We have a client visit planned to our service center (in India) and I am in-charge of Food and Beverages for our client's entire itinerary. I am writing to my client's Travel coordinator(an American) seeking a clarification on beverages that are to be arranged.

For breakfast, we have finalized on Filter Coffee (Hot) and Fresh fruit [Smoothie/Milkshake] (Cold) in Beverages. Kindly let us know if there are other preferences. Thanks

The cold beverage will be mixture of fruits + milk + ice cream + dry fruits (nuts)

N.B: Since I probably will be dealing with British clients in the near future, I'd be grateful if you could point out which word is clearer for Britons.


First of all, thanks to each and every EL&U member for registering their answers and comments. What started out as a word-choice dilemma has spiraled out of control (in a good way, I should say:)) and has provided clear guidelines on the usage of the words "smoothie" and "milkshake", and more importantly what goes in it and what does not. I showed this to our catering manager and she couldn't help but be amazed! Therefore, I feel the need to update you all on the outcome.

For beverages, we will be offering our American clients banana and apple smoothies with lot of fruits, zero sugar and a little amount of low-fat milk (none of the dignitaries are lactose intolerant, phew!). We are doing away with the nuts as suggested by many but will anyways be placing some dry fruits and nut varieties separately as a "top-up"( can be included with the drink or taken separately, as per individual tastes!)

I once again thank everyone for your answers and comments and of course, if someone has an alternative definition of these words, you can always post them here.


  • 2
    Just checking you don't mean a lassi do you? That's neither a milkshake nor a smoothie.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 13:50
  • @OrangeDog - Nope. Not lassi. But you may have just given me another option! :) I mean a beverage that has real fruit and milk.
    – BiscuitBoy
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 14:46
  • 14
    You might want to try asking this on the cooking.SE site. (use tag 'language'). From my travels, I've seen plenty of smoothies where there is dairy (yogurt or milk), but the majority is fruit. Milkshakes are primarily dairy and must include ice-cream. (this is why McDonald's serves 'shakes' and not 'milkshakes')
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 15:44
  • 2
    And if there's a difference in British & American usage of 'smoothie' or 'milkshake', you might want to make a note of it at cooking.stackexchange.com/q/784/67
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 16:00
  • 24
    Guys, this is a language question on a language site. If the asker wanted opinions on the menu itself, they'd have asked at cooking.stackexchange.com Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 17:41

8 Answers 8


A milkshake usually contains only milk and ice cream. However, sometimes strawberries or bananas can be added.

If the beverage is mostly fruit and ice, then I would call it a smoothie. If you add some milk, nuts, or ice cream to it I would still call it a smoothie.

The key ingredients determine the name. So if it is mostly ice cream and milk, it's a milkshake. If it's mostly fruit and ice then it's a smoothie. Also, milkshakes traditionally don't have nuts, protein powder, vitamin powders, or other additives.

In your example, I would call it a smoothie. If I saw smoothie on the menu I would expect the ingredients that you listed. Milkshake confuses things a bit. Stick to one.

  • 16
    As regards your British visitors, those terms are all well-understood. But it is unlikely your UK guests will be much interested in milk-shakes with ice-cream, or smoothies with lost of ice, for breakfast. If you provide coffee & tea (brown tea with sugar and milk available), plus plenty of fruit juices - orange, pineapple, mango etc., that should take care of the beverage side of things - at least for breakfast. Always be aware that the British take far less ice with their drinks than Americans.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 11:12
  • 5
    You could incorporate WS2's comments, he is a British English speaker. I have to agree about finding milkshakes on a breakfast menu, I think I would instinctively recoil if I read that. I'm cool with a fruit-based smoothie though.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 11:16
  • 8
    @BiscuitBoy Continenetal breakfast. Tea and coffee. Bread and some fruit. Perhaps some well cooked eggs. Many people actually don't have breakfast. Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 12:14
  • 5
    @Mari-LouA I'm sure my children would love smoothies for breakfast. But in the UK only the poshest hotels provide them at that hour. Budget hotels (where I stay) typically give you a buffet breakfast with tea, coffee, and a variety of fruit juices in jugs, so that you can mix your own should you feel inclined. Given fruit, yoghurt and muesli cereal, a "main course" of eggs, bacon, black pudding, mushrooms, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, and hash browns, followed by croissants, toast and marmalade, that ought to see you alright to start the day! And there is always porridge if you ask!
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 17:32
  • 3
    "Also, milkshakes traditionally don't have ... additives." Sure they do. Maybe not nuts, as that would make a non-smooth texture. However, a "chocolate malt" is just a chocolate milkshake with "malt" powder added. That is so common of a variation that the drink even has another name for it.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 18:37

