Food and Drink: 10 Things That Taste Different in the U.S.

American “buddur” just doesn’t have the dense creaminess of the British variety (seen above). (Photo via BBC Food Blog)

From bread and butter to bangers and beer, so much American produce tastes nothing like the goods back home in Blighty.

American candy bars — at least the mass-market types they sell in supermarkets — are brown like British-bought chocolate, but that’s where the similarity ends. Even the filthiest European brands are velvety and complex compared to the vomit-infused, fructose-y chalk that somehow passes for chocolate here. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Hershey’s.

Tap water
H2O is different the world over, but so long as there’s no dungy, diphtheria top-note you’ll probably be okay to glug away. Just accept that it might take a while to bring round your taste buds. When I moved to New York, the water was bitter and acrid compared to the stuff I supped in southeast England. Nowadays, I’m a convert, and it’s Aqua London that’s offensive. Tastes like soapy dishwater.

Americans like to whip their diary products and unfortunately butter — or “buddur” as it’s better known — hasn’t escaped a beating. Proper dense and creamy European varieties are available in most food shops but the stuff that comes with your pancakes is always despicably fluffy and flavorless. I’m constantly tempted to smuggle blocks of Lurpak into diners.

High-fructose corn syrup is in EVERYTHING. I suspect the U.S. corn lobby would dearly love us to bathe in it. So, it’s not surprising that the humble loaf has succumbed to its sweet embrace. If you don’t want your savory sandwich filling not to taste like it’s held in place by sponge cake, you’re out of luck. Expensive, artisan bread is the only solution.

Cranberry juice
Again with the cloying sugar content. The other day, I ordered a cranberry juice in a bar and was handed glow-in-the-dark red syrup. Back home, cranberry juice is so pleasingly dry and tart you can feel it strip the skin off your esophagus.

Vive la difference on this one. British and American bacon are two of my favorite things. If I were Julie Andrews, I’d sing about them almost exclusively. So, it’s disappointing that in this land of all the stuff, nowhere can you find U.K.-style back bacon which, when cooked correctly, tastes like caramelized, smoky pig and has the texture of lightly charred leather. It’s a completely different beast from crispy American meat strips.

Sludgy, sweet links purporting to be posh and British-inspired are easy to find, at least here in NYC. They’re usually fifty percent fennel seed and unfathomably revolting. A good banger should be dense, slightly gelatinous and pork tasting. It should never feel like you’re chewing on a liquorice-infused nappy.

I’m not even going to mention those heinous orange squares that are really only good for tiling public lavatories; I’d rather focus on the U.S.-made yellow slabs that pretend to be cheddar. Mature varieties here are the equivalent of our mild to medium. You have to go to a specialist deli to find anything with bite.

Warning: artisanal American ale contains more hops than a Dr Seuss picture book. The rule seems to be: the smaller the brewery, the hoppier the product. Basically, it’s just not British. There’s plenty is good stuff here too but it won’t remind you of home.

British prawns — usually found in the supermarket freezer department in thick plastic bags — are stringy, shriveled and taste like mildly fishy sponge. In contrast, America shrimp are the size of Chihuahuas. They’re sweet, meaty and taste like they recently lived in the sea.

Join us Friday, July 26 at 1 pm ET on Twitter for a #MindTheChat on the best and worst of American food items. Follow us on Twitter.

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • gn

    Hershey’s own-brand chocolate is awful. However, they also make Cadbury’s chocolate under licence (Dairy Milk, Fruit & Nut etc.), and that tastes identical to the real thing, thank God.

    I guess that shows that the issue is simply Hershey’s recipe, rather than any inherent problem with making chocolate in the US.

    • Mark Smith

      I beg to differ. Their under licence Cadbury’s tastes nothing like, as far as I’m concerned. We’ll have to agree to disagree :-) You can get actual imported chocolate from the UK at World Market/Cost Plus though!

      • gn

        Your Cadbury’s palate is clearly far more discerning than mine :)

        Put it this way: the Cadbury’s bars Hershey’s makes under licence taste a heck of a lot better than the Hershey’s own-brand stuff.

      • Doug

        You can also get the real stuff at Fresh & Easy markets.

        • Mark Smith

          Those aren’t in my states, but I have options. Is that in California or somewhere?

