A Matter of Taste: An Expat on Differences Between British and American Palates

(Photo: Fotolia)

(Photo: Fotolia)

Sometime during the early 1990s, a new and exciting breakfast product appeared on the shelves of British supermarkets. I was aware of Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts thanks to American television shows, and when I saw boxes of them stacked into a great pyramid at the end of aisle seven down our local Sainsbury’s, my excitement was almost too much to bear. Through a devoted system of accompanying my mother on her weekly grocery runs backed up by a chorus of methodical whining and heavy negotiating, I was eventually able to wear her down enough that she gave in and bought me a pack. I would now be enjoying sugarcoated chocolate pastries for breakfast instead of plain old Weetabix. Life was finally complete.

Or so I thought.

Much to my surprise, I found that I didn’t care much for something so sweet and sugary first thing in the morning and before long I was back on the ‘Bix. Years later, as an adult recently expatriated to the U.S., I discovered that sugar could be found on all variety of American foodstuffs, and often where you’d least expect it—bacon, baked beans, even bread. Nothing, it seemed, escaped a dusting.

Of the three main meals, breakfast appeared to be particularly heavily hit. I would observe Americans in diners with curious wonderment as they drizzled maple syrup all over their sausages and bacon and then chowed it down merrily with a mouthful of pancake. So one day, in the spirit of culinary adventure, I decided to give it a whirl. Unfortunately, the syrupy sweetness combined with the salty meat was unpalatable upon my British buds (truth be told I found it repugnant), and it would appear that I was not alone in my assessment. In their book Eating In America: A History, authors Waverly Root and Richard De Rochemont describe maple sugar as “a flavor too strange and too assertive to charm European palates” and note that to this day it is virtually unknown on the Continent.

A few months after the maple syrup incident, I was invited to my first Thanksgiving. Somewhat naively, I envisioned the meal to be similar to a traditional British Christmas dinner, and parts of it were, but there was one dish on the table that I assumed was some kind of terrible mistake: the brown sugar-glazed sweet potatoes with marshmallows. Surely this thing was supposed to be served with ice cream as a dessert? I recall watching in horror as my fellow diners forked it into their mouths with slices of gravy-soaked turkey. How could they so recklessly mix sweet with savory? Needless to say I didn’t enjoy the yams, but I loved the idea of the creators of this dish conspiring together to make an innocent vegetable into a side that packed more sugar than a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola.

“Here, try the yams. Do you think they’re sweet enough?”

“Hmm. They could use a little brown sugar to make them pop.”

“Okay. How about now?”

“This is gonna sound crazy, but why don’t we throw in a packet of marshmallows?”

The issue of condiments is another cultural distinction separating British and American taste buds. The popularity of sweet sauces such as honey mustard and barbeque in the U.S. certainly seems to be in keeping with America’s penchant for mixing sweet with savory. Fries—or chips as they’re known in the U.K.—are a good way of highlighting this transatlantic nuance. Fries in America are almost exclusively accompanied by tomato ketchup, and although many Brits enjoy them this way too, chips in Britain are an edible blank canvas frequently paired with an array of less sugary condiments such as mayonnaise, gravy, curry sauce and vinegar, to name a few.

A possible explanation for this is that by the time Heinz got around to exporting their ketchup to the U.K. in the late 1800s, most Brits’ buds had already evolved to prefer savory condiments over sweet on salty foods. America, by contrast and as a relatively young nation, had yet to fully develop its national palate. Interestingly, the top-selling condiment in America is actually mayonnaise (the U.S. consumes more than $2 billion worth annually compared to around $800 million for ketchup). However, this statistic is slightly misleading because mayo is not only a condiment but also a common ingredient in things like tuna salads, coleslaw, dips and dressings.

Whenever American friends of mine visit Britain, they usually return with two principal complaints—the weather and the food. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done about the rain, and the food is simply a matter of subjectivity. They think it strange we compliment roast lamb with mint sauce, but I find it odd that they put ranch dressing on pizza. They consider pork pies repulsive; ditto me with beef jerky. While I don’t understand their preoccupation with peanut butter, they can’t comprehend my unwavering loyalty to Marmite. In the Americans’ defense, Britain does have a fondness for labeling its national dishes with somewhat unappetizing names—toad in the hole, shepherd’s pie, bubble and squeak. I mean, if I didn’t know any better, I’d be hesitant to order something called spotted dick too.

See more:
9 British Dishes Everyone Should Try
6 American Food Habits Brits Will Never Understand
7 British Food Habits Americans Will Never Understand

What differences have you noticed between the British and American palates? Tell us in the comments below:

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Jon Langford

Jon Langford is a British expat living in NYC where he is often asked if he’s Australian on account of his Yorkshire accent. He is a freelance copywriter and journalist, and has been published in many sports and pop culture outlets including Major League Soccer, Time Out magazine, Inked magazine and Smitten by Britain. As bassist of alternative rock group The Chevin he has toured the world over, appearing on Conan, the Late Show with David Letterman and Last Call with Carson Daly. Follow him on Twitter at @Jon_LangfordNYC.
View all posts by Jon Langford.
  • catmom3

    Not every American eats pounds of sugar with breakfast, or any other meal. I detest maple bacon, I have never eaten sweet potatoes with marshmallows and I only put salt on my fries (chips). And while I was permitted the occasional Pop-Tart as a kid, it wasn’t breakfast, it was a snack or a treat.

    Personally, I don’t understand the British love of curry. That’s a once-in-a-while spice to me, not a standard.

    • Anon

      “Curry” refers, internationally, to any number of sauces varying in color, flavor, ingredients and consistency. It certainly does not refer to any single spice despite sharing a name with a generic spice mix called “curry powder.”

