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!!

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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.

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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

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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. 

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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.

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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."

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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. 

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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.

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What's the Difference Between Russian and Thousand Island Dressing?

If you’ve frequented a salad bar recently—or returned from a quick jaunt from, say, the 1950s—you may recall a bowl or two of pink, florescent dressing with some chopped-up stuff in it. Maybe you dolloped some of it onto your plate of greens, or had a white-tocqued chef at the meat-carving station slather it on a sandwich for you. In any case: Was it Russian dressing or Thousand Island? If it wasn’t slapped in a bottle with a label, would you be able to tell the difference? Let’s find out.
 
Russian dressing is made with a mayonnaise-ketchup base, often livened up with pickle relish, Worcestershire sauce, prepared horseradish, and lemon juice and seasoned with paprika, onion powder, and/or mustard powder. It’s spicier and less sweet than Thousand Island, with a more complex, nuanced je ne sais quoi. Some say it got the “Russian” in its name because it once contained caviar: according to a 1957 New York Times article, an early version of the dressing in Larousse Gastronomique called for mayonnaise, tinted pink with the poached coral and pulverized shell of a lobster, seasoned with black caviar and salt. In any case, the creator of the dressing, a man named James E. Colburn of Nashua, New Hampshire (not Russia), sold so much of it that he acquired “a wealth on which he was able to retire.” Jealous.
 
Thousand Island dressing also has a mayonnaise-ketchup (or chili sauce) base; includes pickle relish and/or other chopped vegetables, such as pimientos, olives, and onions; and has some more rogue, recipe-dependent ingredients thrown into the mix, like parsley, chives, or hot sauce. The big differentiator, however, is the addition of a chopped up hard-boiled egg, which acts as a thickener and binds the ingredients together. The name comes from the region between northern New York state and southern Ontario, which is where it was invented in around 1900—most likely at one of the resorts up there that city folk frequented in the summer.
 
These days, you’re more likely to find the two dressings on sandwiches rather than salads—with Russian typically on a Reuben, and a Thousand Island–type spread used as the “secret sauce” on a Big Mac. But sadly, according to the Washington Post, “an examination of menus around the country shows that Russian dressing has all but disappeared from America’s national consciousness.” What’s more—and we just love this sort of thing at What’s the Difference HQ—what is actually Russian dressing might now be labeled as Thousand Island. “Sometimes it’s easier to just make things quickly understandable for the customer, to avoid wasting time explaining things,” Nick Zukin, co-author of The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home, told the Post. “Even if you made what was essentially a Russian dressing, you might call it Thousand Island just to avoid headaches."

🤯

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What's the Difference Between Sour Cream and Crème Fraîche?

Happy Hanukkah! We may have been taught that this holiday was about celebrating resistance, courage, victory over oppression, the miracle of the Maccabees’ everlasting oil... but who are we kidding? Hanukkah is about eating fried food and sour cream. Here’s the difference between our favorite cultured dairy products, to add some context to your celebration. 

Sour cream, which has a fat content of around 20%, is made by mixing cream with a lactic acid culture; the bacteria thickens and sours it. It may also contain stabilizers, like gelatin or rennin, which aid in the thickening. Sour cream is less expensive than crème fraîche, and since it contains less fat and more protein, it will curdle if you simmer or boil it—so it’s best to use cold or room temperature, or to stir into a hot dish once it’s off the heat.

Crème fraîche—clocking in at 30% fat—is traditionally made with just unpasteurized cream, which naturally contains the bacteria needed to thicken it. However, in the United States, our cream must be pasteurized—so crème fraîche is made by mixing cream with fermenting agents that contain the necessary bacteria. You can actually make your own crème fraîche at home: mix together heavy cream and buttermilk, and let it hang out at room temperature until it reaches its desired thickness (around 8–24 hours). As it sits, the bacteria in the milk converts the sugars (lactose) into lactic acid, which lowers the pH of the mixture and prevents the formation of any unwelcome microbes.

Crème fraîche is thicker, richer (see: fat content), and less tangy than sour cream, and since it won’t curdle if you boil it, it’s great to use in soups and sauces. Or just spoon it into your mouth, unadorned. It’s the holidays, after all.

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What's the Difference Between Hash Browns and Home Fries?

