Most vegetables and herbs have the same name, regardless of whether you’re in the U.K. or North America. However, there are a few that are different and they can cause some confusion for new arrivals:
Species: Solanum melongena. Originating in southern and eastern Asia, it was first recorded in England in the late 1500s. It was named aubergine by the French and the English borrowed the name. Americans called it eggplant from the middle of the 1700s because white and yellow varieties were said to resemble eggs.
Species: Beta vulgaris. Beetroot in the U.K. Beet in North America. To be accurate, beetroot is the root of the beet plant, so the British are being a bit more specific in naming this vegetable.
Species: Coriandrum sativum. Coriander was known in Britain as long ago as the 1300s, the word coming from the French coriandre. Cilantro is the Spanish translation and became the favoured North American term through its use in Mexican cooking.
Species: Cucurbita pepo. The same species as squashes and pumpkins, this vegetable originated in the Americas but was developed in Italy in the late 1800s where it was known as zucchini. Italian immigrants took it back to the U.S. where the name stuck.
The British stole the name courgette from the French, where it means small squash (courge). In the U.K., a fully grown courgette is called a marrow.
Mange tout/Snow peas
Species: Pisum sativum var. saccharatum
The origin of the term snow pea (as this vegetable is called in North America) is not known for certain. It may be because that they can grow in late winter or perhaps to the frost-like tint of the pods. In French, snow peas are called mange tout, (which means “eat all”) as both the peas and the pods are edible. The British decided to follow the French, probably because it sounded more posh.
Species: Petroselinum crispum. There are two types of parsley – curly (var. crispum) and flat-leaved (var. neapolitanum). In the U.K., they are known by these names, while in North America, flat-leaved parsley is known as Italian parsley.
Species: Eruca sativa. The English name, rocket, comes from the French roquette, from the Latin word eruca. Arugula, the name now common in North America, originated from the Italian word rucola, also from the Latin eruca. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the first appearance of arugula in American English to a 1960 New York Times article.
Spring onion/Green onion/Scallion
Species: Allium sp. In the U.S. they’re called scallions or green onions. In Canada, green onions or spring onions. In the U.K., spring onions. No real logic to it, as far as I can see!
Species: Brassica napus. This one is really confusing because the United Kingdom is not particularly united when it comes to naming it! It all started in Sweden where they developed a turnip which could survive the harsh climate. They called it rotabagge (stumpy root) and North Americans picked up the word as rutabaga.
It was introduced to Britain in the late 1700s, where it was called the Swedish turnip to distinguish it from the indigenous, smaller, white turnip (a different species, known as turnip in the U.K. and the U.S.). They then shortened it to swede. However, although this was the case in most of southern England, northern counties, as well as Devon and Cornwall, call it a turnip.
The Scots decided to add further to the confusion by switching the names entirely. Swedes are called turnips, while the white turnip is known as a swede!