Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Marmalade and Marmelada - What's the connection?

I've always loved marmalade. One of the absolutely best ways to eat a piece of good, hearty whole-grain bread is to toast it, generously slather it with soft, unsalted butter, and then spread on it a thick layer of marmalade made from bitter Seville oranges, the kind with thick chunks of peel. On a cold winter's morning, and eaten with a steaming hot cup of black tea with milk, the meal approaches perfection.

In English, the word marmalade means a jam- or jelly-like preserve, thickened with fruit and fruit rind. Almost always the fruit involved is a citrus fruit - oranges, bitter oranges, lemons, limes grapefruits, etc. I have seen the word used for a ginger preserve, but outside this one, it's always meant something made with citrus fruit to me, and to most other English speakers.

Once I started living here in Brazil, and shopping at the local supermarket every week, I noticed a product on the shelves called "marmelada". When I gave it a good look, however, it seemed to have nothing to do with what we call marmalade, other than seeming to be made from some sort of fruit, and being sweet. It was a dark red, thick and consistent paste which could be cut into slices or chunks. If any readers are familiar with "guayabada" the Mexican and Caribbean guava paste, they will know what marmelada is like - it's very similar in appearance. Naturally, I bought some, and it was delicious, very fruity and not too sweet. The fruit taste was definitely familiar but I could not place it immediately.

Reading the package label I saw that the only ingredients were sugar and "marmelos". Not being familiar with this fruit, I looked it up in my Portuguese dictionary, where it was defined as "the fruit of the marmelo tree" which originated in Asia Minor. Not a lot of help. I next checked online for images of the marmelo, and found this photo:

I immediately recognized it. Can you?

If you can't recognize it, or want to know more about how this all connects to the English word marmalade, click on "read more" below for the rest of the story.



I recognized the photo immediately as a quince, which I had recently learned to cook with and to love in Canada. I used quinces in Moroccan lamb tagines, in tarts and in pies, and loved its complex, almost flowery flavor and aroma. So "marmelo" was quince in Portuguese, but what that had to do with marmalade, I still wasn't sure. I looked up the word marmalade in an English etymological dictionary, and found this about the word's origin.

1480, from M.Fr. marmelade, from Port. marmelada "quince jelly, marmalade," from marmelo "quince," by dissimilation from L. melimelum "sweet apple," originally "fruit of an apple tree grafted onto quince," from Gk. melimelon, from meli "honey" + melon "apple." Extended 17c. to "preserve made from citrus fruit."

So our English word marmalade does appear to derive from the Portuguese marmelada (via French).  But it's certainly long since lost its connection to quinces. According to the dictionary, the word began to be applied to citrus preserves as much as four or five hundred years ago.  This just leaves us with the question of where does the word "quince" come from then? Being linguistically curious, I now know, having followed this mystery to its end. But if you want to know, you'll have to do the language-detective work yourself. Me, I'm going to have a bit of marmelada, since marmalade is unavailable to me here in Brazil!

4 comments:

  1. The Brazilian "Marmelada" is made with "Goiaba" a fruit known as Guava in English!
    You can have it as a paste as you said but you can also have the fruit in slices.
    You can call both "Goiabada" but only the paste you call "Marmelada".
    We eat the first as a dessert after lunch. Lunch is the maid meal in Brazil. And the second we eat during breakfast or we have it for afternoon tea usually with crackers or spread on bread with or without cheese.
    In some regions we eat just cheese and "Marmelada" and we call it "Romeo and Juliet".
    You can also find croissants filled with cheese and "Marmelada"! They are quite good!

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  2. Lunch is the MAIN meal in Brazil. Not the "maid meal", sorry!

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  3. Sorry but I'm afraid WorldLookingIn has got it wrong. Sure, Brazilians like me, love their sweets. Goiabada is made from goiabas/guavas, marmelada is made from marmelos/quinces, bananada is made from bananas, pessegada from pessegos/peaches, etc. Goiabada is *not* the same thing as marmelada, they're made of different fruit.
    for more etymological fun check out the slang meaning of marmelada...

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