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I suppose that I could probably summarize that to "Is foodstuff a mass or count noun?" but I wasn't entirely certain if that would get me the wrong answer. I've always used "foodstuffs" when referring to actual components for recipes, but I could see an argument only using the singular since, after all, it's a noun which covers all of the components at once. I thought of submitting it to "The Word Detective" but it seems like more of a case of usage.

Dictionaries seem to indicate it in the singular without noting pluralization, but there are also many example sentences which use "foodstuffs" such as the Tarzan quotes I found here: "The she was for Tarzan--all that he desired was to bury his snout in the foodstuffs of the Tarmangani." and "They appeared to be raiding parties, for they drove goats and cows along with them and there were native porters laden with grain and other foodstuffs."

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    Foodstuff is not a mass noun, and OP's concept of the plural referring to the ingedients for a recipe is idiosyncratic, to say the least. You could reasonably say "Pitta bread is a common foodstuff in the the Middle East", but usually it's applied to more "basic" animal/plant raw materials that provide nutrition (grain, beans, dried fish, whatever). Jan 5, 2012 at 22:36
  • "Dictionaries seem to indicate it in the singular without noting pluralization, ..." contra: @Gnawme below.
    – Kris
    Jan 6, 2012 at 9:13

3 Answers 3

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Various dictionaries (OxfordDictionaries, Merriam-Webster) don't specifically list foodstuffs as the plural of foodstuff, but then proceed to give examples using foodstuffs!

Take this entry from M-W Unabridged:

foodstuff, noun : a substance with food value: as a : the raw material of food before or after processing {a bountiful crop of cereal foodstuffs} b : an element of nutrition (as protein, carbohydrate, vitamin) {the sponge obtains its necessary foodstuffs from the plankton}

They're both valid -- foodstuff in the singular, foodstuffs in the plural.

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    "Various dictionaries ... don't specifically list ..." implies some of them do?
    – Kris
    Jan 6, 2012 at 9:11
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    @Kris Of the online dictionaries to which I have access, Wiktionary does, but I'm not sure I consider it authoritative.
    – Gnawme
    Jan 6, 2012 at 17:54
  • Thank you, Gnawme. That was very helpful. I suspected something like that might be the case, but I'm also well aware that I have certain idiosyncrasies when it comes to pluralizing words. For example, a tendency towards adding an 's' to "toward". Jan 6, 2012 at 18:00
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The word is remarkably recent.

OED makes the distinction:

foodstuff, n.

Etymology: < food n. + stuff n.1 Compare earlier breadstuff n.

A particular substance suitable for consumption as food. Also as a mass noun: edible material.

1847 Daily News 7 Apr. 4/5 The step taken by the Bank..will tend to put a check upon anything like wild speculation either in food stuffs or cotton.

1907 R. H. Chittenden Nutrition of Man i. 26 As the sole nutriment of the young, milk occupies a peculiar position as a foodstuff.

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The situation is complex. Dictionaries differ in their classification.

[1] Cambridge Business English Dictionary has

foodstuff noun [count or non-count]

a substance that is used as food or to make food:

  • Straw is a valuable by-product for farmers as an animal bedding and foodstuff.
  • There has been a severe increase in prices even for basic foodstuffs like flour, cooking oil, and chicken.

[2] Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary [amended slightly] disagrees:

foodstuff noun [count; usually used as the plural form, foodstuffs]

any substance used as food

It must be pointed out that the existence/use of a plural form does not guarantee that a noun or even a usage is count. 'Data' is morphologically plural but usually non-count and used with singular agreement. Likewise, 'confetti'. See How could the uncountable noun 'sufferings' be plural?.

I'd say that identifying count usages of 'foodstuff' (shown by the acceptability of a numeral in the actual example) are complicated by the fact that numerals are rarely used alongside foodstuff/s anyway. Certainly, 'foodstuffs' takes a plural verb form.

Though the fully acceptable

  • They appeared to be raiding parties, for they drove goats and cows along with them and there were native porters laden with grain and other food/foodstuff

use non-count 'food'/'foodstuff'

it probably makes sense to regard

  • They appeared to be raiding parties, for they drove goats and cows along with them and there were native porters laden with grain and other foodstuffs

as a count usage; inserting say a '3' gives an acceptable, if awkward, sentence.

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