Remember that whole kingdom/phylum/class/order taxonomy you learned in ninth-grade biology? If you applied that very scientific framework to something like, say, fried potatoes, breakfast potatoes would be a genus, and home friesand hash browns would be the major species. 

Let's start with hash browns. According to Merriam Webster, hash browns consist of “boiled potatoes that have been diced or shredded, mixed with chopped onions and shortening, and fried usually until they form a browned cake.” For the sake of real-world application, we’ll expand this definition: hash browns are made from potatoes that have usually been par-cooked in some way, whether it’s boiling, steaming, or microwaving; mixed with any additional ingredients to form a homogenous mixture; and fried in some sort of fat into a crisp, golden cake/patty/structure/squashed-looking thing with frazzled edges. It can be shaped or shapeless, medusa-like or tidy, but the key is its shredded-but-still-held-together-ness. 

Home fries, on the other hand, are simply “potatoes that have usually been parboiled, sliced, and then fried.” What’s key about home fries is that the pieces of potato—whether they’re sliced into half-moons or diced into cubes—are distinct from one another. Those potatoes are usually fried in a shallow pan or skillet—as opposed to a deep fryer—and are sometimes cooked with sliced onions and/or peppers. 

In summary: home fries consist of pieces of potato, while hash browns are a coherent mass of shredded potato. With home fries, any mix-ins (onions, peppers, etc.) would retain their individuality, whereas in hash browns, the mix-ins would be incorporated into the shredded-potato mix. 

While we’re here, let’s explore some fun fried-potato facts, shall we?

  • Waffle House serves 238 hash brown orders a minute.

  • According to the book Menu Mystique, the first recipe for rosti—the shredded-potato cake thought to be the predecessor to hash browns—was found in Switzerland in 1598.

  • French fries first appeared in America in 1802, when Thomas Jefferson, the president at the time, had the White House chef serve “potatoes in the French style” (namely “potatoes deep-fried while raw, in small cuttings”) at a state dinner.

  • When McDonalds introduced their hash browns to the breakfast menu in 1977, their advertising read: “Hash Browns: A great taste in a funny shape.” Crazy to think that the shape of McDonalds hash browns—that flat, perfect, potato-shaped oval—was novel at the time.

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What's the Difference Between Cremini, Button, and Portobello Mushrooms?

Let me guess—you almost clicked out of this email. I obviously know the difference, you said to yourself. They are literally different types of mushrooms.

I am about to rock your world: THEY ARE NOT. THEY ARE LITERALLY THE SAME TYPE OF MUSHROOM

They are all Agaricus bisporus, in fact, just different ages: button mushrooms, which are white, are the toddlers; cremini mushrooms, which are brown, are the teenagers; and portobellos, which are brown and much larger versions of their younger selves, are the adults. (You know how creminis are sometimes labeled as “baby bellas?” They’re literally baby ‘bellos!)

Some more fun Agaricus bisporus facts:

  • They account for 90% of the mushroom production in the United States, making it an almost one-billion-dollar industry.

  • As the mushrooms mature, they lose some of their water content, making portobellos the most flavorful of the bunch (followed by the creminis, then the buttons). 

  • The average American consumes more than 2 pounds of mushrooms each year. 

  • Mushrooms are more closely related in DNA to humans than to plants.

  • A single portobello mushroom can contain more potassium than a banana. 

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What's the Difference Between Iced Coffee and Cold Brew?

It’s 2 p.m., which means it’s almost time to momentarily break free from the desk-chains of capitalism to engage in more capitalism by purchasing an overpriced caffeinated beverage to help you practice capitalism faster. And while you know you want coffee, the question arises: what’s the difference between the coffees you’re drinking? 

Iced coffee is exactly what it says it is: coffee that’s brewed hot, then served over ice. Sometimes, it’s brewed at double the strength, so that the melting ice doesn’t render it too watery. 

To make cold brew, however, coarse-ground coffee is steeped in cool water for around 12 to 24 hours. The grounds are then filtered out, and the resulting coffee concentrate can be mixed with milk, water, and/or ice. Because the process doesn’t involve any heat, many of the acids and oils that make coffee bitter don’t get released—resulting in a sweeter, “smoother” beverage. The caffeine content is generally higher in cold brew—an average 8-ounce iced coffee has 95 milligrams of caffeine, while a 10.5-ounce Stumptown cold brew stubby, for example, contains around 279 milligrams—and it uses up twice the amount of coffee grounds. This, plus the longer time it takes to make, is why cold brew is normally more expensive than the regular joe. 