      • Sarah Connor-Reese

        There is a more or less standard British style curry, though. I don’t care for it. I prefer Indian or Thai curries. Oh yes, and I’m one of those less evolved palate-having Americans.

        • Gingerone

          The brit version of curry is similar to Americanized”chinese” food. It doesn’t exist outside of Britain and is not at all Indian.

    • MrBrit

      Most Americans I know add hot sauce to all non-dessert food

      • Gingerone

        Really. And how many do you know. There are quite a lot of us. Millions.
        I don’t use hot sauce or ranch dressing on anything. Shocker.

        • Sekhat Temporus

          well he says “most American’s he knows”, which, assuming you don’t know him, would not include you in that statement or the many millions of other American you alluded to.

      • Firespirit

        Not this American.

    • meep

      I agree with you. I am american and HATE Sweet Potatoes and marshmallows and with pop tarts I can only eat one once in a while cause they can get too sweet for the tooth. I have never been much into sugar. Not all Americans eat the same just like I am sure not all British people like certain foods they have. I guess it more on where you visit when you see a lot of sugary foods.

  • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

    I too, have never been able to stomach sweet and savory on the same fork, however, the worst possible offender has to be pizzas with ham and pineapple. Hot pineapple? Yuck. Fortunately I only encounter them in the UK!

    • farsighted

      Never really thought about the breakfast sugary stuff much; but I don’t eat that way any longer. Maple syrup on pancakes or waffles is okay once in awhile, but honestly not very healthy as a daily routine. And don’t go on about the sugary breakfast cereals… and you forgot the doughnuts. I think the sweet with meat stuff though comes from the Germans; they like putting applesauce with pork chops, etc. Actually I like pizza with ham and pineapple. It’s an interesting taste. But usually stick with pepperoni. :D. I’m not crazy about fish on pizza either, but the Japanese love it! Last time I was in the UK I kept getting chips served with everything I seemed to order, and asked if I wanted mayo with it. huh? And everything seems to be fried. 😀

      • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

        See now I have no problem with chips and mayo. Chips and gravy, not so much!

        • Sarah Connor-Reese

          Chips and gravy makes more intuitive sense, though. It’s a potato after all. Gravy goes well with potatoes, as I think we can all agree.

    • maggie

      You can get ham and pineapple pizzas here in NH

    • MontanaRed

      But do you eat fruit pies or cobblers warm? I don’t see much of a difference between those and the pineapple thing.

      • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

        There is to my palate!

    • Max_Freedom

      Ham and Pineapple pizza is usually called Hawaiian Pizza. It’s not for everyone, but lots of people like it.
      Chocolate covered pretzels might change your mind!

    • Jean | DelightfulRepast.com

      Toni, I so agree.Ham and pineapple on pizza is NOT for me! Marshmallows on sweet potatoes (or anything else, for that matter), yuck! And I’ve never eaten a PopTart in my entire American life.

    • Sarah Connor-Reese

      I don’t really think that what’s going on that makes the ham and pineapple pizza appealing is necessarily the mixture of sweet and savory as it is the acidity of the pineapple (and tomato sauce) combining with the fatty ham because baked properly, those sugars in the pineapple will caramelize somewhat, making it much less sweet-tasting. I’ve had “Hawaiian” pizza I’ve really enjoyed, and some I haven’t. It has to be balanced. As a savory-toothed person I was wary of it for a long time, but it can be pretty tasty.

  • Arcana Consulting

    Although, I’m Canadian (to Brit parents), I’ve never been able to stomach the concept of relish (chunky green sweet pickle jam) or ketchup on eggs.

    • MontanaRed

      My husband tends to put ketchup on pretty much anything, especially things he’s not particularly fond of. 😉

    • mothersgroup2000

      I only put ketchup on scrambled eggs. Otherwise it’s over easy with dry toast. If I have toast left over I’ll put jam on it. I prefer bacon over maple sausage. One of my dream destinations is the UK. I can’t wait to try everything!

    • Sarah Connor-Reese

      I might sprinkle some hot sauce on my eggs. Never ketchup, though. Blecch!

    • Gingerone

      I have never understood the Canadian ketchup potato chips – the US makes them but for your market. So strange. I am not a fan of ketchup myself and I only ever see kids smother food with ketchup (the sweetness). Relish I liked as a kid, but most kids love super sweet stuff. Can’t stand it now.

  • John H Harris

    I admit, for a Yank, I must have a decidedly British palate. I detest candied vegetables and loathe ketchup, while I rather like Vegemite (Marmite is a bit on the thin side for my taste). I will admit, on the other hand, that I enjoy a bit of maple syrup on my pancakes/waffles and breakfast links, but I could just as easily do without. Really, the only time I actually seek out sweets is when I’m in the mood for cheesecake. For snacking, I much prefer salty snacks, such as chips (crisps, for the UK readers). Sadly, most of the meat-based flavors common in Britain are difficult, if not impossible, to find on American shelves… I must either suffice with dairy or spice.

  • Shane Jenkins

    Mayonnaise is the devils sauce!!

    • Cow Girl

      TRUFAX! I gave it up years ago!!

  • http://trueliberty.us icecycle66

    Why do you Brits like briny, bitter, astringent, flavors as compared to the sweeter US palate?

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      Here’s one possibility, processed food became popular in the US before it was available in the UK. When I grew up we didn’t have the TV dinners that my husband talks about; my mother was still buying our food fresh at the local greengrocer, fishmonger, butcher etc. Processed food, as we all know, is full of anything but real nutrients, and sugar is in almost everything.
      Also, in the very olden days, a lot of food was salted and brined to stop it from going off. Brits are not the only nation that likes savory, briny (not always bitter I might add) food – Scandinavians have a penchant for pickled herrings and other salted foods too.
      It could just be in our history.

