The Ultimate Guide to Food Idioms in the English Language


What started as a project for my Master’s degree became a full-on treasure hunt. See if you can find any food idioms I’ve missed! Learn more about the project here.


cakes and ale (fun and laughter)

apple does not fall far from the tree (children are like their parents)

apple of discord (cause of a disagreement)

apple of one’s eye (adored)

apple of Sodom (does not live up to expectation)

be apples (all is going well)

polish the apple (flatter excessively)

rotten apple (someone with a reputation for being bad or troublesome)

she’s apples (everything is in good order)

upset the apple cart (“disturb the balance, order, status quo”)

American as apple pie (traditional Americana)

like apples and oranges (very different from each other)

motherhood and apple pie (traditional Americana)

bring home the bacon (be a good provider)

save one’s bacon (escape injury)

baker’s dozen (thirteen)

“as you brew, so shall you bake” (your initial actions shape your circumstances)

half baked (not well thought out)

to feel baked (tired)

baloney (foolish talk)

banana hammock (“a man’s “”European”” (e.g., Speedo) swimsuit”)

banana republic (a small country dependent on a foreign capital)

the top banana (influential person)

go bananas (act crazy)

bean counter (person who keeps track of the money)

use your bean (think)

amount to a hill of beans (be worth something)

give someone beans (scold)

spill the beans (give away a secret)

beef it up (give more substance to)

beefcake (an attractive man with well-developed muscles)

what’s your beef? (what’s your complaint?)

where’s the beef? (where’s the substance?)

beer and skittles (pleasure and fun)

champagne taste on a beer budget (expensive taste)

small beer (of little consequence)

red as a beet (“deep red, as in blushing from embarrassment”)

brown as a berry (very tan)

takes the biscuit (very irritating or annoying)

bite off more than one can chew (take on more than one can handle)

bite the hand that feeds you (injure your benefactor)

bone of contention (center of a disagreement)

be upon the bones (attack)

pick over the bones (rummage for remnants)

best thing since sliced bread (a notable invention; sometimes used sarcastically)

bread and butter (“staples, basics”)

bread and butter letter (a note of thanks for a meal)

bread of idleness (food for which one has not worked)

break bread with (enjoy camaraderie)

cast one’s bread upon the water (“to act generously, without thought of personal gain”)

earn one’s bread (make a living)

eat the bread of idleness (be idle)

half a loaf is better than no bread at all (something is better than nothing)

man cannot live by bread alone (life is about more than subsistence)

take the bread out of someone’s mouth (take away someone’s livelihood)

white bread (ordinary and boring)

drop breadcrumbs (leave hints)

know which side one’s bread is buttered (understand where one’s livelihood comes from)

broth of a boy (a delightful boy)

too many cooks spoils the broth (too many people working on a project will mess it up)

bubblegum news (a derogatory term for news presented in a way that is not considered mature journalism)

bubblegum rock/pop (music for children and young teens fashioned after rock)

bun in the oven (pregnant)

nice buns (a term of admiration for a shapely derriere)

bread and butter (“staples, basics”)

bread and butter letter (a note of thanks for a meal)

butter up (flatter)

fine words, butter no parsnips (flattery achieves nothing)

like a hot knife through butter (easy)

to have butterfingers (“clumsy, drops things easily”)

beefcake (an attractive man with well-developed muscles)

cake is not worth the candle (the advantage gained by doing something is not worth the cost)

one’s cake is dough (the project has failed)

piece of cake (easy)

takes the cake (winning idea)

cakewalk (easy to do)

as good as cakes and ale (ref. to the good life)

cakes and ale (fun and laughter)

like taking candy from a baby (very easy to do)

sweet as candy (very sweet)

pick the carcass dry (“get everthing possible from something, leaving nothing behind”)

carrot and stick (incentive)

cauliflower ears (“ears that are misshapen because of injury, such as a boxer’s”)

be caviar to the general (something most people can’t appreciate)

champagne taste on a beer budget (desiring more expensive items than one can afford)

big cheese (important person)

cheesed off (irritated or angry)

