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Food Fight! Tipping The Scale On These Well-Known Food Debates

You know the debates. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Are ravioli dumplings? Is X a Y?

These debates are all about definitions—and trying to see if words can be forced into categories where they don’t usually fit (usually just for fun). But just because a food technically fits all the criteria to be called a particular type of something doesn’t mean people call it that or think of it that way.

You didn’t order it, but we’re serving it up anyway. Dictionary.com weighs in on some of your meatiest debates. Will they be settled once and for all, or heated up anew?

Is a hot dog a sandwich?

This is one food debate that people claim to settle every so often, only for it to be brought back up once again (yes, sorry, we’ve brought it up again). Yet if you look at the question from a definitional standpoint, the answer is clear: a hot dog technically fits into the definition of a sandwich

A sandwich is two or more slices of bread with a layer of meat, fish, cheese, and whatever other filling you’d like between them. The definition also expands to partially-slit bread rolls with a filling—hot dogs, of course, fall into this category. 

By definition, a hot dog is a frankfurter on a split roll.

Verdict: Yes, a hot dog meets the definition of a sandwich—we call plenty of other split-roll-and-filling combinations “sandwiches.” It’s just that no one thinks of a hot dog as a “sandwich”—except perhaps now, because of this whole debate. We’ll leave you with this: no one questions the term sausage sandwich, right? And a hot dog is a kind of sausage, so …

 

Why do we call it a frankfurter, or a weiner, anyway?

Is cereal soup?

The cereal we’re talking about here is the breakfast food—typically grain-based flakes or O’s or bits that you put into a bowl before pouring in milk (or a milk substitute). 

And you know what soup is. Soups are most commonly hot, but they can also be cold (such as gazpacho). The defining characteristic of soup is that it’s liquid-based. Soups can be brothy or creamy, but when a particular dish gets so thick and full of solid ingredients that it’s more solid than liquid, we typically call that a stew.  

Back to cereal. The debate revolves around whether the addition of milk to breakfast cereal technically makes it a soup because the dish is primarily liquid with solid ingredients floating in it—sounds a lot like soup, right? 

And if you think about it, cereal is perhaps the only other primarily liquid food that we regularly eat with a spoon. 

Verdict: In this case, we’ll paraphrase the Supreme Court: we know soup when we see it—and no, cereal is not soup. This is the whole point of words, really—so you can order the soup of the day without having cereal brought to the table.

Is deep dish pizza a casserole?

Blessedly, there are many varieties of pizza. One especially beloved in Chicago is deep dish pizza, which is made by putting layers of crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings into a high-sided dish or pan and then baking it. Which invites the question of whether it’s really pizza (generally defined as a flat, open-faced baked pie of Italian origin made with the same ingredients).

Deep dish pizza fits the pizza definition, but it turns out that it could be classified in the casserole category, too. The word casserole refers to an earthenware, glass, or aluminum dish that a food is both cooked and served in—and by extension it is commonly used to refer to the food that’s cooked and served in said dish.

Verdict: While deep dish pizzas may be baked in the style of casseroles, you’d never order one as the other. That said, if we ordered a casserole and a deep dish pizza arrived, who are we to argue?

Is a tomato a fruit?

Many people have been told to eat their fruits and veggies to stay healthy. When it comes to tomatoes, some may have the question of whether it falls into the fruit category or the vegetable category.

A fruit is the edible ovary of a seed plant that’s developed from a flower. This is the part of the tomato plant you eat, making it—botanically speaking—a fruit. That said, a lot of other vegetables are technically fruits, but culinarily, we treat them as vegetables.

Someone once said that “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.” (Google “watermelon tomato salad,” though, and you’ll get 46 million results begging to differ.)

Verdict: Yes, a tomato is technically a fruit, but in cooking (and eating), it’s traditionally treated as a vegetable. Most people don’t pick up a tomato and take a bite out of it like an apple or a peach. Yes, we know you’re going to try this just to prove us wrong.

Is a wrap a burrito?

Few foods can match up to the convenience of a burrito or wrap. The word burrito was first recorded in the 1940s and can be traced back to the Mexican state of Guerrero, where it originally referred to a kind of stuffed taco. It’s since come to mean a tortilla folded over a filling such as ground beef, grated cheese, or refried beans. A wrap gets its name for how it’s made: a filling that’s folded into a tortilla or other tortilla-like covering called a wrap

Though they’re often separated by what type of ingredients are inside, the two are defined in the same way. 

Verdict: All burritos are wraps, but not all wraps are burritos.

 

Have you ever served your texts with a burrito emoji 🌯?

