20 Food Items You Should Simply Never Mix Up

There are some foods that even the most discerning of gastronomes may struggle to tell apart. For instance, who knew that gelato and ice cream are definitely not the same thing? But while both of these frozen treats can generally be enjoyed interchangeably, there are some edible doppelgangers you do not want to mix up.

20. Butter and margarine

Both butter and margarine are often used for frying, baking and as spreads. But while the ingredients serve the same purposes, they’re quite different in composition. That’s because butter is a dairy product that is made from churning cream or milk. The main component of margarine, meanwhile, is usually vegetable oil.

When it comes to deciding whether to use butter or margarine, most people seem to have a preference based on texture, taste or nutrition. Margarine is often considered to be a healthy alternative to butter, given that it contains polyunsaturated fats rather than the saturated kind. That being said, some vegetable-based spreads contain trans fat, while butters do not.

19. Green beans and haricots verts

If you’ve ever found yourself in the vegetable aisle eyeing up green beans, you may have been confused by another, near-identical-looking product called “haricots verts.” And the chances are, without labels, you’d probably struggled to tell the long, green vegetables apart. But it turns out that there are some very subtle differences between the two.

Haricot verts tend to be thinner and more flavorful than green beans. They’re also picked earlier in the season. Confusingly, all green beans are called “haricots verts” in France. So the skinnier, tastier variety is referred to as “haricots verts filets extra-fins.” And no matter where you are, these beans tend to be pricier.


18. Tofu and paneer

White, crumbly, and often served in delicious cubes, to the untrained eye tofu and paneer may appear to be virtually indistinguishable. But while one product is considered to be a staple of a vegan diet, the other most certainly is not. That’s because paneer is a form of cheese, while tofu is made from condensed soy milk.

Paneer is used a lot in South Asian cuisine, and its smooth, milky flavor is often paired with the spicy flavors found in Indian dishes. Tofu is also a staple of Asian cooking, having originated in China. Like paneer, the soybean curd is mild to the taste: it generally takes on the flavor of whatever you’ve cooked alongside it, or used as a marinade.


17. Shrimp and prawns

Contrary to popular belief, shrimp and prawns are not the same thing. Now, that’s not to say that the two crustaceans don’t have a lot in common: they both have ten legs and live close to the floor of their watery habitats. But despite their apparent similarities, shrimp and prawns are not the same creatures.

Shrimp belong to the sub-order of crustaceans called Pleocyemata, whereas prawns are classified as Dendrobranchiata. But discriminating between the two forms of seafood isn’t easy: shrimp tend to be smaller and straighter than prawns, but this isn’t always so. In any case, they both taste the same, meaning you don’t have to worry about mixing them up too much.


16. Bananas and plantains

While bananas and plantains belong to the same family and look very similar indeed, if you tried to use one in place of the other in a recipe, you might get some unexpected results. That’s because the two foods are different in flavor and composition. Whereas bananas are sweet, plantains are more starchy.

So while a plantain is indeed actually a type of banana, its starchy consistency means that it’s rarely consumed raw. And that’s not the only point of difference to a banana, as the former also tends to be larger and usually sports a thicker skin. That being said, both items are similar in nutritional value and are worthy additions to a healthy diet.


15. Macaroons and macarons

It turns out that there’s more that sets macaroons and macarons apart than simply an extra “o.” While both are classified as baked goods, they’re actually two completely different products. Luckily you should be able to tell the two apart by just looking. That’s because macarons tend to be colorful and precise in shape, while macaroons are more coarse in texture and rustic in appearance.

The two cookies are also different in taste. Macaroons are made with coconut, while macarons are often flavored with almond flour and vanilla extract. To help distinguish the two, make sure you’re saying both names right. The French macaron is pronounced “mack-ah-ROHN” while macaroon is “mack-ah-ROON.”


14. Raw sugar and brown sugar

Raw sugar and brown sugar are similar in appearance but are made through different processes. Both products are created when sugarcane is refined and treated: this first produces raw sugar, which is naturally brown in color. The molasses is often extracted as a next step, to create white sugar.

