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What are the biscuits that Americans put gravy on called in British English? They're very different from British biscuits. I like both kinds of biscuits, but the British ones would not be good with gravy.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jan 4, 2023 at 20:32

10 Answers 10

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The word is ambiguous, but the object it describes in North America does not exist in British cuisine, so one cannot translate it by a single word. Some things are like that. To communicate the information…

In concise text for an educated audience I would write:

American ‘biscuits’

In speech I would say:

What Americans call ‘biscuits’.

In a cookery book:

I would explain what they are and provide a picture.

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    There are tons of food like this. In China, there are things called "Western pastries" that don't actually exist in the west. In America, you get a fortune cookie in Chinese restaurants, which no restaurant actually does in China.
    – Nelson
    Jan 5, 2023 at 5:36
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    @Nelson — I think you misunderstand. We are talking about a particular item of food in the context of the country in which it is cooked and eaten — the US. This particular item has a name. The problem is that the name is used for a different culinary item in Britain, where the US item is not eaten and may not be generally known. The question is how do you communicate information about the US food to a British audience. It is not a question of whether Tom’s Genuine American Burger shack in Piccadilly Circus (London) sells burgers that taste like those in New York — your fortune cookie analogy.
    – David
    Jan 5, 2023 at 14:56
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    The problem is that the name is used for a different culinary item in Britain, No. The problem is that these American "Biscuits" do not exist, even as a concept, in the UK. As they do not exist, there is not a word for them. It is as simple as that.
    – Greybeard
    Jan 6, 2023 at 16:50
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    @Greybeard - Balut doesn't exist in the US or the UK, but we can still call it unambiguously Balut because there's no other dish with that name. The fact that 'biscuit' means something in the UK, and something different in the US, is absolutely relevant to this question. Also, see Sven Yargs's answer. Jan 6, 2023 at 18:13
  • I grew up (70 years ago) calling them "baking powder biscuits", as opposed to occasional things that came in boxes that weren't crackers or cookies. We also served strawberry shortcake using baking powder biscuits. But when you get biscuits and gravy, that's the kind. It's not sweet -- it can be part of a sweet or a savory, but is has little flavor until you add butter or a topping. Very dull stuff, but useful. Jan 29, 2023 at 19:32
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A couple of reference works that explore terminological differences between U.S. English and British English argue for scone as the approximate British English equivalent of the U.S. English biscuit. From Norman Schur, British English A to Zed, third edition (2007):

scone, n. | approx. baking powder biscuit

(Should rhyme with JOHN though the long O is also heard in some circles. ...) Usually served at room temperature, while the approximate American equivalent is served warm. The usual fare for tea.

And from Christopher Davies, Divided by a Common Language: A Guide to British and American English (2005):

Grocery Names

US . . . . . . . . UK

biscuit . . . . . scone

If you search Google Images for pictures of "English scone," you'll find many instances of a circular baked good that looks very much like a U.S. biscuit. In U.S. bakeries, however, items sold under the name scone tend to be significantly larger than a regular unsweetened Southern U.S. biscuit and wedge shaped and (often) sparsely sprinkled on top with granulated sugar.

In the U.S., as (according to Schur) in the UK, scones are generally sold or served at room temperature, and in my experience they still taste pretty good 24 hours after production. U.S. biscuits, in contrast, are heavenly when eaten minutes after leaving the oven but rapidly lose their perfection as they age.

Being from the edge of the U.S. South rather than from its interior, I wouldn't drown a fresh biscuit in white pan gravy—that's what grits are for. But a very warm biscuit split and then reclosed clam-style over a thin slice of sweet butter is, like properly made fresh cornbread, one of the simple joys of life.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jan 5, 2023 at 20:26
  • British 'scones' and American 'biscuits' are similar, but meaningfully distinct items. Mar 1, 2023 at 21:06
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Strictly speaking, the answer is that there is no word in British English for this. Other answers that say "scone", "roll", "dumpling", etc., are describing what the closest similar thing in the UK is, but that was not the question.

The average person in the UK would not know what "biscuits and gravy" are. They don't exist there. If you presented them with a plateful, and asked what the name is, they could only guess. They might say the biscuits look similar to some other thing, probably a scone, but that they are not exactly that thing (though there are a wide variety of scones). If you told them they are "biscuits", they would find that odd, because to them, biscuits are what Americans call cookies, so they are clearly not what they know as biscuits. But they would still not have some other word to use. If asked again in the future to identify them, they might say "American biscuits", but that is not a commonly known borrowing, so they would likely need to give an explanation to someone else, like "a kind of bread, something like an unsweetened scone, that Americans call 'biscuits', and put a kind of strange white gravy on - isn't that weird?".

