"It Completely Transforms The Whole Thing": People Are Revealing The "Secret Weapon" Ingredient They Use To Make Popular Dishes Taste Even Better

·8 min read

Have you ever tried cooking with an ingredient only to discover that it all but revolutionizes your home cooking? Well, Redditor u/PhilipLynott asked, "What is one ingredient that completely changed the way you cook and now you use it all the time?" Here's how people responded.

1."Smoked paprika. Sprinkle some on some eggs after you plate them and it elevates it from an ordinary breakfast to a restaurant quality dish in terms of both flavor and appearance."

Spanish patatas bravas with paprika and aioli.
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2."Fish sauce. If you like making ramen at home (even the instant stuff), a splash of fish sauce is a serious force multiplier."

Bottles of red boat fish sauce.
Hannah Loewentheil

3."Kimchi. I honestly put kimchi in everything: soups and stews, with eggs, sandwiches, on grilled cheese, in burritos, and more. I love it. The spice, tangy, fermented taste, and the crunchy texture of cabbage is just perfect in a lot of dishes."

Cooking kimchi fried rice.
Oliver Byunggyu Woo / Getty Images/EyeEm

4."For me it's miso paste. It's absolutely fantastic for roasting vegetables, making soups, and potatoes. The way it makes food taste is unbelievable, especially when mixed with some good quality butter."

A close-up of miso paste.
Kumacore / Getty Images

5."I recently started adding Szechuan peppercorns into my pepper mill along with Tellicherry peppercorns. It's made a really nice difference in my cooking."

Different colored peppercorns.
4kodiak / Getty Images

6."Mushroom powder. I often find large boxes of discounted gourmet mushrooms and I dehydrate them, then I reduce the smaller bits into a powder I can add to any dish that needs a bit more umami and depth of flavor."

Various mushrooms for sale at a market.

"You can also buy mushroom powder in stores like Trader Joe's Mushroom & Company Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend at Costco's dried mushroom mix."


Bloomberg Creative / Getty Images/Bloomberg Creative Photos

7."Berbere, which is an Ethiopian spice mix. I am a believer that it's the finest spice mix you can buy. It can be quite hot but the depth of flavor is incredible. Just a quick dusting of the stuff has the power to transform a simple corn and cheddar quesadilla into a meal that tastes like fine dining."

Ethiopian food and berbere spice sauce.
Magicbones / Getty Images/iStockphoto

8."Those little tubes of tomato paste. Being able to add just a small amount of tomato to a dish and not having to waste a whole can is a godsend."

A bowl of tomato paste.
Annick Vanderschelden Photograph / Getty Images

9."Especially good quality pepper flakes. (I like Flatiron Pepper Co.). They are a game changer. Their sweet heat blend is absolutely delicious."

A bowl of soup with red pepper flakes.
Hannah Loewentheil

10."Chili oil. I put it on so many things from scrambled eggs and grilled vegetables to pasta. Even if I'm not necessarily cooking Asian-inspired food, it still adds a perfect blend of savoriness and spiciness. It brings so much flavor to whatever I'm making."

Dumplings in chili oil.
Mtreasure / Getty Images/iStockphoto

11."Chipotle pepper sauce. It adds a smokey flavor without any real heat to so many sauces. It's my new secret ingredient that transforms so many dishes."

Pouring hot sauce onto a taco.
Pamelajoemcfarlane / Getty Images/iStockphoto

12."Pasta water. It’s the not-so-secret way to take your pasta to a whole new level just by adding some starchy water back into your sauce. It feels like cheating."

Straining gnocchi out of a pot with a collander.
Sergio Amiti / Getty Images

13."Salt. I had to learn how to use it with purpose so that the flavors of my food are enhanced and not overwhelmed by it."

Hand seasoning vegetables on a baking sheet.
Westend61 / Getty Images/Westend61

14."Gochujang has changed my life. I don’t find that it is all that spicy (sometimes I add gochugaru for an extra kick), but the flavor is just so unique and delicious. This is kind of sacrilege, but I like to mix mayo and Gochujang into a spread or dip that makes everything better."

A bowl of bibimbap.
Morten Falch Sortland / Getty Images

15."Fresh herbs. I love how simple you can get with your food and just add some fresh herbs. It elevates anything."

Salmon in a pan with garlic and herbs.
Malorny / Getty Images

16."High-quality olive oil for garnishing. I once ate at a restaurant that also produced olive oil and every dish was meant to highlight its importance. For dessert, they served tiramisu and had us try it alone and then garnished it with their olive oil. The difference in flavor was incredible. That was the moment I realized how much a little drizzle of good olive oil (and some flaky salt) can elevate even the most basic dish."

