30 Italian Food Words Used in English

There are certain words that just don’t translate. Some of those words are original Italian words that we English speakers have adopted into our own language. This is especially true when we talk about Italian food. Many of the words we accepted into the English language still have the same meaning as the original Italian. A few words have mutated over the years into having their own unique definition unequal to the original. In some cases, English speakers pronounce these Italian words fairly well, albeit with our own native accents applied. Other words, even we cannot agree upon a single “English-ified” pronunciation. Let’s take a few minutes to note the 30 most popular Italian food words used in English.

30 italian food words used in english

1. Arancini

English meaning: Delicious fried rice balls
Plural: arancini or arancinis

Italian meaning: rice balls originating from Sicilian cuisine
Plural: arancini

The singular word we use in English is actually the Italian plural. The Italian singular form is arancina or arancino (depending on the region).

IPA: /aran-tʃi:-ni:/

2. Biscotti

This tasty word shares an origin with the British-English word “biscuit”.

English meaning: a dense, twice-baked, oblong-shaped, almond cookie, often sold at coffee shops or meant to be dunked into dessert wines
Plural: biscotti or biscottis

Italian meaning: cookies, usually twice-baked.
Plural: biscotti

Once again, the singular word we use in English is the Italian plural. The Italian singular is biscotto.

IPA: /bi-skɔtti:/

In some regions, particularly the town of Prato in Tuscany, the biscotti Americans picture is called cantucci or cantuccini.

Italian biscotti cookies

3. Broccoli

English meaning: a green vegetable
Plural: mass noun but you will hear broccolis

Italian meaning: the same as in English
Plural: broccoli

The word we use in English is the Italian plural. The Italian singular is broccolo.

IPA: /brɔl-ko-li/

4. Bruschetta

English meaning: toasted bread topped with olive oil, garlic, and very often diced tomatoes and cheese. Sometimes, the prepared combination of olive oil, garlic, and diced tomatoes alone is called “bruschetta”.
Plural: mass noun but you will hear bruschettas

Italian meaning: an appetiser of toasted bread with fresh olive oil
Plural: bruschette

IPA: /bru-sketta/

Compared to the English pronunciation, which features a /sh/ sound, the original Italian word is pronounced with a /sk/ sound. Find out more about the pronunciation of bruschetta here.

Bruschetta with tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese on wooden board. Traditional italian appetizer or snack, antipasto

5. Calzone

English meaning: a pizza-like dish, in which a pizza is folded over to create a turnover or pocket prior to baking
Plural: calzones or calzoni

Italian meaning: a folded pizza, baked in an oven, shaped like a crescent
Plural: calzoni

IPA: /kal-tzo-ne/

In English, the final “e” in “calzone” is silent. In Italian, all final vowel sounds are pronounced. In this case, the final vowel is pronounced with an “eh” sound. Find out more about the pronunciation of calzone here.

6. Carbonara

English meaning: a pasta sauce made with eggs, cream*, and bacon (or pancetta), also the pasta dish itself
Plural: carbonaras

Italian meaning: a pasta sauce made with eggs, black pepper, cheese, and guanciale (or pancetta)
Plural: carbonare (although I can think of very few situations in which you would ever use the plural form of the word)

IPA: /karbo-na-ra/

*American foodies get into heated arguments about whether or not cream should be an ingredient in carbonara.

Carbonara pasta, spaghetti with pancetta, egg, hard parmesan cheese and cream sauce.

7. Ciabatta

English meaning: a white bread often used when making a panini
Plural: ciabattas or ciabatte

Italian meaning: a white bread, similar to the French baguette
Plural: ciabatte

IPA: /tʃa-batta/

The “ci” combination in Italian makes a /ch/ sound. Find out more about the pronunciation of ciabatta here.

Fun fact: “Ciabatta” has three different meanings: this delicious bread, as well as “slipper” and “power strip”.

