10 Strange Things Brits Find in American Supermarkets

Hey, it melts very nicely.(Photo: AP/Paul Sakuma, File)

Hey, it melts very nicely.(Photo: AP/Paul Sakuma, File)

One of the first things you have to do when you arrive in a new country is to go grocery shopping. New Brits in America probably won’t be intimidated by the size of stores, but once you start wheeling up and down the aisles you’ll notice plenty of choices—and you won’t recognize many of the brand names.

It can be intimidating, so here is a guide to 10 very American things you’ll find when you shop. Some you’ll know under another name, and some it’s up to you to decide if you want to put them in your shopping cart…

Breakfast Cereal
The cereal aisle is always a colorful eye-opener, and even though many of brands are transatlantic these days, you’ll recognize Rice Krispies and Frosties as Frosted Flakes. As for newbies, a couple of examples are Wheaties, a good way to learn about American sports, and Count Chocula, which only appears around Halloween. Of course, here’s plenty of healthy stuff too though: granola is popular cliché tree-hugger one, and brands like Kashi are fiber-filled too—though you always need to watch for sugar.

The Whips
The subject of fierce pronunciation debate by Stewie Griffin and Brian the dog in “Family Guy,” Cool Whip is an imitation whipped cream, a topping for desserts and pies. It originally had no cream or milk, but now the “Original Cool Whip” has skimmed milk and light cream. Staying with whips, Miracle Whip is another alternative—this time a kind of sweeter mayonnaise that technically doesn’t have enough vegetable oil in it to be called mayonnaise at all. Brits might see it a kind of U.S. version of salad cream, and, like salad cream, will either love it or hate it.

Marshmallow Creme
A tub of Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Creme looks very similar to Miracle Whip—and, not coincidentally, is made by the same company who makes the Whips—and is a fluffy marshmallow that you can spoon out and spread over the perennial favorite, apple pie, the Florida-born Key Lime pie, or indeed anything that takes your fancy.

Graham Crackers
If you’re getting some Jet-Puff, you’re probably going to want to pick up a pack of Graham Crackers (pronounced “Gram”) too. Originally a coarse, healthy snack invented by a Presbyterian minister to stop carnal lusts, they’re more often sweetened with a sprinkling of sugar, honey or even cinnamon, and are the “bread” in which you squish fire-roasted marshmallows (or Jet-Puff, if no flame is available) and a bit of chocolate to make S’mores, a campfire favorite in the U.S. since time began.

Grits
Coming in a bag, grits are a corn dish that look a bit like flaky porridge oats and are a food from the pioneer days—and very beloved in the American South. Heated gently in a pan and stirred slowly, they come out looking like—well, many would say the name is apposite. Adding cheese, peppers and other goodies—sweet or savory—can enhance/take the taste away, and, again, they’re a love-it-or-hate-it breakfast staple.

Jerky
Packets and long tubes of shrink-wrapped jerky are in stores and gas stations across America. Dried cuts of meat of all kinds, they’re salted to the max and are a chewy favorite for truckers, adventurous types or anyone taking a long trip because they’re handy, packed with protein, last more or less forever and don’t need to be refrigerated. In California, they’re often found in earthquake kits.

Iced Tea
Iced tea is something that will catch cuppa lover’s eyes. Another favorite, especially in the southern states where it often comes pre-sweetened, it comes in glasses and cans and is strongly-brewed tea chilled/served over ice and with maybe a slice of lemon. Lipton’s Tea is usually what you’re given, though brands like PG Tips and Typhoo can be found in specialist stores like Cost Plus World Market.

Milk
As for milk, Skim is non-fat (in the U.K. it would be known as skimmed), 1% means low-fat (semi-skimmed), 2% is reduced fat (no equivalent), while Whole/Regular is what Brits would also call full fat. There’s also almond, vitamin-enhanced, soy and goat milk, while “Half and Half” is half-milk and half-cream, for coffee. Like American chocolate, Brits often say American milk “just tastes different,” from what they’re used to, so you might want to experiment.

Veggies with a different name
Coming to the fruit and vegetable section, there are a couple of re-namings that you probably know already, but be prepared for blank stares if you do use the English ones: eggplant is the American name for the aubergine, Zucchini is what Brits know as courgettes, the super-hip rocket is known as arugula in the U.S., a swede is rutabaga, and Hannibal’s favorite, the fava bean, is what Brits would know as a broad bean.

