Honey Oligosaccharide Spice Chicken

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Sign in the window at Green Pepper, a Korean restaurant at 2020 Murray Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA:

This kind of chicken dish is called "yangnyeom chikin 양념 치킨" ("[seasoned] chicken"), fried chicken seasoned with sweet and spicy sauce (oligo honey here).   Korean people love to have yangneom chicken with beer (chimaek):

"Watch your wing, KFC! Korean fried chicken (and beer) is here", by Violet Kim, CNN (6/21/15)

As Ms. Kim puts it:

Like any celebrity power couple, chicken and beer have a co-joined nickname: chimaek ("chi" for chicken and "maek" for maekju, Korean for beer).

The thing that puzzles me most about the name of yangneom chikin in English is that there doesn't seem to be a simple, common word for oligosaccharide.  Like inulin (a polysaccharide), oligosaccharide is considered soluble dietary fiber.  The Korean Wikipedia calls oligosaccharide sodanglyu 소당류, which GT and several other online sources render as "cow / cattle sugar", but that doesn't seem to make sense because oligosaccharides are a component of fiber from plant tissue.  Baidu gives the Chinese equivalent of sodanglyu 소당류 as 小糖类, and Wikipedia gives the Chinese equivalent as 少糖類.  The latter occurs far more often (18,400 ghits) on the internet than the former (6,910 ghits) and is usually in Japanese contexts, while the former is usually found in Chinese contexts.  Since "oligo-" means "few" (opposite of poly- ["many"]), 少 makes better sense than 小 ("little").

German — Oligosaccharide

Spanish — oligosacárido

French — oligosaccharide

Italian — oligosaccaridi

Russian — oлигосахариды

Vietnamese — oligosaccharide

Arabic — sakariat qalilat alte سكريات قليلة التع ("few sugars")

Who can come up with a short, apt English term for oligosaccharide, something comparable to inulin, which is now a part of our daily vocabulary?

[h.t. Charles Belov; thanks to Haewon Cho]


  1. Thomas Rees said,

    May 28, 2018 @ 9:03 pm

    It’s been a long time since Organic Chemistry, but aren’t lactose and sucrose oligosaccharides? Why do we need a trivial name?

  2. Peter Metcalfe said,

    May 28, 2018 @ 9:08 pm

    Just call them Sugars and nobody will complain.

  3. Thomas Rees said,

    May 28, 2018 @ 9:29 pm

    Or Sugar Sugar

  4. Victor Mair said,

    May 28, 2018 @ 9:30 pm

    Are "lactose" and "sucrose" "trivial names"? Does anyone go around calling lactose and sucrose oligosaccharides?

    Is there only one kind of sugar out there? Is "sugar" the only word we need for sweeteners? Why do we have so many words for sweeteners that end in -ose? — glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, dextrose…. And there are lots of names for different kinds of sugars that don't end in -ose: dextrin, maltodextrin, molasses, treacle….

    This site lists 61 different names for sugars:


  5. Chas Belov said,

    May 28, 2018 @ 9:53 pm

    Thank you for the explanation. I don't have a good word for it either, but might drop the "oligosaccharide" in English because "honey" is sufficient to mark it as sweet, thus "honey spice chicken."

    Also, interesting to note their transliteration of "chicken" instead of using the Korean word for chicken 닭 dak.

    One nitpick: would that be "yangnyeom" rather than "yangneom" given that the Hangeul is념 and not 넘?

  6. Peter Metcalfe said,

    May 28, 2018 @ 11:07 pm

    Are "lactose" and "sucrose" "trivial names"?

    Correct. Trivial names for chemicals are names that do not follow the systematic nomenclature as ordained by IUPAC. Lactose's formal name is β-D-galactopyranosyl-(1→4)-D-glucose which nobody even attempts to say in everyday conversation.

    Does anyone go around calling lactose and sucrose oligosaccharides?