8. Espresso

English meaning: an Italian type of coffee, often available as additional “shots” to your favorite coffee beverage at chain coffee shops
Plural: espressos or espressi

Italian meaning: the standard coffee, drank alone in a tiny cup, or mixed with milk or foam to make a macchiato or cappuccino
Plural: espressi

IPA: /e-sprɛsso/

Because the espresso is the norm for coffee options in Italy, Italians typically don’t refer to the beverage as an espresso. Instead, they will simply say caffè, meaning coffee. If you want two shots of coffee in your mug, you can ask for a double espresso or a caffè doppio.

italian espresso coffee and cheese cake over white wood table

9. Focaccia

English meaning: an oily, often fluffy, Italian bread. It is usually made in the shape of a rectangle.
Plural: focaccias

Italian meaning: a thin, oily bread, similar to pizza crust. It is a favorite bread for building a sandwich.
Plural: focacce

IPA: /fo-kattʃa/

This word can be difficult to pronounce for many English-speakers. The 3 separates Cs each need to be pronounced, although the final “ci” combination is not pronounced as K, but like the English CH instead. You can find out more about the pronunciation of focaccia here.

10. Gelato

English meaning: a rich type of ice cream of Italian origin.
Plural: gelatos

Italian meaning: ice cream. This word is used to mean any type of ice cream, no matter the country of origin.
Plural: gelati

IPA: /dʒe-la:to/

Ice Cream in woman's hand

11. Gnocchi

English meaning: a type of Italian pasta* made with potato flour, typically formed into tiny lumps.
Plural: gnocchi or gnocchis

Italian meaning: a type of dumpling* made with potato flour.
Plural: gnocchi

Most pasta words are typically said in the plural. The singular form, in case you ever need to mention a singular piece of pasta that fell on the floor, is gnocco.

IPA: /ɲɔkki/

There are two separate consonant combinations that tend to confuse English-speakers, lending to many different pronunciations in English-speaking countries. However, the Italian pronunciation is simple. The starting “gn” combination makes a /ɲ/ sound, similar to the Spanish “ñ”. The ending “chi” does not make a CH sound; it makes a KI sound, like in the English word “key”. You can find out more about the pronunciation of gnocchi here.

*Is gnocchi a type of pasta or dumpling? Great question. The debate continues amongst foodies around the world.

12. Lasagna / Lasagne

English meaning: a long, flat pasta noodle, used for making a particular dish featuring the noodles layered with ragù (a sauce made of ground meat and tomato) and cheese. Also, this word is also the name of the dish mentioned above.
Plural: lasagnes, lasagnas, lasagne

Italian meaning: the same as in English
Plural: lasagne

Like most pastas, Italians typically refer to lasagna in the plural (lasagne). This is one of the few cases in which English-speakers may use the singular instead of the plural.

IPA: /la-zaɲa/

Lasagna bolognese, beef, parmesan, Italian classic, simple serving, wood board

13. Latte

English meaning: a coffee drink made from mixing espresso with steamed milk.
Plural: lattes

Italian meaning: milk
Plural: latti

IPA: /latte/

When traveling to Italy, if you want a taste of your favorite Starbucks latte, you will need to instead ask for a caffè latte (espresso mixed with a splash of milk) or latte macchiato (milk mixed with a splash of espresso). The difference here depends on the ratio of espresso to milk.

14. Minestrone

English meaning: a vegetable-based soup of Italian origin.
Plural: minestrone or minestrones

Italian meaning: a hearty soup made up of whatever vegetables are on hand, sometimes including meat, pasta, or rice.
Plural: minestroni

IPA: /mine-stro:ne/

The pronunciation of minestrone by most English-speakers is neither correct Italian nor appropriately English-ified. Typically, we pronounce this word with a strong “ee” sound at the end, as if we are saying the name of the final letter. This does not coincide with traditional English phonics, nor is it the original Italian pronunciation. In Italian, it is pronounced with a “eh” sound.

Minestrone soup. Vegetable soup with fresh tomato, celery, carrot, zucchini, onion, pepper, beans and pasta. Dish of italian cuisine.