Canned and Processed Cheeses
Finally, there’s the marvelous invention that is Easy Cheese, or cheese in a can, which, as you’d imagine, comes up rather short against a Wensleydale or a Double Gloucester. Velveeta is a soft processed cheese you can spread or melt easily (older Brits might just remember it as “Velveta” around the WWII era). It’s similar to the boldly-named (and processed) American Cheese.

Expats, what are your favorite finds in American supermarkets?

See more:
A Matter of Taste: An Expat on Differences Between British and American Palates
We’re Not in Tesco Anymore: Six Ways U.S. Supermarkets Differ From British Ones
Why the U.S. Should Adopt British-Style Supermarkets

  • therealguyfaux

    Think of grits as coarse polenta, and you won’t go far wrong– that’s what some Germans I met traveling in Florida thought, and were not disappointed. They put butter, salt and pepper on them and they were happy enough. But they’re used to a sandwich for breakfast anyway, so anything Americans would eat would be somewhat exotic for them.

    Velveeta is the stuff of legends in America, and one of them is that it is the leftovers of wheels of cheese cut/sliced to make packages of processed cheese/Colby cheese/Monterey Jack cheese (true so far as I know) somehow specially treated, or with an additive placed in it, to help it retain its viscosity without breaking up, so that it can be poured when melted (this one may be a proprietary secret).

    Jerky is, for practical purposes, “meat-flavoured chewing gum,” so to speak, only you’re meant to swallow it when you are done.

  • Guest

    I often find my guests are completely overwhelmed by the sheer choices on offer. Not just a couple of varieties of coke but half an aisle at least. Cereal, in my local store at least, takes up an entire aisle with many varieties of the same thing – eg. Honey Bunches of Oats- plain, with vanilla, with strawberries, with almonds and now Greek Yogurt style.

    • Mjhmjh

      But for a long time, we had to look for the everyday Weetabix in the Health Foods section! One of my children was once asked to take a helping of cereal to school for a Science lesson and took in his favourite – Weetabix – and his classmates were all very interested as they’d never seen it before.

      My other little boy kept telling me about a wonderful snack that his friends would take into school and shared with him. He really wanted me to buy some for him. He tried to describe it a number of times, but we didn’t get anywhere. In the end, I told him to ask one of his friends whether he could have the empty packet at the end of recess, so that we could use it to try to identify and locate the delicious snack. He duly brought home – an empty Ramen packet! (At the time, I’d never tasted it. either. :-))

  • Dan Goldman

    The best thing we Yanks do with Marshmallow Creme is make a Fluffernutter Sandwich (after the “Fluff” brand of marshmallow creme): Peanut Butter and Fluff spread on sliced white bread, untoasted, preferably an overprocessed ultrasoft brand like Wonder Bread.

    • Suthun’Gal

      YUUMMM FLUFFERRRNUTTTER!!!!
      and for a real sugar shock, a PBJF – Peanut butter on one slice, topped with Fluff, Jelly on the other slice (preferably something strongly “berry” flavored, and then slap those two puppies together!!
      YUM!!!

  • http://www.algoreisabidfatidiot.com/ Rev Jim Jones

    I was pleasantly surprised to find well stocked shelves in the UK but not sure they’d see ours the same. I want to remind our allies that the American diet is the net result of Europe immigrants making choices free of tyrannical and dictatorial governments. One might conclude the American menu smacks of freedom [stand & play patriotic theme song here]..but I don’t think my doctor will agree.

  • Erik Freeborn

    i found one cereal called “Mini Cinnamon Churros.” churros are a sort of fried stick of dough covered in cinnamon and sugar, so i suppose they attempted to turn it into a cereal.

  • Jwb52z

    I had a post typed out, but when I signed in, it erased before I could submit it. I’ll just say it shorter. FMilk in the UK might taste differently because it’s sometimes processed differently in the UK and Europe. If I remember correctly, it is called HTHP which think I means it is irradiated and heated. Grits are almost identical to polenta, but it has a different consistency due to being ground in a more coarse way. As for marshmallow fluff, who in the world puts that on pie? I really want to know.

    • Oracle

      Never heard of it myself

    • Rita

      I agree about the marshmallow fluff being used mainly in baking. Maybe some people somewhere in the US put it on top of pie but I’ve never seen it used that way. I think it would be far too sticky and just sort of weird.

    • baldoldbear

      correction UHT milk or Ultra Heat Treated is the one in the carton or small plastic cups with foil lids and lasts forever and taste like the it has cat piss in it and can be obtained here.
      US milk is mainly been homogenized whereas UK milk is not unless its changed so it seperates in the bottle giving memories of winters finding the cream has frozen and pushed the cap off the bottle

  • http://batman-news.com Clifford Trout

    The main reason that milk and cheese taste different in the US is that most of our cattle is corn/maize fed instead of grass fed. When it comes to iced tea, its better to make it yourself, as most of the premade tea found on supermarket shevles is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, and it makes it taste funny to this Yank.