      • Orion Antares

        It’s the low-fat crazy that hit decades ago that caused the problem. Removing all that fat also removed the flavor so they added sugar to compensate. It was a terrible experiment that really needs to end.

      • Sylv Taylor

        You’ve also got more coastal food available to you than much of the US, and that will influence tastes. A lot of what I ate in atlantic canada is just not available in the states, including cheap seafood, seaweed, savory dishes in general, etc.

        • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

          Argh – I miss crunchy seaweed. I can get it……at a price.

  • cactusflinthead

    This doesn’t take regional tastes into account much. Nor the influence of our neighbors to the south. BBQ has quite a few variations. The pulled pork mustard/vinegar based of North Carolina is nothing like the dry rub brisket of Texas, neither of which is like the sweet and savory ribs of Kansas City.
    I expect the author didn’t have much of an encounter with Tabasco either. Ditto for the host of salsas that inhabit the shelves of Texas, New Mexico and the rest of the Southwest. If you wanted a plain baked sweet potato that can be arranged at Thanksgiving. Notably absent is any mention of stuffing and its regional variations. Nor was cornbread mentioned and the eternal question of sugar or not in the batter. Count me among the ‘no sugar’ group.
    This doesn’t even take into account the years of Asians bringing their recipes with them to this melting pot of a country and their combinations of savory and sweet. Might I interest you in some Sriracha sauce on that taco? Or how about you try dunking the fried chicken into the pickled jalapeno juice or would you prefer one on the side?
    Oh and cream gravy with breakfast on our breadstuffs? My friend from down south over there was aghast at the idea. Yeah, starting to think the author had a limited visit. Betting they never made it past the Appalachians. Might not have ever gotten past the Hudson River. It is a whole nother world down here in the Chicken Fried Kingdom.

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      Two words – word count.

      • Anon Y. Mous

        You must be a hoot during festivities.

        • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

          Sorry – I’d love to respond but I don’t even get your gist. Frankly, it’s a Pain in the A when you have a 600-700 word count limit and someone expects you to write a book on the subject. That’s my point.

          • stargazer1682

            I find that sort of attitude frankly pathetic. Too many people feel if it doesn’t fit in a tweet, it’s somehow unfit for consumption; or the thesis inexplicably invalidated. Guess what, your laziness isn’t a reflection on the person who wrote something that literally took me two minutes to read, tops – and I’m dyslexic, and don’t read particularly fast.

          • scootergirl

            … LOL…….. NICE….

          • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

            Still not quite sure why all the animosity and hostility. “Word count” simply means that although we would love to write on and on about a certain subject, we are given a word count of about 600-700 words, which is why this post didn’t cover all the elements the commenter mentioned. This is the format of this web site, like it or not. Laziness or attitude doesn’t really come into it, in fact you have to be far more disciplined to rein it in and not ramble. And the fact that it took you “two minutes to read, tops” is exactly what we’re aiming for.

          • stargazer1682

            My response was from the apparently mistaken impression that your comment was geared directly at cactusflinthead, for their lengthy comment – it wouldn’t be the first time an internet commenter flippantly disregarded what someone had to say on the basis that it was “too long.” Even though that was apparently not your intention directly, I find that comment as it relates to the article, just as much of a weak excuse as it would have been if it had been geared at a “lengthy” comment. It took me longer than 2 minutes to read the actual article, as opposed to the comment I thought you were replying to (since you were replying to it, without qualification) and I have no problem with that, because it piqued my curiosity – that’s difference between good writing and bad writing; a worthy investment of one’s time in something that interests them. However we’ve entered an age where we abide and even perpetuate low attention spans to such a degree, that people’s perceptions of what constitutes an “unreadable wall of text” has become greatly exaggerated. There’s a difference between telling a story in full, and blathering on; and it has nothing to do with word count.

          • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

            It was not my intention AT ALL. I don’t speak to people in that way. I was, as I said merely trying to give the reason why the author of the post didn’t include everything that was suggested. I can only apologize for the massive offense (American spelling) this seems to have caused.

          • Jwb52z

            This kind of limit on words is why I think that you should be allowed to do a series of articles so you don’t have to skip anything.

        • Anonn

          I think Toni is saying the author of the article is trying to keep the word count down, not the word count of cactus’ comment.

      • scootergirl

        hahaha… sounds like the time it takes for people to realize you have nothing to say… NEXT ………

    • CuriousTraveler66

      I have a theory about the American South and its love of sugar. First, the far south (as in Florida territory) was settled first by the Spanish, who are notorious for their sweet tooth. Some of that may have been passed along. Second, the British, French and Spanish all started sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean because sugar was such a costly commodity (and a good cash crop for import in Europe), and later they ended up doing the same on the American mainland. Third, once the plantations were there in the South, proximity was the issue: sugar was what they had on hand, so they used it (just as Middle Easterners and many Europeans used honey for the same reason and Northerners used maple sugar and maple syrup). Maple sugar/syrup has too strong a flavor to use it for everything that needs sweetening, but cane sugar isn’t that bold — you can use it in more recipes. So the Southerners did, sometimes to a fault. Northerners used what they had more sparingly, because of the flavor. At least until someone brought over sugar beets to the U.S. and began growing them here (the Germans, probably). Simple as that.

  • Twisted Sister

    Mixing Sweet with savory is only yummy when Koreans and Japanese do it because it has the right balance.