And what about “nitro” cold brew, a term you may have seen popping up on fancy coffeeshop menus with teeth-rattling prices next to it? That’s cold brew that’s been run through a keg, a process that infuses the coffee with tiny nitrogen bubbles. The resulting drink is rich and frothy, with a foamy cap similar to that of Guinness. Perfect to hold you over until happy hour.

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What's the Difference Between Mozzarella, Burrata, and Straciatella?

It's the tail-end of tomato season, and, like the rest of us, you're looking for ways to help your private chef jazz up the Sunday-evening caprese. My tip: make like Pat Sajak and buy a couple extra vowels, because straciatella and burrata are going light up the appetizer spread. But before you send your butler to the cheese shop, let’s parse the difference between mozzarella and its creamy cousins.

Mozzarella is an old friend: a fresh cheese made with cow milk (or, in the case of mozzarella di bufala, water-buffalo milk). The milk is separated into curds and whey; the curds then get strained, sliced, and submerged in a bath of 180–185°F water. They’re kneaded until they’re stretchy and elastic, then shaped into smooth, round balls.

(There’s a wide spectrum of quality and appearance within mozzarelladom: there are the packets of low-moisture, pre-shredded stuff found in any grocery store in America, and the snow-white balls of it in Naples that shudder when you look at them. But each of these comes out of the same mozzarella-making process.)

You get straciatella when you take strands of fresh mozzarella and soak them in fresh cream; the result is a not-quite-solid, not-quite-liquid luxurious mess that makes a single piece of toast and cheese seem like it’s worth $9 at a fancy restaurant.

And burrata happens when you take a ball of mozzarella and fill it with that very straciatella, so that what looks like a solid mass of mozzarella ends up oozing a mozzarella-and-cream puddle as soon as you cut into it.

How’s that to cure your caprese ennui?

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What's the Difference Between Baby Back Ribs and Spare Ribs?

When we’re pawing into a rack of ribs, it’s easy to think of them as being disembodied from the pigs themselves, perfectly butchered and portioned somewhere outside of our consciousness and simply appearing, grilled/smoked/barbecued and sauced, on a platter in front of us. Here’s the reality: pigs are animals, and they have ribs. These ribs, when divided horizontally, are made up of two types of cuts: baby back ribs and spare ribs. Let’s explore the differences, shall we?

Baby back ribs come from the parts of the ribs that are connected to the backbone, beneath the loin muscle, and are curved where the meet the spine. They’re called “babies” because they’re shorter than spare ribs; on the longest end, they’re around 6 inches, and they taper down to about 3 inches on the shorter end. Depending on how they’re butchered, they may have around ½ inch of loin meat attached to the top. Baby back ribs are more tender and leaner than spare ribs, and are typically more expensive. Each rack is around 2 pounds, around half of which is bone, and 1 rack feeds around 1 hungry adult.

Spare ribs are cut from the ends of baby back ribs and run along to the pig’s breast bone. One side has exposed bone—that’s where they meet the baby backs—and the other side, the side near the breast bone, is where the rib tips are, a flap of meat that has some small bones and cartilage in it. (If you’ve ever seen St. Louis–cut ribs, those are spare ribs with the rib tips removed.) Compared to baby backs, spare ribs have more meat between the bones and less meat on top, and that meat generally has more marbling (and more flavor). The bones are straighter, longer, and flatter than baby backs, and a rack—which ranges from 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, around half of which is bone and cartilage—typically feeds 2 adults. 

And riblets? True riblets are made by cutting a rack of ribs into 2- to 4-inch pieces. However, what Applebees refers to as “riblets” are actually "button ribs," which are actually not ribs at all. They’re from a long, thin cut of meat that runs along the spine just after the rearmost rib, a cut that’s around 6 inches long, 1 ½ inches wide, and ¼ inch thick. There are no real ribs in there, just little round nubs (or “buttons”) of bone to gnaw around! 

