We’re still looking at food and drink this month, or more particularly, the words that we use to refer to pieces and quantities. (There are a surprising number of them, each with a slightly different meaning.)
We’ll start with food. Many words for pieces of food refer specifically to the shape or size of the piece, and some refer to both. A very thin slice of food may be called a sliver: She took a sharp knife and cut a sliver of cheese. A hunk of food, such as bread or cheese, is a big, thick piece of it, often with no clear shape: He pulled off a great hunk of bread. Chunks are fairly large, roughly cut pieces of food: big chunks of meat in gravy/Cut the vegetables roughly into chunks. A slab is a large, thick, flat slice of food, such as meat or cheese: I didn’t really fancy a big slab of meat. A wedge of food, meanwhile, is a piece in the shape of a triangle: a wedge of lemon/cheese.
Other words are associated with particular foods. In British English, you sometimes hear the phrase a knob of butter, meaning ‘a small piece of butter’: Heat a knob of butter in the pan. People sometimes refer to a large, round lump of cream, ice cream, or other soft food as a dollop: a slice of cake with a large dollop of whipped cream
A sprinkling or a scattering of a food such as cheese or herbs, refers to a lot of small pieces dropped over a surface: Top each bowl with a generous sprinkling of fresh mint.
A taste is a very small amount of food or drink that you taste in order to try it: Here, have a taste of this soup. Isn’t it delicious? If a dish has a hint of a particular food or drink in it, it has a very small amount that you can only just taste: There’s just a hint of orange in the sauce. A pinch is a very small amount of a food that is like a powder: a pinch of salt/sugar/dried thyme.
And so to drink and liquid food. A drop is often used to mean ‘a small amount’: More wine, Paul?” “Just a drop, please.” A dash and a splash are also small amounts, but usually of a liquid food added to something else, such as milk or cream to tea or coffee: “Cream with your coffee, Amy?” “Yes please – just a dash/splash.” An amount of strong alcoholic drink that you can swallow at one time might be referred to informally as a slug: She took a slug of vodka. Interestingly, you also hear ‘slug’ used in a cooking context, often in combination with the word ‘oil’: Add a generous slug of olive oil and gently mix in. A blob, meanwhile, is a fat, round drop of a sticky, thick liquid: a blob of cream/tomato sauce.
So when cooking, it helps to know your blobs from your hunks, and your knobs from your slugs…!