Cake flour is derived from soft wheat and has a very low protein content. As the name implies, cake flour is ideal for baking cakes, as well as other delicate or soft baked goods. Cake flour is usually bleached and therefore should be white. It can be purchased at all major supermarkets or it can be ordered online.


A calorie is a unit of energy. Calories (capital C) are what nutritional labels measure by and are equal to 1000 calories (lowercase c). One Calorie is the energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. The body gets calories from food and uses these calories to perform necessary life functions. Calories come from fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, with carbohydrates and proteins contributing approximately 4 Calories per gram and fats contributing 9 Calories per gram. 


Canary melon is an oblong-shaped melon with yellow rind (hence, its name), ivory-colored flesh, and salmon-colored seeds. Its flavor is sweet and slightly tangy.


Cane sugar is a refined sugar that is extracted from sugar cane. It can be used in the same ways as granulated sugar. Cane sugar is available at all major grocery stores.


Canola oil is made from canola seeds. It has very little saturated fat, and a neutral taste. Canola oil is appropriate for all types of cooking and occasionally for baking. Canola oil can be bought at major supermarkets or online. For more information on canola oil, click here.


Caramelization occurs when a carbohydrate such as sugar is heated to temperatures of 300°F or higher, causing it to brown. This process modifies an ingredient’s flavor profile. It is commonly used with vegetables, such as caramelized onions, or over certain desserts, such as Crème Brûlée.


Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. In the body, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is then used by cells to create energy. Carbohydrates are categorized as either simple or complex. Complex carbohydrates come in the form of starch or dietary fiber and require processing before they can be broken down into glucose for energy. Conversely, simple carbohydrates come from sugar and are easily broken down by the body. For more information on carbohydrates, click here.


Cardamom is a spice derived from a plant called Elletaria cardamom, which is native to southern Asia and a member of the same botanical family as ginger. Its pods and the seeds within them have been used in cooking and for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. The spice is available in pod, seed, and ground form, but many consider the pod form best, because its flavor is typically fresher and more intense. To use the pods, you simply crush them, remove the seeds, add them to your recipe and discard the husks. Or if you are infusing a liquid with cardamom, you can just bruise (partially crush) the pods and add both the seeds and husks, straining the liquid later. Cardamom pods grow in black and green varieties; many people prefer the green. Cardamom is used in throughout the Indian subcontinent in curries and sweets and in Scandinavia and the Middle East in sweets and baked goods. It’s also used in seasoned tea (chai)  and Middle Eastern coffee.


Carnaroli rice is a fine, high starch, short-grain rice used to make risotto. It is grown only in the Lombardy and Piedmont regions of Italy. It is similar to arborio rice, but is slightly larger. Carnaroli rice can be bought at a few major supermarkets, such as Whole Foods, and Italian specialty stores, or online.


Carrageenan is a chemical often used in molecular gastronomy and comes in three forms, Ioto, Lambda, and Kappa. It is extracted from seaweed and it is used to thicken and stabilize food products. Carrageenan can be found in a few stores, or can be ordered online from a variety of vendors, including The Modernist Pantry. For more information on carrageenan, click here.


Casaba melon is a large, teardrop-shaped melon with yellow skin and white-to-green flesh. It has a mild, sweet flavor.


Cashews are tree nuts that grow in Brazil, Africa, and India. They are used for a wide variety of cooking procedures and can be made into sauces or used whole. Cashews are often sold shelled and salted, and they can be found at most grocery stores or online. For more information on cashews, click here.


Castelvetrano olives are large, bright green, meaty, almost buttery olives from Sicily, with a flavor that is milder than your typical olive.


A cazuela is a cooking pot that is native to Spain. It has been used for thousands of years. These terracotta pots are very dense, with a glazed interior for easy cleaning. The unglazed exterior effectively absorbs and retains heat. Cazuelas are used for cooking in the oven, stovetop, or microwave, but they are also beautiful presentation pieces.


Celery root, aka celeriac, is the root of a species of celery. (It’s in the same family, but it’s not the same variety as the more common bunch celery, with its crunchy stalks.)  This variety is cultivated largely for its brown, bulbous root, which once peeled, reveals a snowy interior. It can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves and stalks of this variety of celery are also edible, but are not as commonly available.


Celiac disease is a condition that affects the digestive system. It damages the small intestine causing two major symptoms. First, the body is less effective at absorbing nutrients. Second, the body displays an intolerance to gluten. For more information on celiac disease, click here.