cut the cheese (fart)

like chalk and cheese (very different from each other)

thin as Banbury cheese (very slender)

tough cheese (hard luck)

a bite at a cherry (an opportunity)

bowl of cherries (very pleasant situation)

cherry on the cake (a special bonus)

cherry picked (chose the best from many)

second bite at the cherry (another chance)

old chestnut (“overtold, as in a joke or a story”)

bite off more than one can chew (take on more than one can handle)

chew on it (think about it)

chew the cud (talk a lot)

like a chicken with its head cut off (running crazily)

when your chickens come home to roost (you realize the consequences of your deeds)

happy as a clam (very content)

cockles of one’s heart (deepest feelings)

warm the cockles of one’s heart (make very happy)

the milk in the coconut (a puzzling fact or occurrence; crux of something)

coffee break (“work break in the morning, not always for coffee”)

wake up and smell the coffee (pay attention)

tough cookie (a tough person)

sharp cookie (“smart, not easily deceived”)

that’s the way the cookie crumbles (that’s the way it goes)

a can of corn (an easy fly ball)

corny (a joke that makes people groan)

turn out crabs (end in failure)

cream rises to the top (the best will eventually stand out)

like the cat that got the cream (very happy with an achievement)

cream of the crop (the very best from a group)

not worth a crumpet (not worth much)

piece of crumpet (a sexually desired woman)

old and crusty (over-aged)

upper crust (nobility)

cool as a cucumber (not flustered)

cowardly custard (a cowardly person (often a taunt by children))

donut pillow (a round pillow with a hole in the center (shaped like a traditional donut))

do donuts (drive in fast tight circles)

dead duck (in inescapable predicament)

like a duck to water (easily drawn to something)

big fish eat little fish (those with more power overtake those with less power)

could eat a horse (very hungry)

eat crow (accept shame or embarrassment)

eat like a bird (consume a small amount)

eat one’s words (“take back what’s been said, often with embarrassment”)

eat out of house and home (“eat a lot, particularly by a guest”)

eat out of one’s hand (have completely under one’s control)

you are what you eat (what you consume defines you)

a chicken and egg situation (a situation where it is hard to sort cause and effect)

a curate’s egg (something with both good and bad parts)

a good egg (a good person)

a nest egg (starter savings)

as good be an addled egg as an idle bird (a lazy person is as worthless as a rotten egg)

bad egg (a bad person)

can’t even boil an egg (unable to do anything right)

egg on (“encourage, goad”)

egg on one’s face (look foolish)

egghead (nerdily smart)

go fry an egg! (leave me alone)

have all your eggs in one basket (to risk everything on one plan)

in the egg (very early)

kill the goose that lays the golden egg (spoil the chance of certain future gain)

lay an egg (tell a joke that fails)

over-egg the pudding (add more detail than needed)

walking on eggshells (moving about (usually emotionally) carefully)

sure as eggs is eggs (certainly)

the whole enchilada (everything)

chew the fat (talk a lot)

live off the fat of the land (have the best of everything)

the fat is in the fire (something has happened to cause more trouble)

after the feast comes the reckoning (indulgence will be paid for)

feast or famine (one extreme or the other)

give someone the fig (a rude hand gesture)

not worth a fig (worthless)

better are small fish than an empty dish (something is better than nothing)

bigger fish to fry (has other issues to deal with)

cry stinking fish (disparage one’s own efforts)

different kettle of fish (something else altogether)

drink like a fish (consume a lot of alcohol)

fine kettle of fish (a heck of a predicament)

like a fish out of water (out of one’s element)

something is fishy (something is strange)

neither fish nor fowl (neither here nor there)

as flat as flan (really flat)

food for fishes (dead of drowning)

food for thought (something to think about)

food for worms (dead )

first fruits (early gains)

forbidden fruit (something that is tempting but forbidden)

low-hanging fruit (easy to reach)

stolen fruit is sweet (something is more attractive because it is forbidden)

to bear fruit (get results for work)

out of the frying pan and into the fire (going from bad to worse)

fair game (something that can be challenged in a sportsmanlike manner)

