16 Cooks Dish on the Essential Ingredient Too Many People Forget

Everyone has their own style, and that goes double when it comes to people who create. Whether you’re a writer, an actor, an artist, or sure, a chef, you surely have that color or phrasing or ingredient that makes your end product pop.

But what if there was a simple ingredient you could keep in your kitchen at home that would wow your guests, make your dishes extra good, and maybe even encourage your kids to eat what you fix?

I don’t know about you, but I’d want to know – and these 16 cooks are dishing up their secrets.

16. You gotta listen up when someone deploys a secret weapon.

Grated Locatelli pecorino romano cheese. It replaces salt in every Italian recipes I have. It’s my secret weapon. I use it in pasta sauce, in meatballs, in the breadcrumb when I fry chicken cutlets, in the stuffing for my stuffed mushrooms, on top of pizza. My mom used to sprinkle it on salad. I use it on artichokes. In green beans.

My wife hates it. She says it smells like vomit (which it does). But I use it on everything and she gobbles it down like it’s manna from heaven.

It imparts a salty, nutty taste to everything it’s in. It gives simple chicken cutlets an irresistible depth of flavor. A back-of-the-tongue, almost umami flavor.

It is made from 100% sheep’s milk and is really expensive when compared to that dried out, sandy-feeling Kraft Parmesan cheese most people use.

15. This makes a huge difference but also it’s expensive.

Subtle, but I usually use vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract in most of my baking.

14. It seems so simple, but people do really struggle with the right amount of salt.

F**king Kosher Salt.

Table salt, iodized salt, the Himalayan pink salt, sea salt; they all have their places as either “get your kid their iodine’ or as nice finishing salts with their own flavor, but all those recipes you cook with?

All of them are tested with Kosher Salt, usually Diamond Kosher. The flakes are the perfect size for getting a consistent level of salt in a dish.

Use it.

13. I never would have imagined.

Unsweetened chocolate in chili.

Also, I think dried chili peppers are something a lot of people are afraid of (if they didn’t grow up in a house that used them) that adds immense depth to the flavor of a dish.

12. Someone is throwing down some serious knowledge.

Seeing a lot of salt, butter, and vinegar/citrus in this thread. Those are all definitely essential, but here are some other useful ingredients:

Onion soup mix is a “chef’s secret” that’s so well-known it’s hardly a secret. But it’s f**king great. It’s super savory and super sweet.

On the subject of sweet, adding good old sugar to “non-sweet” things is why a lot of restaurant food tastes so addictively good.

A personal favorite spice of mine is smoked paprika. Smoked paprika is god. Buy it in the Mexican aisle for extra savings.

MSG also kicks ass. You don’t have to be a lunatic and order actual MSG powder online, just use MSG-heavy ingredients like tomato paste, soy sauce, or sazonador total (sazon).

11. Okay freezing it is a life-changing idea.

Fresh ginger.

I grab a decent sized piece from the grocery store , cut it into 1-2 inch pieces, throw it in the blender with about 1/4 cup of water and blend…no need to peel.

Then freeze it flat in a plastic bag and break off a piece whenever I make a sauce or marinade.

10. If you’re going for flavor, don’t count the calories.

Full fat anything – you’ll end up using less to achieve body and a fuller flavor in your dishes.

Cream, plain yogurt, cottage cheese, quality butter, quality mayo, etc.

Quality of dairy and fats is important.

9. But not the kind that gives you a rash?

Sumac. It enhances so many dishes.

Lemony. Peppery. Sumac.

8. Say it with me: stock instead of water.

Maggi liquid seasoning is amazing in soup!

Also, people under use stock – anything that absorbs water as it’s boiled (rice/quinoa/bulgur) can be cooked in stock to make it not taste bland.

7. Could it really be that simple?

Do you want that yummy Chinese flavor?

Fermented black bean paste.

6. Ice cream and chocolate cake, really?

Fresh lime juice goes with EVERYTHING.

Bacon, cheese, tomato based dishes, cumin, chicken, pasta, ice-cream, chocolate cake. Everything everything.

5. Bonus, they keep forever in your fridge.

Worcestershire and oyster sauce are pretty irreplaceable flavors that I don’t think many people use all that much.

4. I’ve had those in my spice cabinet for literal years.

Bay Leaf.

How did I get through this whole thread and not see the magical Bay Leaf?

3. Never forget the acid.


It adds a missing flavor to lots of dishes.

2. I never would have imagined.

Nutmeg – freshly grated.

On all cauliflower dishes, potatoes (mashed Mmmh), Sauce Béchamel, sometimes zucchini, celeriac.

1. That all sounds pretty simple.

Butter and olive oil mix, more garlic than the recipe calls for and Chinese 5 spice.

Wow, I never would have guessed some of these in a million years?

Are you an accomplished home or professional chef? What would you add to the list? Let us know if you think anything important has been left out!