Cellophane noodles are made from mung bean flour. These Asian noodles are also called Chinese vermicelli or glass noodles because they become transparent when cooked. They cook quickly and for many recipes require only soaking in hot water to soften them. Contrary to the popular misconception, they are not made with rice flour.


Cerignola olives are large, crisp, with a flavor that is mild, almost sweet. They are  named for a town in the Italian province of Puglia, where they originated. They are typically bright green but a black variety is also available. A red variety gets its color from the brining ingredients used.


Ceviche is a Latin American dish made by marinating raw fish and seafood in citrus juice. The acid from the juice breaks down and denatures the proteins in the fish, effectively “cooking” it.


Challah is a braided bread made with an egg-based dough that is typically a feature of Jewish Sabbath meals but is eaten on other occasions as well. Round challahs are traditional on Rosh Hashanah. Challah is best known as a Jewish bread but is eaten by people of other cultures as well.


Any food that includes a leavening agent, such as wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt, that has leavened, is chametz. If a food contains even a trace of a leavened product, it is considered chametz, and cannot be eaten during the Jewish holiday of Passover. For more information about chametz, click here.


Chayote, also known as mirliton (especially in New Orleans) is a mint green squash of delicate flavor and creamy texture. It has a large flat pit in the center, similar to a mango.


Chipotle peppers are smoked jalapeño chilies. These fiery, smoky chilies are sold dried in bags or canned in adobo sauce, a condiment made of chilies and spices. Many recipes call for just a spoonful or two of the sauce, but the remainder of the peppers and the sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Or freeze them in an airtight container for up to two months. We’ve also mashed up the chipotles and added them to the sauce, but because the chilies are hotter than the already-hot sauce, use caution.


Chocolate is a product of the cocoa bean. Cocoa beans are harvested, processed, and mixed with other ingredients until  chocolate is produced. Chocolate is most often a combination of cocoa beans, vanilla, sugar, and lecithin. See entries for Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, and White Chocolate for more information.


Cinnamon is  a spice made from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree. It is used in sweet baked goods and in drinks as well as in curries and other savory dishes. It is available in “sticks” of bark or in powdered form. There are several varieties of cinnamon.  Cinnamomum verum, or true cinnamon, grows in Sri Lanka; it is also known as Ceylon cinnamon (Ceylon is the former name of the country of Sri Lanka) or canela. Ceylon cinnamon is prized for its subtle flavor, fine texture and enticing aroma. Other varieties of cinnamon are Indonesian cinnamon; Vietnamese cinnamon and Chinese cinnamon. The latter three are also known as cassia. Their flavors are considered harsher and their color more reddish; they are considered inferior to Ceylon cinnamon.


Ciorba is a Romanian word for a “sour soup.” Ciorba is different than soup because it is made sour using an acid such as lemons, sauerkraut juice, or other ingredients.


Claude Lévi-Strauss was a twentieth century Franco-Belgian anthropologist. He is the father of the theory of structuralism, and spent a lifetime asserting and proving that all societies have essential and similar patterns beneath the surface that are based upon the way all humans think. His philosophy of universal cultural systems applied to every aspect of a civilization, no matter how complex or how simple, from kinship to mythology, from music to linguistics and from food to table manners. Humans, he posited, all think in opposites—binary opposites, like raw and cooked. His work influenced all social sciences as well as literature and film.


Coconut milk powder is simply dehydrated coconut milk. It reconstitutes into coconut milk easily and is also used as is to boost the coconut flavor in some recipes.


Coconut nectar is the sap of the coconut tree that is tapped like maple syrup. It is prized as a sweetener because of its low glycemic index and high nutrient content.


Coconut oil is made by pressing the oils out of coconut flesh. It has a sweet and nutty flavor and is used for baking and cooking. There are two types of coconut oil refined and unrefined.  Unrefined coconut oil is best for sautéing at medium heat where the oil’s full flavor is intended as an integral part of the finished dish or, because of its unique flavor, for baking.  Refined coconut oil is best for sautéing or stir-frying over medium high heat or, because of its neutral flavor, for baking. Coconut oil can be purchased at most major supermarkets or health food stores.


Coconut palm sugar is low on the glycemic index, high in nutrients, and can be used 1 for 1 to replace cane sugar.


