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G is for gourmet. And also gourmand, gastronome and glutton – which one are you?

What’s in a name, you might ask. Quite a lot, actually.

Under “F” in the dictionary you’ll find foodie, a word that’s become a catchall for all types of people who love all things food-related, for whatever reason – shopping for it, cooking for solo pleasure or for friends, eating out, food travel, and especially photographing, sharing and talking about their shopping finds, home creations and restaurant meals.

Some are food-nerds who collect chef trivia and brag about their discoveries and treasures, others make a living from it as social media influencers, and many just like to swop recipes on Facebook – they’re all in it for different reasons, and some may be gourmets or gourmands, or even greedy guzzling gluttons.

Turn to the “G” section of the dictionary, however, and you’ll find a host of terms related to a love of food and drink, each with a very specific definition beyond the catchall “foodie”.

Gourmet and gourmand might sound similar, and they’re often used interchangeably – incorrectly so, because they mean quite different things and have different roots.

The key difference lies in quality vs quantity.

Although it has moved away somewhat from its 15th century roots in the Old French word for “gluttonous”, the term gourmand still refers to someone with an extreme, even excessive, love of eating and drinking. A tad decadent, the gourmand loves food, all food, any food – all day (and all of the night).

The meaning these days is accepted as “heartily interested” in food and drink, rather than over-indulgence (for that, we have the word “glutton”), but the gourmand’s preference will still tend to quantity over quality if you force them to choose.

The gourmand might be considered to have a democratic, populist approach to food and drink, while for the gourmet all food experiences are most definitely NOT created equal.

Quality and exclusivity are the watchwords for the gourmet, a connoisseur of fine food and wine, highly knowledgeable, with a refined and discerning palate.

The gourmet appreciates high quality, speciality ingredients and dishes that require elaborate and expert preparation, served with the most exquisite of presentation in perfect settings with silver service, accompanied of course by premium wines and spirits.

These are people for whom 10-course tasting menus paired with fine wines in Michelin 3-star restaurants are made.

Interestingly, gourmet has its roots in both Old English and Old French, the word that became the noun “groom”, as in a valet or servant, and originally had meanings more specifically related to wine – a wine broker, wine taster, a valet in charge of wines, or a wine merchant’s assistant.

Expertise in wine now has its own specific words, like sommelier and oenophile, and “gourmet” now focuses more on food, but with a definite interest in superior drinks too.

There are gourmet cooking classes, gourmet magazines and websites, gourmet cooks, gourmet shops, gourmet menus, gourmet home kitchens, gourmet travel – all relating to high quality ingredients and meals, and the high-level skills and equipment to prepare it.

Gourmet and gastronome (a lover of good food) overlap somewhat, but again, they are slightly different.

Where the gourmet’s highly-educated interest is mainly in the art of good food in general, gastronomy is interested in both the art and the science of good food, how it is intertwined with the history, culture and traditions of a specific place, and the special skills developed to prepare the traditional foods of a region or country.

So, if you like, the gastronome takes education and knowledge a notch above the gourmet, and hence one can book gastronomic tours of highly specific regions from Thailand to France to Mexico.

Although few would like to admit to living up to these words, the “G” entry in the dictionary also comes up with two of the seven deadly sins – greed and gluttony.

There’s a slight difference between these sins – gluttony is a lack of self-control in eating and drinking, relating to overeating, overindulging, overspending, and so it also relates well to other G-words like guzzle and gulp.

While gluttons might be willing to share, greed is wanting to keep all the good stuff for yourself, wanting more than you need, even resorting to stealing or killing to own the prized item (the dodgier parts of the trade in truffles, perhaps, or even the illegal trade in South Africa’s prized abalone….).

So, are you a generic, catchall foodie, or a gourmet, gourmand or gastronome?

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