15. Mozzarella

English meaning: a type of white cheese that is a favorite topping on pizzas. It is usually made from cow’s milk.
Plural: mozzarella or mozzarellas

Italian meaning: a type of white cheese, typically high in moisture, that is popular on pizzas and in a caprese salad. This cheese is usually found in a ball shape. It can also be made from buffalo’s milk.
Plural: mozzarelle

IPA: /mottsa-rɛlla/

The biggest difference between the English pronunciation and the Italian pronunciation is the opening “o”. In English we tend to pronounce it with an open “aw” sound, whereas in Italian it is pronounced as an “oh”.

16. Panettone

English meaning: an Italian imported Christmas fruitcake.
Plural: panettone or panettones

Italian meaning: a favourite Christmas treat, similar to a fruitcake, shaped like a cylinder with a dome top. Most Italians prefer to simply buy it boxed from a supermarket over making their own.
Plural: panettoni

IPA: /panet-to:ne/


17. Panini

English meaning: a type of sandwich served on Italian bread (often ciabatta) and toasted by a machine called a Panini Press.
Plural: panini or paninis

Italian meaning: sandwiches, of any type or origin.
Plural: panini

This is another case in which English-speakers have adopted the Italian plural as our English singular. The Italian singular form is panino.

IPA: /pa-ni:ni/

Because panini simply means “sandwiches”, it can be used to refer to pretty much any type of sandwich. Two turkeys on rye are panini. Two toasted prosciutto on ciabatta are panini. The only exception is the tramezzino which is a specific kind of triangular Italian sandwich constructed from two crustless slices of white bread.

18. Parmesan (Parmigiano)

English meaning: a delicious, aged, hard cheese of Italian origin.
Plural: parmesan or parmesans

Italian meaning: the same as in English. However, it is also called Parmigiano Reggiano, referring to the fact that one particular variation of parmesan originates from Parma and Reggio Emilia.
Plural: parmigiani or Parmigiani Reggiani

IPA: /parmi-dʒa:no/ or /parmi-dʒa:no red-dʒa:no/

Italians take their certifications of origin very seriously. They are proud of the delicacies that make each region unique. For this reason, there are a lot of laws involved in which cheeses can be called what name, according to the origin of the ingredients and the production.

Wedge of parmesan cheese on wooden background

19. Pasta

English meaning: a dish of Italian origin using noodles and sauce, occasionally with meat or vegetables. Or can simply refer to the Italian noodles used in the dish of the same name. There are many variations.
Plural: mass noun but you may hear pastas

Italian meaning: the same as in English
Plural: paste

IPA: /pasta/

Fun fact: There are more than 300 different forms of pasta, based on ingredients, shape, or if they are freshly-made or dried. What’s more, some of these different forms go by different names based on the region. In total, there are more than 1,300 different names for various pastas.

20. Pepperoni (Peperoni)

English meaning: a spicy salami made from cured pork and beef. It is a favorite topping on pizza.
Plural: mass noun but you may hear pepperonis

Italian meaning: not applicable. The word peperoni (note that this word has one less “p”) means “bell peppers”. This is a plural word. In its singular form, it is called a peperone.

“Pepperoni the Salami” is not Italian. It is actually of Italian-American origin. Thus, Italians have no concept of pepperoni by that name. Instead, they would sooner call it salame piccante.

Concept of tasty food with bell pepper on white background

21. Pesto

English meaning: a sauce made from pine nuts and basil.
Plural: mass noun but you may hear pestos

Italian meaning: the same as in English.
Plural: pesti

IPA: /pesto/

Pesto originates from the city of Genoa, in Liguria, Italy. Because of this, Italians all across the country consider pesto alla Genovese (“pesto from Genoa”) to be the pinnacle of quality.

22. Pistachio (Pistacchio)

English meaning: a green coloured nut
Plural: pistachios

Italian meaning: the same as in English.
Plural: pistacchi

IPA: /pistak-kio/

In English, we pronounce the ending of this word with a SH sound, as in “she”. In the original Italian, the “chi” creates a K sound instead, as in “key”. Also, please note that in Italian, it is spelled with an additional “c”. You can find out more about the pronunciation of pistacchio here.

