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What does "Soup to Nuts" Mean?

By Sonal Panse
Updated May 23, 2024
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"Soup to nuts" is an American-English idiom that means "from beginning to end." It is one of many common English phrases that were coined according to the culinary habits of their particular period. Going by published mentions in the magazines and books of the time, this idiom became prevalent sometime in the 1800s, when meals were elaborate social rituals with a set pattern of courses. People usually began the eating experience with a soup appetizer and ended the meal with a dessert or a drink that contained nuts. Therefore, when someone used this expression, they meant the whole thing.

Although meals have become less formal in the present age, "soup to nuts," like many outdated English expressions, is still around. Like many such idioms and sayings, it is now used to refer to things other than the original references. It is regularly used these days to describe not just the complete processes of culinary projects, but also the complete processes of projects in business, finance, information technology, engineering and so on; for instance, someone might say "We are undertaking or overseeing everything from soup to nuts."

It is also used to describe an assortment of things that are being sold. One example would be someone saying that they were selling all parts of something from "soup to nuts." The expression can be used to denote a group of things that are being classified, like a particular genre.

While the "soup to nuts" expression is relatively modern, these kind of sayings have been around for centuries. "From eggs to apples" is another expression with the same meaning. This expression is derived from the Latin expression ab ovo usque ad mala that appears in the Satires of the Roman writer and poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known to the public as Horace. The Romans apparently started their meals with eggs and finished up with apples. Another expression in the similar vein is "from pottage to cheese."

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Discussion Comments
By shell4life — On Jun 05, 2012

@seag47 - One of my favorite restaurants took some lunch ideas from this phrase. Every time I eat there on my lunch break, I order off the “soup to nuts” section of the menu.

My favorite one starts with minestrone soup. It’s made with pasta, several kinds of beans, and tomatoes, along with seasoning that makes it very flavorful.

Then, out comes the grilled chicken and avocado sandwich. It comes with low-fat mayo and grilled asparagus on the side, so it’s a healthy option.

Finally, I get a hot fudge brownie with pecans and vanilla ice cream for dessert. The nuts are baked into the brownie, but there are also a few pieces scattered on top for an extra nutty effect to drive the point home.

By Oceana — On Jun 05, 2012

I have a friend who is a chef, and she uses this idiom often. She usually says it in reference to giving me the details to something that happened.

Sometimes, it’s juicy and I want to hear about it. Other times, I kind of groan inwardly when she tells me that she is going to let me in on everything, from soup to nuts.

I don’t mind hearing about her date with a new guy or a new vegetable recipe that she has concocted. However, when she wants to tell me all about her ailments or her family history, I want to run away.

I think that people should pick and choose what they want to tell someone all about. Going from soup to nuts about some things is okay, but in many cases, it can really bore the other person to tears.

By seag47 — On Jun 04, 2012

My sister actually got a few good dinner ideas from this idiom. She decided to use it as a basis for her garden party.

She began by offering guests a bowl of chicken tortilla soup. This featured zucchini, black beans, corn, garlic, salsa, and bits of shredded chicken.

For the main course, she served chicken fajitas. They were made with seasoned chicken, cooked bell peppers and onions.

For dessert, she served an apple cobbler full of chopped pecans. It was a delicious end to a great meal, and it made me understand why “soup to nuts” was a popular practice back in the day.

By wavy58 — On Jun 04, 2012

@burcidi - That’s very interesting. I wonder if this is why modern day bars offer free bowls of nuts to those having drinks.

Many men who visit bars late at night have already eaten a meal. So, the nuts are the final snack of the day. Perhaps this originated back in the day when men drank brandy and ate nuts.

I have never eaten a meal that ended in a nutty dessert and began with soup, but I have often found myself craving nuts late at night. Maybe it’s the habits of my ancestors shining through, because they probably did go from soup to nuts.

By burcidi — On Jun 03, 2012
Based on my English instructor's explanation of the origin of this idiom, the nuts in "soup to nuts" isn't desserts and drinks containing nuts. It's the nuts that gentlemen used to have with their brandy after meals in the 18th century.

In this era, usually after formal dinners, the women and men used to divide into separate rooms or corners for socialization. Men used to enjoy alcoholic drinks, mostly brandy, and cigars and would snack on nuts with their drinks.

By burcinc — On Jun 02, 2012
@turkay1-- About your whole-to-parts question -- clearly that's what the idiom means. But everything has parts to it, so I don't think you need to differentiate about that. For example, if someone says "I'm going to tell you about my trip, soup to nuts," it means they're going to tell you about the entire trip, from beginning to end, without missing anything.

And the answer to your first question is, yes, you can use those three idioms interchangeably. "Kit and kaboodle" is very similar to "soup to nuts." Kit and kaboodle also originated in the 1800s and it refers to everything that a person has. Kit can mean personal belongings, or a kitten, and kaboodle means estate, a home.

By candyquilt — On Jun 02, 2012

This is an interesting idiom, I don't think I've ever heard it before. When I want to use an idiom which means "everything" or "from beginning to end," I usually say "A to Z" or "kit and kaboodle."

All three of these idioms are pretty much interchangeable, right? "Kit and kaboodle" is another interesting one and the hardest to understand, but I think it's used more often than "soup to nuts." But the "soup to nuts" phrase is easier to understand. The same goes for "A to Z" which is talking about the alphabet.

With all of these phrases, would it be right to say that when we're talking about "everything" and "from beginning to end," we're actually talking about all the pieces of the whole?

Because with "soup to nuts," there is a "whole" there which is the dinner and then there are individual courses within the dinner such as soup and nuts. "A to Z" implies the same thing to me. That there is something made up of smaller parts and we're talking about all of those smaller parts together.

So when we use this idiom, shouldn't we pay attention that whatever we're talking about, has parts to it, just like a dinner meal does?

By anon138782 — On Jan 02, 2011

Similar to "run the gamut", which has a very cool etymology.

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