16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

When it comes to holiday gift giving, it truly is the thought that counts, but some thoughts are better than others. If you don’t know someone all that well, or tend to panic shop this time of year, you may be tempted to buy them a gift that’s rooted in their most prominent interest. It’s a good idea in theory, but it doesn’t play out so well in the practice.

I don’t know what the foodie in your life wants for Christmas, but I know what they don’t want, because I asked a whole bunch of them on Twitter (read all the replies and retweets here), and they (including Padma Lakshmi) sure had a lot to say. Of course, no two food lovers are the same, and you know your friend or family member better than I do. If they have requested something on this list, or you know they would love it, then get it for them! I’m not the boss of Christmas.

As food writer Naomi Tomkey pointed out in her reply, if someone is really into something, they already own the most obvious tools and accessories that pertain to that interest. This is why I don’t buy my printmaker sister art supplies, or my veterinarian parents pets — they already have all they need.

Similarly, most food-focused people (be they professional chefs, serious home cooks, or cocktail enthusiasts) already have most, if not all, of the gear, gadgets, cookbooks, and ingredients they need or want. Here are the things you should not buy for the food-obsessed on your list, unless they’ve been quite naughty.

Truffle-flavored anything

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

This was the most popular answer, and one I fully agree with. An actual truffle would be an incredible gift, but truffle oil, truffle salt, and every other truffle-flavored item you see on specialty grocery store shelves are almost never made with real truffle. According to Tasting Table, the truffle-infused oil of yesteryear is not what populates the shelves today:

Originally, truffle oil was high-quality olive oil infused with black or white truffles, but today, most of the stuff is made synthetically with ingredients like 2,4-dithiapentane, an aromatic molecule that gives truffles their distinctive smell.

Chemically speaking, there’s a lot going on in a truffle, and a single, isolated molecule does not a truffle make, and the synthesized flavour tastes overbearingly pungent in a way that reminds me of body odor. Do not buy it. Do not gift it.

Whiskey stones

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

I have been yelling about these dumbass rocks for years, so it warmed my heart to see so many people drag them to hell. Here’s a little recap for those of you who missed my missive four years ago:

Whiskey stones do not chill your whiskey drink as well as ice. They also don’t dilute your drink, which is marketed as a good thing, but is actually a bad thing, since all booze tastes better with a little dilution. (I mean there are some expensive whiskeys you’d probably want to enjoy completely neat or slightly diluted, at room temperature, in which case a couple of drops of water is the most you’d want to add.) They are also much more expensive than ice, which is not free, but almost free.

No one wants them, especially your friend who is “really into good whiskey.”

Similarly, I would not recommend any sort of contraption that seeks to disrupt frozen water. Ice wedges are single use gimmicks that don’t chill your beverage any more effectively than a cube, and store-bought, clear-ice-making contraptions rarely work. (Really, all home bars need is a mould that makes big ol’ cubes.)

Cheese boards, cutting boards, really any kind of board

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

Several people in my mentions called out cheese boards and cheese knives as something they very much do not want, especially wooded cheese boards that absorb stinky cheese smells that are pretty hard to get rid of.

Charcuterie boards and cutting boards, especially glass cutting boards, were also up there, because anyone who cooks a lot probably already has all the cutting boards they need, and glass will fuck your knives right up.

Flavoured oil

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

A lot of people in my replies don’t want any oil, not even a “nice” bottle of EVOO, but especially not a flavoured bottle of EVOO (or any oil). Flavouring an oil makes it less versatile and, if it’s one of those oils with plant parts floating around in it, there’s a botulism risk, and botulism is a terrible gift.

Wine aerators (and other wine accessories)

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

Wine-related accessories was another popular answer, especially wine aerators and charms. (Those wine charms never stick to the glass anyway; use painter’s tape instead.)

I personally never buy wine people wine itself or anything wine-related, as they tend to be the most particular about their area of interest. I love it when wineheads buy me wine though. They’re very good at it.

Novelty kitchen and bar equipment (including cutesy single-use tools)

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

“Unitaskers” was another popular answer, including cutesy little tools like sloth-shaped tea strainers, avocado slicers, and herb strippers.

A good rule of thumb: If the task can be accomplished with a knife, don’t buy a gadget or tool that only performs that task. (And yes, I know that everyone has a unitasker that they love, but it is rarely the same from person to person. Unless your beloved foodie specifically asks for said tool, it’s best not to risk it.)

