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What are the Best Cooking Dictionaries?

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Q. Could you tell me the name of a good "culinary" dictionary? One that tells me things such as the difference between single and double cream?

A. You ask a perfectly simple question and then you turn around and make it difficult. We think the best food dictionary on the market is Sharon Tyler Herbst's Food Lover's Companion (Canada, UK), a reference with definitions for more than 6,000 food and cooking terms. We refer to it daily and use it as our source for spelling consistency.

Does it mention single and double cream (the differentiation used in Britain for creams of varying fat content)? Yes and no. You have to know that the terms are British and then know to flip to the very modest British/American food translation section at the back of the book. There, it says that single cream is the equivalent of our light cream and that double cream is the equivalent of our heavy cream. We'll go along with the single cream/light cream part (approximately 20% fat for each). But double cream has a fat content of 48%, vs. 36% to 40% for heavy cream, which to us hardly makes them synonymous.

When we're looking for information and background on British foods and cooking terms — as well as many others from outside North America — we turn to Alan Davidson's The Oxford Companion to Food, a major book with a worldwide focus. It does not have nearly as many entries as Herbst's book, but covers topics in much greater detail. It also weighs and costs much more.

Buy them both and you'll hardly ever have a need for Ochef. Sniff….

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