partie

The people who run each station, or a specific realm of the kitchen. These are your sauciers (sauce chefs), rôtisseurs(meat cooks), poissoniers (fish cooks), entremétiers (vegetable/soup cooks), and garde mangers (the cooks in charge of cold-food preprations, like salads). The pâtisseur, or pastry chef, is classically a part of this group as well.

Junior Cooks/Commis
The people who work at specific stations under a line cook. They are typically still in training and/or just out of culinary school.

Stagiaires
Usually a student and considered the “intern” of the kitchen. They’re usually assigned basic prep tasks, like peeling potatoes or slicing onions. 

Also in the brigade system can be the aboyeur, who communicates between the front and the back of the house; thecommunard, who prepares staff meal; and the plongeurs, or dishwashers.

This edition is in honor of the Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation, an organization working to improve the lives of restaurant workers. You can visit their website and sign up for their newsletter here

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?

Some topics we cover in this newsletter have clear, definite differences: Bugs and insectsConcrete and cementHash browns and home fries. We define them and we draw lines in the sand because putting things in boxes and imposing order on them feels pleasing and correct. 

But when it comes to human emotions, things tend to get a little bit slippery. And few emotions are as human—and as nebulous—as stress and anxiety. Chances are, you’ve experienced one or both in your life, probably more times than you can count—but your lived experience could feel very different from the person next to you, from your best friend, from your therapist, from me! So why do we even try to define them? Because understanding and putting a name to the things that we feel can be the first step towards working through them. 

So let’s give it a shot. Stress is usually something that comes with an identifiable cause, some external factor that creates a sense of pressure, tension, nervousness, and/or alertness. It’s a reaction to something tangible happening: I have a deadline coming up, or I’m moving, or I’m starting a brand-new job, or even I’m throwing a dinner party and my apartment is a mess and people are arriving in ten minutes. When that “something tangible happening” happens and gets resolved—when you hand in the paper, or you finish moving, or you get settled into your job, or your friends arrive and help you clean—the feelings of stress usually dissipate.

Anxiety, however, is less clear-cut. It’s less about an identifiable external cause or stimuli, and more something that comes from an internal place. It’s feeling on edge, restless, tense, worried, apprehensive, and/or nervous, oftentimes without really knowing why—for me, it can manifest itself as a constant, nagging feeling that I forgot something but can’t quite remember what. It can be situational, when stress about an external factor spirals into worries and fears beyond the issue at hand, or can come from an anxiety condition, of which 18% of adults struggle with. There are many different forms of anxiety, too many to get into here (especially as someone with no psychological training). But it’s important to know that anxiety can rear its head for both concrete reasons and for no reason at all, and that if you struggle with it, you’re not alone.

While we have these loose definitions, it’s important to note that stress and anxiety have a very intimate relationship with each other. An external cause can turn on both stress and anxiety; too much stress can morph into anxiety; anxiety and stress can shack up and co-habitate. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by either (or both), remember to take some time for yourself, whatever that means for you—and to hit up a friend and/or therapist to talk things out. Stress and anxiety can be isolating, but it doesn't have to be that way. 

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Sea Salt, Kosher Salt, and Table Salt?

Salt, as we learn in high school, is just NaCl: a compound made from numbers 11 and 17 on the periodic table, a material so simple that it’s treated as the most basic example of how chemistry works. So why, in real life, is salt so complicated? Why is the molar mass of NaCl taught to fidgety teens instead of the differences between the various salts we consume every day? Luckily, What’s the Difference is here to step in where your AP Chem teacher failed you. 

Let’s start with table salt. Table salt is made of small, regular, cubic crystals and is usually mined from underground rock-salt deposits (rather than gathered from sea water). As much of 2% of its weight is made up of additives that keep the salt crystals from sticking together—including silicon dioxide, which is used in glass and ceramics—and then more additives to keep those additives from sticking together. It’s also the densest of the salts, which makes it the slowest to dissolve—and when it does dissolve, those additives can make something like a brine look and taste murky. 

