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What is dessert?

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Written by foodie pam   
Wednesday, 13 September 2006
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Here at Project Foodie we've been thinking up food related polls.  One poll we'll be posting soon is "How often do you eat dessert?". (For list of current/past polls goto Foodie Polls ).   At first it seems like a simple question but once I started thinking about it I realized perhaps its not so simple to define dessert and thereby how often we eat it.  Husband and I try to eat healthy - watching our sugar and fat in-take.  So typically after we are done eating our main dinner entree we have fruit.  Is that dessert?  We call it dessert asking "What would you like for dessert a plum or some grapes?".  But somehow it doesn't seem to fall in the same category as a piece of cake, ice cream or a nice piece of apple crisp.  Hence the question what is dessert? As with most things I turned to the web to find out.


According to Wikipedia  dessert is: 

"Dessert is a course that typically comes at the end of a dinner, usually consisting of sweet food but sometimes of a strongly-flavored one, such as some cheeses. The word comes from the Old French desservir, "to clear the table.""

Hmmm. Fruit can be sweet but not always and I'm not sure I'd call it strongly-flavored at least not in the tone of cheese.  However cheese and sweet food do have something in common that fruit doesn't: they both have lots of calories (and typically fat!).  But what about the "typically comes at the end of a dinner" aspect of the dessert definition.  We always eat the fruit at the end of the dinner but then we also eat it after lunch, in the middle of the day or in the evening.  The same can be said of a sweet food but less typically of a cheese course.

Off to another web source.  had a rather different definition of dessert as:

"1.    cake, pie, fruit, pudding, ice cream, etc., served as the final course of a meal."

Now that fits with what I would typically call dessert.  High calorie, high fat and not very healthy for you!  In other words -  a treat for yourself after a pleasant meal.  So perhaps fruit isn't dessert - I mean it's not high in fat, hasn't many less calories that a "sweet dessert" and is generally considered healthy for you.

But both and wikipedia added one more slant to the dessert definition.  With also saying as second alternative definition that dessert is:

"2. British. a serving of fresh fruit after the main course of a meal."

And wikipedia saying:

"The word dessert is most commonly used in Ireland, U.S., Canada, Australia and France, while sweet, pudding or afters would be more typical in the UK and some other Commonwealth countries for this course. According to Debrett's, pudding is the proper term, dessert is only to be used if the course consists of fruit, and sweet is colloquial."

Ah ha!  More confusion.  Apparently, fruit is dessert but only if you're British!  So does that answer the question? Fruit is dessert but not the primary definition of dessert.  I'm not sure.  As I see it Fruit can be dessert but it is not the traditional type of dessert one thinks of when asked, for example, at a restaurant if you would like dessert.  One can hope, however, that as healthier eating becomes more prevalent the primary definition of dessert can be reworked to include fruit and we can call those sweet, high calorie, high fat forms of dessert something else like a treat or tempation or go with the British form and call it pudding. But you can't have any pudding until you finish your dinner! Or as Pink Floyd would put it "If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding" Smile



Last Updated ( Saturday, 24 February 2007 )
Defining Dessert
Myfanwy (Registered) 2006-09-19 20:42:54

Online dictionaries are fine, but I'm a "wordie" in addition to being a "foodie" and I always fall back on my Oxford English Dictionary. The OED definition is: "A course of fruit, nuts, sweets, etc., served at the end of a meal. Also (orig. US) a pudding or sweet course." Hey, there's that Pink Floyd connection again...! But why does the OED - the dictionary from ENGLAND - say pudding is US, and Wikipedia calls it British? Simple nomenclature, or conceptual issues? Is to think about.

Anyway, at our house, we have fruit for dessert fairly often. Occasionally we even classify popcorn as dessert - hey, I have a 9 year old! Of course, he sometimes asks for (and gets) a Pop Tart... at least we don't pretend the Pop Tart is actually food. Ditto for Cap'n Crunch.
Anonymous (Unregistered) 2007-05-10 12:01:15

Anonymous (Unregistered) 2008-01-11 08:59:27

Anonymous (Unregistered) 2008-01-11 09:00:30

i think you guys need to have a better definition for dessert.
Anonymous (Unregistered) 2008-03-12 08:23:26

What you didn't include in you definition from Wikipedia is the following:

"Common desserts include cakes, cookies, fruits, pastries, ice cream, and candies."

If you look at the complete definitions from all sources, fruit is mentioned in all of them. So there really is no question about whether fruit is a dessert or not, clearly it is.
Definition depends on culture
Martin Velez (Unregistered) 2010-03-18 13:13:54

This word is very difficult to define. I believe the reason is due primarily to cultural differences and even dietary differences.
Tanny Gautama (Unregistered) 2011-04-25 05:40:43

I tend to agree with Mr. Velez that the concept of "dessert" differs due to differences in culture and in diet types. In Indonesia "dessert" is known as "pencuci mulut" which means "palate cleanser". Fruits are the most popular palate cleanser/dessert.
Dessert is sweet
Trudy B. (Unregistered) 2013-09-18 22:12:22

I am becoming so discouraged with the "uppity" chefs judging desserts too sweet and wanting a savory dessert. Thus I looked up the definition... Nope, nothing about savory and dessert being connected. I think we all can agree that dessert is not savory!
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