For most Americans, a milkshake is served as dessert (usually at the end of the meal), although it may also replace the main beverage for the meal if one is feeling indulgent. Milkshakes are generally not associated with breakfast.

Smoothies, however, are generally viewed as a meal-replacement, most often for breakfast (when one is in a hurry to get to work), so it will generally contain protein, fiber, fruit, and enough ice and/or milk (or milk-like substitute such as yogurt) to blend all ingredients into a drinkable liquid.

One additional distinction is consistency. Milkshakes tend to be thicker than smoothies.

  • 5
    Honestly, I think this answer is more appropriate for this site than any of the others. +1 Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 19:05
  • 1
    Along those lines, since this particular recipe sounds heartier than a simple smoothie (thanks to the ice cream), would it be better to call it a "breakfast shake" instead? Or would that just confuse the issue?
    – thanby
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 17:39
  • 1
    I've had a lot of milkshakes (and malts) in my day. There was even a period where I routinely got one with every meal. I don't believe I have ever once ordered one separately from the meal as "desert". Its usually been an (expensive) alternate to having a water-based drink like a pop (soda/code/ or whatever they call it in your dialect area) with the meal.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 14:05

The critical thing I would go with is to make it clear that the smoothies contain milk and nuts. It's not a given that a smoothie will contain either (in the UK, most contain yoghurt as the base ingredient, or are pure fruit), and if someone is lactose intolerant or allergic, it can range from embarrassing to catastrophic to get that wrong.

For preference with British English, I would go with Smoothie; it's certainly more expected as a healthy breakfast drink, whereas milkshake is generally used in the context of a dessert or as an accompaniment to a meal (e.g. McDonalds).

  • 24
    As someone with a nut allergy I found the original post alarming. I’m always on the lookout for my allergens but I would never expect there to be nuts in a smoothie.
    – bdesham
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 16:30
  • 3
    In the UK smoothie is more likely to be associated with quality ingredients, too. Read "smoothie" and you expect real fresh fruit. Read "milkshake" and you hope for real fruit and ice cream, but unless specified otherwise, you expect just milk with artificial flavourings and nothing else. That said, "smoothie" usually means only blended fresh fruit and water/ice, so definitely definitely specify all the other surprise ingredients. Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 17:38
  • 5
    I am also absurdly proud that my first thought was "they're going to focus on the language and someone is going to die."
    – deworde
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 17:56
  • 1
    +1 American usage is generally in line with what this answer describes as well.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 7:38
  • 5
    @Joe Actually, they could, they just do not want to because they want the formula to be the same everywhere and in the United States, the rules as to what is and is not a milkshake change from state to state..
    – Trisped
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 23:00

It depends on what is in the drink and how thick the drink is.

From Honeybell's Cookery:

The main difference between smoothies and milk shakes is that fruit is the principal ingredient of the smoothie and ice cream is the primary ingredient of the milkshake.

The link contains quite a bit more information, but that is the main point.

There is also this answer on the Seasoned Advice SE site which covers the same information, as well as indicating that a 1941 advertised Banana Smoothie was milk and banana.

  • I was going to add my own answer but then I saw this. If it contains ice cream then I would call it a milk shake. Otherwise, I would call it a smoothie. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 17:22

If it's a lassi (which I know commonly are fruit, and sometimes use the pistachio nut or almonds) call it a lassi

An American going on an assignment in India should understand "lassi" as a dairy-and-fruit beverage at a baseline and may be pleased by menu verisimilitude as a recipe of Indian origin.