On the other side of the purity spectrum is kosher salt, which is relatively more pure than the other salts on the market. Kosher salt can come from either salt mines or the sea, and it was originally used in the koshering process of meats; the salt would remove impurities and draw the blood out of whatever animal was meant to be koshered. Lots of cooks now use kosher salt in all kinds of cooking; its coarse, uniform texture makes it easy to grab, and at around $1 per pound, it’s inexpensive.

A note about kosher salt: the two top brands on the market, Diamond Crystal and Morton, behave very differently. Morton is much denser than Diamond Crystal, and therefore a volume measurement (like, say, a tablespoon) will be “saltier” than DC. Morton also takes longer to dissolve, which makes it easier to over-salt a dish with it; if you taste a dish right after salting it, it won’t taste as salty as it will be when all the salt dissolves. When given the choice, then, many cooks typically prefer Diamond Crystal over Morton. 

Moving on: sea salts, as their name implies, come from the sea; they’re produced through the evaporation of sea water or water from saltwater lakes. They often contain natural minerals, like magnesium and calcium, as well as teensy bits of natural sediments that can affect their color: think Hawaiian pink salt or French sel gris. Sea salt can come in various coarseness levels—and on the coarser end, the crystals can be irregular, making them better for garnish or texture rather than for workhorse-cooking. 

If you’re looking for even fancier crystals, there’s also flake salt and fleur de selFlake salt, like Maldon, comes in flat, extended flakes rather than granules; those flakes are made either through evaporation or by rolling out granulated salts by machine. And fleur de sel is specifically made from the crystals that form on the sea-salt beds in central or Western France, when the humidity and breeze are just right; they’re scooped off of the surface just before they have the chance to dunk beneath the water. Sounds like fancy salt production, yes, and like a dream vacation, too. 

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between a Church, Chapel, Cathedral, and Basilica?

While our news feeds and social feeds were filled with updates on the horrible Notre Dame fire last week, few stories answered what I, without a newsletter to motivate me, would have maybe been too embarrassed to ask: What type of building is Notre Dame, exactly? And what, besides its rich history and architectural splendor, makes it different from the places that regular churchgoers visit, say, on Easter Sunday? The answer lies within the differences between a churchchapelcathedral, and basilica.  

church is any place of worship that has a permanent congregation and is run by a pastor or priest. The term can refer to both the actual space as well as the congregation; you might go to church on Sundays and also really love hosting your church’s book club. You’ll find churches across all denominations of Christianity, and it can mean anything from the grandest architectural wonder to a group of congregants gathering regularly to worship without a permanent physical space.

Unlike a church, a chapel is a place of worship that has no pastor or priest and no permanent congregation; it’s all about the physical space. In the classic sense, it’s usually smaller than a church—sometimes just a room—and can be within a church itself or in a secular place like a hospital or airport. (It’s also the term people use for the places to get hitched in Vegas, if that’s your thing.)

cathedral is a church that’s run by a bishop; it’s the principal church within a diocese, the area of land over which a bishop has jurisdiction. It’s named for the cathedra, the special chair in which a bishops sits. And contrary to what might seem like the obvious differentiator, the buildings themselves have no physical requirements; all the fancy stained glass and flying buttresses might be along for a ride, but it’s all about the bishop. As long as it’s where the bishop sits, it’s a cathedral.

As for basilicas, there are two types: basilicas major and basilicas minor. The basilicas major are the four personal churches of the pope and are in and around Rome: the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, St. Peter's Basilica, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Basilicas minor can be found around the world and are rewarded that status by the pope, usually because of some sort of historical, spiritual, or architectural significance. The term “basilica” is an additional label to whatever the structure already is; any cathedral or church can also be a basilica.

So, to answer the original question: The Notre Dame is a church, a cathedral, and a basilica minor. (It was given basilica status in 1805.) The building around the corner from you is probably just a church. And the place that twenty-two-year-old Britney Spears wed her childhood friend Jason Allen Alexander in 2004 was definitely a “chapel.” (Their marriage, in case you were wondering, ended 55 hours later.)

