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Adam Liaw: What is the difference between muffins and cupcakes?

Listen to Adam Liaw: What is the difference between muffins and cupcakes?

In this rollicking short lecture, MasterChef Australia-winning chef and Destination Flavour presenter Adam Liaw attempts to pick apart the differences – etymologically, compositionally, and culturally – between muffins and cupcakes. Along the way, he touches on how we assign meaning to what we eat, and how the tiniest of changes made decades or centuries ago can influence what we find on our plates today.

'If you tell people you had a muffin for breakfast, they're like, "Oh, you've got your whole life together. How do I get so successful and vivacious?" But if you tell them you had a cupcake for breakfast, it's like you woke up fully clothed, face down, in a pool of your own vomit, and they're calling your friends to arrange an intervention. For something that's so compositionally similar, we've attributed roles to muffins and cupcakes that are completely unassailable.'

'When I first got the email about this topic,' Adam says, 'I happened to be standing next to Ben Shewry, from Attica. I thought, I've got one of Australia's best chefs right next to me – I should probably ask him. I said, "Ben, what is the difference between a cupcake and a muffin?" He thought about it for about five seconds, looked me straight in the eye, and said, "A cupcake is never savoury, and a muffin is never iced.' Which is bloody good; it's a brilliant definition. You can't get much better than that. But, of course, that's not the end of the story.'


Portrait of Adam Liaw

Adam Liaw

Adam Liaw is a unique voice in Australian food. He is a food columnist for Fairfax and the Guardian, and the author of four hugely popular cookbooks on Asian cuisines. On television, Adam hosts the SBS food and travel program, Destination Flavour, now in its fourth season. He was the winner of MasterChef Australia’s blockbuster second series in 2010. He is also a qualified lawyer.

The Interrobang

Catch up with the best discussions and reflections from The Interrobang: a new festival driven entirely by your questions, from the Wheeler Centre.