The Main Difference Between Hors D'oeuvres And Canapés

If you're trying to learn more about food — or even if you're a seasoned pro — specialized culinary language can be confusing. You can be forgiven for not knowing the difference between a cocktail and a mixed drink or for confusing puff pastry with phyllo dough. If you want to show that you know your stuff, though, it's good to know the correct terminology. According to On the Line, the right lingo, be it French or modern kitchen slang, can help you communicate more effectively with restaurant staff and better understand the food you eat.

Two tricky terms that are often thrown about and used interchangeably are hors d'oeuvres and canapés. If these words bring to mind images of elegant, carefully crafted morsels served during cocktail parties or before meals, then you've got the right idea. The Culinary Pro explains that both terms refer to bite-sized finger food served separately from the main meal. However, the terms have distinct definitions. So if you're going around referring to crudités as canapés, you might want to brush up on your vocabulary.

So, what's the difference?

You know how in school you learned that all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares? Same goes for hors d'oeuvres and canapés. While the term hors d'oeuvres can refer to a wide variety of bite-sized snacks ranging from decadent lobster Newburg to humble deviled eggs, the word canapé is a little more specific. According to Martha Stewart, canapés are essentially small, open-faced sandwiches. They typically have a base made of bread, cracker, or pastry crowned with toppings and garnishes.

The Canapé Kitchen explains that the word canapé is French for "sofa," because of the way that the toppings sit on top of the base, like a person perched on a sofa cushion. The term hors d'oeuvres, meanwhile, translates to "outside of work" (per Chef's Catering) referencing the fact that hors d'oeuvres are meant to be eaten as a separate event, rather than part of the main meal. This is what distinguishes them from appetizers. According to Encore Catering, an appetizer is served as the first course of a meal, intended to complement the main course.