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Chefs Are Sharing The One Secret Ingredient They Use To Improve Common Dishes, And I'm Taking Notes

Never underestimate the power of these.

If you cook often, you probably have an ingredient or two that you can't imagine living without. So redditor u/liberta0407 asked the chefs of Reddit, "What is your single favorite ingredient and why?" Here are some of the responses.

1. "Lemon juice. It enhances flavor in almost anything. Vinegar is too dominant for me."

Krblokhin / Getty Images / iStockphoto

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2. "Sumac."

"Get yourself a huge bag for like $15 and thank me later. It's lemony, salty, sweet, smoky, and earthy. Sprinkle it on toast, curry, chicken, steak, tacos, deviled eggs, even ice cream...it works on just about anything."

u/Picker-Rick

3. "Soy sauce. I will put it on anything...including fruit."

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"Use it to add flavor to tasteless soups and to marinate meat, vegetables, or tofu. If you're broke and hungry, rice with a bit of soy sauce is a filling meal (I did this plenty during my college days)."

u/pinkballoffluff

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4. "Gochujang. If you're making a savory dish that could use a spicy or umami kick, Korean red chili paste is the answer."

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5. "Kerrygold butter. It's silk on the tongue. So delicate and delicious, and so much better than any other butter I've tried."

u/Anarkya

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6. "Kaffir lime leaf. It’s an incredible addition to all kinds of soups, curries, and rice. It complements dishes that rely heavily on fragrant and aromatic flavors."

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"Chiffonade and put it in toward the end of cooking."

u/Moleman_G

7. "Cayenne powder. I throw a pinch in everything to give it a zing!"

u/slapabrownman

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8. "Za'atar. It's a mix of sumac, ground sesame seeds, and other herbs."

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"I bought some on a whim once and it became my favorite addition to roasted vegetables, poultry, lamb, you name it."

u/_twelvebytwelve_

9. "Toasted sesame seed oil. It adds a light nuttiness and saltiness to any dish."

u/Ez-lectronic

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10. "Bay leaves. Like salt, you don't want them to be the dominant flavor in anything, but they make a night and day difference in stews and pasta sauces."

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11. "Worcestershire sauce. It adds such a nice umami kick."

u/Bluewolf83

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12. "Paprika makes everything taste better."

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"Mix paprika into your mayonnaise and your life will never be the same."

u/MoravianPrince

13. "Vinegar. It is often the ingredient that's missing when people add more salt and spices to their cooking, wondering why it doesn’t taste quite as good as the restaurant version."

u/HEAT_IS_DIE

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14. "Thyme. It pairs especially well with meat, tomatoes, and beans."

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"It is the main ingredient in the classic French herb combinations bouquet garni and herbes de Provence, which are frequently used to flavor meat, stews, and soups."

u/Back2Bach

15. "Cardamom. It gives a warm, floral scent and flavor to whatever you bake and can be paired with so many things."

"Treat yourself and add some cardamom and orange zest to your next batch of banana bread."

u/DaygloDago

"Thyme is great in cocktails, too. It pairs well with acid and sugar."

u/kittythepitty

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16. "MSG. The ultimate flavor enhancer."

u/SaltyChickenDip

17. "Black garlic. It makes everything taste a hundred times better. Crush it into a paste and make a compound butter."

u/bananapursun

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18. "Nutritional yeast. It makes everything taste more complex and a bit funky. I absolutely love it."

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19. "Tajín seasoning adds a bit of lime and a little kick to your food. I put it on almost everything."

u/FarmerExternal

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20. "Garam masala. It's so good in many savory dishes."

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"When a recipe calls for cumin, I use garam masala instead. It’s incredible in chili or any Asian-influenced dishes."

u/ABeld96

21. "Vanilla extract. It is to sweet as salt is to savory."

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22. "White wine. Some chefs like to add a dash of lemon or lime juice to their foods, but I think white wine works better."

u/AlternativeIcy3602

23. "Chicken thighs. They're so much juicier, more tender, and more flavorful than chicken breasts. Not to mention, they're way cheaper, too."

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24. "Buttermilk. It's an underrated ingredient you can use in marinades and dressings as well as in baked goods like breads and cakes. It just adds that extra zip."

u/johnstonb

25. "Garlic. I add at least three times more than whatever a recipe calls for."

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26. "Nutmeg. It goes in the sweet stuff, in savory stuff, and even in some drinks."

u/MissFog

27. "Stock cubes. They add a lot of flavor, seasoning, and depth."

Annick Vanderschelden Photograph / Getty Images

"Better Than Bouillon is the way."

u/Scampipants

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28. "Anchovies. They give so much more depth to many pasta dishes."

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29. "Mushroom seasoning. It's versatile, salty, savory, and an umami bomb. I most often use it in Asian-inspired cooking in place of or in addition to salt."

u/pizzarocknrollparty

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30. "Fried egg. There aren't many dishes that can't be improved with a fried egg on top."

Burcu Atalay Tankut / Getty Images

31. "Fish sauce. It's the ultimate flavor bomb. It beats soy, miso, kombu, anchovies. It can transform almost any dish."

u/bucky_lugger

What's your go-to secret ingredient that will make just about anything taste better? Share in the comments!

Note: Some of these responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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