    • Twisted Sister

      Asians in general I might add

  • MontanaRed

    I love the posts about food on this site! LOL The comments are always lively and fun to read. Suffice it to say that, Brit or Yank or Martian, food preferences are very individual things.

  • Lindsey

    Pop-tarts aren’t usually eaten as breakfast. They’re like a pastry you have every once in a while. And for most Americans breakfast is simple and quick, such as buttered toast or cereal. It’s only when you’re eating breakfast out or having Sunday brunch that the maple-syrup drenched pancakes appear.

    • Sarah Connor-Reese

      I have pancakes (waffles are much better, though) with maple syrup from time-to-time. I generally don’t mix any meat in with the syrup, though. It’s just too much. I am a snob about it, though, and only use genuine maple syrup, not maple-flavored stuff. I think there’s a difference in taste and consistency. The real stuff is just lighter than the fake.

    • Johnathan Downer

      well considering poptarts are targeted for breakfast that is what they are intended for and originally were mainly consumed. i know for me know though i eat them as an inbetween breakfast and lunch snack to tide me over at work. but that’s after my breakfast usually consist of donuts or corn flakes with sugar added to them (not premade frosted flakes)

      • Gingerone

        I ate a pop tart or two in college. That’s about it. Much like eating cold leftover pizza. Its not food really….Its marketed at kids, which again sort of discounts it as a food.

  • tcook USA

    I like this author but surely we don’t “compliment” roast lamb with mint sauce or we “complement” roast lamb with mint sauce. Lets get the grammar right first.

    • anna

      I was more concerned that a Brit spelt litre incorrectly!

  • Marsha Smith

    You grew up with the better end of the deal.
    I told my doctor last week that the more I read and learn about food, the more I wished I could emigrate to another country. Most everyday American food is garbage. If you go to an American grocery store, the vast majority of the healthy stuff is around the perimeter.
    I imagine the first time I could eat solid food, my Mother stuck a cookie in my mouth. I’m 57 years old now and still struggling with an addiction to sugar. I can be away from sugar for 6 months and one day she will whisper her siren song in my ear and I am right back. I’m afraid that moderation is not in my DNA. I can’t let myself have a little sometimes.

    • traceyes

      Do you imagine that in another country, healthful food will cook itself for you? If you’re eating food out of packages, it’s going to be nasty everywhere in the world. That’s why people who like good food cook their own.

      • Marsha Smith

        I have read several books by ex-pats and they don’t say anything about finding pop-tarts or hamburger helper at the grocery store. But they DO talk about the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits grown by the local farmers that they pick up during the day or on the way home from work. Most of said fruits and vegetables available here is trucked in from who knows where and had God-knows-what sprayed on it.

      • frozen01

        Actually, one of the first things my husband commented about when he moved here from the UK was the lack of prepackaged, healthy dinners in US grocery stores.
        So, yes, apparently in other countries healthful food will “cook itself for you”. Or at the very least, it is apparently much more obtainable than it is here.

  • Max_Freedom

    Ketchup is just super sweet sugar sauce.
    Mostly it’s made with HFCS.
    It’s disgusting.
    Sugar is in everything. The only way to avoid it is to cook everything from scratch. That’s what I do.

  • golden

    okay i haven’t read the whole article yet…..but i must comment on the distaste the author voices toward the sweet and savory part of the American diet……at almost every cinema in London they have sweet and salty popcorn mixed and available for eager moviegoers……so …jus sayin’

    • Sekhat Temporus

      Mixed? The Londoners are weird, the rest of Britain has it separated. You have one or the other, not both!

  • TheLastSanePersonInAmerica

    Amusing, really, the way you cast England’s old-fashion class system of “savory” and “sweet” as more sophisticated than the Colonies’ egalitarian impulse to let things mingle. Granted, we now have many thousands of would-be nobles and millions of would-be serfs, and more all the time, but that is a retrograde development, surely. As long as there is sausage with maple syrup, there is hope for the Republic yet!

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      “England’s old-fahsion class system” referred to social and financial issues. I have never heard ‘savory and sweet” included in any descriptions of the class system, except perhaps when meals were described. Can only presume this was tongue in cheek, and as such, in the same tone as the original post.

      • frozen01

        I’m fairly certain that was not meant to be taken literally.

        • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

          Oh, good.

  • Jodi

    Id like to say one country is better than the other, but lets be honest here. Both countries eat like crap and have problems with obesity. Maybe both countries would do better to get away from our traditional foods and mix in some healthier choices. More fruits, veggies, whole grains.

  • Jodi

    This article is poorly titled. It should be something closer to a Brit bashing and over generalizing American food.. yet again. Both countries have their strange foods, their unhealthy foods, and their foods that the other may not find tasteful. It seems a bit hypocritical considering all of the truly strange and unpalatable foods that come out of the UK.

    The US is a very large place, it is ignorant to generalize all foods. I think England could fit into my state two times. LOL The foods you will find up north are vastly different than the foods you find down south. BBQ has regional differences for example and are not all grossly sticky sweet! Thank god for that too because sweet bbq is just too sweet! The pacific northwest has amazing seafood, but it is still very different from seafood you will find on the east coast. Some areas for example can’t handle spicy foods where others can’t get enough. Even when you head south you have a large variety of regional differences. The scale of this country is difficult for people outside of it to really understand. For all of our regions of this country, we have foods vary as much as foods vary going from country to country elsewhere in the world.

    • Sylvia

      Thank you, Jodi, for your sensible words.

    • guest


  • Sage49

    I was hoping to see some substance in this article, but it’s just a fluff piece about sugar. It’s apparent that the writer doesn’t get out much because American cuisine is as varied as the snowflakes in a Chicago blizzard.

  • ThatFatLady S.

