What Does Cooking 'From Scratch' Mean to You?

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grandmother's hands slowly peel onions to cook soup from scratch

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In France, restaurants now have a way to let customers know if the food is made from scratch or not. NPR reports that a graphic in the window of a restaurant, one of a rooftop covering a saucepan, will now appear at restaurants that cook homemade food. Restaurants that use some already-prepared foods in their dishes won’t be able to display the graphic in their window.

A question arises, though. What is from scratch? The phrase conjures up images of food going directly from the farm straight into the restaurant’s kitchen without ever being in a packaging plant first, but that’s not necessarily the case. Restaurants that carry the logo can only use food that has “undergone no significant modification, including being heated, marinated, assembled or a combination of those procedures.”

Food that has been previously frozen is allowable, including vegetables and fruits that have been cut and then frozen. That may make you think, “That’s not from scratch,” but if you think about it, would you think that meat that’s been previously butchered into various cuts, frozen, shipped and then cooked at the restaurant wasn’t part of a dish that was made from scratch? Would you really expect a restaurant to butcher its own meat before it could claim to have homemade cooking? Is someone else “butchering” vegetables really any different?

Maybe it’s the fact that people have a bias against frozen vegetables that they don’t necessarily have against frozen meats.

Restaurants in France that use partially prepared foods aren’t happy about this new designation. They believe that partially prepared foods can have the same quality as foods prepared from scratch.

When frozen meats and vegetables can be called “from scratch,” does the term become ambiguous? What exactly does “from scratch” mean? I think it means different things to different people.

For instance, I use a mixture of spices from my spice rack for taco seasoning instead of buying a packet of pre-made seasoning. I usually mix it with browned, local, grass-fed beef to make a filling for tacos. I think that could be considered making meat for my tacos from scratch, but I didn’t grow and dry the spices myself or butcher the cow.

Another person might buy a packet of taco seasoning to add to ground beef and consider that homemade because they didn’t buy a tub of pre-seasoned ground beef and heat it up in the microwave.

Most of us use ingredients that have been somewhat processed before we get them. We may buy flour that has already been ground, cans of beans instead of dried beans to make meal preparation go a little more quickly, or prepared Dijon mustard to flavor the dressings we use on the salads we prepare from scratch.

My question for you is, where do you personally draw the “from scratch” line? At what point do you think you have to stop saying a dish has been made from scratch and start saying it’s, as one TV celebrity cook says, semi-homemade.