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    +1 for "a kind of bread, something like an unsweetened scone, that Americans call 'biscuits', and put a kind of strange white gravy on - isn't that weird?"
    – deep64blue
    Jan 4, 2023 at 19:50
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    Also, American white gravy is really alien to the British, to whom gravy is always brown, and should contain meat juices. Jan 5, 2023 at 20:52
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    It's a regional thing. I'm not sure I've ever actually seen in it in the mid-Atlantic states or New England. I think I'd accept it as a gravy, but it's certainly not what comes to mind when I see the word "gravy" (which, indeed, is made from the juice of whatever meat it's accompanying). (Related, it's taken a long time for me to stop picturing that when I hear "gravy" used to describe the sauce used in curries and various Indian dishes.)
    – chepner
    Jan 5, 2023 at 21:23
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    @JohnDallman Plenty of Americans have never heard of "white gravy" either. This is something from the old South. Gravy in the north is just brown meat drippings with a thickening agent like flour. Cream sauces aren't gravies to us either.
    – tchrist
    Jan 5, 2023 at 22:05
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I did wonder what Americans called a 'biscuit' and put gravy on because we don't really have an equivalent item.

If they are like a sort of savoury scone then the nearest thing is cobbler which is essentially scones placed on top of a casserole or pie filling as an alternative to pastry (for a pie); or mashed potato (for a cottage or shepherd's pie) but it is also used with fruit fillings.

However we don't use cobbler a lot and don't serve it separately with gravy. The nearest thing historically (and possibly where the US term comes from) is ship's biscuit or hardtack which was the staple food of sailors on windjammers.

The word "biscuit" comes from a French word meaning "twice baked" and although our sweet biscuits are not usually baked twice they are more similar to a twice-baked confection than US biscuits and are a close equivalent to a "cookie"

By the way Norman Schur (quoted by Sven Yargs in his answer) was mistaken in stating that the word "scone" is normally pronounced with a short 'o' and that the long 'o' is only used in "some circles". The use of long and short 'o's is pretty evenly spread through all strata of society and is the source of endless, pointless, online discussion. I grew up using the long 'o' pronunciation and thinking that the short 'o' version was "posh" but I've come across lots of people who grew up with the short 'o' pronunciation and thought that the long 'o' version was posh. I've also never heard or read of an RP speaker criticising the long 'o' pronunciation so can't believe that it's considered "common".

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jan 5, 2023 at 20:26
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As a Brit, we wouldn't be familiar with this kind of biscuit. The closest I'd related to is some kind of bread roll. Other forms of American "biscuit" look more like what we'd term as "scones". Despite the description of "scone" in the wikipedia entry, we do experience savoury scones in the form of cheese scones - ones baked with grated cheese in the mixture, served warm with a butter spread.

As Brits, we don't typically serve gravy on any kind of bread, so this whole experience would be seen as new (or in many cases, "weird").

There isn't really a set answer to the question in hand because there's no direct equivalent in every day British use of bread and gravy based meals.

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    It's difficult for me to reconcile the statement "we don't typically serve gravy on any kind of bread" with Yorkshire pudding.
    – phoog
    Jan 5, 2023 at 20:02
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    Yorkshire pudding is a batter, it’s not bread.
    – Boots
    Jan 5, 2023 at 20:33
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    I would argue that a product made from a batter is (at least in some sense) a "kind of bread." (Cambridge online: "bread: a food made from flour, water, and usually yeast, mixed together and baked.") As an American, I similarly find biscuits to be a fairly distant cousin of true bread. More to the point, regardless of questions of vocabulary such as "batter" vs. "dough" and "pudding" vs. "bread," I suspect that there is a definite cultural link to be found between serving gravy on Yorkshire pudding and serving gravy on (American) biscuits.
    – phoog
    Jan 6, 2023 at 9:18
  • The same "biscuit", aka "baking powder biscuit", is used for strawberry shortcake, with whipped cream. It's not limited to savories. Jan 29, 2023 at 19:35
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We'd simply call them American biscuits.

If pressed further: "those things they put their weird white gravy on, you know, like a savoury scone."

This recipe, for example:

American biscuits

They might be known as biscuits in America, but they taste like a savoury scone and are perfect for scooping up chowder sauce

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There's one, not insignificant, problem with calling savoury doughy biscuits "American biscuits", insomuch that your average British consumer will presume these American biscuits are like the dried flat cakes sold in Britain but made in the USA.

enter image description here

To the uninitiated, you will have to give a brief description of an American scone and explain they are similar to savoury scones and are always, in the Southern US, accompanied by gravy.