    I knew it! Born in England, brought to the U.S. as an infant. Hate Pop Tarts (liked ’em when I was little), find the concept of syrup on breakfast meats revolting (not adverse to a moderate amount on my “breakfast dessert”-pancakes, though), and have always hated those nasty sweet potatoes w/ marshmallows. When Salt & Vinegar potato chips/crisps found their way into my grocery store, I was in heaven. Seriously. I belong back in England.

  • Samantha Baker

    We lived in Japan for three years and I found that I loved the foods that had less sugar then their American counterparts.

  • Niki

    I was born and raised in South Carolina. My family came over from Europe in 1619, so we’re not recent transplants. I can’t stomach a Poptart or the rest of the sugary cuisine mentioned in this article. “Americans” don’t eat too much sugar, “Some Americans” do.

    • traceyes

      I don’t know anyone over age 10 who would consider eating a Pop Tart.

      • Cow Girl

        I love Pop-tarts. Sad but true for this 50 year old.

        • Melissa

          I love Poptarts too, and I am turning 30rs old tomorrow.

        • feijigirl

          yep. But only the blueberry ones.

          • Daniel Justin Antone

            Nope – the cherry ones are the ONLY good ones!

      • Melissa

        Haha, I am turning 30yrs old tomorrow, and I love Poptarts. I don’t eat them everyday as I prefer something solid, but I do love them,

      • Honeybrown1976

        When the mood strikes, I eat a Pop-Tart and I’m 37.

  • http://jeffontheair.wordpress.com Jeff

    I’m an American and, for the record, I too find it weird to put ranch dressing on pizza.
    Americans love the combination of sweet and salty. We love things really sweet and I think a lot of non-Americans find most American sweet foods to be way too sweet.

  • Karen Frenchy

    Oh boy! Tonight is pizza night and I making my daughter’s favorite: hawaiian pizza (pineapple and ham) 😀 and one with ratatouille 😉
    Keep calm and bon appétit les amis!

  • John Hayes

    And yet when I visited a movie theater in Europe, I got sugar on my popcorn instead of the butter and salt that I am used to in the US. And, for the record, while in Europe I discovered the joy of mayo on my chips and now the bottle of catsup lasts much longer.

    • Karen Frenchy

      caramelised popcorn in theatre is the best! Can’t stand the smell of butter in the US theatres even though I would grab some from my husband’s bag ^_^

      • frozen01

        It’s, of course, not real butter. The stuff gives me a terrible, terrible headache.

        But yes, caramel popcorn is one of the great joys in life :)

    • Sarah Connor-Reese

      I grew up just across the river from Canada. Every diner had a bottle of vinegar on the table along with the ketchup for fries. I love vinegar on my fries.

  • Lisa

    There is a market here, in Methuen, Massachusetts that bakes and sells pork pub pies. The name is Thwaites and is an icon around here.
    They also make their own bangers.
    Over the years and via ‘not English’ marriages, they’ve added many different flavor to their pie menu like: hotdogs and beans, gyoza, ruben, chicken and many others. Still, the English pork pie is the favorite. Expats…those who’ve left the area, will visit and return toting dozens of frozen pies.

  • Debbie Conroy

    I too think the writer has not been to ea. state or corner for that matter and just lumps the whole USA into a sugar cube. After living in the U.K for a year, i still do not pour vinegar over my soup, stew or chips, nor do i enjoy beans poured over everything and eaten. Fish without tarter sauce would be strange to me. And most everything over there seemed to be fried. I love a good and proper English breakky but who can eat a full breakfast like that everyday and not have a weight problem gets me! The differences between the Countries are what keeps us venturing out of our little corners and makes us want to return home to recoup. But once again, change is what life is about. To live and learn and come away happy and with new ideas!

  • Michael Hughes

    The mayo statistic may be a bit misleading also because I know quite a few people who call Miracle Whip (a sweet salad dressing) mayonaise.

    • Stephanie

      Ugh, I grew up in the South, and I think Miracle Whip is disgusting.

      • Michael Hughes

        I didn’t say it was good, or correct, but it’s true. I happen to agree with you. It’s pretty disgusting stuff. I’m from the South, as well.

    • Sarah Connor-Reese

      Miracle Whip is horrible stuff. Prepared mayo isn’t all that much better but Miracle Whip is a horror as far as I’m concerned.

  • MissPlainJane

    I grew up in Southern California, so my diet included a lot of Mexican food. Lots of spicy and salty foods. My mom would occasionally make things that suited my dad’s upbringing in Utah (meat and potatoes and ketchup, etc), she was distinctly in the California cuisine as well.

    And while I have a sweet tooth, PopTarts are sickeningly sweet. I don’t care too much for maple syrup, especially not on eggs or sausage (yuck!). On a pancake, I usually put a little butter and jam. Sweet potatoes are sweet, but not too sweet, when I make them. I do enjoy peanut butter and I love ketchup on fries, but ketchup goes only on a few things. 😉 It isn’t a ubiquitous condiment for me.

    My parents never went in much for the overly processed foods. My mom used to cut sweet cereals with the plain versions, if we got the sugary ones at all. Not every American loves everything loaded with sugar. And indeed, the variety of regional cuisines in America is vast. There are still things out there that I have never heard of, let alone tried, in different regions.

  • faeriemama

    I’m an American and I can’t stand sweet potatoes, no matter how they’re prepared. The idea of throwing marshmallows in with them about made me throw up. Gross.

  • MHeinznyc

    No, it’s not subjectivity that makes people complain about British food. It’s terrible. And it’s not just the Americans who complain it’s virtually everyone in the world. It’s too bland, and lacking in most everything exciting that’s found most other world cuisines, including that “icky” combination of sweet and savory. Asia embraces this as a standard in their menu. Sorry Brits. You got it wrong.