    • ErynnSilver

      t isn’t the same; less cocoa butter, and made with hfcs, which tastes inferior to real sugar.

  • gn

    American cheddar is definitely milder than its British equivalent. You will want to get US/Canadian “extra-sharp” to have anything approaching British “mature”. Trader Joe’s sells some good stuff from Canada and Vermont.

  • gn

    Totally disagree about beer. There is a huge variety of micro-breweries in the US now, and they run the gamut of styles.

    • John H Harris

      I don’t know about that. Since spending ten days in Wales in 2007, I’ve been looking high and low for something that even approaches the taste of Marsden’s, and the closest I can find is Boddington’s, but it’s awfully expensive…

      • gn

        I’m not claiming that US beer tastes identical to English beer: just that it’s not all hoppy.

        You can get a lot of good imported bottled English ales (such as Old Speckled Hen) from BevMo. At least, you can in California: I’ve heard that some states still have Prohibition-era restrictions on importing alcohol.

  • GaelicSoxFan

    European chocolate is way better than American chocolate. You can get some really good European chocolate here in America at Aldi.

    • John H Harris

      Generally, US chocolate tends to be less sweet than UK/European chocolate.

      But I agree. Hershey’s is just gross. There’s a new company called Unreal that does chocolate the right way, and it’s the best I’ve tasted since a Cadbury’s Flake I bought in Wales back in 2007…

    • Jacqueline O. Moleski

      Try Meijer’s, World Market (tho’ they are expensive), and SMALL, LOCAL chocolate stores or shops. Because you’re right – European Chocolate is heaven. However, what I miss from my brief vacations in the UK and Ireland is the CANDY stores! OMG – the idea of a whole store full of candies that AREN’T chocolate — I was flabbergasted and in love. I’m a fan of lemon and of liquorice (not together) and it was awesome to be able to buy lemon candy that tasted like lemon, or licquorice (sp?) candy that tasted as it should.

  • Sarah Thompson

    I miss sausages so much living here! They’re the key ingredient to a proper English breakfast. I also think America is doing a poor job with crisps – I crave hula hoops, discos, monster munch and all of those lovely varieties we have. I do miss a good chocolate hobnob or digestive too.

    • gn

      For crisps, try Kettle Chips, or, better Cape Cod brand.

      Don’t touch anything made by Frito-Lay with a bargepole.

      • Sarah Thompson

        I really don’t like Kettle Chips…find them too greasy and salty. Not a fan of Cape Cod either. I like the more potato, less greasy variety.

        • gn

          MMmmmmm — grease!!

        • Rose

          have you ever tried pop-chips?

      • Maggie

        If you live in the middle of East Coast, the best brand for crisps is UTZ. Try “Crab Chips” next time you visit Baltimore, they’re fantastic.

    • John H Harris

      While I can only judge based on ten days in Wales back in 2007, I would say the biggest difference in “Chips” vs “Crisps” is that the US trends more toward dairy-based flavors, while the UK is more meat-based flavors.

      I suspect that, if Lays (who own Walker’s) ever started making and selling the Walker’s flavours, they would do quite well here…

      As far as sausages, I don’t know why, but to me the UK variety tasted like it had been stuffed with bread crumbs. US sausages tend to have a much higher percentage of meat to filler.

      • Monkey_pants

        I do miss the weird meat flavors you get in the U.K. They’re surprisingly good.

      • Maggie

        I noticed that when I was in Spain. I had Ham and Rotisserie Chicken flavored chips there.

    • Jillian

      Poor job? With all due respect, America and Britain are two different countries. Companies are different, of course not everything you had over the Atlantic will be brought over. We aren’t colonies anymore, you know. America is a melting pot, different cultures. We cannot accommodate everything you need to feel like you’re in the UK again. If you want a proper English breakfast and you lovely crisps, one thing we are not short of is international airports.

  • Paul

    Really good English Bacon and Sausages available at Myers of Keswick in New York. If you’re in NY give them a try!

    • Sarah Thompson

      Bloody expensive though…but very good agreed!

