Hors D'oeuvres, Canapés, Appetizers, Amuse-Bouche: Definitions/Histories

Just in case you've ever been confused about what that Tiny Food you're being served is really called, here's a few small definitions and short histories for some of the most commonly used phrases for what I call Tiny Food:

Hors d'oeuvre is French for "outside of work", originally an architectural term that referred to an outbuilding not included in an architect's main design. Evidently, french chefs started using the term to refer to the small servings of food they would serve before a meal to sustain guests while the main courses were being prepared. Typically an hors d'oeuvre is one or two bites in size. A selection of hors d'oeuvres is often served as the only foodstuffs at cocktail parties or happy hours where no other food will be offered.

Canapés are savory hors d'oeuvres made on a bread base like a cracker or pastry, are able to be picked up with your fingers and are only big enough for one or two bites. The word originally meant a mosquito netting over a bed (canopy), then came to mean the bed itself or a couch, then it became the term for the bread topped tidbits.

Crudites (crew-dee-tay) are raw vegetables sliced into thin strips, usually one bite size (to discourage double-dipping) and served with an accompanying dip or sauce. The original root word was cruditas, which is Latin for undigested food but the direct translation is crudité which is French for raw food.

Appetizers are the first course served at a meal, they are not really considered an hors d'oeuvre as they are created to harmonize with the following courses of the meal - not "outside the work". They do not have to be able to be eaten with the fingers, nor are they limited to one or two small bites of food. Appetizers can be traced back to Rome's first century where the upper class citizens commonly indulged in multi course meals, the appetizer would be the first course and generally a small serving of fruits, eggs and/or cheeses.

Amuse-Bouche is a single bite of food, perfectly presented, that is at the chef's discretion. You cannot order an amuse bouche off the menu as it is really a small teaser offered, usually gratis, by the chef as a sort of introduction to the chef's meal and cooking style. The term literally translates as mouth amuser. Occasionally the term amuse-gueule is used though it is not preferred by the more refined restaurants or chefs. "The amuse-bouche is the best way for a great chef to express his big ideas in small bites." - Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Finger Food is anything that can be eaten with the fingers and without using a utensil of some kind. Meat pies, samosas, egg rolls, wings, any food on a stick and even hots dogs are finger foods. These are not necessarily hors d'oeuvres or tiny foods.

TAPAS were given their own post last week.

Other terms for hors d'oeuvres/canapes/tiny snacks from different parts of the world: Italy - Antipasto, Middle East - Meze, Tapas - Spain and/or Spanish speaking countries, Ciccetti - Venice, Italy, Zakuski - Russia, Zensai - Japan. I also think the term Smorgasbord could be considered a table full of hors d'oeuvres!

I am very fond of all these Tiny Foods, probably because I like the idea of variety and different tastes. A large meal of one main dish can bore me, a plate of unique and interestingly presented little bites of food just gets me interested. Because I like any tidbit that can be eaten in one or two bites - whether they are hor d'oeuvres, canapés, amuse-bouche or tapas - I call them Tiny Foods! Tiny foods not to be mistaken for micro foods which are grown as miniature versions of an individual fruit or vegetable, though certainly these micro foods can be used to create a Tiny Food!

I hope you enjoyed these short little definitions and histories and feel free to add any information you might have on the subject of Tiny Foods! It's always fun to know something about the food you eat.

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  1. I loved this, I love info that you should know but don't want to ask, :) I love knowing what an amuse bouche is! Thanks!

  2. Gabrielle, I just love saying amuse-bouche, lol!

  3. I didn't know the origins of most of these! Thanks for researching and posting these.

  4. Pam - good to see you here again! I'm glad you enjoyed my little lesson in Tiny Foods, lol.

  5. I am hosting a meetup for recipe and cooking lovers (have a small group here in California)...we are featuring hors d' oeuvres and I am delighted with the information that you have provided. I'll share with my group!


  6. Michelle - I'm glad you enjoyed the post and hope your friends like the information!

    Bon appetite!

  7. interesting! but im still a tad confused about canapes vs amuse bouche, they seem near identical

  8. little girl

    A Canapé is a small one or TWO bite savory on a piece of cracker or bread

    An Amuse Bouche is only ONE bite and can be anything that showcases the chef's talents & style


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