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What's the Difference Between an Egg Roll, Spring Roll, and Summer Roll?

We’re all familiar with the delights of a hand-held, deep-fried, cylindrical packet of meat and vegetables, primed for dipping into cold duck sauce or hot mustard and subsequently burning our mouths with. But do we know what we’re actually eating? Let’s find out!

Spring rolls hail from China, and they have super-thin wrappers made from flour and water; these turn shatteringly crisp when fried. Their fillings usually include some combination of pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, and cabbage, and they come with a side of vinegar (for the Shanghainese versions) or plum sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and/or a Worcestershire-based dipping sauce (for the Cantonese versions). According to the Chicago Tribune, spring rolls were originally made for Chinese New Year banquets and stacked to look like bars of gold; they got the name "spring roll" because in the lunar calendar, the New Year marked the start of spring.

If the spring roll is the Chinese species in the taxonomy of fried-rolls-of-stuff, know that it is one in a galaxy of others across Asia. These might not be "spring rolls" in name—in fact, in some cases, they may be translated on a menu as "egg rolls"—but they’re all in the same crispy genus: cha gio in Vietnam, which have rice-paper wrappers; popia thot in Thailand, which are usually filled with glass noodles, bean sprouts, and wood-ear mushrooms; lumpia Shanghai in the Philippines, which are skinner and longer than other types of spring rolls; lumpia Semarang in Indonesia, which are filled with shrimp or chicken.

The egg roll is a spring-roll variant that was created in America; Andrew Coe's book Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States pinpoints its invention in New York by a cook named Lum Fung in the 1930s. The difference is the addition of egg to the wrapper batter, which makes it thicker and more pasta-like before frying. The easiest way to differentiate an egg roll from a spring roll? Their skins are blistered and bumpy; spring rolls are smooth. Egg rolls are usually filled with cabbage and roast pork—heavy on the cabbage—and sometimes include minced bamboo shoots and/or water chestnuts. You’ll find them served with a side of duck sauce, sweet and sour sauce, soy sauce, and/or hot mustard.

Summer rolls are Vietnamese in origin, and unlike their spring- and egg-roll cousins, they’re fresh and salad-y—which is why they are also occasionally sold as "salad rolls." (You may also see them on a menu as "fresh spring rolls.") They consist of a rice-paper wrapper filled with vermicelli noodles, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, herbs like mint, cilantro, and/or Thai basil, and shrimp or pork, and they’re usually accompanied by a peanutty dipping sauce, hoisin sauce, and/or Sriracha.

And with that, I will leave you with this horrifying photo, courtesy of the cookbook Lucky Peach Presents: 101 Easy Asian Recipes:

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What's the Difference Between Crispy and Crunchy?

We’ve all been there: face-up, couch-ridden, jumbo bag of potato chips or Tostitos or salty/carb-y snack of choice in hand, staring glassy-eyed at the ceiling or at the television or at the computer, contemplating life or heartbreak or truly nothing at all. 

But have you ever paused, mid-mastication, to muse: Is what I’m eating a crispyfood, or a crunchy food? Is the mechanical force of my jaw and its subsequent auditory output more in line with that of a crisp, or a crunch? No? You haven’t wondered that? Well, good thing What’s the Difference is here to clear things up, anyway.

According to the scientific article “Critical Evaluation of Crispy and Crunchy Textures: A Review,” published in the International Journal of Food Properties, a crispy food is defined as:
 

“a dry rigid food which, when bitten with the incisors [Ed. Note: the four pointy teeth at the front of your mouth]fractures quickly, easily, and totallywhile emitting a relatively loud, high-pitched sound.”


On the other hand, a crunchy food is defined as:
 

“a dense-textured food which, when chewed with the molars, undergoes a series of fractures while emitting relatively loud, low-pitched sounds.”


Let’s apply these definitions to real life. Lay’s potato chips? Crispy. Ice? Crunchy. Saltines? Crispy. Those hard, sourdough pretzels? Crunchy. Celery? Both—it snaps cleanly, and also undergoes a series of fractures when chewed. 

Okay, as you were. Enjoy the symphony of snacking!

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What's the Difference Between Lox, Nova, and Smoked Salmon?