take the gilt off the gingerbread (remove what is attractive from something)

cook someone’s goose (spoil someone’s plans)

golden goose (a source of wealth)

kill the goose that lays the golden egg (spoil the chance of certain future gain)

wild goose chase (pursuing an illusory goal)

play gooseberry (tag along with a romantic couple; be a third wheel)

on the grapevine (circulating as a rumor)

sour grapes (resentment; jealousy)

gravy train (consistent source of profit)

skinny as a green bean (very thin)

grist for the mill (something to think about)

kiss my grits! (“humorous variation of “”kiss my ass”””)

have one’s gruel (receive punishment)

be a ham (show off)

ham it up (act silly)

ham and egger (an ordinary man)

ham-fisted (lacking skill with the hands or in dealing with others)

make hash of (make a mess)

better a dinner of herbs than a stalled ox where hate is (something modest with goodwill is preferable to abundance without goodwill)

red herring (“false clue, throws one off track”)

throw a sprat to catch a herring (try a small venture in the hope of large gain)

“where bees are, there is honey” (good things can be found around hard workers)

catch more flies with honey than with vinegar (kindness works better than meanness)

hot dog! (“expression that means “”hooray!”””)

selling like hotcakes (selling very well)

so hungry I could eat a horse (really hungry)

the icing on the cake (what makes something extra special or extra aggravating)

in a jam (in a tight spot)

jam tomorrow (a promise that never comes true)

let’s jam! (play must together)

money for jam (big profit with little effort)

real jam (a treat)

nail jelly to the wall (attempt an impossible task)

“know what I mean, jelly bean?” (a friendly question ending)

juicy story (ending) (“very interesting, gossip-worthy”)

not worth a leek (worthless)

tart as a lemon (very sour)

to buy a lemon (has lots of flaws)

to be chopped liver (insignificant)

no such thing as a free lunch (everything has to be paid for one way or another)

out to lunch (not paying attention)

holy mackerel (an exclamation of surprise)

one man’s meat is another man’s poison (what is good for one is not good for another)

strong meat (something acceptable to only strong minds)

be dead meat (an easy mark)

the meat and potatoes (the basics)

cut a melon (make a decision)

use your melon (think)

like milk for babes (“appealling, satisfying”)

milk of human kindness (compassion)

no use crying over spilt milk (useless to bemoan something that can’t be undone)

the milk in the coconut (a puzzling fact or occurrence; crux of something)

to milk (get as much out of something as possible)

to milk dry (get everything out of something)

to milk the bull (try to do something impossible)

white as milk (very white)

milk and honey (abundance)

make mincemeat of (destroy)

slow as molasses (extremely slow)

turn to ashes in one’s mouth (bitter disappointment)

muffin top (roll of fat (love handles) that shows above a waistband)

cut the mustard (be able to achieve something)

keen as mustard (“very eager, enthusiastic”)

dead as mutton (“dead, done for”)

laced mutton (a whore)

mutton dressed up as lamb (a woman who dresses much younger than her age)

noodling around (casually messing around with)

use your noodle (think)

be a nut (“be silly, crazy”)

take a sledgehammer to crack a nut (use more force than necessary)

go nuts (act crazy)

in a nutshell (briefly)

nutty as a fruitcake (crazy)

off one’s oats (crazy)

sowing wild oats (sexually active)

like oil and water (doesn’t mix well)

olive branch (peace offering)

can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs ()

off one’s onion (crazy)

get one’s onions (gain experience)

know your onions (know a lot about something)

squeeze the orange (get all the good out of something)

like apples and oranges (very different from each other)

the world is one’s oyster (one has unlimited opportunity)

flat as a pancake (really flat)

pancaked (flattened)

fine words butter no parsnips (flattery achieves nothing)

pea soup fog (“very dense fog, difficult to see”)

just peachy! (delightful)

peaches and cream complexion (light and clear skin)

go pear-shaped (crash)

shaped like a pear (literally pear-shaped)

like peas in a pod (very close)

have a rod in pickle for someone (plan to punish someone)