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between a Couch and a Sofa?

After a long day, there are few things more satisfying than kicking off your shoes and swan-diving into a piece of upholstered furniture. But is that piece of upholstered furniture a sofa or a couch? Let’s find out.

The term “couch” comes from the French word “coucher,” which means “to lie down.” The word “sofa,” on the other hand, comes from the Arabic word “suffah,” which refers to a wooden bench covered in blankets. 

The origins of the words point to the major differentiator between the two pieces of furniture: couches are comfort-forward, and sofas are design-forward.

In earlier times, couches were smaller than sofas, and typically had no arms—though today’s couches can both be big and have arms. In modern-day usage, it’s really more about the way you're using the piece of furniture, or how you’re referring to it—“couch” is a more casual term, while “sofa” is more formal and proper. (And according to Elle Décor, the term “sofa” is more common in the interior-design industry.)

So are you lying down on it? Call it a couch. Are you only allowed to sit on it on special occasions? Sofa. Shoving Doritos in your mouth while watching college basketball on it? Couch. Laundering your clothes before you step within three feet of it? Sofa.

Happy relaxing!

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Soy Sauce, Shoyu, and Tamari?

One of the goals of What’s the Difference—besides pure delight, and being correct—is to make everyone’s worldviews a little bit bigger. So whether you’re the type of person whose pantry looks like a seventeenth-century apothecary or someone for whom the word “soy sauce” is the only part of this title you recognize, you are all welcome, seen, and celebrated. We’re all here to bathe in the JOY of KNOWLEDGE—so let’s take a dip, shall we?

Soy sauce was first invented approximately 2,000 years ago, using a process that is quite similar to the one we use today. To make it, soybeans and roasted wheat are mixed together and inoculated with Aspergillus mold, or koji. (Koji is also the mold used to make miso paste and sake.) After three to four days, the soybean-wheat-koji mixture is combined with water and salt to form a thick mash. The mash is then put into large vats and fermented, traditionally for eighteen months or longer, and then strained and bottled. 

Soy sauces can be Chinese-style or Japanese-style. Chinese-style soy sauces traditionally are made with 100% soy, while Japanese-style soy sauces are made with a mix of soy and wheat (usually 50/50). This gives the Japanese sauces a sweeter, more nuanced flavor than their Chinese counterparts, which are usually saltier and more aggressive. Shoyuis simply the name for the Japanese-style soy sauce, which can be light (usukuchi) or dark (koikuchi). 

Tamari is soy-sauce-like product that originated as a by-product of making miso. Classically, it’s made with only soybeans (and no wheat), making it more similar in flavor to Chinese-style soy sauce—and a great option for those who are gluten-free. (Many tamaris these days, however, do contain a bit of wheat—so if you’re concerned about gluten, make sure to check the bottle.)

Other soy sauce variants include Chinese light soy sauce, or “fresh” or “thin” soy sauce, which is the most common soy sauce in Chinese cuisine; Chinese dark soy sauce, which is thicker and darker in color but less salty than the light sauces and sometimes contains sugar or molasses; and sweet soy sauce, or kecap manis, an Indonesian style of soy sauce that’s popular across Southeast Asia. Sweet soy sauce is flavored with palm sugar, star anise, galangal, and other aromatics, giving it what Max Falkowitz at Snuk Foods calls a “barbecue-sauce consistency.” It’s popular in stir-fries and rice and noodle dishes, and it’s also great used in a marinade.

One more thing: before you buy any soy sauce or soy-sauce-like product, make sure to check the ingredients first. These days, there are bottles of stuff that are sold as soy sauce but contain tons of gross chemicals, aimed at replicating the soy sauce taste while bypassing the traditional fermentation process. According to Max, “If you see anything besides soy beans, wheat, salt, and mold cultures on the label, such as caramel coloring and ‘natural flavors,’ steer clear.” With so many options of what you can buy, it should be easy to do so.