Is popcorn a chip?

Popcorn, obviously, comes from corn, and some types of chips are made with corn, but popcorn does not fall into the larger chip category. A chip is a slice or small piece of food that’s typically been fried or baked into a small, crispy shape. Popcorn consists of whole corn kernels that have burst open and puffed up due to being heated.

Verdict: Of course not. But we’ll gladly eat both.

Is a pie a cake?

Some people are pie people while others are cake people. But is a pie a cake? By definition, no. A pie is a baked food in a pastry-lined dish with fruit, meat, pudding, or other filling, often topped with a pastry crust. In contrast, a cake is a bread-like food that usually is made with some assortment of flour, sugar, baking powder or soda, eggs, and flavoring. They’re both commonly served as desserts, and the two are sometimes even combined in some way, but they’re different in taste, texture, and how they’re made.

Verdict: No, pie is not a cake, but both are delicious. (Editor’s note: But cake is way better.) [Editor’s editor’s note: Incorrect—pie is the best!]

Are ravioli dumplings?

Dumplings can be one of two things: a rounded mass of steamed and seasoned dough that’s often served with meat or in a soup, or a meat or vegetable filling that’s encased in a dough and cooked.

Many cultures have a version of a small piece of dough with a filling—samosas from India, pierogies from Poland, Hot Pockets from the freezer section. From Italy comes ravioli (or raviolo if you’re only talking about one)—small cases of pasta stuffed with meat, cheese, or another filling and often served with a tomato sauce. While ravioli translates to “little turnips” in Italian, they are indeed in the dumpling category rather than a variety of turnip.

Verdict: Yes! Ravioli is a dumpling whose dough is pasta.

 

Mmm, now is a primo time to talk about pasta, specifically the different types and their names.

Is frozen yogurt ice cream?

There are many types of frozen sweets (sherbet, sorbet, gelato) that are often lumped together as ice cream. Some fit the definition, but frozen yogurt (or fro-yo, as it’s sometimes shortened) is not one of them. The difference is right there in the name. 

Technically speaking, ice cream contains cream or milk or both, along with sugar, flavoring, and sometimes eggs. Frozen yogurt has similar ingredients, but it replaces most or all of the cream or milk with yogurt.  

Cream and yogurt are both derived from milk. But cream is the fatty part of milk, which rises to the surface when the liquid is allowed to stand unless homogenized. Yogurt is made from milk curdled by the action of bacterial cultures, oftentimes sweetened or flavored. 

Still, the term ice cream is often used generally—especially to refer to nondairy varieties made with other sources of fat, like coconut milk, oat milk, or avocado. 

Verdict: It may be soft-serve, but it’s a hard no. Sorry, fro-yo, you’re just not ice cream. (And anyone who says so is fooling themself.)

Is a club soda a soft drink?

The term soft drink simply refers to a beverage that’s nonalcoholic (as opposed to a hard drink—any drink with alcohol).

By definition, club soda is one of a number of variations on soda water, or an effervescent beverage water that’s carbonated with carbon dioxide.

Soda water is commonly sweetened with flavors like lemon-lime, cola, and orange. There are various words for these carbonated soft drinks—soda and pop are the most popular. But not all soft drinks are carbonated, and not all of them are sweetened or flavored.

Verdict: Yes, but the term soft drink is most commonly understood to mean sugary carbonated drinks, like Coke or Pepsi.

Is a taco a sandwich?

Tacos and sandwiches are loved around the world, but originally come from two different cultures. A taco is made from a folded tortilla (a thin, round, unleavened bread made from cornmeal or flour—sometimes soft and sometimes fried and crunchy). It’s served folded or rolled with a filling of meat or vegetables. Tortillas are an ancient concept that could date as far back as 10,000 BCE within Aztec and Mayan civilizations, but the taco itself may have originated in Mexico in the 1700s. Meanwhile, the history of the bread was unrolling in the Middle East and Europe along a similar time frame, starting with unleavened bread (like a tortilla) that most resembles Indian chapatis.

Since a sandwich only requires bread with a filling—there’s no specification on whether the bread needs to be leavened—tacos technically, from a definition standpoint at least, can be considered a subcategory of sandwiches.

For evidence, note that some restaurants list tacos under the “sandwich” portion of their menu. Although others avoid this by categorizing both under the label of “hand-helds.”

Verdict: If you consider a tortilla a kind of bread, then a taco could be considered a type of sandwich, but you don’t need to be the kind of person who calls a taco a sandwich, OK? See also: “Is a hot dog a sandwich?”

 

Pepper your word skills with some fun discussion on another food debate: is fish considered meat?