  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review
    – macraf
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 0:06
  • 7
    @macraf This is a valid answer though. "What should I call this drink, x or y?". "Call it Z" is an answer, even if it's not really respecting the author's question. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 9:43
  • 11
    I think this is a fair "lateral" answer, given the location is India Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 12:22
  • 2
    "Lassi is a blend of yogurt, water, spices and sometimes, fruit." It seems definitions as to what a 'lassi' is vary. Also I don't like your assumption that an American going to India would know what one is. People do not always read up on the cultures of the places they're visiting.
    – Pharap
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 11:29
  • 1
    I only learned the term lassi about a year ago. But I agree with this answer – if you're serving a lassi, call it a lassi, rather than trying to find the closest thing to a lassi in English. At worst, the visitors will look perplexed and ask, "What's a lassi?" At that point, the O.P. can reply, "It's kind of like a milkshake, only it has dried fruit and nuts mixed in."
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 17:12

I have many Brits as friends here in Canada and what they call a smoothie, we also call a smoothie. A smoothie is fresh fruits and even veggies (carrots, broccoli, kale, etc) blended with juice or milk or with protein powder. You can also add nuts. You can add just about anything and it's still a "smoothie."

But some of the commenters are correct, people do have nut allergies. I'd forgo the nuts in the smoothies to be on the safe side. A milkshake is strictly ice cream blended with milk to be a drinkable "ice cream" and it's usually a dessert or a midday summer treat like ice cream is. It is also not considered to be particularly healthy, just delicious.

Also, mentioning that your coffee is filtered does confuse the western reader. It's a given to us that the coffee grounds have been filtered out and what will be in our cups is pure coffee liquid. You would only address filtering if it were UNfiltered. It's also perfectly all right to uses adjectives such as "Piping Hot Columbian Coffee" and "Fresh Tangy Citrus and "Crunchy Kale Smoothies" or "Sweet Northern Strawberries" and "Golden Banana Smoothies."

  • 3
    Personally I think offering the nuts as an afterthought makes more sense than not including them at all. Also I'd dispute the filtered coffee comment. Personally I would take 'filtered coffee' to imply that it's fresh/proper coffee and not 'instant coffee'.
    – Pharap
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 11:43

Beware: in New England, a "milk shake" is pretty much unknown, so you'll likely get just that: shaken milk. If you want the ice cream version, ask for a "frappe".

Smoothies pretty much require something allegedly healthy :-) to be included, which kinda rules out a milkshake/frappe's combo of icecream, syrups, and even more sugar in some cases (and no or little fruit, and certainly no veggies).

  • 10
    Nowadays, I think pretty much everybody in New England knows what a milkshake is, and lots of places list them on their menu. Some places still use the word frappe. Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 13:25
  • 6
    I grew up in Connecticut in the 80's and 90's, and the only word I ever heard used to describe it is "milkshake". I had never heard of a frappe until I moved away and saw Starbucks for the first time...
    – Taegost
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 14:37
  • 5
    Like Boston's tonic for soda, I think frappe is falling by the wayside, though bubbler seems to have legs. A frappe (or frappé) to me is a coffee drink.
    – choster
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 15:08
  • 22
    Not sure what you're talking about...milkshake is a 100% understood word across the United States and has been for a LONG time. Different areas may also have a different word that can be used...but milkshake is still understood everywhere. Maybe you didn't know it...but the rest of New England sure did. Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 16:16
  • 4
    In old-time places in Boston, "milkshake" may be just milk and flavoring, without ice cream. Reference, if you don't believe me: yankeemagazine.com/article/new-england-101/…. This won't be the case in bigger restaurants and chains, but if you go to a diner or a country ice-cream shop, the distinction lives on.
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 18:29

A milkshake is usually milk with artificial flavoring and lots of sugar. It it not a suitable drink for breakfast.

In contrast, a smoothie is liquidised fruit. It is better for breakfast. So that is what you should say is being served.

  • Milk with artificial flavouring is not a milkshake, it's "flavoured milk", or simply "chocolate/strawberry milk". As a child I used to drink Nesquik milk made from chocolate or strawberry-sweetened powder. You added a tablespoon into a glass of cold milk and then stirred. Nothing like a milkshake
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 8:49

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