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between a Cop, Sheriff, and State Trooper?

No matter how you feel about law enforcement these days, let’s face it: most of the time, we try to follow the law, and we expect the people in our lives to follow the law, too. The presence and importance of the law is why we need people in our society who make sure that it’s upheld—and in America, this makes for a system that’s notoriously difficult to navigate. Exhibit A: What’s the actual difference between a copsheriff, and state trooper? Let’s get into it.

The term “cop”—or police officer—can refer to a patrol officer, a correctional officer, or a sheriff’s deputyPatrol officers are the men and women in the classic blue uniforms, whose jobs include the pursuit and arrest of criminals, response to emergency and non-emergency calls, and enforcement of motor vehicle and criminal laws. Patrol officers can also be appointed to a special unit, such as motorcycle, canine corps, or SWAT teams.

The major difference between a patrol officer and a sheriff’s deputy is their area of jurisdiction. Sheriff’s deputiesspecifically operate within a county, and their responsibilities are quite similar to those of patrol officers. Patrol officers usually work within the jurisdiction of a city or town, though they can also work for a state, county, hospital, college, transit district, or any other governmental organization that has the ability to create its own law-enforcement branch. 

Correctional officers have a much different set of responsibilities than their other cop counterparts. They’re specifically in charge of enforcing the rules inside a state prison or jail: overseeing the inmates as they go about their daily routines, resolving conflicts, and inspecting the facilities to prevent escape. 

Now, let’s move onto the role of the sheriff. A sheriff is an elected official and is essentially the CEO of the sheriff’s department. Most sheriffs operate under the county government—in fact, the only state without sheriffs is Alaska, which has no counties.  

The word “sheriff” is actually a portmanteau of “shire reeve,” which was the tax collector in medieval England. These days, some sheriffs are still the tax collectors for their counties. But sheriff responsibilities can vary greatly from state to state: In some states, the position is largely ceremonial, and essentially just includes serving papers and providing security for the courts. In other states, the sheriff is also in charge of the county jail. And most states look to the sheriff’s office to provide general law-enforcement services (so, police officer–type services) to cities that don’t have their own police forces or to unincorporated parts of the county.

Unlike cops, who usually work for the city, or sheriffs, who work for the county, state troopers work for the state. They serve as highway patrol or as part of state-wide police agencies. You can tell who they are by their brown uniforms, which have star-shaped badges and patches to indicate their rank, and their large, wide-brimmed hats.

And for a BONUS ROUND: What about marshals and rangers? A marshal is an enforcement officer of the court and provides security for the court and court staff. Marshals can also be in charge of serving subpoenas and arrest warrants. Rangers, at least in the state-level-officer sense, are limited to Texas, where they’re the top of the state police force. Many states also have park or forest rangers that either act as the police force for their governmental subdivisions or as naturalist or conservation officers.

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between a Hero, Sub, Grinder, and Hoagie?

Some things in life are simple: we know that two pieces of bread with stuff between them, for example, is a sandwich. Swap in a long roll, however, and things get a lot more complicated. 

Let’s start with the submarine, or sub. A sub is at least six inches long and is constructed with a combination of meat, cheese, fixings (lettuce, tomato, etc.), and dressing. It is usually served cold. According to Google Trends, the word "sub" is by far and away the most commonly used of today's four large-sandwich terms. You can see this in the graph below:

Screen Shot 2019-03-26 at 10.11.19 AM.png

Looking at the regional breakdown, "sub" is also clearly the winner—except for one, lonesome state. 

Screen Shot 2019-03-26 at 10.00.17 AM.png

Pennsylvania—what is going on?? 

Pennsylvanians—Philadelphians, in particular—have their "hoagies." A hoagie is just a sub—the Oxford English Dictionary literally defines it as a "submarine sandwich"—but the Pennsylvania folk have insisted on making it their own. According to Bon Appétit, the term likely comes from Depression-era jazz musician and sandwich-shop owner Al De Palma, who started calling his submarines "hoggies" because you "had to be a hog" to eat a sandwich that big. (So judgy!) "Hoggies" somehow morphed into "hoagies," and you got yourself a regional sandwich term. 