    • mynameis

      I disagree.. I spent two weeks in Europe and ate out regularly while there. Their flavoring was impeccable. Portions were smaller but it meant that you could actually enjoy the entire meal, not overeat and feel gross after eating (unlike when you eat out at American restaurants). Their food was not too sweet but it was a glorious respite for my taste buds. I seriously never realized how over seasoned our food was until I was in Europe. Everything is better in Europe food-wise. Sorry fellow American, but it’s you that has it wrong. :)

      • MHeinznyc

        @hummmingbug you just proved my point. American Food is already bland, and you just called it “overseasoned”. So obviously you have no palate for the joy of spices, which are enjoyed throughout the rest of the world.

    • frozen01

      Really have to disagree with this. I’ve only spent a total of 22 days in the UK, but 2 of my top 5 meals were had there. The desserts are especially better… actual flavor instead of just bowling you over with sweetness.
      Also, British cuisine is not lacking in a combination of sweet and savory. Other commenters here have pointed this out. I fully admit that I may be coming from a place of bias on this opinion, being married to a Brit, but they do seem to play up on the “Americans are backwards” schtick and I think that’s part of it. But they absolutely do have savory/sweet combos, and you just need to visit the sauce table at a carvery to know that.

  • Amanda Dyan Kost

    I’m American and don’t like Pop tarts, but I do love sweet and savory.

  • Diguitr

    It depends on where in the US and how close one’s parent’s to their nation of origin. Large immigrant centers have a different idea of foods. Growing up in an Italian household has me prefering locally grown food cooked from scratch with very little added sugar.

  • ShibumiMC

    What’s truly awful is the alleged “continental breakfast” that one gets in USA motels / hotels. It’s always about as healthy an experience as hitting yourself in the side of the head with a brick. A sugar brick. But a brick nonetheless.

  • Johnathan Downer

    yeah i have to agree with most comments. your experience with US food types seems very limited to one area of the US.

    though i will admit i enjoy my sweet foods, such as pancakes and sausage with syrup on them (though i use White Karo preferably) and poptarts are only a snack to me not a meal. but my breakfast usually consist of donuts, if i don’t have time to eat at home, and if i do it will be either Corn flakes with sugar added on top, or left over food from a previous dinner/lunch. (Also, i don’t like the sweet potatoes with marshmallows… actually i don’t like sweet potatoes at all really)

    i will agree with it being disgusting to put ranch on pizza. i don’t see how people do that. ranch should only go on salads and vegetable dips.

    pork pie sounds good from it’s name, anything like a pot pie? and Shepard’s pie is amazing!

    i do like mixing sweet and salty though. dipping my fries at Wendy’s in my frosty is amazing. though i know many who don’t like it and find it odd. but the only sauce i would ever put on my fries is ketchup, maybe BBQ sauce, if it’s the only option.

    come to the Atlanta and find out how much you dislike The Varsity (which i won’t disagree with you on, but most people down here love it’s super grease dripping burgers and hot dogs, bleh!)

    also… i have no idea what Savory means in terms of how food taste…

    • Sarah Connor-Reese

      I think people are putting ranch on pizza to get a little bit of a vinegary zing. I put vinegar on my pizza.

  • Sarah Connor-Reese

    Perhaps sweet and savory is not so much an American thing as most definitely NOT a British thing, because many other cuisines use this combination of flavor. A lot of comments here point to Asia (as in Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam), but Indian food certainly plays on the savory and sweet, along with the spicy hot as well. Latin foods play with it a little, too. Mango and/or papaya salsas, moles… Greek food has its sweeter-than-Italian-food tomato sauces, Many middle eastern foods incorporate dates into what are otherwise savory dishes, and certainly Slavic foods love their vinegar, beets, sweet sausages, etc.

  • Shawnee Tye

    My father is british and my mother is american. I have to say that I vastly prefer salty and savory to sweet. Some anchovies, lox, sardines n chips over the ‘maple’ syrup they put on pancakes here. It’s not even maple syrup. it’s just sugar substitute

  • CaptRealEstate

    One of my favorite things in my trips to England has been the desserts, especially when not as sweet as here in the States, but served with custard. Mmmmmmmmmmm………

  • scootergirl

    DUDE….. your talking about White people food…. BACK UP… It’s only one culture…..you need to get it straight… at thanksgiving my people offered up game, fish, and veggies… it was your people that brought the sweets to the party … we have you guys to thank for alot of things… just sayin… by the way …I love your pub food

  • traceyes

    Eeewww…who puts ranch dressing on pizza? Sounds like the author ran into some weird culinary regions that should have been best avoided. The U.S., being as large and culturally diverse as it is, varies wildly in terms of food from area to area.

  • JRR

    that would be “complement.”

  • traveledabit

    I would never classify English Food as being the epitome of tasteful. I find it quite bland and stodgy. I find the dessert to be over the top with cream and custard etc. Having traveled extensively through the US over many years it is pretty hard to paint a country with over 300 million people as eating one particular way. I would suggest their serving size is probably bigger than most other countries and they do add more sugar into their foods than do Canadians or Australians judging by a report I read some years ago showing the same product in each country and that the manufacturer reduces the sugar for the palate I suppose. I think it is the tone of the article that the English are refined and therefore “Above” the Americans who seem to always be depicted as wild cowboys, uncouth, thugs. Sad that people characterize a whole nation like this. Americans are just people like the rest of us, some great ones, some good ones, and some lousy ones. No better, no worse. And you are taking a few foods and missing out on a whole world of flavours and culture that varies from city to city.