Pistachios with green leaves . On a Wooden background.

23. Pizza

English meaning: a dish of Italian origin consisting of leavened dough covered with tomato sauce and various toppings. Often served cut into triangular slices.
Plural: pizzas

Italian meaning: a dish consisting of rounded leavened dough covered with toppings of choice. Often served whole, cooked to be a single serving.
Plural: pizze

IPA: /pittsa/

A lot of the most common American pizza toppings are uncommon in Italy. Margherita is one of the true Italian staples.

24. Prosciutto

English meaning: thinly sliced dry-cured ham.
Plural: prosciutti or prosciuttos

Italian meaning: ham.
Plural: prosciutti

IPA: /proʃ-ʃutto/

Italian prosciutto is served one of two ways. Prosciutto crudo (meaning “raw”) is dry-cured; this is what most Americans picture when they think of prosciutto. Prosciutto cotto (meaning “cooked”) is cooked.

Thin slices of prosciutto with olives on wooden cutting board

25. Ragù

English meaning: a sauce made with minced meat, onion, tomato puree and red wine, served with pasta, usually spelled ragu without the accent
Plural: mass noun

Italian meaning: same as the English meaning
Plural: ragù (there is no formal plural term)

IPA: /ra-gu/

Americans and Brits alike adore the idea of a genuinely authentic Italian plate of Bolognese (Bolognaise). Unfortunately, native Italian are unfamiliar with this supposedly “Italian” dish by that name alone. In Italy, this famous dish is a special variation of ragù, as made in Bologna. If you want an authentic plate of Bolognese, you’ll have to ask your waiter for pasta con ragù alla bolognese.

26. Ravioli

English meaning: a type of stuffed pasta, usually cut to be a square shape
Plural: ravioli or raviolis

Italian meaning: the same as in English, although the shape may vary between squares or circles
Plural: ravioli

This word is already in the plural form, because very seldom do we cook a singular raviolo for a meal.

IPA: /ravi-ɔli/

Tasty raw ravioli with flour, cherry tomatoes, sunflower oil and basil on a light wooden background. The process of making Italian ravioli.

27. Risotto

English meaning: a dish featuring cooked rice of Italian origin.
Plural: risottos

Italian meaning: a dish of rice cooked in broth, often with various add-ins
Plural: risotti

IPA: /ri-zɔtto/

28. Spaghetti

English meaning: a type of pasta noodle that is a long, narrow rod. Also the shortened name for “spaghetti and meatballs”, an Italian-American dish featuring spaghetti noodles, ragù or tomato sauce, and meatballs.
Plural: mass noun but you may hear spaghettis

Italian meaning: a type of pasta noodle that is a long, thin rod.
Plural: spaghetti

Like most pasta noodle words, this word is already in plural. The singular form would be spaghetto.

IPA: /spa-getti/

Spaghetti all' amatriciana from the Lazio region of Italy with pecorino cheese, pepper, tomato, cured pork jowl or guanciale served in a bowl as a first course to Italian cuisine

29. Tiramisu (Tiramisù)

English meaning: a dessert of Italian origin consisting of coffee-dipped ladyfingers layered in a sweet mixture with mascarpone cheese
Plural: tiramisu or tiramisus

Italian meaning: the same as in English. Sometimes the ladyfingers are dipped in a coffee-flavoured liqueur.
Plural: tiramisù

IPA: /tirami-su/

Fun fact: this dessert’s name literally translates to “pick-me-up”, which is exactly what this treat is: a little pick-me-up that is sure to put a smile on your face!

30. Zucchini (Zucchine)

English meaning: a green vegetable
Plural: zucchini or zucchinis

Italian meaning: the same as in English.
Plural: zucchine / zucchini

The singular form in English is zucchini. In Italian, the singular form can be either zucchino or zucchina and their respective plurals are zucchini and zucchine. Zucchino is the older form found in many dictionaries, but zucchina tends to be the preferred form in everyday speech in many regions.

IPA: /zu-ki-ni/


Additional reads:

italian food words in english
italian food words used in english
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