Head over to New York City, and you’ll see a similar sandwich referred to as a "hero." The term likely comes from New York Herald Tribune columnist Clementine Paddleworth (yes, that was her name), who in 1936 described a sandwich so large "you had to be a hero to eat it." More so than a sub, a hero can refer to both hot and cold sandwiches, which is why you’ll see things like meatball heroes and chicken-parm heroes on menus around the area.

Lastly, we have grinders, which is the New England–based term for a hero. According to Bon Appétit, "some claim that it was named for 'grinders,' Italian-American slang for dockworkers (who were often sanding and grinding rusty hulls to repaint them)," but the term most likely comes from the fact that they were harder to chew than normal sandwiches: "that toothsomeness got translated into 'grinder,' since that's what your teeth had to do to get through a bite."

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Sunscreen and Sunblock?

As a former food writer, I have a complicated relationship with seasonality. When you’re banned from writing about tomatoes and eggplant and corn outside the hours of late July to early September, you know what you want to do? You wanna write about tomatoes in December. 

So with What’s the Difference, we’re deciding that seasonality is a construct. (Unless it serves the purpose of a cute newsletter introduction—in that case, we love the seasons.) And unlike tomatoes in December, which are objectively gross, sunscreen and sunblock should be worn year-round! But before we get to skincare tips, let’s dig into the difference.

Sunscreen is a lotion that absorbs the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays; it contains chemicals that soak them up before they reach the skin. It’s therefore referred to as a chemical sunscreen. Sunscreens can have a wide range of active ingredients, but the good ones contain benzophenones, which protect against UVA rays (the ones that cause premature aging and wrinkling), and cinnamates and/or salicylates, which protect against UVB rays (the ones that cause sunburns). 

Sunblock, on the other hand, reflects the sun’s rays from the skin instead of absorbing them. It’s therefore thought of as a physical sunscreen. Sunblock is usually thicker and more opaque than sunscreen, and it can sometimes leave behind white residue. And although it’s heavier, sunblock’s active ingredients—titanium dioxide or zinc oxide—are gentler, making it a safer choice for people who have sensitive skin.

Dermatologists say that unless you have a personal preference, both sunscreen and sunblock are fine to use—one’s not better than the other. However, whatever you choose should have an SPF of at least 30 and protect against both UVA and UVB rays; if you see the term “broad spectrum” on the label, you’re good to go. And make sure to avoid suntan lotion, which is a different product altogether; it usually has an SPF of 15 or lower, and is made with oils that don’t protect your skin at all. You might want that sun-kissed look, but safety comes first—no matter what season it is.

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Courage and Bravery?

When we’re young, there are a group of virtues that pepper the lessons that we learn, the books that we read, the movies that we watch, the games that we play: Kindness. Compassion. Bravery. Courage. We’re taught to emulate these traits in our day-to-day lives: to do unto others, to always tell the truth, to stand up for what’s good and right. 

But the bigness of these qualities can overshadow any nuance, especially when there are mysteries to solve or villains to trick or princesses to save. So the small, but worthy distinctions between them—especially something as delicate as the difference between courage and bravery—are often left unsaid, until decades later when a newsletter pops into your inbox and sets the record straight.

Bravery is the ability to confront something painful or difficult or dangerous without any fear. It’s a quality, not a state of mind; it doesn’t need a cause to awaken it. Someone is brave—full stop. To the person who has it, it’s effortless; it’s eating a caterpillar on the playground because a friend dares you to, without a second thought. It’s jumping from the highest diving board without any hesitation. 

Courage, on the other hand, is the ability to confront something painful or difficult or dangerous despite any fear. It’s not a quality, but a choice; a person feels the fear or pain or danger, but chooses to persevere anyway. Unlike bravery, courage is driven by a cause; the courageous person believes that cause is worth standing up and fighting for, despite all the clear reasons not to. It takes a great effort, because what’s on the other end merits it.  

