5 Pantry Staples That Will Put More Mmm in Your Meals

Want a shortcut to making your meals taste better? Look no further than your pantry.

It turns out, some of the little things you keep in your cupboards make a big difference in the food you serve at the table. Here are 5 pantry staples that really pay off in taste.

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Here's something you might not know: extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is actually a grade of olive oil—the highest grade you can buy. EVOO is what results when olives are pressed and bottled unrefined—which means extra virgin olive oil enhances your recipes with a rich, natural flavor. Depending on what varietal of olive was used, these oils can taste more fruity, flowery, nutty or peppery.

Tasty Tidbit: Did you know Italy isn't the only producer of olive oil? Companies like California Olive Ranch grow, harvest and press extra virgin olive oil right here in the States. California Olive Ranch is so dedicated to taste, they press all their olives within hours of picking to ensure fresh flavor. Click here to learn more about their oils.

To find our favorite Italian recipes using olive oil, click here.

2. Canned Tomatoes
If you haven't canned your own, it's worth the splurge to buy a reputable brand. Tomatoes are great to have on hand for sauces and chilis, and to mix into soups and stews. But with some of the bargain brands, you can end up with a flavorless, mushy, mess of un-ripened reds. Our Taste of Home tip? Buy canned whole tomatoes (even if you have to chop them up later) because they have richer flavor that will really contribute to your dish.

3. Spices/Herbs
Sure, fresh herbs give a great flavor boost when they're available. But some dried herbs and spices are worth paying more for up front because they'll keep their flavor and texture longer. This is especially important if you don't use them as frequently (which means they stay on your shelf longer). Specifically, you might want to spend a little more on chili powder, cinnamon, paprika, curry powder and dried herbs.

4. Stocks & Broths
Since stocks and broths serve as the base for great soups, gravies and more, it's really important to start with a quality product. A rich stock will help highlight and pull other flavors together. So how do you pick a good stock or broth if you're not making one from scratch? Do a little research, ask friends what they use, then try a few different kinds to see which suits your taste best. Another rule of thumb? If it smells weak and tastes weak, it won't add a lot (besides liquid) to your dishes.

5. Vinegars
When it comes to vinegar, you get what you pay for. Basic distilled vinegar is inexpensive, though it’s best suited for cleaning, not cooking. But red wine and balsamic vinegars can really bump up the flavor in your favorite recipes. Mid-priced balsamic vinegars will impart brilliant flavor to salads, soups, and desserts. When it comes to red wine vinegars, stay away from the bargain-priced varieties which can taste rather harsh. Instead, pay a little more and you’ll get a more mellow vinegar that’s better balanced, and versatile enough to use in pan sauces as well as vinaigrettes and marinades.