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What are Appetizers?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Appetizers are finger foods usually served prior to a meal, or in between mealtimes, and are also called hors d’oeuvres, antipasti, or starters. They may range from the very simple to the very complex, depending on the occasion and the time devoted to making them. Appetizers are a common accompaniment to aperitifs, cocktails served prior to a meal.

At dinners, banquets and the like, appetizers may be served prior to a meal. This is especially common at weddings, when it takes time for the wedding party and guests to get to a reception after the marriage has taken place.

Hors d’oeuvres may also be served at long parties that occur after a regular meal time. A mid-afternoon party where there is no intent to serve dinner, or an evening party that occurs after dinner, may also feature them so that guests can have the opportunity to snack. They’re an especially good idea when guests are consuming alcohol, since they help to cut down on alcohol absorption. Additionally, many restaurants feature a range of finger foods that are ordered just prior to a meal as a first course.

A simple plate of cheese and crackers, chopped vegetables (called crudités) served with dip, or sliced or small fruits can all be considered appetizers. Other popular options include canapés, finger sandwiches, crab cakes or crab puffs, small sausages that can be eaten in a bite or two, and any type of dumplings such as dim sum. The goal is to make the food easy to handle with just a napkin, and easy to eat in one to two bites. This way guests can continue to visit, dance, chat or mingle without needing to be encumbered by plates.

When people are choosing appetizers to serve, they should think about foods that will go well together, but vary in flavor and taste appeal. For example, perhaps a host would like to serve grilled jumbo shrimp. This is a great choice, but some guests may be allergic to seafood or shellfish. In addition to the shrimp, the host should consider other foods, such as stuffed mushroom caps, a nice cheese plate, and fruits and vegetables in easily handled sizes.

Because starters are frequently served at large parties, cooks should try to keep foods to which people have common allergies either easily recognizable or off the menu. People who choose to serve a shellfish appetizer should not disguise it, and they should make sure the shellfish doesn’t come into contact with other food being served. Hosts should also avoid common allergens like peanuts, too, and be certain that, if they do serve them, they are kept in a separate bowl or serving dish.

It is appropriate for hosts to serve both hot and cold foods, but perfectly fine to serve all of one or the other. People who are planning a long party, if their guests have a long time to wait before eating a meal, should consider that hot food tends to be more satisfying and can stave off hunger pains. Especially if guests are dancing for several hours, they can get very hungry.

Whatever a host plans to serve, he should keep in mind that there are virtually thousands of appetizers to choose from. There are cookbooks devoted to them and many recipes are available online. Cooks can consider imaginative foods they haven’t seen before to delight their guests with new flavors and ideas.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon350427 — On Oct 04, 2013

An appetizer is not just what it may seem to be. It is not just the section of a meal before the entrée. It is there to stimulate your appetite for an entrée and can even complement the main dish, as well.

By Kristee — On Oct 28, 2012

I think the best recipes for appetizers involve shrimp. I never turn down shrimp at a party.

My favorite appetizer was a piece of spicy boiled shrimp on top of a piece of toast with an amazing dip in between. The dip tasted a lot like comeback sauce, which goes great with just about anything, in my opinion.

By shell4life — On Oct 27, 2012

@cloudel – I know what you mean. I borrowed one of my friend's appetizer recipes just so I wouldn't have to eat a bunch of junk food at a party.

The recipe is simple. It only has two ingredients: apple and pineapple.

You cut up a few slightly tart apples and mix them in a container with several chunks of fresh ripe pineapple. The juices take a little of the tartness out of the apples but leave the apple flavor behind.

You can stick a toothpick through an apple chunk and a pineapple chunk and offer them together, or you can serve them separately. I think they taste best together, though.

By cloudel — On Oct 27, 2012

I like healthy appetizers, like broccoli florets and cherry tomatoes. I'm always happy when a host offers these at a party, because it means I don't have to fill up on slices of greasy meat or sugary snacks.

By StarJo — On Oct 26, 2012

@GreenWeaver – Pigs in a blanket make very easy appetizers. Everyone I know loves them, and if you do choose to serve them, you had better make plenty!

These go faster than all the other appetizers. They are great at holiday parties, because they are filling and warm.

I like to take smoked cocktail sausages and wrap them in canned biscuit dough. Some people use actual hot dogs and crescent roll dough, but I prefer my method.

The only bad thing about them is that they are high in fat. I eat way too many of them, because I just can't resist all that flavor.

By GreenWeaver — On Feb 15, 2011

SurfNTurf - I love spinach dip. I think that other great party appetizers are pigs in a blanket and deviled eggs.

They are filling and tasty. I also serve chunks of cheese along with some fruit like strawberries and grapes. Those are quick appetizers that everyone loves.

Sometimes I serve tomato with mozzarella cheese and a little bit of olive oil and oregano. It is a healthy appetizer that goes great with wine.

I try to stay away from fried foods like fried chicken or shrimp because I think that these appeitzers are not as healthy or satisfying.

By surfNturf — On Feb 14, 2011

I do that too sometimes. I usually order the Mexican appetizers like quesadillas. They are delicious with some sour cream and guacamole.

I also love spinach dip. I always serve it with some lime Tostitos chips. It's delicious.

By overreactor — On Apr 02, 2009

Occasionally I will order an appetizer for my meal. If I am not very hungry, an appetizer is just the right size. It is also good for the waist.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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