  • LMJ

    Pop Tarts are an occasional treat. Maple syrup only winds up on my bacon if it happens to be on the same plate with my rarely-eaten French toast or Belgian waffle. Usually the sweetest thing in my breakfast is potatoes. Unless it’s spring or summer, then there might be fresh fruit.

    Marshmallows do not belong anywhere near sweet potatoes/yams (interchangeable here, because we don’t know which we have). Almost as wrong as putting Ranch dressing on a pizza.

    Here in Ohio, we don’t do well with spicy. In Colorado, though, with a strong Mexican influence, they do very well with spicy. Get your culture from a world that gets very hot and has no refrigeration, and things get spicy.

    BBQ sauce is often used to cover up substandard ribs. If they can’t stand alone with a bit of salt and pepper (and nothing else), then you have to rely on the condiments.

    Oh and mayonnaise or vinegar with fries? Yeah, we do that too. All over the country? No. There are a lot of us, and despite the best efforts of major corporations to homogenize this country, we still have some of our regional individuality.

    • frozen01

      “Marshmallows do not belong anywhere near sweet potatoes.”

      “There are a lot of us, and […] we still have some of our regional individuality.”

      A properly-done sweet potato casserole is a thing of beauty. The trick is to melt and brown the marshmallows in such a way that it adds a sort of crunchy-yet-sticky texture to the casserole. Marshmallows don’t add that much sweetness to it (if it does, you’re putting too many in), and it’s really good with pecan bits. Not only visually pleasing, but quite yummy, too.

      And there are entire states where your comments about BBQ sauce would be cause for declaring a duel.

  • Rebecca

    Who puts ranch dressing on pizza? I’ve never known anyone who’s done that, and I’ve lived all over the U.S. These kinds of articles are so tiresome in their one-size-fits-all
    description of what is typically American in a country this large with a
    multitude of regional flavors. But I guess I’m to blame for continuing to click & read them!

    • Puuuhhleeze_09

      My teen eats pizza with ranch dressing. I really don’t think I’ll do that, though

    • Honeybrown1976

      Some Californians do. Blech!

      • Laurie

        47 year old American here who has never heard of that. Meaning they pour it on over the tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese? Very strange.

        • Honeybrown1976

          They fold the pizza slice and then dip it in. Seeing them eat it that way is the same as eating it I imagine.

  • Sarah Connor-Reese

    Growing up, we always had sweet potatoes with our Thanksgiving meal, but baked just like a spud, and served with butter and maybe a little salt on them. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I ever came across that marshmallows on top of mashed sweet potatoes and brown sugar casserole thing. I do have to admit that as breakfast cereals go, though, I’m a sucker for Lucky Charms, which has to be one of the absolute worst offenders in the sugar-laden breakfast foods category. Usually I go for just coffee with milk maybe toast with butter. I used to have coffee with pain au chocolat for breakfast, but there aren’t any bakeries around where I live now that make it. I miss San Francisco. Pop Tarts are so, so sweet though. I can only make it halfway through one.

  • S. Phillips

    Honestly, I’m not a fan of Pop-Tarts. The texture is like crisp cardboard and they simply taste too artificial/ chemical — sweetness is the least of its problems. Those toaster streudels are pretty decent, though.



  • Charlene Adutwum

    I feel like you are talking about all Americans but in reality not all Americans eat what you claim Americans eat.

  • FriendlyFiend

    As a fan of the Yogsast (a YouTube gaming channel made up of mostly Brits) I really wanted to try a JaffaCake since they talk about them all the time. I was able to find them in Fairway Market but was kind of disappointed when I tried them :/

  • Steve Poling

    I figured the sweet and savory thing came to America via the Chinese. I’m a midwesterner who always viewed the mixing of sweet and savory with suspicion until I acquired a taste for Chinese food.

    And the gateway drug is Sweet & Sour sauce. It compounds the culinary mixing with some tangy notes. Since the Chinese have been eating well for a thousand years before the French could kindle fire, They must know something.

    This sugar perversion probably has something to do with the South, too.

  • lucath

    Very good! Plus the idea of something sharp and vinegary like mint sauce with lamb was because lamb used to be very fatty. Likewise apple sauce with pork, capers with mutton, and gooseberries or rhubarb with oily mackerel!
    Actually sugar is used in lots of food as a thickener without is knowing but Chinese takeaway especially in the UK is full of sugar.

  • trombonegal

    American that lives in the UK. If I ever go out for breakfast I usually just order eggs, bacon, and toast. I only have maple syrup on pancakes or french toast. I prefer mayo over ketchup with fries/chips. I like sweet potatoes with marshmallows or pecans. My favorite thing to eat is mexican food, savory and spicy. I have had ranch with pizza before, and I was just trying it out(it was okay).

  • Deborah

    HP brown sauce is sweet, and I know plenty that put it on breakfast, meat, fries etc.,

  • gevan

    I don’t like pop-tarts either. As for maple everything, blame our neighbor to the north. And the top selling condiment is now salsa (blame Mexico).

  • Cypressclimber

    Reading this as a many-generation American, I’m amused. To our dear British friends: I’m not sure how much help this will be to you, but please come over all the same!

    Wait: do British folks really read these articles much? Or is this more for American consumption: folks like me that wonder what they are saying about us?

    Anyway, while it’s true a lot of Americans do eat a lot of sweet and savory, a lot of us don’t. Like the author, I’d rather have that sweet potato stuff for dessert (and hold the marshmallows).

    Is it really true Europeans don’t care for Maple sugar? Maples are all across Europe, I believe; but maybe European maples don’t produce the same syrup? It’s a taste I missed when I was overseas for several months this year.