Coconut water is the liquid that forms naturally inside the coconut. The clear liquid is low in calories and high in potassium, and is touted by many as a healthful beverage, and an alternative to sports drinks.


Coddled eggs are soft-cooked eggs that have been lightly poached or steamed. Coddling is a gentle cooking method that relaxes the proteins in the egg, allowing for better emulsification. When an egg is properly coddled, the whites should be barely set, while the yolks should still be runny. There are two methods for making coddled eggs. For one, the egg is cracked into a small dish or ramekin, then covered and placed partially submersed in a hot water bath for several minutes. The other method calls for lowering a whole egg (uncracked) into boiling water for as little as 45 seconds to 6 minutes depending on desired temperature.


Corn starch is the starch derived from corn. It forms a white powdery substance that is most often used as a thickening agent in pie fillings, soups, and puddings. Corn starch can be purchased at all major supermarkets.


Corn syrup is a sweetener derived from corn starch. It is made up of dextrose, maltose, and glucose. Corn syrup is used in a wide range of foods as a sweetener, especially for packaged foods. There are two types of corn syrup: light and dark. Light corn syrup has had the color removed and is tasteless, while dark corn syrup is infused with caramel coloring and refiners’ syrup (also called golden syrup, a type of molasses) to give it a strong flavor and dark color. Corn syrup of both kinds can be purchased at all major supermarkets or online from a variety of vendors.


Cornichons are very small pickles, similar to gherkins. However, unlike gherkins, cornichons are milder and not sweet. They’re made from cucumbers that are picked when they are young and unripe. When pickled, the cornichons are flavored with tarragon, vinegar, mustard seeds, and pearl onions.


Cornmeal is made by grinding corn into powder. It can come in various colors, depending on what type of corn is used. Cornmeal is popular in the Americas and is often used to make dishes like tamales and tortillas. Cornmeal can be purchased at all major supermarkets.


Cotija cheese is named for its place of origin: Cotija, Mexico. It comes in two varieties, the very salty “grain” (Cotija de Montaña) version, and the tajo, which is richer and moister. Cotija is a seasonal cheese, so if you can’t find it, try crumbled Parmesan or feta.


A couscousière is a two-pot appliance used to prepare both stew and couscous at the same time. A stew simmers in the lower pot, and the steam produced rises through perforations into the top container to cook the couscous.


Couverture chocolate is a high quality chocolate which must contain at least 35 percent cacao and at least 31 percent fat. The main allure of couverture chocolate is that it has a higher percentage of cocoa butter (fat) which gives the chocolate an improved gloss, snap, and smoothness. 


Cream is a form of milk with a more concentrated amount of fat. Depending on the fat content, cream is categorized as half and half (10-12%), coffee or table cream (18%), whipping cream (35%), or heavy cream (35-40%).


Cream of coconut is a sweetened coconut product that is used in cocktails and in baked goods. It is made from skimming off the thick, creamy component of coconut milk and adding a sweetener. It is available in canned form in most supermarkets (look in the cocktail mixer aisle).


Crenshaw melon is a hybrid created by crossing Persian and casaba melons. Shaped like a teardrop, with green-to-white rind and a salmon-colored to orange interior, they are prized for their sweet, faintly spicy flavor.


Creole people are descendants of the colonial settlers of Louisiana. The term denotes that the person was born in the Americas and was of French and/or Spanish descent. Creole cuisine comes from Louisiana, especially the port city of New Orleans.


Creole mustard is made from stone-ground, whole-grain mustard blended with traditional Creole spices. It is coarse, flavorful, and has a mild taste. Creole mustard is available at most major supermarkets and online at Zatarain’s. For more information on Creole cuisine, see Creole.


The CIA, also known as the Culinary Institute of America, offers degrees in the culinary arts. They have several locations, including New York, California, Texas, and Singapore. For more information on the CIA, click here.


Cultured butter is typically lower in water content and higher in butterfat than butter made in the U.S., which makes it rich and creamy. European dairy cows eat mostly grass, rather than grain, so they produce milk and butter that some feel is far sweeter and more flavorful. Also, cultured butter is made from cream that has been cultured, or fermented, before churning, which gives it added depth of flavor. Cultured butter tends to be more expensive, so some people reserve it for spreading and eating rather than cooking, but it adds lovely flavor to cooked or baked foods and its use results in nice, flaky pastry.