Sometimes, we think we know things. Sometimes, some things are such a part of the fabric of our lives and our history and our surroundings that our sense of rightness about a certain topic feels almost innate. And yet sometimes, we are wrong. My dear readers, this might be one of those times—buckle up. 

You probably know a Jew or two—you might even be a Jew yourself. But even being a New York Jew does not make you pre-programmed to know the differences between loxNova, and smoked salmon. That “bagel and lox” you eat on Sunday mornings… might not be a bagel and lox. Oy gevalt, I know. Deep breaths.  

Luckily, Niki Russ Federman, the fourth-generation owner of Russ and Daughters, is here to talk us through it. Let’s start with the basics:

There are two major cooking processes in play when discussing the salmons of the appetizing counter: curing and smokingCuring is a process in which a food is preserved in salt (and sometimes additional flavorings/aromatics). Smoking is a process in which a food is exposed to, well, smoke—with a “cold-smoke” for salmon happening below 85°F, and a “hot-smoke” for salmon happening above it. According to Niki, “cold-smoked salmon is the stuff that can be sliced so thin you can read the Times through it. Cured salmon has a similar texture, but without any smoke flavor. Hot-smoked salmon has a completely different texture—meaty and flaky, like cooked salmon.”

Lox—or “belly lox,” which is the actual name for it—is salmon that has been cured in salt. (Like gravlax, which is cured in sugar and salt, there’s no smoking involved.) It’s the version of preserved salmon people ate before refrigeration was widely available; salmon from the Pacific was hauled across the country in gigantic salt baths, and fed to the Jewish immigrants of New York before a morning at shul or a long day of work. The taste of true lox is incredibly salty and assertive; “we think bagels with lox was invented because belly lox needed bread and dairy to cut it,” says Niki. “People will constantly come in and ask for lox, and it sometimes requires a little back and forth to find out what they’re actually looking for. If someone over a certain age asks assertively for belly lox, we’re not going to question him or her, but most people end up wanting one of our seven varieties of smoked salmon.”

Do you hear that, folks? What you probably enjoy eating on your bagel is smoked salmon, specifically cold-smoked salmon—not lox. 

To Niki, the “quintessential smoked salmon”—“what you think of when you think of New York–style smoked salmon”—is Gaspe Nova, or Nova for short. “Nova” refers to both the geographical location where the fish is caught (Nova Scotia) and a style of smoked salmon, in which the fish is first cured and then lightly smoked. 

At Russ and Daughters, you’ll find the luxe Gaspe Nova—with a “marbling and fattiness that give the salmon a silky quality”—along with Scottish salmon and Western NovaScottish salmon is a great middle ground; “it has a lovely smoke to it, but since it’s a fat salmon, it retains a lot of moisture and silkiness,” says Niki. Western Nova, which is made with wild king salmon, is leaner and more muscular, with a tighter texture and more assertive flavor than the other styles. 

Rounding out the salmon options is kippered salmon, which is hot-smoked at 150°F. This gives it a texture more akin to poached salmon, and it’s served in straight up-and-down slices rather than the paper-thin cuts of cold-smoked or cured stuff. “For me, this is one of the unsung heroes of appetizing,” says Niki. “I think it’s so delicious.”

One more thing (and a bonus What’s the Difference!): don’t you dare call this stuff “deli.” “In the Jewish tradition, you don’t mix meat and dairy, so appetizing is fish and dairy—stuff you’d eat with bagels,” says Niki. “It’s the sister food tradition to deli”—which is the meat version of appetizing—“and it’s been that way for over a hundred years.”

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What's the Difference Between Shrimp and Prawns?

There are few crustaceans as misunderstood as the shrimp and the prawn. Some people think they’re the same thing; others think they differ only by size; others think they’re simply called different things in different countries, or regions, or states. And yet: all of these people are wrong! Shrimp and prawns are completely different creatures. Yes, they’re both decapods—which means they have external skeletons and 10 legs—but that’s where the similarities end. Shrimp belong to the sub-order Pleocyemata, and prawns belong to the sub-order Dendrobranchiata. Let’s explore what this difference means, shall we?

GILLS: As you may remember from ninth-grade biology, gills are structured in a way that maximizes their surface area. Shrimp have plate-like gills, which consist of flat, layered arrangements; prawns have branching gills, which is where I’m assuming the “branchiata” part of their name comes from.