    Then there was this puzzler: “They [i.e., the author’s “American friends”] think it strange we compliment roast lamb with mint sauce.” Whaa?

    Growing up in the U.S., mint-with-Lamb was automatic; so much so, that I note some of the trendy cooking shows for awhile were getting away from it.

  • soundscene

    I can understand why some are a little dismayed by this post, and I can understand why American palates are being generalized–this isn’t a thesis. I wish that the author had mentioned what region of the United States he was living, because from region to region, the average palate can be so vastly different as to feel you were in a different country.
    I dislike “sweet meat”. I only rarely put ketchup on fries (I have to be in the mood), and mostly eat fries with a sprinkle of salt. Maple syrup goes on pancakes, waffles or French toast, but not meat products. Even then, I prefer to load my pancakes with butter and only drizzle the syrup. My sister is opposite–she loads on the syrup and only uses a pat of butter.
    I did eat Pop Tarts for breakfast. Not the chocolate or fruity flavors, but the Frosted Cinnamon. It was sweet, but not as sweet. That said, I had Pop Tarts maybe once every other week, with cereal being standard (and my parents didn’t buy sugary cereal).
    Most of the food I ate was Asian-influenced, growing up in Honolulu. Lots of noodles, rice and yes, Spam. Asian dishes do have a lot of “sweet and savory” elements, so yes, I ate things like sweet and sour chicken, chicken katsu with sweet Hawaiian bbq sauce, etc. But it was the Asian and Pacific Islander influence that formed the menu–not anything traditionally American.
    I now live in Texas where sweet and savory aren’t mixed a whole lot. Although you can get sweet BBQ sauce, most folks prefer the spicier, savory sauces. And some don’t like any sauces, but just eat their BBQ meats with the dry rub. There’s a heavy influence from Mexico in Southern Texas. Lots of meat and protein, not as much emphasis on dairy or vegetables (I’m not talking about Tex-Mex, which isn’t served as much on the border). Traditional Mexican candy can be quite spicy sometimes.
    There is no “American palate.” The country is just too dang big and we have so many regional differences that originate from different foreign and local influences. I’m sure there are certain regional differences in the UK as well, but the UK isn’t the size of the United States.

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      You’re right about regional dishes, but all my British guests mention how sweet the bread, cereal and beans are no matter where I’ve lived. Dishes in restaurants are obviously a regional thing and reflect specific palates, but packaged food, (sold all over the States) is also often sweeter. If you’ve grown up with it all your life, you’re not going to think it’s particularly “sweet” especially if it’s not meant to be sweet (like most bread), but that’s not to say that people from other countries (ie. the UK) don’t find it sweet. Just as you say one can’t generalize about a nations’s sweet tooth or lack thereof, one also can’t tell someone from another country that his or her experience is incorrect. It is what it is.

  • lolako

    I recall going to a movie theater in London and getting sugar on my popcorn instead of salt. That was sickly odd to me.

  • Nik Norden

    Reading your article confirms my generalization about the “typical” uppity Brits as always thinking they are somehow superior than everyone else. Congratulations sir!

  • Kyle Eskeitz

    Nail on the head. As a matter of fact it made me realize that I might be a Brit at heart, or stomach, as it were.

  • Steve McKeown

    As an American I don’t know anyone who puts ranch dressing on a Pizza, and most Americans I know don’t like ketchup on their fries. Plus the only way I’d ever eat beef jerky would be at gunpoint.

  • DemonDeac

    To be honest, as an American, I also think the people who put ranch dressing on pizza are weird. But peanut butter is and will always be vastly superior to yeast extract.

  • Jeff K.

    For crying out loud, my fellow Americans, chill out. It never fails – an expat writes about food in America on this blog and a bunch of you start carping: “not me!” “Not all Americans!” “Not in my region.” Knock it off already. Look around – there are a lot of fat people in this country who start the day off with sugar and continue throughout the day. Go to a diner and look around at breakfast. Go to a chain restaurant during lunch. Yes I know, you are far too sophisticated for that and never watch TV and yada yada yada. If you are reading this blog you are not exactly like most Americans, are you. Now calm down and take this blog in the manner in which it is offered – in good humor.

  • Jwb52z

    I’m an American and I don’t like yams or sweet potatoes of any kind. They’re too sweet to me all on their own.

  • Mimi

    Traditional sweet potatoes/yams with all the sugar and marshmallow is disgusting. Turkey with tart/sweert cranberry sauce is the bomb however.

    Maple is awesome, syrup, frosting, candy…nom nom nom, but not on my bacon thank you very much.

    Fries with vinegar rock. We do that in America. We call them “boardwalk fries. Also, every single “fish&chips” place offers malt vinegar. Ketchup on fries is so so. I’m not really a ketchup fan. Mayonnaise or curry on fries is nasty.

    Ranch dressing on pizza, just no, but I’m pretty no on ranch dressing in general.

    Also, just say no to pop tarts. Ick.

  • annemarie

    the comments are even better than the article. Generalizing food tastes is nearly impossible, but you mist admit, the article makes some great points. Personally, I like both sweet and savory, but never together, and never EVER fake food (like the cardboard and chemical concoction marketed as Pop Tarts)

  • EnglishMark

    Hello everyone, I’m a Englishman living in the States, and I write a monthly blog for an American friends’ website underlining the differences (typically with a more humourous bent) between the UK and the US? I was wondering if folks might be interested in checking out some of my entries? This months topic is ‘comedy’. My name is Mark Turner, and I’m a guest writer here > http://jeffreykirk.com/category/guest-writers/
    Thanks in advance for your interest and support! :-)

  • Jenny

    Are you sure you’re not French? You’re snooty like one.