in a pickle (“in a bind, in trouble”)

a piece of the pie (a share)

easy as pie (simple)

eat humble pie (“be submissive, apologetic, not proud, especially when wrong”)

finger in every pie (involved in a lot of activities)

nice as pie (“extremely well-behaved and agreeble, as in children”)

pie in the sky (unrealistic)

pie-eyed (very drunk)

eat like a pig (overeat)

get the rough end of the pineapple (get a bad deal)

hand on a silver platter (treat royally)

like a ripe plum (easily obtained)

speaks with a plum in his/her mouth (has an accent)

popcorn ceiling (a spray-on ceiling finish)

do porridge (serve time in prison)

keep one’s breath to cool one’s porridge (use one’s own advice)

mess of porridge (not worth anything)

port wine stain (a congenital burgundy skin discoloration)

a mouse potato (someone who spends too much time on a computer)

couch potato (lazy)

dropped like a hot potato (dropped quickly)

hot potato (a controversial issue; something that can’t be held for long)

small potatoes (a small transaction when compared to bigger ones)

mess of pottage (not worth anything)

over-egg the pudding (add more detail than needed)

proof is in the pudding (the result will reveal itself in the final product)

turn into a pumpkin (it’s too late)

blowing a raspberry (a loud sound made by blowing on the skin)

salad days (youthful inexperience)

salami tactics (a technique of wearing down an opponent a bit (slice) at a time)

attic salt (refined wit)

back to the salt mines (reluctantly back to work)

be worth one’s salt (efficient or capable)

drop a pinch of salt on the tail of (capture)

eat a person’s salt (dine as a guest of)

Go pound salt! (tell someone to go away)

old salt (an old sailor)

rub salt in one’s wounds (make pain worse)

salt away (fritter)

salt of the earth (down to earth)

salt of youth (freshness)

salt the books (falsely inflate the value)

sit above the salt (sit at the upper part of the table (literally above the position of the saltcellar – a place of honor))

sit below the salt (sit at the lower end of the table)

to salt a mine (falsely inflate the value)

worth one’s salt (good or competent at one’s job)

take with a grain of salt (nonchalantly)

sandwiched (put in between two things)

packed like sardines (“together tightly, in close proximity”)

hit the sauce (drink alcohol)

hunger is the best sauce (food which is needed will be eaten most readily)

fingers like sausages (short plump fingers)

silver spoon in one’s mouth (born wealthy)

in the soup (in trouble)

souped up (change something to make it faster or more powerful)

from soup to nuts (covers everything from start to finish)

spaghetti junction (“a complex, multi-leveled road intersection”)

spaghetti western (“a genre of Western movies that appeared in the 1960s, so-called because many were done by Italian directors”)

spaghettification (the term coined for the ripping apart that would theoretically happen if something fell into a black hole)

spam (unwanted advertising mail sent over the internet)

hunger is the spice of food (need makes things more appealing)

variety is the spice of life (variety keeps life interesting)

stew in one’s own juice (suspended in uncertainty)

stew over (think about angrily)

sugar coat it (make something seem more appealing)

sweets to the sweet (corny romance)

acquire a taste (learn to like)

not for all the tea in China (not for sale at any price)

someone’s cup of tea (something one does well or enjoys; something suitable)

have one on toast (have at one’s mercy)

make a toast (a ritual to recognize someone/something with a cocktail)

rheumatic as two dry toasts ()

to be toast (“defunct, done”)

toast of the town (“very popular, as in a celebrity”)

toasty (drunk)

warm as toast (comfortably warm)

talk turkey (negotiate seriously)

plain vanilla (ordinary)

full of piss and vinegar (feisty)

make sour like vinegar (to turn something sour)

makes one’s mouth water (tempting)

to hold water (stand up to critical judgment)

separate the wheat from the chaff (sort out the important components)

not be able to run a whelk stall (be incompetent)

new wine in old bottles (something new in an old order)

take wine with (celebrate friendship)

Beth Nichols is a freelance writer and a self-proclaimed work geek. Find more at or like us on Facebook for writing tips, inspiration and more.