    • TheronC

      As a southerner, I think iced tea is one of our greatest contributions to world cuisine — and sweet iced tea one of the worst. Some Brits would probably think it odd, but I make iced tea out of Lapsang Souchong, the smokey tea.

  • Rachel Lucas

    The only thing I have ever used Marshmallow (Fluff) Cream in is fudge. It makes it very creamy! I have not seen it used by itself for anything, at least on the west coast. It is usually a baking ingredient.

    • Jeff K.

      Since I was a child, I have always preferred a bit of marshmallow cream over marshmallows in my hot chocolate.

  • Louie Neira

    Grits are ground hominy and taste of corn – think of it as a creamy, sometimes soupy version of polenta. It’s usually served at breakfast. It’s best with just butter and salt.
    Semi-skimmed milk is actually closer to the 2% US milk.
    PG Tips are now available in all Walmarts, as is Twinnings, but Typhoo still hasn’t reached the shelves of many supermarkets in the US (which is a shame). Stay away from Lipton at all costs despite its tempting packaging, it’s mostly tea dust.
    Processed cheeses are also available in small jars – Cheese Whiz is the popular brand.
    Skip the tube jerky, it’s mostly grease. The best jerky comes in strips or slabs which can easily be broken down into smaller pieces.

    • Mjhmjh

      I second the un-recommendation of Lipton’s! We’ve found that the strongest normally-priced tea usually found in the supermarkets is Tetley’s British Blend, in the blue box. PG Tips is appearing more and more and is much better, of course – but it’s also far more expensive.

      • Lindsey

        Really? I buy PG Tips at Target and it’s often one of the cheapest tea brands they sell.

        • Mjhmjh

          Thank you for the suggestion, Lindsey. I’d never thought of trying Target for tea. I’ll have a look in my local branch next time I’m in there!

      • Louie Neira

        PG’s expensive? It only costs $4.80 here, and that’s for an 80ct. box. I tried Tetley’s, but I’m not impressed. It wasn’t bad, but it tasted stale (I blame the store, however). I prefer Typhoo Tea, to be honest. Its strong, outstanding taste really hits the spot.

      • KGC

        I am a Tetley’s fan, but I have had trouble finding it locally, so I order it from Amazon. We drink it iced and sweet.

        • baldoldbear

          around here it at stop and shop walmart and market basket

          • KGC

            We used to get at Walmart, but haven’t seen there in a good while. Amazon keeps me supplied though. :)

    • Butch Knouse

      Please explain what PG Tips and Twinnings are, I might have to get some on my next trip to Walmart, or as they’re called in South Dakota, Wally World.

      • Louie Neira

        PG Tips can normally be found in 80ct tea bag boxes – there are other varieties, but Walmart carries only this kind. It’s just a traditional tea, nothing fancy, but extremely satisfying. The bags are pyramid shaped, which allows for a greater flow when steeping your tea. It’s perfect for the mornings. You can find them at Walmart right next to the coffee section, usually up on the top shelf, while the Lipton selections are lower (and easier to reach).

        As for Twinings Tea, they come in a wider variety with everything from English Breakfast (red box), Irish Breakfast (green box), Earl Grey (beige box), and assorted herbal teas. I like these teas in the afternoons and evenings. Twinings even offers an iced tea blend (but I haven’t tried it yet).

        They’re both priced very reasonably and you can buy both without having to spend a lot.

  • C.H. Newton

    It may be a regional thing, but around here we pronounce graham crackers like grey-um, not gram.

    • Mjhmjh

      That’s interesting – where are you? I’m in California and here it’s ‘Gram’. (Or sounds so to me…) My children had a friend called Gram and it was some time before I realised his name was actually Graham!

      Something similar happened with hockey. My son played on a youth team called “The Jagwires”. Some weeks into the season I saw the name written down and discovered that they were actually “The Jaguars”!

      I’m sure Americans experience plenty of similar moments of “enlightenment” in England…….. :-)

      • C. H. Newton

        I’m on the east coast between Philly and Baltimore.

      • Lindsey

        How would you say “jaguars”? I’ve only heard it pronounced as “jag-wires”.