    • Mark Smith

      There’s a great British butcher in Alexandria, VA for anyone in the DC metro area – “Let’s Meat on the Avenue”

  • Joel

    I have to disagree with the cranberry juice, and possibly some of your additional observations. The only cranberry juice I’ve ever drank (as an American) is dry and tart, not heavily colored, and commonly found in most any grocer. However, I also live in the Southern U.S., eastern Tennessee. This is the reason why I said, I also possibly disagree with some of the other observations. Everything tastes different, form water to chocolate, depending on where in the country you are buying it. This includes bottled beverages, which are massed distributed, but nonetheless bottled regionally, and mixed using the water of whichever municipality their bottling company is located in.

    • expatmum

      Must be a regional thing as in the Mid-west you can get a dozen different kinds of cranberry drinks, and some of them are very sweet too.

    • Tim

      The trick with cranberry juice is to avoid “cocktail” That generally refers to a mix of cranberry apple grape and the afore mentioned high fructose corn syrup. FINDING cranberry juice that isn’t a “cocktail” is the harder part.

  • Kate

    I was expecting you to mention the beef. I don’t know why, but the beef when I was in the UK and Ireland always tasted funky to me.

    • SaxonChap

      That’s because we don’t load them with antibiotics and hormones etc. You’re missing the fine chemicals they pump in the animals over here.

      • Aren

        Actually, no. If you’ve ever had British beef you would know it tastes markedly different, which is not due to hormones or chemicals.

  • Leah Cunningham Pouw

    You need to check out Gene’s Sausage Shop in Chicago to get some good bacon, beer and sausages…

  • Monkey_pants

    I’m tired of the Brits touting their chocolate. British chocolates are sour and cheap tasting. Really no better than their American counterparts. Can we just agree that the Swiss and Belgians do it best?

    • gn

      British chocolate is pretty low quality, but it’s the stuff we grew up with!

  • Monkey_pants

    Regarding cheese, bread and butter – it’s very obvious you haven’t spent any significant time in N. California. Our dairy products and bread rival anything in Europe.

    • John H Harris

      Agreed. The reviewer should get out of the Five Boroughs and drive about five hours or so west on I-86 to a place called Cuba, NY. The cheese made there is made correctly and inexpensively, which is a rare combination…

      • Monkey_pants

        I wish I could visit. The problem with these generalizations about American food is that America is a pretty big place. A typical meal is San Francisco is very different from typical meal in Hoboken.

        • Jo-mama

          I agree. We have a very large country
          with incredible diversity and one can not judge by the ten block radius
          in which you are traveling. The author might have titled this article “10 Things That Taste Different In New York City.”

          Say what you want about the “fly-over” part of the country, but we know
          quality and real ingredients in the Mid-West. (I know that New York and
          Vermont both produce some amazing products, particularly in the meat
          and cheese departments.)

          I gave my daughter $10.00 to take to the farmer’s market the other
          weekend when she was hanging with Oma and Opa. She brought home a pound
          of a beautiful white farmer’s cheese, four handfuls of green beans, an
          acorn squash, spaghetti squash, 8 end of season tomatoes, 3 onion rolls
          and a baguette, 6 apples and a jar each of home-made salsa, peach butter
          and persimmon jam.

          It is not difficult to make your own butter, bread and chips. Heck, my dad brews his own beer.

          But hey; it’s more fun to complain than search out the good stuff at a good price!

        • Jacqueline O. Moleski

          EXCELLENT point! And I’ve seen Americans make the same generalizations. I just watched a video course with a professor who — you could tell — had only lived in New York, Stanford CA, and Louisiana. He had NO CLUE about the Midwest. Brilliant guy, but his assumptions kinda’ drove me nuts.

    • doobrah

      You want sharp cheese that tastes like cheese? Get Cabot Extra Sharp Hunter’s Cheddar with the plaid wrapper.

    • Jacqueline O. Moleski

      Or Wisconsin! That’s where you get GOOD cheese. The trick is do NOT buy so-called “American cheese” it’s basically colored oil pressed into a square shape and dried out. Buy small, local, artisan cheeses. Surely, they must have SOME in New York! Check the Deli section of the supermarket instead of the cheese section. (And if you MUST buy a national brand, like colby for melting, buy Sargento or anything BUT Kraft. I mean, seriously, would *you* trust a cigarette manufactor to make cheese? Kraft is owned by Phillip Morris).