With that in mind, brown sugar is just white sugar that has had natural molasses reintroduced to it. As a result, it takes on a different color and flavor. That being said, it’s not true that raw sugar is better for us than brown sugar just because it’s less refined. In fact, both products have the same value and contents in terms of nutrition.


13. Ice cream and gelato

On a hot summer’s day, either a cold ice cream or gelato will likely hit the spot. Both treats look alike and taste very similar. In fact, “gelato” just so happens to mean ice cream in Italian. But, alas, they’re not the same. In fact, there are a number of differences between them, from ingredients, how they’re made and even the flavor and textures of the two.

Both ice cream and gelato contain a mixture of cream and milk. But as its name suggests, ice cream contains more cream than milk, while the composition of gelato is the exact opposite, and almost never contains eggs. Additionally, gelato is heavier and – somewhat counterintuitively, given the ingredients – creamier in texture than ice cream and is served at a slightly higher temperature.


12. Cupcakes and muffins

When asked to distinguish between cupcakes and muffins, some people might suggest that muffins are usually unfrosted and tend to contain healthier ingredients, such as fruit and wholewheat flour. In reality, though, the differences between the two have nothing to do with what they’re made of, but rather how they’re made.

Cupcakes are generally made in the same way as their larger counterparts: that’s to say, using a batter which is beaten to create a tighter crumb. Recipes for muffins, on the other hand, usually require the mixing of wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls before slowly combining them together.


11. Ragout and ragù

Chances are, if you’re offered either of these two dishes for dinner, you’re in for a tasty treat. Both are saucy, satisfying, and delicious, making them perfect for warming the soul on cold winter evenings. But despite their similar-sounding names and European origins, ragout and ragù are quite different.

Ragù is Italian in origin and refers to meat-based pasta sauces which sometimes contain vegetables and tomatoes too: think bolognese. Ragout, meanwhile, is a French stew usually containing meat or fish with vegetables. It can be enjoyed on its own or paired with pasta, couscous or polenta to make a more substantial meal.


10. Chickpeas and soybeans

Chickpeas and soybeans are part of the legume family. As such, they are both rich in minerals and vitamins, including protein. But that’s about where the similarities between the two foods end. One of the major differences between chickpeas and soybeans is that while the former can be enjoyed raw, the latter cannot.

What’s more, while chickpeas are often beige in color they can also come in shades of red, green and black. Soybeans, on the other hand, are mostly green, but can equally be brown, black or yellow. Chickpeas are often used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian cuisine. Soybeans, meanwhile, are found in many forms, including in tofu and soy milk.


9. Cold brew and iced coffee

The cold brew trend might seem like a recent development in the West, but the drink has been enjoyed for centuries in Japan. As its name suggests, the drink consists simply of cold coffee. In that way at least, it’s similar to iced coffee. But that doesn’t mean they’re the same thing.

It seems that when it comes to cold brew, the clue is in the name. To create the drink, coffee is brewed in cold or room temperature water for 12 to 24 hours. Iced coffee, meanwhile, is made with half the usual amount of hot water, then the remainder of the H2O is supplied by adding the requisite amount of ice. Because of the different processes, iced coffee tends to be more bitter than cold brew, which is more mellow in taste.


8. Yams and sweet potatoes

Confusingly, sweet potatoes and yams look similar. So alike are they, in fact, that they are sometimes mislabeled as the other in supermarkets. But they’re not the same at all. In fact, the two underground tuber vegetables are usually different in shape and color and are only remotely related.

Yams are usually only found in specialist stores and are brown in color and cylindrical in shape. The vegetables’ flesh can be purple, red or white in color. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, have a golden skin and are pale inside. Alternatively, they can have copper-colored skin and orange flesh.