        • rita

          I’m American and I’ve always heard it pronounced fairly close to the original Spanish pronunciation but without the Spanish ‘j’ sound. In other words, like jag-waar. Not jag-wire and certainly not jag-YOU-ar.

        • Mimi

          I drive a Jaguar. I pronounce it “love of my life” or just “Jag.”

          :D

        • Mjhmjh

          Sorry for the late reply, Lindsey. I say it more or less this way:

          JAG-you-uh.

          If you want to hear the pronunciation, there are tons of adverts online. Try, for example, a youtube search with Benedict Cumberbatch & XKR-S. Or try the UK Jaguar web site, where there are also lots of videos.

          Rita, I heard it as “Jag-wire”. But of course that’s how it sounds to a British ear. :-) Perhaps you would write down the same pronunciation in a different way.

          And LOL Mimi. I am envious!

    • Ewan Tristan Booth

      I’m originally from Illinois, and I’ve never heard it pronounced “gram.” I’ve always pronounced it like the male name, such as the late great Graham Chapman.

  • declan casey

    I haven seen a bottle of spray-able cheese since 1867. No one fucking buys that garbage. And ‘American cheese’ is not the only type of cheese made or made available in the US.

  • Marsha Smith

    Advice to any Brits that come to America – just shop around the perimeter of the grocery store and don’t go down the aisles! With a few exceptions, there is nothing down the aisles but processed junk! Sadly, we Americans are used to eating what I call *fake food.* It’s the stuff that comes out of a box.

  • DemonDeac

    As an American, I think canned and processed cheeses are disgusting. As a Southerner, I´m glad you mentioned grits, which are marvelous.

  • Mimi

    I have never, ever, ever heard of putting marshmallow cream/puff/whatever on either apple or key lime pie…or any pie for that matter.

    Velveeta is a processed cheese food. It is not the same as American cheese though it is the same as the crap wrapped as single slices in those individual single slice things. I wouldn’t recommend eating Velveeta straight up (yuck) but it makes a good base for mac&cheese. Canned cheese on the other hand is disgusting.

    What’s so strange about breakfast cereal?

    • Windy St. George

      Fluff is for ice cream sundaes, only.

      • Mimi

        Except that it is just generally yucky. I know, people like it. Obviously. They like marshmallows too. Ick.

  • Andrew

    Do not confuse grits with cream of wheat. If cooked plain, grits are usually topped with some salt & pepper. Grits are also often prepared flavored (like bacon or cheese). In the Midwest, cream of wheat is ground wheat and prepared as porridge…usually served with milk and sweeter flavors (like fruit, maple, chocolate, cinnamon). When I moved from Ohio to Florida as a child, I thought of grits like cream of wheat by drenching a bowl of grits in milk on a couple occasions. It was terrible (with bacon flavoring) & bland. It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I learned that grits should be eaten as a side with salt & pepper. I don’t mind grits these days, but it’s like rice…rather bland without a good flavoring.

    I can’t believe the article mentions sweetened ice tea without mentioning its ubiquitous name: Sweet Tea. In the South, you can’t ask for just “iced tea”, you need to say “sweet tea” or “unsweet tea”. Personally, I can’t stand it since sweet tea usually has TONS of sugar. However, iced tea isn’t bad with a few packets of Splenda (the pink and blue artificial sweeteners taste disgusting & I haven’t tried iced tea with agave or stevia). This may just be a regional thing, but in Florida (which has lots of UK expats and tourists) most if not all Publix & Walmart Supercenter supermarkets have a small section (3-4ft wide) of British foods…not just stores in cities/urban areas, but even in small rural towns. It’s usually next to and about half the size of the Asian foods section and has a good selection of imported items like PG Tips, Marmite, Heinz beans, HP sauce, curry sauce (for chips) & shepard’s pie seasoning packets, UK candy bars (like Aero), and more. Publix carries a few Indian sauce mixes (Korma, Tikki Masala) produced in the UK in this section as well (they also have a brand of bottled curry sauces from South Africa).

  • alkh3myst

    Since I don’t know of one tea plantation in England, I think I’m doing alright by drinking primarily lungching green tea. Who decided the British were the experts in an Asian beverage?

  • baldoldbear

    the brits will be amazed at the amouts a gallon of milk that comes in pints quats in the store and daily on the step before you go to work (generaly) with the mail

    • Butch Knouse

      Milk on the step. I haven’t seen Milkmen since the 1960s. Where do you live? There’s a Henny Youngman joke about him figuring out his wife was having an affair when he moved from New York to LA, but still had the same milkman.