    It's like this. There are simple sugars composed of only one sugar molecule, like lactose and glucose. Those are monosaccharides. There are sugars with two sugar molecules like sucrose and maltose. Those are disaccharides. And so on. Collectively they make up the oligosaccharides. If the number of sugar molecules in a sugar becomes large then it is a polysaccharide, like starch.

    Is there only one kind of sugar out there?

    Depends on what you mean by sugar. In practice, I've only ever seen it to refer to compounds formed from sugar molecules.

    Is "sugar" the only word we need for sweeteners?

    There are artificial sweeteners that have no sugar molecules like Aspartame. Sweeteners is the word used.

    Why do we have so many words for sweeteners that end in -ose? — glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, dextrose….

    In the good old days before chemists worked out the structure of sugars, they needed snappy names to refer to all the different sugars they could find. The suffix -ose was used to refer to its sugary nature while the prefix generally indicated the type of sugar.

    And there are lots of names for different kinds of sugars that don't end in -ose: dextrin, maltodextrin, molasses, treacle….

    That's because these substances were named by people who did not see the point of early chemical nomenclature.

  7. Anonymous Coward said,

    May 28, 2018 @ 11:17 pm

    Also, oligosaccharide is not called "小糖類" but "olligo糖" in the Korean.

  8. Anonymous Coward said,

    May 28, 2018 @ 11:19 pm

    Seems to be a Japanese health hype.

  9. Anonymous Coward said,

    May 28, 2018 @ 11:20 pm

    Seems to be originally a Japanese health hype under the name of "オリゴ糖".

  10. Keith said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 12:37 am

    When I read in your post that 소당류 translates to "cow sugar", followed by the statement

    but that doesn't seem to make sense because oligosaccharides are a component of fiber from plant tissue

    I was puzzled.

    OK, so you can have "cane sugar" and "beet sugar", where "cane" and "beet" refer to the plant from which the sugar is made. Unless somebody was aiming for an Ignobel proze, I doubt that there is any kind of sugar made from cows.

    So what about the model "cat food" and "dog food": food not made from cats and dogs, but destined to be eaten by cats and dogs.

    So maybe, just maybe, "cow sugar" is sugar destined to be eaten by cows… Some commercial horse feed has molasses added to it.

    Could this 소당류 be related either to some sort of commercial cow fodder (maybe for keeping condition during winter or for finishing before slaughter), or historically to especially sweet meadow grass?

  11. SO said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 1:00 am

    I guess somebody simply misinterpreted 소당류 as so + tangnyu and equated the first element with the native word so = cow. But that's of course not what so actually is here.

  12. Keith said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 1:53 am


    So, you think it is 소 in the sense of "small", corresponding to the Greek "ὀλίγος", plus 당류 for sugar?

  13. SO said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 3:02 am

    Probably rather 少 than 小, judging among others from the fact that kwadangnyu / 과당류 / 寡糖類 as a synonym of sodangnyu has kwa 寡 in its place.

  14. Philip Taylor said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 3:21 am

    "something comparable to inulin, which is now a part of our daily vocabulary". It is ? I for one have never heard of "inulin", and at first sight thought it a typo for insulin …

  15. speedwell said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 3:58 am

    FOS is what is commonly used in English for fructooligsaccharides, and GOS for galactooligosaccharides, if that helps. There are several more depending on chemical structure and derivation (such as HMO for human milk oligosaccharides). I don't know of one for just "oligosaccharides".

  16. SO said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 4:29 am

    One more reason to think that 少 (not 小) is correct here: In Japanese it is likewise shōtōrui 少糖類 besides origotō オリゴ糖.

  17. Victor Mair said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 4:58 am

    Two or three years ago, I had never heard of inulin either, and my spell checker still tells me it's not a word, but now I have it listed among the ingredients in dozens of the products in my kitchen, including some kinds of pasta, where it is featured on the front of the package.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 5:03 am

    Following the habit of the Japanese, who seem to have started this food trend, I'd be willing to call it "oligo sugar", or just "oligo". I certainly don't want to have to refer to it as "oligosaccharide".

