The French prepositions “de” and “à” are both used when talking about prepared foods such as “une tarte aux fraises” and “une confiture de fraises”. Which one to pick actually follows a rather simple logic.
1 – The French Preposition De
“De” is used to describe the way one main ingredient is prepared: so, in French, you would say:
- un pâté DE,
- une confiture DE,
- un chutney DE,
- une terrine DE
- une soupe DE
All these are different ways of preparing one main ingredient: take away this ingredient, and you’d be left with… spices, sugar… Nothing much at all!
Note that the “de” here never becomes “du” nor “des”. It is not a French partitive article, it’s the French preposition “de” and it means “of”. You could actually replace this “de” by “of”, “made of”…
This is why we say “une confiture de fraises” = a jelly made of strawberries.
2 – The French Preposition À
On the contrary, “à” (which contracts with le to become “au” and with “les” to become “aux”) is used to describe a flavor or a garnish: take away this ingredient, and you will still have something. It might not taste like much… an unflavoured ice-cream or a dull cake…
You can replace the article by “avec” (with) and it should still make sense.
This is why we say “une tarte aux fraise” = “une tarte avec des fraises”
Also in this idea:
- un gâteau au chocolat
- une glace à la vanille
- un yaourt au café
- une sauce au caramel…
3 – De Versus À = Not Always Clear Cut
Ok, now this last example is a bit confusing. “Une sauce au caramel”… what else is there in this sauce? More sugar? Some butter? You wouldn’t actually say “une sauce avec du caramel”… So, sometimes, it’s hard to figure out whether you are talking about a way to prepare a main ingredient, or a dish with that ingredient. The best way is to memorize these French subtleties is to learn them in the context of a story, and then rely on what “sounds good”!
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