Aprons and pot holders

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

A lot of my foodie friends do not want aprons and/or potholders, and in general I agree, though there is a very cute red apron I have been eyeing at Trader Joe’s, even though I never wear an apron. Aprons are a very personal thing. For instance: I hate the very popular apron made by the lady who’s friends with the guy from Modern Family, but people who work in trendy restaurants seem to love them. (You know the one!)

Potholders, on the other hand, are redundant. If you have kitchen towels, you don’t need potholders. (Kitchen towels are a great gift in my opinion. I’m real hard on them and always appreciate a new one.)

Mixes and kits

Photo: Ekaterina Markelova, Shutterstock
Photo: Ekaterina Markelova, Shutterstock

If you find yourself in an aisle full of mixes that come packed in cute mason jars or attached to tiny cast iron pans, leave immediately. No one who does a lot of cooking wants to make cookies, soup, brownies, or cocktails from any of these dried and pre-packaged mixes. Those are for people who don’t cook.

“Fancy” salt

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

I would personally love a huge bucket of Maldon or box of Diamond Crystal Kosher, but very few foodies on Twitter seemed to agree with me. I understand why. There are tons of salts out there no one needs, especially pink salts that come in huge blocks (with microplanes) or fashioned into shot glasses.

Flavored salts are also usually a bad idea, as ginger-flavored salt is much less versatile than simple sodium chloride, and salt should be the most versatile thing in your kitchen.

Spice mixes and blends

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

As with all of these, there are some caveats. If your friend has expressed interest in a certain type of cuisine, and you happen to be something of an expert in that type of cuisine, a spice blend that is commonly used in that genre of cooking would probably be quite welcomed and loved. But generic shakers of random all-purpose blends only take up space in a probably already-packed spice cabinet, and will most likely go unused.

Any “gourmet” goods from TJ Maxx and the like

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

Weird little jams, dipping spices, and stuffed olives found in TJ Maxx or similar establishment are also best left on the shelves. According to Mashed, though some of the food you see there is unsold excess from other (perhaps fancy) stores, a lot of it is made specifically for TJ Maxx, and a good bit of it is intentionally weird and out there so as to cultivate a “treasure-hunt shopping experience.” Treasure hunting is fun, but doesn’t make for the best culinary experience.

Gift baskets full of food that seems like it came from TJ Maxx was another popular answer, though I personally don’t mind a good summer sausage or dried fruit tower.

Hot sauce (and most other condiments)

Photo: Christopher Sciacca, Shutterstock
Photo: Christopher Sciacca, Shutterstock

Most hot sauce heads have their favourites, and they are fiercely loyal. I’m not saying there is zero chance you could introduce someone to a new favourite, but be intentional, and steer clear of anything bought at a novelty hot sauce shop in a touristy part of town, especially if it has a punny name that references the arse in any way. (Good rule: If you haven’t tasted and loved the sauce yourself, don’t give it to anyone else.)

Coffee and tea (and related accessories)

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

Coffee and tea drinkers are hard to shop for, because they already have all of their favourite beans, leaves, and gear sorted out. If you really want to buy something coffee-related, check out Joel’s gift guide, but avoid generic bags of “specialty” — or worse, flavored — coffee, as well as any syrups and novelty milk frothers. The same applies to tea drinkers. It’s one thing to give someone an electric kettle you know they want and need, but quite another to gift yet another teapot or sampler of dried tea that may or may not be to their taste.

An air fryer

16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

Padma Lakshmi does not want an air fryer, and neither do a lot of other “serious” home cooks. I personally love my air fryer, and if your food-loving friend or family member has expressed interest in one, it does make a good gift.

But your fancy friend with a fancy convection oven probably does not need or want one, just like they probably don’t want to replace their pressure cooker with an Instant Pot. They’ve also already made their mind up about sous-vide cooking; if they don’t have an immersion circulator by now, they never will.


16 of the Worst Gifts to Give Your Foodie Friend

Your friend who cooks a lot already has too many cookbooks, and those cookbooks are probably a source of stress, as they take up a lot of room.

I love very particular cookbooks (especially kitschy retro cookbooks), but I do not need anything written by a celebrity chef or food blogger. Unless you are intimately familiar with your giftee’s cookbook leanings, or they have asked for a specific book, it’s best to leave them on the shelf. Same applies for cocktail books. Your favourite bartender does not need yet another copy of The Drunken Botanist.

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