7. Mushrooms and toadstools

Mushrooms and toadstools may both be forms of fungi, but it’s important that you know the difference between the two. That’s because toadstools are largely inedible and can be poisonous. Mushrooms, though, are not only usually safe to eat but they’re often totally delicious too.

Luckily, with a little know-how, it’s easy to tell mushrooms and toadstools apart. Mushrooms usually have a domed cap located on a stalk. If you turn that cap over, you’ll notice gills on the underside. Toadstools, though, have a rounded cap. That being said, if you’re unsure, it’s probably safest to leave the fungi foraging to the experts.


6. Pasta and noodles

Both noodles and pasta are good carbohydrate sources and are often best paired with a saucy substance. But that’s not to say that the two should be used interchangeably. That’s because the two foods are different in composition and texture, and it would seem that there are strict rules to qualify as either.

According to America’s National Pasta Association, a minimum of 5.5 percent of a noodle’s weight should consist of egg solids. Pasta, Italian law states, should be made of durum wheat only. These different ingredients in the similar food types result in varying textures, with pasta tending to be a lot lighter than noodles.


5. Cucumber and zucchini

Before we get started on the differences between cucumber and zucchini, let’s first take a look at their similarities. Both of them are long in shape and green in color. They belong to the gourd family of plants and are generally treated as vegetables, despite the fact they are fruits. But they are definitely not the same thing.

You can often tell cucumbers and zucchinis apart by just touching them. Cucumbers feel cool and have a waxy but firm exterior. Zucchinis, meanwhile, are warmer and are slightly gritty to the touch. In terms of taste, cucumbers tend to be the more crunchy of the two. What’s more, cucumbers are usually eaten raw while zucchinis are mainly cooked before consumption.


4. Jam and jelly

Both are made from fruit, and both are delicious spread on toast, but despite their almost-identical appearance, there’s a subtle difference between jam and jelly. Jam is made from pulp or crushed fruit, while jelly is prepared using fruit juice. And as a result, it tends to be runnier than jam.

Because jam is made from fruit rather than juice, it’s usually chunkier than jelly and boasts a stronger flavor. That being said, being less viscous, jelly is easier to spread and has a smoother texture. It also holds together better than jam does, because it contains higher levels of pectin, which is added to the mixture to make it slightly firmer.


3. Cilantro and parsley

As leafy green herbs go, it’s sometimes hard to tell cilantro and parsley apart. That being said, their tastes couldn’t be more different. Parsley has a delicate grassy smell and is mild in flavor. Cilantro, though, is something of a divisive ingredient. While some enjoy its bright, citrusy flavor, others have compared it to soap.

So you really don’t want to get these two herbs mixed up. Luckily, with a little knowledge, it’s easy to tell them apart. That’s because parsley is slightly darker in color with serrated leaves that are pointy in appearance. Cilantro leaves are more delicate-looking, with curved edges, and come in a brighter shade of green.


2. Nectarines and peaches

While they’re not completely worlds apart, nectarines and peaches are still not the same. Nectarines are in fact a kind of peach, hence the similar flavor profile between the two. But if you want to understand the difference between the two fruits, the answer mainly lies in their skin.

While peaches have a thick skin that is covered in a distinctively fuzzy fur, nectarines are completely smooth. Moreover, nectarines tend to be firmer to the touch than peaches, meaning that they’re less prone to punctures or bruises. Another difference between the two is that, while peaches originally come from China, nectarines were cultivated in North America as recently as the 1800s.


1. Indian roti and tortilla

Rotis and tortillas are both forms of flatbread. But while they are admittedly similar, they’re made slightly differently, using contrasting levels of fat. Because, while rotis are made with either vegetable or canola oil, tortillas usually contain vegetable oil. So tortillas tend to be smoother in texture than rougher rotis.

The two flatbreads also differ in terms of origin. Tortillas were first made by the ancient people of Mesoamerica – a region in North America spanning from Mexico to northern Costa Rica. Today they are a prominent feature in Mexican food, such as tacos and burritos. Rotis, on the other hand, are native to India and are still a staple in South Asian cuisine.