English Vocabulary for Food and Cooking (Illustrated)

Everyone loves food, no matter what language you speak. It's especially fun to prepare and share a meal with someone from another country or culture. Even if you can't communicate with words, in this kind of situation it's easy to make yourself understood.

But think how much more enjoyable these experiences would be if you knew how to explain yourself in English. Not only could you explain yourself better in the preparation stage, but you could compliment the food afterwards, too! That's why we put together this list of English cooking words.

In this lesson, you will learn all of the vocabulary you need to prepare and speak about food in English.

This lesson is part of the English Vocabulary Illustrated Word Lists section. Let's get started!

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses

In this lesson, we will cover these topics:


People and places related to cooking

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Many students of English have doubts about the difference between the words cook, chef and cooker. What is the difference?

Cooking

Cook vs. chef (nouns)
A cook is a person who prepares food. He or she can do this either for a living, or in his or her house. A chef is a fancy word for a cook. If you go to an expensive restaurant, the person who cooks the food will be a chef, not just a cook.

Chef

Chefs often wear chef hats, although it can be fun to wear these in your house when you do the cooking, too.

Chef hat

Whether you are a chef or a cook, it's always a good idea to wear an apron (a piece of cloth the covers your clothes while you cook).

Apron

Cooker (noun)
Contrary to common belief, a cooker is not a person at all! A cooker is a large piece of kitchen equipment that is made of an oven and a stove. (Stove is the top part, where you cook, and oven is the bottom part, where you bake.)

Stove

A cooker is also a pot used for a special purpose (such as a rice cooker).

Pot

Supermarket (noun)
Before you do the cooking, you of course also need to do the shopping. One option is to go to the supermarket, but you can also go to more specialized shops. Are you familiar with these other places to buy food?

Supermarket

Grocery store (noun)
A small store that sells a little bit of everything.

Grocery Store

Butcher's (noun)
A store that sells meat.

Butcher

Fishmonger's or fish store (noun)
A store that sells fish.

Health food store (noun)
A store that specializes in healthy food. Vegetarians often shop here when they want to buy things like tofu and soy milk.

Health food

Farmers' market (noun)
An event where farmers sell fresh food in the street or in an open area.

Farmers market


Important verbs

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If you're reading this article, you probably already know the word cook. But there are so many other verbs you can use when you're preparing food. Are you familiar with these?

Chop (verb)
To cut into pieces. The pieces don't have to be the same size.

Chop

Slice (verb)
To cut into very thin pieces. You often slice cheese and bread, but you can also slice meat.

Slice

Dice (verb)
To cut into small cubes. The pieces should be the same size.

Grate (verb)
When you take something solid and turn it into tiny pieces. You need to use a metal tool for this, called a grater.

Peel (verb)
To remove the outer layer from food.

Peel

Boil  (verb)
To heat up water until it reaches 100°C or 212°F.

Boil

Fry (verb)
To heat something on the stove using oil or butter.

Fry

Simmer (verb)
To cook something slowly on a very low heat.

Roast (verb)
To cook meat slowly over a fire or in the oven.

Roast

Bake (verb)
To cook something in the oven, such as bread, cookies or a cake.

Bake

Mix (verb)
To combine two or more ingredients.

Marinade (verb)
When you put meat or fish in a special sauce with lemon, oil or spices before cooking it.

Beat (verb)
After you break eggs, you often want to mix them together. This is called beating.

Beat

Stir (verb)
When you use a spoon to mix something slowly.

Stir

Strain (verb)
When you pour food through very small holes in order to separate the solid part from the liquid part. (For example, when you remove water after boiling pasta.)

Strain

Dress (verb)
When you prepare food for eating by adding salt, pepper, herbs, some sauce, etc.
(For example, when you put olive oil and vinegar on a salad.)

Dress

Serve (verb)
When you put food on the plate.

Serve


Kitchen Equipment

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The most important objects in a kitchen are definitely spoons, knives, forks and plates. And of course glasses, if you want to have a drink. Are you familiar with these other kinds of kitchen equipment?

Fork and spoon

Frying pan (noun)
A flat metal object used to fry food in (for example, eggs, vegetables, and meat).

Frying pan

Sauce pan (noun)
A small metal object used to make small quantities of food, such as sauce.

Pot (noun)
A large metal object used to make food (for example, soup, rice, vegetables).

Pot

Blender (noun)
An electrical machine that turns solids into liquids.

Blender

Cutting board (noun)
A piece of wood where you can chop food.

Ladle (noun)
A large spoon used especially to serve soup.

Ladle

Measuring cup (noun)
A cup used to see how much of something you have.

Measuring cup

Rolling pin (noun)
A piece of wood with two handles that you use to make dough.

Rolling pin

Mixing bowl (noun)
A bowl where you can combine different ingredients.

Can opener (noun)
A tool used to open cans.

Cork screw (noun)
A tool used to open bottles of wine.

Wine glass (noun)
A special glass used to drink wine.

Wine glass

Cutlery (noun)
When you want to refer to spoons, knives and forks together, you can use the word cutlery.

Crockery (noun)
When you want to refer to pots and pans together, you can use the word crockery.

Napkin (noun)
A piece of cloth or paper that you use to clean your lips and fingers after you eat.

Napkin

Drying rack (noun)
The place you put plates after you wash them.

Drying rack

Dishcloth (noun)
The cloth you use to wash dishes or dry them after washing.