Drizzling olive oil on top of prosciutto and bread.
Tanya_f / Getty Images/iStockphoto

17."Capers. I sort of ignored capers for a long time until recently. Now I'm adding them to lots of my Italian cooking and they add a nice zingy touch."

Chicken with capers.
Boblin / Getty Images

18."Sesame oil. A teaspoon or so of sesame oil takes a good stir fry and turns it into a great one."

Saucepan with ingredients including ginger, soy, chili and sesame oil
Annick Vanderschelden Photograph / Getty Images

19."Nutritional yeast. I add it into beaten eggs before I scramble them, in chicken noodle soup, or really to whatever I'm making for serious umami."

Vegan pasta with nutritional yeast.
Panagiotis Kyriakos / Getty Images/iStockphoto

20."White pepper. It’s really good in cold salads. For example, it spices up egg salad or potato salad so nicely, especially along with some shallots."

A bowl of creamy potato salad.
Debbismirnoff / Getty Images

21."Coconut aminos, which is commonly used as a low sodium soy sauce substitute. I love the flavor even more than soy sauce because it also adds a slight sweetness to whatever you're cooking."

Fried rice in bowls.
Amfer75 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

22."Anchovy fillets in oil. It adds a great, savory-meets-salty boost to almost everything. They absolutely disappear in most foods so you don't have to worry about the texture."

Ingredients for pasta in small bowls.
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23."Mayonnaise. Fat is flavor and mayo is essentially fat mixed with acidity for balance. Whether you use it to add moisture to dry bread or make your French fries sing, mayo is so much better than its undeserved, bland reputation. It brings flavor to the forefront of any dish. It makes meat meatier, brings out the cheesiness of a grilled cheese, and harmonizes the sweet and salty ingredients in chicken salad."

A lettuce and tomato sandwich with mayonnaise.
Photo By Fotoosvanrobin / Getty Images

24."Compound butter, especially when it comes to making fried rice. I've found that at restaurants, they almost never use plain butter. Most use a compound butter made with garlic. I make compound butter with MSG and ginger and call it umami butter. Try it at home: your fried rice will taste hibachi-style."

A ribeye steak topped with herb butter.
Ilia Nesolenyi / Getty Images/iStockphoto

25."Shallots. You can use them in any recipe that calls for an allium. If garlic would taste too pungent or overwhelming then shallots are perfect. They're often more delicately flavored than onions. Fried until crisp, they make an amazing garnish. Pickle them and serve them with salads. And let's not forget that they are an essential ingredient in salad dressings. You can also grate them into sauces (especially yogurt-based ones) for a great, oniony depth of flavor."

Chopped tomatoes, herbs, and shallot.
Annick Vanderschelden Photograph / Getty Images

26."MSG. It goes into every savory dish I make. In fact, I just leave a mix of salt and msg on my stove top and I grab a pinch or two when I'm cooking anything."

Eating instant noodles with chopsticks.
Hepjam / Getty Images/iStockphoto

27."Tajin seasoning. For anyone unfamiliar, it's a spice mixture of dried chiles and dehydrated lime juice. It goes well in most Mexican cooking, but it's also unexpectedly delicious on fruit like sliced mango."

A fruit cup with tajin seasoning.
Bhofack2 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

28."Sumac. Sprinkle a little on your vegetables along with some salt and olive oil and you've got a delicious side dish (or main dish if you're vegetarian like me!).

Arabic fattoush salad with sumac dressing and pita.
Stanislav Ostranitsa / Getty Images/iStockphoto

29."Sour cream. Even just a small dollop makes gravies and sauces taste richer and creamier (if you add too much you wind up turning all your food into stroganoff, so be judicious). I love adding a small amount of sour cream when I'm reheating leftovers and the texture is off. I also use it to dilute the intensity of a dish that is over-seasoned and too salty or spicy. Finally, I add a hefty spoonful of sour cream when I make casseroles. You get a creamy texture but without so much heaviness and saltiness. A small amount of sour cream is also terrific blended into scrambled eggs before you cook them. It makes the eggs fluffy and silky."

A bowl of soup with sour cream.
Lingqi Xie / Getty Images

30."Powdered ranch dressing mix. It tastes fantastic in coleslaw, pasta salad, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, breading, and so many more recipes. It's savory and delicious but no one can ever put a finger on the flavor."

Tomato and mozzarella pasta salad.
Lauripatterson / Getty Images

So, what's your "secret" ingredient that you swear by when it comes to home cooking? Tell us in the comments.