      • baldoldbear

        i did live in the uk till 15 years ago and i had milk and mail then but milkmen were a dying breed even then saying that i’m now in mass and there ar milk deliveres here

  • Phil

    Count Chocula is available year-round, not just around Halloween.

  • Idaho Belles
  • Jeff Good

    Marshmallow Creme belongs on hot chocolate if you don’t have marshmallows. I don’t know what else to put it on.
    Cheese in a can, I NEVER eat it.
    I eat Velvetta in a grilled cheese sandwich, ramen noodles and as a dip with Rotel! Any other type of cheese would be nasty!

  • Jennifer Murtagh Hagwood

    marshmallow creme or “fluff” brand in New England is used for the famed “fluffer nutter” sandwich, with peanut butter and fluff. Worth trying for sure

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  • Anonymous

    If you try beef jerkey and don’t like it, don’t immidiately turn it down every time you see it. Some kinds are disgusting, but some kinds are very good.

    • Anonymous

      Also I have never heard of any of those cheeses besides the unfortunately named American cheese. It’s ok to put on a grilled cheese once in a blue moon, but it’s not cheese and I wish it wasn’t American.

  • Anne-Mary

    You mean veggies are there at all??? My family gets such strange looks when we go in and pretty much buy the shop (store, sorry) out of fruit and vegetables. We average between 7 and 10 vegetables in one meal (along with meat and starch), which is excessive even by Australian standards.
    As for the others:
    - My sister LOVES Miracle Whip – which was to be expected, she’s addicted to mayonnaise, and if you make mayo sweeter…
    - We all love Iced Tea, even if we call it “Iced Stuff”, since it’s obviously not tea. We arrived from Australia in late March and *froze*, it being so utterly cold even in Texas, compared to the summer we had just left, but we still downed copious amounts of Iced Tea within the first few weeks. I’m surprised it isn’t more popular back home, but then, South Australia is the only place where a milk-based bottled beverage (Farmer’s Union Iced Coffee) outsells Coca-Cola, and we all know how difficult it is to get tea into a coffee-drinking area and vice versa.
    - My mother says Cheerios don’t taste right, and ended up giving away the box she bought. She’s back to muesli for the moment.
    - My sister came home from the shops the other day going, “Annie, Annie, look at this! Spreadable marshmellows! You put it on toast! It says with peanut butter!” An interesting idea, but we both agreed after a try that “Marshmellow Fluff” is an idea best left alone.
    - I really do like how supermarkets here chop up bits of fruit, such as watermelon and rockmelon, and put them in a plastic container ready for immediate consumption.
    - The lack of pasta options are really getting to me. Can you not make veal-filled tortellini or ravioli? Why does it all seem to be spinach?
    - We finally worked out what exactly “biscuits” are over here (descriptions and explanations don’t quite do them justice, of course), although we’re still dubious about their accompanying “gravy” (to us, gravy will always be “brown-vy”, and if it comes in a different colour, it’s cause for concern), and “grits” have yet to be tried, although we’ve worked out that “oatmeal” is really porridge (in Australia, “oatmeal” is very finely ground oats. You usually only have it to put in soap, not for consumption).
    - Pink lemonade. (And the whole idea that lemonade actually contains lemons, is yellow, and isn’t fizzy). My sister has now been cut off.
    - I’m now underage (again).
    - Shops are HUGE. Perhaps there are big shops in the UK, too, but we haven’t been back there in a few years, and my grandparents lived in a small town/village, anyway. I maintain that things may be big in Texas, but they’re bigger in Australia (you should see the sizes of our grasshoppers! And a “ranch” here barely compares to a station back home), however our first visit to a Walmart stunned me (and my sister, I think). We consider ourselves country girls, but not country bumpkins, since we lived in the city until a few years ago, but even so… I needed to buy some hair clips, and what back home would be a couple of rows between the deodorant and the socks is here a whole wall!
    And some things we haven’t been able to get:
    - Vegemite (or anything similar, such as Marmite, Mighty-Mite, OzeMite, Promite, Bovril, etc)
    - Irn-Bru
    - Ginger Beer (NOT ginger ale)
    - Decent coffee
    - Decent beer (sadly, lack of decent beer notwithstanding, I am now underage again)
    - People to get Doctor Who references

  • Jen C.

    I’ve seen people put marshmallow creme on a sandwich and thought it was strange, but other than that it’s used in baking mostly. Like my mom’s yummy chocolate & peanut butter fudge at Christmas. As for the milk, I’ve been living in the UK for over a year & the semi-skimmed is equal to 2%. I’ve seen 1% at Sainsbury’s and Co-op.