Origins of the Word Smetana

Smetana, the rich and creamy dairy product popular in Eastern European cuisine, has a fascinating linguistic journey that spans various countries in the region.

Growing up in a Russian immigrant household, we’d eat Smetana all the time. I knew the word for this creamy product “Smetana” before it’s English “Sour Cream.”

As Smetana Man, I’ve been curious about where the word “Smetana” comes from.

It's important to note that culinary language and terminology can sometimes have regional variations, and the usage of specific words may evolve over time. If you are referring to a specific country or region, it's always helpful to consider local context and culinary traditions.

Here are some historical facts about the word.

Russian ("Cметана")
In Russian, "Cметана" (Smetana – “Smeh-tah-naw”) refers to Sour Cream. The term is believed to have originated from the Old Slavic word "Smętъ" or "Smętanъ," meaning cream. This evolution showcases the linguistic continuity within the Slavic language family.
Ukrainian ("Cметана")
"Cметана" (Smetana) is commonly used to refer to sour cream. While it is primarily associated with sour cream, the term is often used in a more general sense to describe different types of cream in certain contexts. 
Czech ("Smetana")
The Czech language also uses "Smetana" to describe Sour Cream. Its linguistic roots can be traced to the Old Czech and Middle High German term "Smet," signifying cream.
Polish ("śmietana")
In Polish, the word for Sour Cream is "śmietana." This is derived from the Old Polish term "smietana," connecting it to the broader Slavic linguistic heritage.

“Smetana” used as “Cream” instead of “Sour Cream”

However, in some Eastern European languages, the word "Smetana" can indeed be used more broadly to mean Cream, and not necessarily Sour Cream. For example, people would “Drink Coffee with Smetana Coffee,” which in this particular instance would be drinking coffee with cream and/or milk. It is worth noting that people actually put Sour Cream in Coffee, but we’ll address that as a separate piece of content. 

“Smetana” Beyond the Slavic Languages

Variations of the word "Smetana" can be found in other Eastern European countries, demonstrating the influence of cultural and historical interactions.

 Hungarian ("Tejföl")
In Hungary, Sour Cream is known as "Tejföl." While not directly related to the Slavic term, it exemplifies the linguistic diversity in the region.
Latvian (“Krējums”)
In Latvia, Sour Cream is known as "Krējums" or "Skābais Krējums." Similar to Hungary, Latvia uses a different term for Sour Cream, despite it being in a Slavic region.
Romanian ("Smântână")
Romanian adopts a term similar to the Slavic languages, using "Smântână" to denote sour cream. The linguistic connection here reflects historical ties and influences.

The linguistic origins of the word "Smetana" reveal a rich tapestry of connections within the Eastern European linguistic landscape. This exploration highlights the shared roots in Slavic languages while acknowledging the variations and unique influences that have shaped the term across the region.


Shaposhnikov, A. (2009). Russian Etymological Dictionary. 

Vondrák, J. (2015). Etymologický slovník češtiny.

Sieradzki, J. (2006). Słownik etymologiczny języka polskiego.

Keszler, B. (2000). Magyar etimológiai nagyszótár.

Bussmann, H. (2002). Dictionary of Language and Linguistics.

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