Food Idioms in English

Food idioms are expressions that use food as a metaphor. English has many of these expressions, which can be confusing for foreign learners. This article will introduce some of the most common food idioms and explain their meanings.

List of Food Idioms in English

1. (A) Baker’s Dozen

Meaning of "(A) Baker’s Dozen"

There are many English idioms that come from the baking world. One of the most well-known is “a baker’s dozen.” This means 13, as in a baker’s dozen of rolls or cookies. The phrase is said to have originated in England in the 1300s when bread was expensive and bakers would give customers an extra roll or two to make sure they were getting their money’s worth.

Examples of "(A) Baker’s Dozen"

  • 13 is the baker’s dozen. (Source: Evan Carmichael)
  • It looks like a baker’s dozen. (Source: ilovecookingireland)
  • It was a seventeen-page essay, complete with a baker’s dozen of footnotes, and a bibliography containing more than 60 books. (Source: honorsEIU)
  • For more than a baker’s dozen of times in United States history. (Source: CGP Grey)

2. (A) Hard/Tough Nut to Crack

Meaning of "(A) Hard/Tough Nut to Crack"

An idiom is a phrase or expression that has a meaning that is different from the meanings of the individual words. English idioms are difficult to translate into other languages because they often have multiple meanings. One of the most difficult English idioms to translate is “a tough nut to crack

This idiom means that something is very difficult to do or understand. The origin of this phrase is unknown, but it has been in use since at least the 1800s. Some people believe that it comes from the phrase “to crack a nut” which means to open a nut using force.

Examples of "(A) Hard/Tough Nut to Crack"

  • It’s a very tough nut to crack from a biological point of view. (Source: Second Opinion with Joan Lunden)
  • And then finally, the first chapter of a thriller can actually be quite a tough nut to crack for an author. (Source: This Is My Everybody)
  • Now that is a tough nut to crack because a human genome consists of 6 billion base pairs of genetic code. (Source: TEDx Talks)

3. (Have) Egg on One’s Face

Meaning of "(Have) Egg on One’s Face"

(Have) Egg on One’s Face is a situation in which someone has been embarrassed or defeated. The phrase is often used to describe someone who has been made to look foolish. For example, if someone makes a mistake that is immediately pointed out, they may be said to have an egg on their face.

Examples of "(Have) Egg on One’s Face"

  • Whoever made the prediction gets egg on his face. (Source: Calvary Church with Skip Heitzig)
  • This challenge is going to have egg on their face. (Source: Dartmouth)
  • They feel like they have egg on their face. (Source: University of California Television (UCTV))

4. (Put) All One’s Eggs In One Basket

Meaning of "(Put) All One’s Eggs In One Basket"

There is an old English idiom that suggests putting all of one’s eggs in one basket. This means that someone is taking a risk by relying on only one thing to get them what they want. The phrase can be used when talking about anything from business ventures to relationships.

For example, if someone were to start their own business, they would be putting all of their eggs in one basket by risking everything on that business. If it failed, they would lose everything. Alternatively, if someone were to get married, they would be putting all of their eggs in one basket by trusting that their spouse will always be there for them and will never leave them. If the marriage fails, they would be left with nothing.

While taking this risk can sometimes pay off, it can also lead to disaster.

Examples of "(Put) All One’s Eggs In One Basket"

  • Whoever made the prediction gets egg on his face. (Source: Calvary Church with Skip Heitzig)
  • This challenge is going to have egg on their face. (Source: Dartmouth)
  • They feel like they have egg on their face. (Source: University of California Television (UCTV))

5. (Take It with a) Grain of Salt

Meaning of "(Take It with a) Grain of Salt"

The English idiom “take it with a grain of salt” is used to describe the importance or seriousness of something. It means that you should not take what someone has said too seriously, because they may not be telling the truth, or they may be exaggerating.

This expression comes from the ancient practice of taking a small amount of salt with meals to help digest food. Because salt was such a valuable and rare commodity, people would not have wanted to eat anything that was not safe, so they would add a small amount of salt to their food to make sure it was not poisoned. Today, we use “take it with a grain of salt” to mean that we are not taking something seriously, or that we think it may be exaggerated.

Examples of "(Take It with a) Grain of Salt"

  • Whatever he says, take it with a grain of salt. (Source: Learn English with Papa Teach Me)
  • I hear from Kim Jeong-Un or North Korea. I take it with a grain of salt. (Source: Philip DeFranco)
  • You can, but you have to take it with a grain of salt. (Source: Mike Cottrell College of Business)

6. (The) Icing on the Cake

Meaning of "(The) Icing on the Cake"

The phrase “the icing on the cake” is used to describe a situation that is already good, but becomes even better when something else happens. This phrase is often used when someone has worked hard on a project and then succeeds in completing it.

Examples of "(The) Icing on the Cake"

  • It’s just gonna be the icing on the cake. (Source: London Real)
  • This is the kind of like the icing on the cake of my work. (Source: K-State College of Education)
  • All your honors and accolades are just icing on the cake for all you’ve been able to accomplish. (Source: UNC Charlotte’s Official)

7. (To Be on the) Gravy Train

Meaning of "(To Be on the) Gravy Train"

When you’re on the gravy train, you’re riding high. This expression is used to describe someone who is getting a lot of good things in life with very little effort. Usually, being on the gravy train means you have a job that pays well and doesn’t require a lot of hard work. You also might have a lot of free time to enjoy your life. Some people might say that you’re living a high life.

