naranjas escarchadas: Subtle difference between confitar and escarchar

Looking at recetas provides a different universe of cooking/food terms than looking at menus. I say this without “proof” but just as my subjective observation looking at a lot of both sources. The recetas tend to be more conversational/colloquial (both in titles and body text) than menus and so reveal a different glimpse of the Spanish terms.

One amusing example (on same webpage as my main topic here) is:

Whoopie Pies, la mejor forma de terminar una semana Whoopie Feet, the best way to finish a week

pies does indeed translate to ‘feet’ (as I learned in my post about names of mushroom parts) but in this case this is a real literal fail in that Whoopie Pie is of course English, not Spanish.

But moving on to main point. As usual I crunch through the Spanish (titles of recetas in this case) and get the side-by-side Google Translation to English, and then look for unusual or interesting translations, and then, investigate deeper. So here is the one that triggered this investigation and post.

Receta del lector: Naranjas escarchadas o confitadas en olla GM F y G Reader’s recipe: Candied or candied oranges in a GM GM pot

Now first of all, to just clear it up, I’ve encountered the olla GM F y G multiple times. This is a cooking device, somewhat similar to the popular InstantPot in USA. Not the issue here.

The issue is seeing ‘candied’ repeated in the English translation. Matching up the words this means Google thinks escarchadas  is ‘candied’ and confitadas  is ‘candied – which is it?

These are conjugations of the verbs escarchar and confitar, neither of which (in Oxford) directly translated to ‘candied’. In fact, that was my initial confusion as both translate to ‘to crystallize’. has more translations: confitar (to candy, to crystallize, to preserve in syrup) and escarchar  (to crystallize). A further clue is the noun, escarcha, which translates to ‘frost’.

The online Oxford dictionary, which I use extensively, offers both definitions and translations. The Diccionarío de la lengua Española from Real Academia Española is the authoritative source on Spanish definitions. So I used definitions from both these sources to attempt to figure out verb means what and why the author of this receta used both. As I’ve generally found the definitions in DLE are written in prose that gives Google Translate some issues so try to read past those.

For confitar:


1 Recubrir frutas cocidas con un baño de azúcar. Coat cooked fruits with a sugar bath.
2 Hervir una fruta o un fruto seco en un almíbar concentrado. Boil a fruit or a dried fruit in a concentrated syrup.
3 Cocinar y conservar, en su propia grasa, carne de cerdo, pato o pavo. Cooking and keeping, in its own fat, pork, duck or turkey.

and DLE

1. Cubrir con un baño de azúcar una fruta o una semilla para hacerla más agradable al paladar. Cover with a bath from sugar a fruit or a seed for dothe plus nice to the palate.
2. Cocer una fruta en almíbar. Cook a fruit in syrup.
3. Endulzar, suavizar. Sweeten, soften.
4. Cocinar algo en aceite a fuego lento. Cook something in oil to fire slow.

Even I, with no fluency in Spanish, could translate #1 better than Google did.

Now let’s look at escarchar:

Oxford (you’ll see why I mentioned escarcha)

1 Poner sobre una cosa algo que imite la escarcha, como azúcar glas o cristalizado, polvos de talco o harina. To put on something something that imitates the frost, like icing or crystallized sugar, powders of talc or flour.
2 Cocer una fruta o un fruto seco en un almíbar concentrado que al evaporarse y enfriarse forma una capa de azúcar cristalizado en su superficie. Cook a fruit or a dried fruit in a concentrated syrup that evaporates and cools to form a layer of crystallized sugar on its surface.

and DLE

1. Preparar confituras de modo que el azúcar cristalice en su exterior como si fuese escarcha. Prepare jams from mode what he sugar crystallize in his Exterior as yes I was Frost.
2. Preparar una bebida alcohólica haciendo que el azúcar cristalice en una rama de anís introducida en la botella. Prepare a drink alcoholic doing what he sugar crystallize in a branch from anise introduced in the bottle.
3. Salpicar una superficie de partículas de talco o de otra sustancia brillante que imite la escarcha. Splash out a surface from particles from talcum powder or from other substance sparkly what imite the Frost.
4. En la alfarería del barro blanco, desleír la arcilla en el agua. In the pottery of the mud White, dissolve the clay in he Water.
5. Rizar, encrespar. Crimp, curl.
6. Congelarse el rocío que cae en las noches frías. Freeze he Dew what falls off in the nights cold.

Now with all this information the two verbs do have some overlap but also considerable difference. confitar is also cooking in oil, hence a confit and escarchar doesn’t include that definition.

But the key difference, with some knowledge of cooking, is that it’s questionable to consider, as Oxford does, confitar as ‘crystallize’ whereas that does apply (better) to escarchar. A crystallized fruit is not exactly the same as a candied fruit despite both being basically coated (and cooked in) sugar.

So why did the recipe use both? And which should it be? The recipe uses the verb confitar in the instructions portion, i.e. perform the action implied by confitar in the cooking device (perhaps its buttons are labeled as confitar, no idea). But the result of the process and the term consistently used for ‘candied’ is escarchadas. So that still leaves me with the question as to which is really best. Asking Google search the question, “what is candied in Spanish” just adds more confusion with the result: azucarado, which makes sense but doesn’t help. And Amazon’s Alexa decided to respond with confitaras.

Now as to my project (building a menu translation app) what I should have in my translation is all of these variations with both candied and crystallized as definitions. IOW, reading a menu is different than writing a receta. For my project I don’t need to know which word is the best choice in writing, just what do these words mean on menus. So I’ll leave it to fluent Spanish speakers to debate this.




2 thoughts on “naranjas escarchadas: Subtle difference between confitar and escarchar

  1. I recognize Google Translate’s imperfection when it comes to Spanish. For instance it has trouble to distinguish between male and female nouns. An example, my father has a female cat (gata) but the Google translation used gato (the male form).


    • It works surprisingly well but analyzing a lot of material reveals many flaws. I’m really suspicious of the “context-sensitivity” claim (deduced by their AI). When words have multiple meanings clearly picking the appropriate meaning (and thus translation) is very context sensitive, yet often I notice a valid, but incorrect in the context, translation. But it’s interesting to see what it does and actually a way to learn some Spanish trying to do better.

      Liked by 1 person

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