German Food-Related Words in the English Language


Over the centuries, several million German-speaking people immigrated to the United States. Already in 1919, in his American Language, H.L. Mencken wrote ‘The Germans left indelible marks upon America, particularly upon the spoken American of the common people.’  The following food-related words appear in the Oxford English dictionary.

In alphabetical order:


A Bismarck herring is a filleted salted herring marinated in vinegar and served cold. Prince Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) gave permission to the citizens of Stralsund to name this type of fish after him. Bismarck is also a drink consisting of champagne and stout, sometimes referred to as Black Velvet. According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the “Iron Chancellor” supposedly drank it by the gallon.

Gummi bear

Originally from Germany, gummi bear is the literal translation of the German term Gummibär. The candy comes in five colors, and is sometimes referred to as HARIBO, the name of the well-known manufacturer which stands for Hans Riesling Bonn.


The archetypical American food  was originally brought to the United States by German immigrants from Hamburg. The term can be traced back to 1889. It refers to a fried, broiled, or baked patty of groundbeef, usually seasoned in a round bun, and served with mustard, mayonaise, ketchup, lettuce, onion, tomato and pickle. During World War One, the hamburger was renamed as Salisbury steak, because the name was considered too German.


The traditional English word for the almond paste confection is marchpane, which means ‘march bread,’ and appears in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  In more recent times, the German version of the word gained greater currency since marzipan is chiefly imported from Germany.


This rolled fillet of herring is flavored with sliced onions and spices, pickled in brine, and usually served rolled up and skewed, hence the name. The term has been part of the English language for almost 80 years. In 1926, Ernest Hemingway used it in his book Torrents of Spring.


Selzer water, a natural spring water with a high mineral content and effervescent quality, orignally comes from Niederselters, Germany. Today, the name applies to any similar water.


A stehen, or beer stein, is a drinking mug named after the German word for stone, or earthenware. It also denotes a similar mug or glass commonly used to hold a pint measure for serving beer. Originally, steins found their way to the U.S. from Bavaria. The German word was first used in an English text in 1855.


Pumpernickel is one of the oldest German words used in English. In German, the term was originally used as a form of abuse and only later for bread. Pumpern means to pass wind (suggesting that the bread causes flatulence) and Nickel means goblin.


Quark is mentioned by Tacitus in Germania, as lac concretum (thick milk) eaten by Germanic people. The name comes from Late Middle High German and remains most popular in German-speaking and eastern European countries.

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Text: Jasmina Knezovic

Images: Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper, 1932, by Maximilian Mann,; Wikipedia;

Source: Gerhard Becker, Loanwords Related to Food and Drinks, Die Unterrichtspraxis/Teaching German, Vol. 25, No. 2, Focus on Diversity (Autumn, 1992) pp. 198-207.


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