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We Asked 11 Food Pros To Tell Us What Ingredients They Reach For The Most

From vanilla bean paste to fish sauce, these are the ingredients pro cooks can't live without.

Hannah Wong/BuzzFeed

Sometimes the difference between a good meal and a great meal all comes down to one ingredient.

So we went ahead and asked 11 food professionals to tell us what ingredients they can't live without. From seasoned rice vinegar to flaky sea salt, these are the ingredients they reach for, time and time again.

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1. Butter — Rick Martinez, food writer and recipe developer

Nirmal Ramo, Smartstock / Getty Images

"In my apartment, I currently have one and a half pounds of European butter (for laminating dough), 10 ounces of cultured butter (for slathering on good bread), and two pounds of American butter (for everything else). Butter is glorious. What other ingredient can catapult the flavor and texture of both savory and sweet foods into sheer decadence? With it I can sauté, fry, poach, bake, and baste. I compound it with fruit and herbs for meat and fish, brown it for cookies, and clarify it for sauces and shallow fries."

More: Learn about the different varieties of butter and how to use them.

2. Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp — Adrienne Cheatham, Top Chef Season 15 finalist and host of Sunday Best

Melissa Hom

"The ingredient I can't live without is Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp condiment. It's so damn good. It's this crunchy mixture of garlic, onions, chilis, toasted soy nuts, Sichuan peppercorns, and spices cooked in oil (and has a modest amount of MSG in it). It's been a staple in my kitchen for years and I put it on everything. Whether I'm throwing something together late at night when I need a snack, or making a more labor-intensive meal, this adds both flavor and texture — and just makes it special."

More: Get a 7.4-ounce bottle of Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp on Jet for $3.31 and read more about why people love it.

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3. Seasoned Rice Vinegar — Judy Kim, food stylist and recipe developer

Anthony Cunanan, amazon.com

"When I realized seasoned rice vinegar is essentially a pickling liquid, it became my new go-to pantry ingredient. I love that the vinegar already has salt and sugar incorporated, eliminating the heating and cooling step, which is such a time saver. At first I used it for quickly pickling sliced jalapeños and onions for tacos — then expanded to other vegetables like ginger, cucumbers, and carrots to brighten dishes. It also instantly brings a complex flavor to salad dressing."

More: Get a 12-ounce bottle of seasoned rice wine vinegar on Amazon for $6.99 and learn how to quick pickle just about any vegetable.

4. Unrefined Muscovado Sugar — Edd Kimber, cookbook author and winner of The Great British Bake Off

Edd Kimber, Quanthem / Getty Images

"I always have unrefined muscovado sugar on hand. Yes, you could use regular brown sugar, but this type adds so much more flavor and turns everything up to an 11. It makes the best chocolate chip cookies, it adds a ton of depth to chocolate cake, and it makes the best butterscotch sauce. Basically, if the recipe calls for brown sugar, unrefined muscovado sugar makes it so much more flavorful."

More: Get a 2.8-pound bag of dark muscovado sugar on Amazon for $20.55.

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5. Vanilla Bean Paste — Jocelyn Delk Adams, food blogger, TV personality, and cookbook author

Ali Stone, amazon.com

"I'm having a serious love affair with vanilla bean paste right now. It injects so much pure, concentrated vanilla flavor into baked goods, and the flavor doesn't die out — plus I don't have to go through the trouble of sourcing vanilla beans and scraping them. Less clean up and more convenience equals a win-win in my book."

More: Get a four-ounce bottle of vanilla bean paste on Amazon for $24.84 and learn how to use it. (And while you're at it, get Jocelyn's recipe for homemade vanilla ice cream made with it.)

6. Chorizo — Alejandra Ramos, food blogger and cookbook author

Eugene Smolenskiy, alwaysorderdessert.com

"While I technically could live without it (though it would be very, very sad indeed!), one of my go-to ingredients to cook with is chorizo! I’m partial to the Spanish variety, though I love Mexican chorizo, too. I use chorizo the way many cooks use bacon — sautéing it in with a classic mirepoix for soups and stews, roasting it with vegetables like butternut squash or Brussels sprouts, and using crispy bits of it as a garnish. It’s fantastic with shellfish like mussels and shrimp, and I love the way the pork and spices add flavorful fat and a gorgeous sunset-red color to dishes. I’ve even paired it with chocolate for dessert, and made chorizo negronis using my own homemade chorizo-infused gin!"

More: Get 12 of Ramos' recipes using chorizo.

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7. Fish Sauce — Kristopher Edelen, chef and owner of HOTPANnyc

Kristopher Edelen, Phonlamaiphoto / Getty Images

"One Ingredient I can't live without is quality fish sauce. For those of you who don't know what fish sauce is, it's a condiment made from fish or krill that has been fermented with salt for up to two years. It's funky, fermented, and I love it so much. I use it for both its high salt content and flavor profile. I always use fish sauce when grilling — pouring it all over my meats on an open fire. It not only helps caramelize things beautifully, but the flavor is extraordinary, too. Can't live without the fish sauce yo!"

More: Learn more about how to start incorporating fish sauce into your cooking.

8. Garlic — Deborah VanTrece, executive chef and co-owner of Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours

Henri Hollis, Unpict / Getty Images

"The ingredient I couldn't live without would be garlic, garlic, and garlic. In my opinion, it spruces up the flavor of everything. I chop it, slice it, roast it, fry it, and even wear it around my neck to keep the vampires away. It really works too, because I have yet to see a vampire."

More: How to cook garlic without burning it.

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9. Flaky Sea Salt — Erin Clarkson, food blogger

Erin Clarkson, Brendan Delany / Getty Images

"Flaky sea salt is probably my most reached for ingredient in the kitchen. I have a little pot of it sitting by the stove, and another one which lives on the table for adding to meals. I love how versatile it is, both in savory and sweet applications. It adds an amazing finish to a dish, but my absolute favorite way to use it is loading up anything chocolate based with it (chocolate tarts, chocolate chip cookies, or even as a finish on a whipped chocolate ganache on a cake). The salt flakes cut through the sweetness providing a perfect balance."

More: Get an 8.5-ounce box of Maldon sea salt on Amazon for $5.49.

10. Bourbon — Phillip Fryman, food blogger

Phillip Fryman / Via southernfatty.com, Leszekczerwonka / Getty Images

"Being the good Southern boy that I am, I can't help but throw a splash (or three) of good ol' Kentucky Bourbon into almost everything that I make. With most of my bites being bakes, Bourbon adds a rich complexity that just sets off the sweets like nothing else can. It's a natural, simple swap for flavorings like vanilla."

More: Get Fryman's recipes for berry Bourbon cake and Bourbon glazed burgers.

11. Sprinkles — Molly Yeh, blogger, cookbook author, and host of Girl Meets Farm

Chantell Quernemoen, mynameisyeh.com

"Sprinkles — because otherwise what is the point of life?"

More: Get Yeh's recipe for chocolate peanut butter sprinkle cake.

Looking for even more chef content? Check out these posts:

Here's What Pro Chefs Cook When They're Feeling Lazy

18 Pro Chefs Reveal Their Favorite Comfort Foods (And Exactly How To Make Them)

14 Practical Cooking Tips From Famous Restaurant Chefs

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