Food and Drink Words with Arabic Roots

Most words come to us from the English language's Germanic roots, as well as a lot of Latin and Ancient Greek. There are, however, many English words that are actually derived from Arabic. Most of these have to do with chemistry, astronomy or mathematics - but here's a list of words to do with food and drink that have their roots in Arabic.

Scientific words entered Europe following the Renaissance, as many scientists and philosophers looked to the texts of the Arab World and their translations of classical works. The words in this list mainly reach English through Portuguese and Spanish, as Iberia was under the control of Arabs from 710 - 1492 AD. As the Portuguese and Spanish were in such close proximity to Arabic on a daily basis, many of the food and drink items featured here were first introduced to them, before they passed them on to the rest of Europe.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. albacore
    large pelagic tuna the source of most canned tuna
    Officials advised limiting white albacore tuna to six ounces a week.Washington Times (Jun 10, 2014)
    Albacore ( albacora in Portuguese) is from the Arabic al-baqara, which means "cow". The Arabs named the albacore tuna the 'cow of the sea' because of its size.
  2. alcohol
    a liquor containing a volatile compound made by distillation
    Nearby, several trees were painted with moth bait, a mixture of fruit, alcohol and sugar.New York Times (Jul 22, 2014)
    Originally meaning a substance produced from sublimation, this word comes from al-kuhul in Arabic, which refers to a dark powder used as an eyeliner. It came to its current usage in English through the idea of a sublimated substance being the chemically pure spirit of solids or liquids.
  3. apricot
    downy yellow to rosy-colored fruit resembling a small peach
    Across much of the Arab world, a juice made from sweet apricots is a staple of Ramadan iftars.US News (Jul 21, 2014)
    In the 1550s this word had the form abrecock from abercoc in Catalan and albricoque in Portuguese. The Arabic root of the word is al-barquq.
  4. artichoke
    a thistlelike flower head with edible leaves and heart
    It wasn’t bad, with a flavor that reminded me a little bit of nuts, lettuce, and artichokes—all mixed together.Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut's Story
    Al-khurshuf in Arabic eventually became artichoke in English via Spanish alcarchofa, Italian arcicioffo, and French artichaut.
  5. aubergine
    egg-shaped vegetable having a shiny skin typically dark purple but occasionally white or yellow
    Some bumblebees are commercially bred to pollinate tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in greenhouses.
    Scientific American (Apr 2, 2014)
    What Americans call eggplant the Brits call aubergine. This came into the English language from the Arabic al-badinjan through Catalan alberginia, which the French borrowed to make aubergine, later borrowed by the British.
  6. carafe
    a bottle with a stopper, for serving wine or water
    Wines by the glass, for example, are poured from individual carafes.Seattle Times (May 22, 2014)
    So this isn't a drink, but it is something you can pour drinks from! Initially gharraf, meaning 'something you serve from', it became garrafa in Spanish and carafe in French, before coming into English.
  7. caraway
    a Eurasian plant with small white flowers yielding caraway seed
    I added caraway seeds to the mix because I love the flavor of caraway with cabbage.New York Times (Apr 21, 2014)
    From Arabic karawiya the Spanish derived alcaravea which later became our caraway.
  8. coffee
    a beverage consisting of an infusion of ground coffee beans
    Asked the secret to her seemingly boundless energy, she replies, "Perhaps it’s the four cups of coffee I drink every day!"Architectural Digest (Mar 17, 2014)
    Coffee, from French café and Italian caffe, can be traced back to the Turkish kahve, which in turn comes from the Arabic qahwah.
  9. couscous
    a northern African pasta made of crushed semolina
    My most recent grain salad experiment is Israeli couscous, an ingredient that requires several caveats.Los Angeles Times
    From the Arabic kuskusi, this word originally came into French in the 16th Century and found its way from there into English.
  10. hummus
    a thick spread made from mashed chickpeas
    Instead, use fresh, seasonal ingredients to create a balanced meal that includes vegetables, salads and healthy snacks like hummus.US News (Jun 17, 2014)
    This is a direct derivation from the Arabic. Tahini, with which it's frequently paired, is also Arabic (from tahina).
  11. lemon
    yellow oval fruit with juicy acidic flesh
    The recipe for the condiment — ketchup, lemon, chili sauce, mayonnaise — comes straight from the hotel archives and stands the test of time.Washington Post
    Lemon comes from laymun, through limon in French.
  12. lime
    the green acidic fruit of any of various lime trees
    On the side: tortillas, pickled vegetables, lime wedges and a range of salsas.Seattle Times (Jul 13, 2014)
    This one is from the Arabic word lima, meaning 'citrus thing'.
  13. mocha
    a flavoring made from coffee mixed with chocolate
    You hop in the car and race to your favorite coffee shop drive-thru and quickly order a double mocha with three Splendas, as always.US News (Jul 18, 2014)
    Mocha was a town in Yemen that gave its name to a finer, stronger coffee that was highly prized in Europe. Eventually, it came to mean coffee and chocolate together.
  14. saffron
    crocus with pungent orange stigmas used in flavoring food
    Think beef Bourguignon spiced with ginger, cumin and Aleppo pepper or a white bechamel sauce tinted a pale yellow with saffronLos Angeles Times (Jul 17, 2014)
    Saffron came to be used as a color in reference to the yellow spice called za'fran in Arabic. It came into English from Spanish azafran and Italian zafferano.
  15. spinach
    dark green leaves; eaten cooked or raw in salads
    “I’ll teach you to leave snails in the spinach!” roared the cook.The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
    Isbanakh is the Arabic root, becoming espinac in Catalan and espinache in Old French, before passing into English.
  16. syrup
    a thick sweet sticky liquid
    Typically a dessert item made with sugar syrup and fresh fruit juice, the granita is a humble relative of the sorbet.Washington Post
    Sherbet and sorbet also have the same root: sharab, Arabic for 'beverage'. Jarope in Spanish and siroppo in Italian, this word came to English from Old French sirop.
  17. tamarind
    large tropical seed pod with very tangy pulp that is eaten fresh or cooked with rice and fish or preserved for curries and chutneys
    Behind the baskets of incense, tiger nuts and tamarind, women carve huge lumps of pure shea butter.New York Times (Jul 18, 2014)
    Literally 'Indian date', tamar hindi in Arabic.
  18. tangerine
    a variety of mandarin orange
    Another one named after a place, tangerine comes from the port city of Tangier in Morocco. Britain imported the fruit from there in the early 1800s and gave it the name tangerine orange, meaning 'orange from Tangier'.

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