  19. Michaelyus said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 5:55 am

    I for one find "oligosaccharide(s)" rolls off the tongue quite well; omega-three fatty acids however…

    "Oligo honey" is what the Internet / unofficial health media in Anglophone Asia (read: Malaysia and Singapore) seem to use. More specifically, the oligosaccharide mixture is isomalto-oligosaccharide (IMO), which is derived from industrially processed maltose syrup (well known to those with experience of cooking Peking duck) or standard starch from grains or tubers.

    The α(1,6)-glycosidic linkages are what makes it less digestible (and thus more akin to "soluble fibre") than sugar, and give it the excuse for health food status.

    Oligosaccharides would not be considered sugars by those who actually have experience with them, much as flour would not be considered sugar in the English-speaking world. They do exist in a shadowy world between sugars and starches though (much as you'd expect from their intermediate molecular size), relatively unknown to the mass market.

    As for the yangnyeom chicken itself, the use of "oligo honey" is definitely a trend; standard honey (and/or corn syrup and/or rice syrup) and sugar are sufficient for your usual version. This particular advert is very much targeted at the health-conscious market. Also, amongst Anglophone patrons of Korean restaurants (at least in my experience), "yangnyeom"/"yangnyum" is well established a loanword; "sweet/spicy sauce chicken" is now relegated to being a gloss.

  20. Michaelyus said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 6:29 am

    Also, the Chinese equivalent of oligosaccharide would be (at least in mainland Chinese scientific discussions, and on Baidu) 低聚糖 dījùtáng; Wikipedia gives 寡糖 guǎtáng as the main entry (which is also on MDBG). Isomalto-oligosaccharide is thus rather easily deducible as 异麦芽低聚糖 yìmàiyá-dījùtáng.

  21. Keith said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 6:51 am


    I just tried searching for 과당류 in the Korean version of Wikipedia, and it redirects to 소당류.

  22. SO said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 10:59 am

    Funny side note: I just noticed that Google Translate does not only misparse sodangnyu 소당류 as so 소 'cow' plus tangnyu 당류 'sugar' resulting in the mysterious "cow sugar" discussed above, most likely because GT's dictionary simply doesn't have an entry for sodangnyu? — It also doesn't appear to know its synonym kwadangnyu 과당류 (unsurprisingly of course, as this seems to be less frequent than sodangnyu in modern usage), which is translated here as "fructose". This is more GT-esque guesswork apparently, as "fructose" in Korean is kwadang 과당 (果糖 — note that the first character is different from the first one in kwadangnyu 寡糖類).

    If you feed GT with 寡糖類 rather than 과당류, the sult is "oligosaccharides" instead. And of course, 少糖類 will yield the same result — no cows anymore, anywhere.

  23. tangent said,

    May 30, 2018 @ 1:09 am

    Let us please not use "oligo" for "oligosaccharide", given that "oligopeptide" and "oligonucleotide" are extant and I would think more common.

  24. Chas Belov said,

    May 30, 2018 @ 1:47 am

    Ah, oligo honey apparently isn't a type of honey, it's honey that's had oligosaccharides added to it. So it's adulterated honey (to those of us who want pure honey). Now I know. (Apparently you can't teach old bees new tricks, only old honey distributors.)

  25. Victor Mair said,

    May 30, 2018 @ 8:38 am

    Let it be "oligo sugar", as I suggested above.

  26. Chas Belov said,

    May 31, 2018 @ 12:14 am

    "Oligo sugar" is probably fine for an ingredients list, but I'm not sure I'd order it from a menu at a restaurant.

  27. Victor Mair said,

    May 31, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

    Would anyone prefer to say "oligosaccharide" in daily usage rather than "oligo sugar"? If not "oligo sugar", then what?

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