How to Style Names of Food

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When it comes to names of comestibles and beverages, whether to capitalize proper names that are part of their names can give one indigestion. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary tends to uppercase such terms — though it often (but not always) advises that capitalization is not necessary — but The Chicago Manual of Style recommends lowercase forms. The Associated Press Style Book, the guide of record for newspapers and many magazines, tends to vary more arbitrarily in its guidelines.

Here’s some food for thought:

Merriam-Webster’s capitalizes names of cheeses derived from geographical locations — Brie, Cheddar, Stilton, Swiss — but they can safely be lowercased without confusion, which is what The Chicago Manual of Style recommends.

Several names for types of meat — frankfurter, hamburger, and wiener — derive from place names, but notice that they’re all lowercase.

France, once the epicurean center of the world, has inspired much nomenclature about food — French bean and French bread, just to name two — but the adjective in “french fries” refers to the type of cut, so it’s generally not capitalized.

Scotch is not necessarily capitalized when it refers to whiskey, but it is uppercased in “Scotch broth” and “Scotch egg.” Bourbon is not capitalized.

Names of cocktails are often uppercased — “Bloody Mary,” “Harvey Wallbanger” — especially, as with these examples, if they’re named after people (but note margarita). But alcoholic drinks named after locations (daiquiri, manhattan) aren’t capitalized, except for “Irish coffee.”

One particularly difficult area is names of foods from other countries. Because the names are transliterated and may come to English through more than one middleman language, more than one spelling may enter the language. When in doubt, remain loyal to one style guide or a periodical about cooking. If a term has not yet been included or mentioned, search for it online with various spellings and see how authoritative Web sites treat it.

What about menu items? On an actual restaurant menu, it’s acceptable to capitalize names of dishes, because they are the equivalent of headings on that type of document, but names of ingredients in a descriptive passage below the item name should not be capitalized unless they already deserve that distinction.

However, in text, words used to describe something served at a restaurant should be lowercase unless they’re place names (“Peking duck”), brand names (“chicken-’n’-Cheetos), or house concoctions (“Sous-Chef Sammy’s Lava Soup”).

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3 thoughts on “How to Style Names of Food”

  1. An alternative to fast food, Slow Food is all about preserving the traditional at all levels, both global and regional. We merge pleasure of the food with respect to the community and environment.

  2. Mentioned above: “Scotch is not necessarily capitalized when it refers to whiskey” – scotch shouldn’t be associated with whiskey – scotch whisky does not have an ‘e’ in the spelling. Whiskey spelt with an ‘e’ is Irish, American, or possibly from some other area of the world that produces the beverage.

  3. Does this relate to crop names as well (e.g., corn, soybeans, fall wheat, winter wheat, etc.)? Should crop names be lowercase? Is there ever a reason to capitalize them?

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