Test Kitchen Tips
12 Ingredients That Will Make You a Better Cook
Ready to add some pizzazz to your favorite dishes? These versatile ingredients will help.
If you ask us, “bland” is the worst thing anyone can call our food. We spend so much time planning menus, carefully measuring ingredients and cleaning up afterward, that our food had better be flavorful! Fortunately, you don’t have to scrap a bland meal entirely. Adding a few ingredients will transform your entree or appetizer from “meh” to “magnificent.” Whether you want to take a so-so dish to new heights or add some pizzazz to fail-safe favorites, here are 12 flavor boosters everyone should have in their kitchen.
Ready to raise the bar even higher? Add these impressive dinners to your cooking bucket list.
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Consider vanilla extract the gift that keeps on giving. A consistent crowd-pleaser, it’s sweet enough to satisfy your craving without adding mounds of sugar. Go ahead, add a couple of drops to plain milk, a fruit smoothie or Amish oatmeal.
There’s a reason Worcestershire sauce is one of the most versatile condiments around: It starts as anchovies fermented in vinegar and includes chili peppers, garlic, onions, salt and sugar. While the thought of combining sweet, savory and…well…anchovies…may be cringe-worthy, we have to admit it’s delicious in meatloaf and Bloody Marys.
Vegetarians are no strangers to this flavor-boosting commodity. Mushrooms are packed with umami (one of the five basic tastes along with sweetness, saltiness, sourness and bitterness), which is commonly associated with meats. Whether you eat ’em solo or add a portobello or two to your lasagna, you’ll wind up with a savory—and dare we say meaty—meal.
Make no mistake, balsamic vinegar isn’t just good on salads. It works with everything. Seriously, everything. The perfect blend of sweet and savory, you can use it on chicken or fruit or even in popsicles! Choose vinaigrette, glaze or syrup…the culinary sky’s the limit here.
Ketchup may be the condiment of choice for hamburgers and fries, but when it comes to cooking, it’s all about the mustard. It doesn’t matter if you use a bold Dijon or spicy yellow, mustard is a great addition to salads, sandwiches and marinades. And did you know it’s great on seafood? Try this dijon-crusted tilapia and see for yourself. Or get more mustard-boosted recipes here.
Anyone looking to add some zing to their dinner should pick up some lemons, limes or oranges. In addition to giving any dish an indisputably fruity flair, the acid in citrus can help balance and enhance your meal’s flavor. This steak and citrus salsa dish packs a punch and will have ’em coming back for seconds.
(Hey, meat-eaters! You can substitute chicken or beef broth, if you prefer.)
We love onions as much as the next person, but the smelly breath that follows isn’t doing anyone any favors. Consider trading out onions for leeks. They’re stench-free, plus they’ll add a subtle sweetness to any meal. Already fully on board with leeks? Give this healthy chowder a whirl.
Your spice rack is a treasure trove of flavor boosters, but we have a soft spot for cayenne powder. The spicy pepper is mind-blowingly good when cooked into zesty chili, but did you know it’s also good for you? Cayenne is an anti-inflammatory—so blend some into a mug of hot water and fresh lemon juice to get a jump on those early cold symptoms.
Aged Hard Cheese
Put your love of Parmesan and Pecorino Romano to good use by sprinkling it on an arugula salad, pasta or omelet. Not only will it add richness, it reduces the need for salt. A little bit of cheese goes a long way, so a sliver will give you maximum flavor with minimal calories.
Everyone knows that a splash of wine can improve chicken Marsala, but adding a quarter cup or so to the pan after sauteeing vegetables or cooking meats will remove the crusty bits from the pan, ultimately bringing that flavor back into the dish. But before you throw any ol’ wine into a recipe, we recommend choosing your bottle with care. The wine’s flavor plays a role in the dish, so if you don’t like drinking it, you probably won’t like eating it.
Let us count the ways we love ginger. On its own, ginger is a fantastic palate-cleanser between courses. It’s also a helpful digestive aid. Plus, ginger adds serious kick to ice cream, hot tea and even poultry. But fresh ginger isn’t for the faint of flavor, so consider yourself warned.