CLAWS AND PINCERS: Shrimp have claws on two pairs of their legs, and their front pincers are the largest. Prawns have claws on three pairs of their legs, and their second pincers are larger than their front ones.

BODY STRUCTURE: Let’s say these decapods have four distinct areas of their body: the head, the thorax (the area right behind the head), the abdomen (the “torso”), and the tail. In prawns, the head overlaps with the thorax, which overlaps with the abdomen—much like shingles on a roof. In shrimp, the thorax overlaps with both the head and the abdomen, like a cummerbund.

HABITAT: Prawns live in fresh water, while shrimp can come from either fresh water or salt water (though the majority of species come from salt water). Fun fact: the colder the water the shrimp is from, the smaller the size! (I always thought the tiny shrimp in Scandinavian-esque shrimp salads were creepy, and I no longer do.)

SIZE: Generally speaking, prawns are larger than shrimp—though this can differ depending on the species.

TASTE: Anyone who tries to tell you that shrimp and prawns taste different is wrong. Sure, some prawns are sweeter than shrimp, and vice versa—but it’s really dependent on the species, rather than the sub-orders as a whole.

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What's the Difference Between Ice Cream, Gelato, Frozen Yogurt, Sorbet, Sherbet, and Sherbert?

Welcome to What’s the Difference: FROZEN DESSERTS EDITION. This is such a rich category that it could easily be divided up into multiple weeks, but why should you be deprived of the pleasure of absorbing all of this textured knowledge all at once? 

It’s getting hot over here, and whatever frozen dessert we’re eating is starting to melt, so let’s get right into it—starting with:

ICE CREAM VS. GELATO VS. FROZEN YOGURT

There are lots of variations in the ice cream category—and that’s even before we get into the actual flavors—so we’re going to keep it somewhat simple. In the United States, all ice creams must contain at least 10% butterfat (fat from cream and milk). Standard or “Philadelphia-style” ice creams are made with cream, milk, sugar, and various other minor ingredients; French or custard ice creams have the addition of egg yolks. (Therein lies the difference between vanilla and French vanilla flavors—French vanilla gets its yellow color from those yolks.). Ice cream is usually served at around 0–10°F, which gives it that classic, just-scooped-from-the-chest-freezer texture.

On the other hand, gelato is only required by Italian law to have 3.5% butterfat—significantly less than American ice cream. And because the more butterfat a mixture contains, the more air it’s able to absorb while churning, gelato contains significantly less air than ice cream—which makes it taste richer and more flavorful. It’s also served at a warmer temperature—between 10–20°F—giving it a softer, glossier texture.

Frozen yogurt, which became popular in the seventies and eighties, also contains significantly less butterfat than regular ice cream; it’s able to stay frozen thanks to various additives, such as corn syrup, powdered milk, or vegetable gums. It actually barely contains any yogurt at all; according to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, the standard proportion of other dairy to yogurt is 4:1. And depending on the recipe, the yogurt bacteria cultures may be entirely eliminated throughout the process, depriving you of the good-gut stuff that comes along with them.

Now, let’s head into:

SORBET VS. SHERBET VS. SHERBERT

This one is a little easier. Sorbet is simply a mix of fruit, water, and sugar, which is then churned together like ice cream. Sherbet is sorbet with the addition of a bit of milk or cream; according to USDA regulations, it must contain 1–2% butterfat.

And sherbet vs. sherbert? According to Merriam Webster, they’re the same thing: 

The word in question is from Turkish and Persian words that both trace back to the Arabic word sharba, meaning "drink." All three words—the Turkish and Persian words are şerbet and sharbat, respectively—lack an "r" in the second syllable, but when the word was imported into English in the early 17th century, it was coming from languages many English speakers considered exotic, and spelling was all over the place. Among the many variations that existed in the early years, two that appeared then are still in use today: sherbet and sherbert.

By the late 18th century sherbet had become the established spelling, but after only a few intermittent uses in the 18th and 19th centuries, sherbert staged a minor comeback in the 20th century. It's now a fully established (though far lesser-used) variant.

So, now you have lots of fun facts to bring with you into your pre-July 4th celebrations this weekend. Stay cool!

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