What’s the Difference Between a Macaron and a Macaroon?
Two confections with very similar names, and similar origins, could not be more different in their construct. The macaron (pronounced mah-kah-ROHN) is a delicate cookie made with almond flour or meal, egg whites, and confectioners' sugar that puffs up during baking to create a hollow center. The result is an airy, slightly domed cookie, the base of which is soft and chewy. Two cookies are paired to sandwich a filling typically made with butter, confectioners’ sugar, and oftentimes some sort of flavor extract. This sandwich cookie, known as the Parisian macaron, is what many people think of when they hear either “macaron” or “macaroon.” These charming confections are usually dyed vibrant and pastel colors to reflect the flavor of their filling. In Paris, these treats can be found all over, but Ladurée and Pierre Hermé are considered the most popular shops for macarons. This spelling (with one ‘o’)/pronunciation is French in origin.
On the other hand, macaroon (pronounced mac-uh-ROON), denotes what is considered to be English spelling/pronunciation. Macaroons are made using shredded coconut, egg whites, and granulated sugar. No additional dyes are used to colored the cookie, however, they are often dipped in chocolate. Depending on how the baker makes them, they can be chewy and pale or more golden and crunchy.
Now, you can see where the confusion lies between the two treats with very similar-sounding names. Though there seems to be something of a case of lost-in-translation, there are a few accounts of the cookies’ origins. A common storyline for the confection begins in Italy. The term Macaron stems from the Italian root word maccherone, which means "paste." (This is also where marzipan, a paste made of almond meal and sugar, comes into play. At some point, egg whites were added and marzipan was baked to make macaron-like cookies.) Legend points to Venetian monks in the 8th century who produced the almond cookies and to Catherine de’ Medici, who allegedly brought the monks' cookies to France in the 16th century. Another tale is of two nuns living in Nancy, France during the French Revolution who baked macarons and sold them as a way to pay for their living expenses.
Meanwhile, other regions across Italy, France, and Spain had their own similar version of these almond-based cookies. For example, the Italian amaretti and the Spanish almendrados are both versions of a flourless almond cookie. And dating back even before these accounts, it has been said that when Arab soldiers from Tunisia took over Sicily in the early 800s, they taught Sicilians how to make almond paste desserts, which could very likely be marzipan. Thus, the actual point of origin is a little confusing.
So how does the coconut macaroon fall into this almond cookie saga? Over time, coconut became very popular in the U.K. and among Jewish populations after it was introduced to Europe from India. (There are varying accounts of exactly when this introduction occurred, but most estimate it to be at some point during the 16th century.) Coconut production hit a boom in North America during the late 1800s with the introduction of coconut to Florida. The coconut obsession grew, and over time, Jewish cookbooks began featuring recipes for coconut macaroons, swapping shredded coconut in place of the almond flour or meal. Coconut macaroons became a popular go-to dessert for Passover because they do not contain flour.
In summary, if you’ve ever considered macaron and macaroon interchangeable… well, they’re not. While their names sound similar and both cookies are gluten-free, just remember:
Macaron= almond (Both the name and the nut contain one o.)
Macaroon= coconut (Both the name and the nut contain two o's.)
Both macaron & macaroon = delicious