      • ErynnSilver

        Try a strong British cheddar, and you’ll know why this is’t true. And not the regular imported versions, either. WI is better than mos, but seriously, go British or go home when it comes to cheddar.

    • ErynnSilver

      No. Really, no. Sorry, but even the best cheddar doesn’t compare to British and the other varieties have superior European counterparts. You do excellent spreadable cheese… that’s really it, Ice-cream ion the other hand… oh my gods, you people do ice-cream like it;s ambrosia.

  • Michael LaRocca

    More reasons never to marry an American. Aren’t you glad you got rid of us?

  • Michael LaRocca

    Every American knows that Hershey’s and Mars are not chocolate.

    Likewise, every American knows where to get Canadian back bacon. I don’t know how that measures up to British standard, since the reviewer doesn’t address that.

    • John H Harris

      Very closely. Here in Jamestown, NY (on the other side of Lake Erie from southern Ontario), Canadian Bacon, as it’s known, is quite common, and it’s nearly identical to what I ate in Wales during a ten-day trip to visit friends back in 2007.

      The British version is ever so slightly saltier, but that’s the only difference I could taste.

      • SaxonChap

        Canadian bacon is much thicker than English. English bacon is basically like American but with meat. American bacon is just a rasher of fat.

    • ErynnSilver

      sadly it’s missing the fat… :(

  • Marc McFarland

    Re: bacon. In the states, if you look for “Canadian bacon” rather than back bacon, you may find what you’re looking for.

    • expatmum

      Although Canadian bacon is delicious, it’s not really like the bacon we get in the UK’ it’s a bit thicker. Here in Chicago we’re lucky that we have Spencer’s Jolly Posh British and Irish goods, (online too – that not only sells great sausages and bacon, but I can get almost anything that takes my fancy now. Jammy Dodgers, Dettol, Walkers crisps, Curly Wurlys. Yum.

    • Val Black

      Canadian bacon and British bacon are 2 totally different things

  • John H Harris

    American sausages tend to be denser due to the fact that fewer fillers are used. When I visited Wales back in 2007, the sausages tasted they were full of bread crumbs…

  • Nergie

    I’m with you on the sausages. Spent a good load of time in NYC for a bit and the sausages are the most god awful excuses of a banger i ever a came across. You cant have em in butties and you cant have em in a fry up. Not without destroying any sense of pride you had left. Give me a beautiful cumberland or lincolnshire buttie with lashing of HP anywhere. (Though on a seperate note i did find HP in a supermarket on long island which oddly had an English section. They called the HP steak sauce though so i had to mark them down for that.)

  • CO2VA

    “So, it’s disappointing that in this land of all the stuff, nowhere can you find U.K.-style back bacon” So true, so true, I miss back bacon as much as anything else. What wouldn’t I give for a big bacon butty!

  • Tracy Palma

    Ruth, if you did your homework correctly then you would know that Oscar’s Adirondack Smokehouse in Warrensburg, NY makes every kind of bacon you could ever want. And why the hell are you comparing restaurant food service grade butter to actual butter you buy in the market? That’s apples and oranges, as is cheap bar cranberry juice cocktail vs 100% juice you can also buy at your local market. And nobody’s forcing you to eat a Hershey bar. They’re not the be all, end all, just the biggest manufacturer. Find your nearest Gertrude Hawk store and ask for a sample of their chocolate. Way better than Hershey. Seriously, you should really explore the state you’re calling home before crying about the food.

  • Maya

    i’m not a brit, but i am not an american either, i did move to the US last year and have found it hard to get used to many of the local americans food way. i agree with just about everything you said. from the chocolate, to the cheese, to the disgusting corn syrup all the way to the sea food.
    as for the water issue, i can’t drink the bitter tap or bottled american stuff, i cash out and buy Evian, expensive as hell, but i simply can’t drink anything else.

    • gn

      You didn’t even like the bottled water?

    • Maggie

      The tap water is fine if you filter it. Just buy a Bobble (water bottle with filter).

    • gn

      BTW I can’t stand Evian. If that’s your favorite water, that would explain a lot :)

  • Monkey_pants

    The only food I really miss from Scotland are the fresh chips (fries) you get from the chippy with the homemade brown sauce. When you’re a little (or a lot) drunk at 1am and you get those warm chips drowned in brown sauce – mmm, food of the gods.