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  • Maybe "American-style biscuits"?
    – Someone
    Jan 29, 2023 at 16:27
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    @Someone Not really because that would conjure the term "cookies" if I heard that.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 29, 2023 at 16:29
  • Which ones of those are Graham or Ritz crackers? :)
    – tchrist
    Jan 29, 2023 at 16:53
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    @Mari-LouA Yes, that's exactly right. They have a soft sweetness to them, a bit like gingerbread cookies. They aren't very "crispy" like corn or potato chips are. This makes them easy to crumble into something you can shape into a "crust" for the base layer of cheesecakes and other sweet pies and such. But they are also regularly given, along with mild, non-alcoholic ginger ale, to little kids who are sick to their stomach and so might be too nauseated to keep down anything but the blandest and most easily digested foods.
    – tchrist
    Jan 29, 2023 at 16:59
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    @PeterShor sometimes always doesn't always mean always :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 29, 2023 at 17:40
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On a functional level, the closest match would be a "dumpling" - which is a dough-based item often cooked within the gravy of a stew.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jan 5, 2023 at 20:28
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Not an answer, but a reference for those thinking of seeking a similarity between American Biscuits and something British - the recipes

American Biscuits:

350g self-raising flour, plus a little for dusting

2 tbsp sugar

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

100g cold butter

350ml buttermilk

British Scones:

350g self-raising flour, plus more for dusting

1 tsp baking powder (a mixture of a carbonate or bicarbonate and a weak acid)

85g butter, cut into cubes

3 tbsp caster sugar

175ml milk

Dumpling:

150g self-raising flour, plus a little extra

70g suet

British biscuit (ginger)

300g salted butter, cubed

225g light brown soft sugar

3 tbsp grated fresh ginger

300g golden syrup

750g self-raising flour

[4½ tbsp ground ginger]

3 tsp bicarbonate of soda

3 small egg yolk, beaten

You will note that there is a similarity - and no more than that - between American Biscuits and Scones. But that is where the matter ends. Scones are solely a dessert; American Biscuits are solely savo(u)ries. Their proportions of ingredients will give a different texture and flavo(u)r. They are not the same.

The other items differ markedly.

Following two comments on this post, I add:

The point of this post, which is too long for a comment, is to prevent unhelpful answers that claim to give a one-word answer to

What are the biscuits that Americans put gravy on called in British English?

Of the British population, 99.999% have never heard of, or even considered the possibility of, a scone-like object having gravy poured over it and served with a meat dish. As such there is no word for it.

If asked "What is an American biscuit?" The vast majority of the UK would be puzzled; a few might reply "A cookie"; even fewer would reply "An Oreo". Nobody (true for large values of "nobody") would guess what it really is.

Even among the very small percentage of the population of the UK that has been to the USA, few will have encountered American biscuits.

Yes, there are suggestions here that attempt to give a word but there is none.

Mentions have been made that cheese scones exist and that one can put jam on an American biscuit (who knew?), but these are irrelevant: They do not describe an American biscuit, which is chiefly part of a savoury meal.

The sample of people answering here is hugely unrepresentative of the general population of the UK as it is taken from either AE speakers who know what American biscuits are, or BE speakers who have had high exposure to, and an interest in, the rarer terms of AE and have learned what an American biscuit is.

There is still no BE word for an American biscuit.

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  • One can, and often does, put jam on American biscuits. How is that savory not sweet? That's also a weird dumpling recipe. Look up "chicken and dumplings".
    – tchrist
    Jan 6, 2023 at 19:23
  • Cheese scones are also common. But aside from any of that, how does this answer the question?
    – OrangeDog
    Jan 6, 2023 at 22:25
  • @OrangeDog how does this answer the question? I suggest you do me the courtesy of reading the first line before asking such a question. If you ask a baker for scones and he gives you cheese scones, what do you do? Cheese scones are not the same as scones. It does not matter that cheese scones exist as they are not these American "biscuits".
    – Greybeard
    Jan 7, 2023 at 12:22
  • @tchrist One can, and often does, put jam on American biscuits. This is not only news to me but it is really irrelevant. Either we say "American biscuits" are scones, or we say they are not scones but something different. They appear to have a different recipe that will result in a different texture/flavour.
    – Greybeard
    Jan 7, 2023 at 12:32
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    I understand why this is flagged as not an answer, and yet I am loathe to delete it. I feel there is useful information relating to what a "biscuit" generally is in American terms (eg ingredients) and how that might be related to similar British items. If I were to describe a biscuit to a British person, I would likely say it's rather like a plain scone in terms of texture and flavor, for instance. But an important bit in this answer is that the UK doesn't really have a thing like that, so there isn't really a word for it.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 10, 2023 at 20:53
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If we wanted to be accurate and specific, we would borrow the American English word biscuit, as there is no exact equivalent in British English.

Depending on the context we might need to describe or specify what type of biscuit we were talking about. Using the phrase biscuits and gravy would help to clarify that we're not talking about the cookie type of biscuit.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jan 5, 2023 at 20:29

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