Examples of "(To Be on the) Gravy Train"

  • That’s going to put you on the gravy train for life. No, of course, that’s absurd. (Source: UQx Denial101x Making Sense of Climate Science Denial)
  • Who didn’t get to ride the gravy train to freedom? (Source: Michael McIntee)
  • It takes a lot of courage not to jump on this Trump gravy train. (Source: UChicago Institute of Politics)

8. (To Have) Bigger Fish To Fry

Meaning of "(To Have) Bigger Fish To Fry"

The phrase comes from the kitchen, where frying fish is a common task. If you have several fish to fry, it means that you are busy and have little time for anything else.

The idiom can be used in different ways. For example, you might say “I can’t talk now, I have bigger fish to fry” to someone who is trying to talk to you when you’re busy. Or, you might use it to describe your own priorities: “I’m trying to focus on my career right now; I have bigger fish to fry.

Examples of "(To Have) Bigger Fish To Fry"

  • This guy’s got bigger fish to fry. (Source: Talks at Google)
  • “Just keep the artwork- we got bigger fish to fry.” (Source: We the Internet TV)
  • The case wouldn’t have made this deal if there weren’t bigger fish to fry. (Source: The Ring of Fire)

9. A Few Sandwiches Short Of A Picnic

Meaning of "A Few Sandwiches Short Of A Picnic"

The English idiom “a few sandwiches short of a picnic” is used to describe someone who is not thinking clearly. The expression comes from the idea that if someone is missing a few sandwiches, they would not be able to have a proper picnic.

Examples of "A Few Sandwiches Short Of A Picnic"

  • This group needs to start with themselves because they’re a few sandwiches short of a picnic. (Source: Matthew Santoro)
  • To consider kayaking over this, he must either be a few sandwiches short of a picnic or a world record-breaker. (Source: National Geographic)

10. A lot on one’s plate

Meaning of "A lot on one’s plate"

Many people in the United States use the idiom “a lot on one’s plate” which means to have a lot of work or things to do. For example, a student might say, “I have a lot on my plate this semester with classes and exams.” This phrase comes from the idea that if you put too many things on a plate, it will fall over. So, when someone has a lot to do, they are said to have “a lot on their plate”.

Examples of "A lot on one’s plate"

  • She was, in fact, just an average 25-year-old woman with a lot on her plate. (Source: Talks at Google)
  • The Kaiser has a lot on his plate, to say the least. (Source: The Great War)
  • They have a lot on their plate right now. (Source: OSSA)

11. Above The Salt

Meaning of "Above The Salt"

The phrase “above the salt” is an English idiom that means someone who is important or respected. The phrase comes from the days when people would sit at a dinner table with a large bowl of salt in the middle. The most important or respected guests would be seated “above the salt,” meaning they were closer to the bowl of salt.

Examples of "Above The Salt"

  • So she always sits above the salt when there is a seminar about it.
  • They took him up above the salt.
  • Linda was taken up above the salt.

12. Acquired Taste

Meaning of "Acquired Taste"

An acquired taste is an English idiom that means that something is not initially liked but becomes more appealing over time. This can be due to repeated exposure or because of the individual’s growing maturity. Often, an acquired taste is a food or drink that is considered to be unconventional or unpopular.

Examples of "Acquired Taste"

  • This is more of an acquired taste, the first time you try Pinot Noir you might not like it. (Source: University of Washington)
  • I think it’s kind of an acquired taste. (Source: Talks at Google)
  • First thought is awful, but then it’s an acquired taste.. (Source: Great Big Story)

13. Apple of One’s Eye

Meaning of "Apple of One’s Eye"

The apple of one’s eye is an idiom used to describe someone who is loved and cherished more than anything else. The phrase is thought to have originated from the biblical story of David and Jonathan. As young boys, they formed a close friendship that was unbreakable.

When Jonathan was killed in battle, David mourned his death deeply. He declared that Jonathan was “the apple of his eye” The phrase has been used throughout history to describe the most important person in someone’s life.

Examples of "Apple of One’s Eye"

  • She’s the apple of my eye. (Source: Attitude)
  • She was the apple of her father’s eye. (Source: MatthewSantoro)
  • The Old Testament says that the people of God are the apple of His eye. (Source: Grace to You)

14. Big Cheese

Meaning of "Big Cheese"

One common English idiom is “big cheese“. This phrase means “someone who is important or influential”.

You might hear someone say “he’s a big cheese in the company” to describe someone who is high up in the organization. Or you might hear someone say “she’s a big cheese in the art world” to describe an artist who is very famous. The phrase “big cheese” can be used to describe anyone who is important or influential, regardless of their occupation or field of expertise.

Examples of "Big Cheese"

  • He’s a big cheese, so he gets the first question. (Source: The Obama White House)
  • That was Bunsen, who was the big cheese in Heidelberg. (Source: YaleCourses)
  • Eric Horvitz, who’s now a big cheese guy. (Source: MIT OpenCourseWare)

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