Dessert is a course that typically comes at the end of a dinner, usually consisting of sweet food but sometimes of a strongly flavored one, such as some cheeses. The word comes from the Old French desservir, meaning "to clear the table". Dessert is most commonly used in Hiberno-English, American English, Canadian English, Australian English and in French. Sweet, pudding or afters would be more typical in other variants of Commonwealth English for this course. We think that, "pudding" is the proper term, "dessert" is only to be used if the course consists of fruit, and "sweet" is colloquial.
Dessert as a standard part of a Western meal is a relatively recent development. Before the 19th-century rise of the middle class, and the mechanization of the sugar industry, sweets were a privilege of the aristocracy, or a rare holiday treat. As sugar became cheaper and more readily available, the development and popularity of desserts spread accordingly.
Some cultures do not have a separate final sweet course but mix sweet and savory dishes throughout the meal as in Chinese cuisine, or reserve elaborate dessert concoctions for special occasions. Often, the dessert is seen as a separate meal or snack rather than a course, and may be eaten some time after the meal. Some restaurants specialize in dessert.
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