These differences can be traced back to the etymology of the words. The root word for bravery is the Italian word “bravo,” which means “bold” but also once meant “wild, savage.” The root word for courage, however, is “coeur”—the French word for “heart.”

So if you don’t consider yourself brave, don’t despair. When a cause is worthy enough—when you have something worth fighting for—that’s where courage steps in. Courage isn’t something you need to already have; it’s something you can find. 

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Corned Beef and Pastrami?

Here at What’s the Difference HQ, we’ve already covered the distinction between deli and appetizing and the intricacies of the appetizing case. But the deli counter has its own pressing questions—because while you may have some vague understanding that pastrami and corned beef are two different things, and that one might be better than the other, you may be stuck on the how or why. Here are the major points of differentiation between the two, because no meat should ever be a mystery. 

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Pastrami has two possible ancestries: it’s either Romanian (where its predecessor, pastrama, was made with pork or mutton) or Turkish (where it’d be a descendent of pastirma, made with beef). Corned beef hails from Ireland, which is why it's eaten on St. Patrick’s Day. 

CUT OF MEAT: Today’s corned beef and pastrami are both made from beef, albeit different parts of the animal. Corned beef is made from brisket, which comes from the lower chest of the cow; pastrami is either made from a cut called the deckle, a lean, wide, firm shoulder cut, or the navel, a smaller and juicier section right below the ribs. These days, you may also see pastrami made from brisket.

BRINE: Pastrami and corned beef are brined before they’re cooked; they’re either rubbed with or submerged in a solution of salt and spices to infuse the meat with more moisture and flavor. Both are brined in a mixture of salt, sugar, black pepper, cloves, coriander, bay leaves, juniper berries, and dill, as well as the preservatives sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite.

SPICE MIX: Here’s when things really start to differ. After brining, pastrami gets coated in a mixture of black pepper, coriander, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and sometimes fresh garlic; that spice coating is what gives it its blackened appearance. Corned beef is… naked. No spice mix to speak of.

COOKING METHOD: Pastrami is smoked over hardwood, oftentimes with a pan of water nearby, which helps create steam and keep the meat moist. It’s then cooled and then steamed before serving. Corned beef is… boiled. Sometimes with cabbage and other accoutrements in the mix, too.

BONUS ROUND: If you’ve ever been to Montreal, you may be wondering: What does “smoked meat” have to do with all this? Smoked meat is a Canadian specialty that pulls from the same themes as corned beef and pastrami, but has a story arc of its own. It’s made with brisket and is brined in a mixture of black pepper, coriander, garlic, and mustard seeds—but with much less sugar than its pastrami and corned-beef cousins. It’s then smoked, like pastrami, and is best layered onto rye bread with mustard for serving—just like the rest of family. 

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between a Castle and a Palace?

As a girl, I was never into princesses; I was more of the type to watch monster-truck videos with my brother and read almanacs for fun. However, as an adult, I find there’s something rather aspirational about the royal lifestyle, or at least the royal lifestyle of years’ past; who wouldn’t want to sit around eating teacakes and playing whist all day? I hereby present to you the differences between a castle and a palace—because if we can’t live like royals ourselves, we may as well know the terminology.

castle is a large, fortified residence or group of buildings with strong walls to defend against attacks. In their heyday, they were inhabited by a royal or noble and used as a seat from which to control the surrounding area. Castles oftentimes have moats, peep-holes in the walls from which to shoot arrows, and other defense-centric architectural touches. They were first built by royalty during the Middle Ages throughout Europe and the Middle East, and served as fortresses to guard whoever was doing the ruling.

palace, on the other hand, is designed simply for elegance, lavishness, and luxury. No fortified walls, no moats, no cannons—they’ve more of the gilded-chic vibe. Palaces were/are lived in by royalty, heads of state, or heads of a church, and are usually surrounded by lush, landscaped gardens. The first palaces were built on Palatine Hill in Rome, which is actually where the name “palace” comes from.

