Most Important Ingredients For Home Cooks

Audria Easterly

Table of Contents

“Even the smallest amount of it can take any cream sauce to another level.”

There are certain ingredients that seem so simple, yet the tiniest bit can completely upgrade whatever you’re eating it with. So redditor u/thyman3 asked, “What ingredient did you try for the first time and think, ‘I’ve never tasted anything like this before?” Here are some of the flavor-boosting ingredients you’re going to want to stock up on.


“Chipotles in adobo. I practically drink that stuff from the can.”


“Nutmeg, especially in cream-based sauces. Even the smallest amount can take any cream sauce to another level.”


“Gochujang. It’s a Korean chile paste that can be used as a base for sauces, marinades, or as a condiment to add heat to soups, stews, meats, and veggies. I bought a big tub and have been experimenting with all the ways to use it.”


“Chile oil. I tried it recently for the first time, and it’s a life changer.”


“Real Parmigiano Reggiano. I grew up in a place where cheddar was basically the only cheese available. When I moved to the city, I started buying the imported stuff, and wow — authentic Parmesan is the real deal. Compared to the cheap stuff, you only need half the amount to make your food (like carbonara) taste great.”


“Garlic scapes. They’re a familiar taste to something like scallions, but next level in my opinion.”


“Pozole (also called hominy). It looks like big corn kernels, but it has this really unique, comforting flavor. I tried it for the first time when I was in my 30s, but it reminds me of home and tastes like comfort food to me.”


“Ricotta cheese. After eating it with garlic bread, I never looked back. It’s amazingly good.”


“Tamarind. My favorite Indian restaurant growing up served a naan starter with tamarind chutney on the side. I thought it was the most magical condiment, but turns out it was just tamarind.”


“Sumac. I had it for the first time in chicken Musakhan at a restaurant. When I went to look up the recipe to make it at home, I realized that the delightful flavor I loved was due to sumac. It’s a wonderfully unusual, almost-sour taste.”


“Quality balsamic vinegar. I got some a few years ago as a gift. I still use the cheap version for some things like deglazing or marinating, but there’s no substitute for the real deal when it comes to dipping bread, drizzling over pizza or caprese salad, etc.”


“Good soy sauce. Go to an Asian supermarket and get the imported Kikkoman. All of the text will be in Japanese, and it will have an unadorned white label pasted on the bottle to comply with international food standards. The difference in quality is unbelievable. Supermarket Kikkoman tastes like seawater, but the imported stuff tastes like delicious, savory liquid miso.”


“Plain yogurt. I never realized that you could even buy plain yogurt, or that it goes with meals other than breakfast. My friend had a dinner party and cooked some spicy meat paired with plain yogurt to dip it in. It was so freaking good.”


“Fish sauce. It adds such a depth of flavor to so many dishes. I especially like to add it to any recipe that calls for ground beef. It takes the dish to flavor town.”


“Saffron. I had never used it in my cooking until just recently, and it adds so much flavor. I’ve had that saffron rice you buy as a mix, but it’s not the same as using real saffron. I cook with it mostly when I’m making rice and Spanish dishes, but it would be delicious with chicken too.”


“Tahini. It’s creamier than cream, and it’s also vegan. It’s unreal and I love it.”


“Anchovies. There’s nothing like a Caesar salad topped with anchovies. And the savory flavor they add to pasta or pizza is out of this world.”


“Nuoc cham. It’s an all-purpose dipping/pouring sauce you find in Vietnamese restaurants, made with fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice, all thinned with water. It’s absolutely perfect.”


“Pandan. It’s a plant grown in Southeast Asia, and its leaves are made into a paste you can use to make many desserts and pastries. My mother-in-law makes moon cakes with it, and when I was in Malaysia (my husband’s home country) we bought pastries stuffed with it. The paste is a nice green color, and it tastes nutty, vanilla, and slightly sweet. It is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, but sadly it’s very hard to find in the States.”



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“I have it on hand pretty much all the time, and I put it on anything and everything. I’ll make a big batch for the week, and it just gets more beautiful as it sits in the fridge.” —u/OlisMommy


“Yuzu kosho. The first time I tried it was a tiny amount on the side of a bowl of ramen. I requested more; then, I bought some to take home. I’d never tasted anything like it. It’s hot like Thai chile but soft, aromatic, and citrusy like yuzu.”


“Black sesame. It’s one of my all-time favorite flavors…especially in desserts. It’s pretty popular in Cantonese and other Asian desserts.”


“Cardamom. It is exquisite in sauces. I can’t really describe the flavor, but the taste and the aroma are heavenly.”


“Za’atar. Lately I’ve been tossing chickpeas in oil and za’atar, roasting them, and adding them to simple pasta dishes where they steal the show.”


“Harissa, a hot chile pepper paste from Northern Africa. I put it on everything.”


“Black garlic. It has a deep, earthy flavor from being fermented. My local ramen place offers it as an option to add to your ramen, and it’s incredible.”

Do you have a favorite ingredient that you simply can’t live without? Tell us in the comments below.

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