Dishcloth


Food groups and types of diets

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There are different types of food groups and types of diets. Do you know these words?

Carbohydrates (Carbs for short) (noun)

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a type of substance found in foods. They are the body's most important and easily available source of energy.

Examples of foods rich in carbs: root vegetables, fruit, bread, rice, pasta.

Natural, unprocessed carbs are typically healthy for the body. For example: carrots, cucumbers, potatoes (not fried), apples, lettuce.

Processed carbs are typically very unhealthy for the body and can make people sick and/or gain weight. For example: bread, pasta, cakes, French fries (potato chips in British English).

Protein (noun)

Protein is a type of substance found in foods. Plant based foods typically have more carbs and less protein, and animal based foods usually have more protein and no carbs.

Protein

Examples of foods rich in proteins: meat, fish, eggs, cheese, beans, nuts.

While protein is vital in order to grow and be healthy, eating too much protein may be linked to different diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Dairy (noun)

Milk and milk products such as yogurt and cheese.

Dairy

Vitamins (noun)
Natural substances found in food that are necessary to stay healthy. There are many different vitamins.

For example, fruits and vegetables contain Vitamin C, and we can get Vitamin D from the sun. Some people take vitamin tablets separately to make sure they are getting the vitamins they need.

vitamins in fruit and vegetables

Fat (noun)

olive oil

Fat is the third major substance found in foods. It is oily and can be in either solid or liquid form. Our bodies use it for energy and other essential functions (such as absorbing important vitamins and reducing inflammation).

When fat is heated (for example by frying it), it changes form and becomes toxic to the body.

fatty foods

Our bodies require small amounts of "good fat" to function and help prevent disease. However, eating too much fat, or fat of the wrong kind, can cause serious health problems.

Calories (noun)
A way to measure how much energy is in food. Adults typically need to eat around 1,500–3,000 calories per day (depending on their age, height, weight, and activity level).

Calories

But not all calories are equal. It is true that all "calories" have the same amount of energy, but the effect on the body may be very different.

It does matter whether you eat 100 calories of carrots or pasta. They will not have the same effect on your health and weight. This is why we have the term "empty calories."

empty calories

It means things such as processed foods with added fats or sugars, which do provide energy but little or no nutrition. So after eating them, the body needs work extra hard to clean them out, and without even getting real value from the meal.

Examples for empty calorie foods:
Candy, cake, ice-cream, pizza, French fries (potato chips), white bread, sugar, margarine, soda (unnatural sweetened drinks), hot dogs.

Some people have to eat special kinds of food, either for health reasons or because they choose to. Are you familiar with these different types of diets?

Vegetarian (adjective and noun)
A person who doesn't eat meat, fish or seafood, or food that doesn't contain these things.

Vegetarian

Vegan (adjective and noun)
A person who doesn't eat anything made with animal products. (This includes milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, and honey.) Also, food that doesn't contain any animal products.

Allergy (noun)
When you cannot eat certain foods.

Allergy

Celiac (adjective and noun)
Food that doesn't contain gluten, or a person who cannot eat gluten. Gluten is a natural, sticky substance found especially in foods containing wheat, etc. (for example in bread, pasta, pizza, and cereals). 

Diet (noun)
1. The food that someone usually eats and drinks.

diet

For example:

  • His diet was composed of too much coffee and snacks.
  • Meat is not part of her diet.

2. When someone eats a limited variety or amount of food because they want to be healthier or thinner.

diet

For example:

  • I can't have this cake. I'm on a diet.
  • I've been feeling much better since I went on a wheat-free diet.

There are many types of diets and different ideas about what is healthy and what isn't. But most diets agree on the following principle:

You should eat REAL food. And by "real" we mean unprocessed or minimally processed.

REAL food


Parts of a meal

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Whether you are eating at home or eating out (eating in a restaurant), it's useful to know the different parts of a meal.

Appetizers or hors d'oeuvres (noun)
Small snacks that you have before a meal.

Appetizers or hors d'oeuvres

Main course or entrée (noun)
The main thing you are eating at that meal.

Main course or entrée

Side (noun)
Food that goes together with the main course.

Side

Dessert (noun)
Something sweet that you eat after a meal.

Dessert


Other useful words related to cooking

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No matter what type of diet you have, it's important that food taste good. Here are some words to describe the way food tastes.

Seasoning (noun)
Salt, pepper, and other spices and herbs added to food to improve its taste.

Seasoning

Dressing (or salad dressing) (noun)
A mixture of liquids that is added to a salad to make it tastier. It can include ingredients such as olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Dressing

Sauce (noun)
A thick liquid that is eaten with food to make it tastier. For example, a tomato sauce (a mixture of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt, etc.).

Sauce

Tasty, appetizing or mouth-watering (adjectives)
Synonyms for delicious.

Tasty

Savory (adjective)
Foods are divided into two categories. Desserts are sweet, and foods that aren't sweet are called "savory."

Raw (adjective)
Food that isn't cooked, such as sushi or uncooked carrots.

Raw

Well-done (adjective)
When meat has been cooked a lot. It's not red on the inside, but brown.

Well-done

Burned (adjective)
When something has been cooked too much. When food is burned, it becomes unhealthy. (You can recognize it by its brown or black color.)

Burned

Finally, do you know these other words to describe "hungry"?

Peckish (adjective)
When you are a little bit hungry.

Peckish

Famished, ravenous and starving (adjective)
When you are extremely hungry.

Famished


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