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Sleet, Hail, Graupel, and Wintry Mix?

No matter what background or tradition or religion or belief system you identify with, I think we can all agree: when crazy stuff starts falling from the sky, things get weird. Turns out there are so many crazy things falling from the sky these days that we now must expand our vocabulary. My friends, it’s time to get cozy with hailsleetgraupel (yes—this is a real thing), and wintry mix.

But first: some background. Hail, sleet, graupel, and wintry mix are all forms of precipitation that start off as snowSnow stays snow when the temperature between the clouds and the ground stays at around 32°F the entire way down; it’s when the temperature gets warmer somewhere en route that interesting stuff starts to happen.

Sleet is what forms when there are warmer temperatures in the air and near- or below-freezing temperatures on the ground, or when cold air “sandwiches” a pocket of warmer air. This combination causes snowflakes to melt on their way down and then re-freeze as they get closer to the ground, turning into translucent little pellets of ice.  

Graupel, on the other hand, happens when there are freezing temperatures in the air and above-freezing temperatures closer to the ground. Snowflakes get caked in near-frozen drops of rain, forming soft, opaque white balls akin to what the National Weather Service so aptly describes as “Dippin’ Dots.” For such an ugly name, I personally think graupel sounds quite lovely; it’s like snow on steroids, or like the pearl-sugar topping on a brioche, but soft.

Wintry mix, as one might guess, is a gross mix of snow, graupel, sleet, and freezing rain, because turns out multiple things can fall out of the sky at the same time! However, instead of the clouds spewing out a trail mix–like mixture, which would actually be kind of cool, we get any of those forms of precipitation falling in areas very close to each other, or switching off as the day progresses. (Meteorologists use the term “wintry mix” to essentially avoid getting too specific.) According to this story in the New Yorker, wintry mix most often happens in the central or eastern United States, thanks to a lovely concoction of cold air from Canada, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico, stormy air from the Rocky Mountains, and western air coming in on a jet stream. These all create a setting perfect for crazy frozen things to form and fall to Earth.

Lastly, we have hail, which only falls during thunderstorms and is actually most common in warmer conditions during the spring, summer, and fall. Hail starts as soft, snow-like particles that form in the below-freezing air at the top of thunderstorms (because it’s still cold up there, even in the summertime). As these particles fall into the storm, ice crystals and cloud droplets freeze onto them, and they stay suspended in the clouds for a while, gathering up more frozen stuff. When the pellets get too heavy, or when the winds that push them up into the clouds get too weak to keep them afloat, they start falling to the ground. 

Hail is usually only the size of a penny, but the largest recorded hailstone fell in 1986 over the Gopalganj district of Pakistan and was… 2.25 pounds. Imagine the terror when that fell out of the sky. Stay safe out there!

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Broccolini, Broccoli Rabe, and Chinese Broccoli?

I know, I know. There are few newsletter topics as sexy as cruciferous vegetables—especially the brethren of the classic eat-your-vegetables vegetable, broccoli. But just how when you grow up, you realize that vegetables are actually, well, pretty good, turns out that vegetables—or at least the differences between ones like Chinese broccolibroccolini, and broccoli rabe—are actually pretty interesting, too. 

Let’s start with Chinese broccoli, also known as gai-lankai-lan, or Chinese kale. Chinese broccoli is a member of the species Brassica oleracea, the same species as regular broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower; however, its “cultivar group” is called alboglabra, which sounds completely made up and/or like something out of Harry Potter. It has thick stems, itty-bitty florets, and large, flat leaves, and its flavor is somehow stronger and more broccoli-esque than regular broccoli.

Broccolini is actually a HYBRID vegetable, a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli that was invented in 1993. It was first grown under the name “Asparation” (??) because of its asparagus-flavor undertones, but then some genius was like “that is a truly horrible name for a vegetable” and decided to market it as “broccolini” in the United States instead. Broccolini/Asparation has a long, leggy stem, small florets, and small, if any, leaves, and is more tender and sweeter than either of its parents. 