    • Val Black

      OH you made me want a fish supper its like nothing else far better than any fish and chips in England

  • TexPat

    And I thought my taste buds were giving out on me after all these years in the US. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not crazy…

  • expatmum

    One thing I haven’t managed to like, even after 2 decades, is the high cinnamon presence here. Thanksgiving is possibly one of the worst times for me as even the sweet potatoes are often mixed with it. Yuck!

  • Jacqueline O. Moleski

    RE: WATER (as comments below have remarked) — I have no idea what the water is like in New York, but I know in Michigan it’s so hard you could bounce a quarter off it. Water varies a LOT no matter where you are or what country you are in. Water in the US is also usually chemically treated, which might be the acrid taste you picked up on. I will say that the water in Ireland was the softest I’ve EVER encountered and I loved it! (Mich water is so hard it makes cleaning anything, including yourself, difficult – it really does.)

    • Cherilyn from CA

      “…but I know in Michigan it’s so hard you could bounce a quarter off it.”

      That’s a shame. I am so sorry (and dying of laughter).

  • Alexis

    Yah your nice your basically just saying American food is disgusting and your being really rude to us

  • Wired Whale

    I live near Hershey, PA. We know chocolate. It may not be as strong as German or Swiss chocolate, but guess what? I’ve NEVER heard anything good about British chocolate. I’ve had German, Swiss, South American, Mexican, and Hershey’s, and each one is unique and tasty in its own way. British chocolate? Might as well be Chinese chocolate.

  • SoonerDog

    I have to agree with Ruth’s analysis of American Bread, Butter and particularly Chocolate. I’m American and have visited over 40 of the 50 States- Northern California, Hershey, PA, Wisconsin, New York, Boston, etc, etc. She is absolutely correct when she says American versions of these foods are poor. ALL European chocolate is markedly better than the stuff made here. Even Godiva is inferior to the chocolates from Europe. European butter and cheese is vastly superior to anything made in Wisconsin, California or anywhere else in the US. And the Bread- what we accept as decent wouldn’t be touched in the UK. Not only that, but buy a loaf of sliced bread here and it will still be fairly edible 3 weeks later. A loaf of brad in Europe will be moldy in 3 to 4 days- What does that tell you about the chemicals we Americans are ingesting? Give me Wharbarton’s Seeded Batch any day! Now there are things that are much better here than there, but when it comes to dairy, bread or candy (especially chocolate) the USA is in the dark ages compared to Europe. For those who disagree I can only say- Anyone who things American chocolate is good hasn’t been to Belgium.

  • Mary

    Did you notice you said candy bar? If it were a chocolate bar, you’d call it a chocolate bar, right?

  • ErynnSilver

    You missed Yogurt. WTF is it with bland, fat free/greek yogurt? Where is all the REAL yogurt?

    • gn

      Trader Joe’s has some pretty good yogurt.

  • Josie

    Wow, this is really rude. We don’t insult your foods. Tap water taste changes all over the country. Hey, it changes all over this town alone. Don’t be rude.

  • Aren

    You do realize that New York City isn’t representative of the entire United States, right? Also, our tastes are usually formed by what we grew up on. Therefore to you, and to many posters, British food may in fact be superior. However, to Americans, the varieties found in the States are much better than their equivalents across the pond.
    Basically, I’m tired of people always bashing each other’s countries.

  • Amy B.

    Most of the American food unpleasantness can be avoided by hanging out with food snobs like me, and frequenting snobby food markets. No “foodie” I know would stoop to Hershey’s, the chocolate of the masses, which tastes like chocolate-flavored wax to me, due to the low cocoa butter content. Also, I don’t particularly like hoppiness, so I tend to avoid most ales and stick with “micro-brew” or artisinal lagers, stouts and porters. Also, nearly any decent place (at least in Boston) will at least have Guinness on tap, if not several selections that aren’t Budweiser or some other swill. I can find actual UK cheese and cultured butter in my local supermarket, but we have lots of expat Irish.

  • Rose

    Anyone know which country has better vegetarian food?

  • Lisa Huntsman McAda

    If you are in the Southern U.S., try what they call “country ham.” Closest thing to British bacon you’ll find here.