Lastly, we have broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, which is not a broccoli derivative at all and is instead more closely related to the turnip. It’s a bitter green, similar to a mustard green, with thin stalks, little buds, and lots and lots of leaves. It’s particularly popular in Italian cooking, where its often sautéed in garlic and/or used in pasta dishes. 

Come March or April, you may start seeing “overwintered broccoli rabe” at the farmers’ market, which is broccoli rabe that was planted in the fall and then harvested in the early spring. This broccoli rabe is not as large and leafy as normal-wintered broccoli rabe, but the leaves and stalks are more tender and less bitter; the vegetable has to produce extra sugar in order to not freeze. And given the weather this past week, you can bet that whatever has survived come spring will be pretty damn tasty.

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between an Orchestra, Symphony, and Philharmonic?

If you’re like me, feeling cultured feels good. There are few sensations as pleasant as learning something new, or exploring a different place, or doing something that expands your world even a miniscule amount. Also: being able to talk about feeling cultured feels good. Part of the fun of doing culture-y stuff is telling people about it, whether it’s excitedly or earnestly or just to show people how very cultured you are.

You know what doesn’t feel good? Trying show people that you’re cultured, and being WRONG. Nope, I think that’s a feeling we’d all like to avoid. And with that, let’s learn the real difference between an orchestra, symphony, and philharmonic.

An orchestra is a large group of musicians that usually includes the four major sections of Western instruments: strings, brass, winds, and percussion.

symphony is a large-scale piece of music that typically contains three to four movements.

symphony orchestra is an orchestra that’s big enough and has enough of a variety of instruments (usually 18 to 25!) to play a symphony. When an orchestra is called a “symphony,” it’s just shorthand for “symphony orchestra.”For example, when people call the CSO the “Cleveland Symphony,” they’re dropping the “orchestra” at the end—but it’s there. So: you are not going to see the “symphony,” you’re going to see the “symphony orchestra.” 

philharmonic—or, really, a philharmonic orchestra—is the same thing as a symphony orchestra. The label is used to differentiate between two music groups in a city, so that you don’t get the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra confused. But the term “philharmonic orchestra,” unlike “symphony orchestra,” is always part of a proper name—so I’d say I was in a symphony orchestra in high school, not in a philharmonic orchestra. (Unless I was actually in like, the New York Philharmonic in high school, which I was not.)

And with that, may I suggest Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (particularly the second movement)? Because we can now resume talking about how cultured we are.

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here

What's the Difference Between Four-Wheel Drive and All-Wheel Drive?

It’s winter, people, which means fuzzy socks and hot chocolate and snuggling on your couch to watch not one, but TWO documentaries about the Fyre Festival. It also means single degrees and snowstorms and slippery roads—and, for those of us who drive on a regular basis, it’s a time to be extra-careful. It behooves us, then, to learn the difference between four-wheel and all-wheel drive—because despite the fact that the four wheels might be all the wheels, they are not the same thing. 

Let’s ease into it. In two-wheel drive, or 2WD, torque is applied to either the front or rear wheels, depending on the type of vehicle. This is more suitable for driving in mild climates, where a car doesn’t have much need for real traction. 

But both four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD), as their names suggest, power all four of the vehicle’s wheels. So how do they differ? In all-wheel drive, the car sends a variable amount of torque to each wheel, depending on which wheels need it the most in any given moment. Four-wheel drive sends a fixed amount of torque to each wheel, which makes it much better for off-roading—but not as great for regular driving. That’s why most four-wheel drive vehicles have a two-wheel drive mode, and the driver can switch back and forth depending on the conditions.

It makes sense, then, that four-wheel drive is only found in SUVs and trucks that have higher ground clearance; these are the sorts of vehicles that you see fearlessly lumbering through the mud in football-game commercials. All-wheel drive, on the other hand, can be found in all types of cars and trucks, not just the off-roaders.

No matter what-wheel drive you have, stay safe out there!

If you liked this, subscribe to the What's the Difference newsletter here