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People Are Sharing The One Small Ingredient That Makes The Biggest Difference In Their Go-To Dishes (And I'm So Excited To Try These In My Own Kitchen)

"I put cinnamon into basically every Mexican-inspired dish I make: tacos, enchiladas, beans. I even sprinkle it in quesadillas sometimes."

Recipes are great guides, but there are often unwritten ingredients that take food to a whole new level. So I rounded up a bunch of "secret flavor weapons" from the BuzzFeed Community and from the subreddit r/cooking. Here are the ingredients that readers swear by when it comes to upgrading their home cooking.

1. "In my family mashed potato recipe, we use mayonnaise. A dollop makes the potatoes super creamy (and I promise you can't taste the mayo)."

Mashed potatoes with a spoon in serving bowl

2. "I add something sharp and briny like pickle juice to tuna or chicken salad. It gives it just the right amount of tartness."

Slices of bread on a cutting board and a bowl of chicken salad

3. "I use a little almond extract in all my baked goods (especially French toast) and a little espresso powder in anything chocolate. It's the perfect nutty or bitter complement to the sweetness."

Preparing French toast

4. "Fish sauce can go in almost anything savory. That stuff is pure magic. If you're making vegetables, meat, chilis, or even a sauce, a dash or two gives you more of that salty, meaty, savory flavor."

A piece of salmon marinating

5. "I add mashed anchovies or anchovy paste to pretty much all salad dressings, pasta sauces, and gravies. It really adds that extra salty, umami flavor. No one can ever identify the taste, and they always love it!" "

Cooking a tomato sauce on a stove-top with a wooden spoon

6. "I buy Costco cashew clusters (or any candied nut clusters) and use the crumbs at the bottom of the bag as part of my dough when baking homemade cookies. People always go crazy for them."

First-person view of a hand holding a cookie with a bite out of it

7. "I put cinnamon into basically every Mexican-inspired dish I make. Tacos, enchiladas, beans. I even sprinkle it in quesadillas sometimes. It works really well with all the other spices you usually end up using in those dishes like chile powder and cumin."

A pot full of homemade enchiladas

8. "Pro tip: Put a bit of mayonnaise in chocolate cake. Once you realize that mayo is mostly eggs and oil, it's not so hard to believe why it tastes so good."

A fork digging into a slice of chocolate cake

9. "I put mustard in mac 'n' cheese. Unless you use a huge amount, it isn't noticeable. It just adds a little bit of zest and depth of flavor. Many recipes for baked mac and cheese suggest adding a little Dijon mustard, but I've used whole grain, and it's still been delicious."

A bowl of homemade mac 'n' cheese with breadcrumb topping

10. "If I'm making a dish that could benefit from a smoky, bacon-y flavor (think: roasted Brussels sprouts, pan-seared sea scallops, potatoes, or corn chowder) but I either don’t have or want to use bacon, I always use smoked paprika."

Fried potatoes with tomato sauce and garlic dip

11. "I always have miso paste in my fridge, and I put it in anything that it will dissolve in — like pasta sauces, stews, gravies, marinades, and more. I love the extra punch of umami it brings to any dish."

A spoonful of orange miso paste

12. "I always add chicken stock cubes like Better Than Boullion to water when I'm boiling it for pasta (or other grains like quinoa, rice, etc). It doubles the tastiness of the pasta and sauce, giving it that much-needed umami flavor."

A closeup image of a chicken bouillon cube in a silver wrapper

13. "I keep Parmesan rinds in my freezer and use them to make stock, sauces, and stews. I just throw it in after everything else to simmer. It makes a remarkable difference, especially in tomato sauces."

A hunk of Parmesan cheese

14. "Whenever I'm baking using boxed cake mix, I use softened butter in place of vegetable oil. It gives the cake a softer, more moist texture."

A cupcake tin with batter being spooned into it

15. "Whenever I bake something with chocolate, like brownies, I always add a little bit of coffee. It makes all the difference and actually brings out the rich, fudgy chocolate flavor even more."

A bowl of chocolate cake batter being mixed with an electric mixer

16. "Tajín seasoning is my secret weapon. It's a spice mixture of dried chiles and dehydrated lime juice. It goes well in most any Mexican-inspired recipes, but it's unexpectedly delicious on fruit like pineapple or mango. Oh, and I highly recommend trying it on grilled corn on the cob."

A fruit cup with Tajín seasoning

17. "I use chicken- or beef-flavored ramen seasoning packets to make my gravy for mashed potatoes. It packs so much flavor."

Raw instant noodles with chopsticks and spices

18. "I add cinnamon and/or nutmeg to savory dishes like stews, meat lasagna, Bolognese sauce, and more. I just use a dash (which is not enough for the flavors of the spices to be perceptible), but it imparts an amazing depth of flavor."

A piece of lasagna

19. "I add lard to my pie crust. All my pie crust, whether it's for a savory dish (like a quiche or galette) or a sweet dessert. That extra bit of fat makes it all the more delicious."

Pie crust dough in a pie pan

20. "I use vinegar as a secret ingredient in soups and stews. If something is too salty, a splash of vinegar will make it taste balanced. If you over-salted and think you've ruined your whole meal, take a deep breath and reach for the vinegar."

A pot of soup

21. "I add lemon zest to garlic butter. It's amazing on anything from chicken to pasta, but specifically for garlic bread it's an absolute game changer. Even if you use just a little bit, you can taste a major difference."

Two pieces of garlic bread on a white table

22. "I add a good shake of paprika to my egg salad whenever i make it. It tastes like deviled eggs on a sandwich, and it's beyond delicious."

An egg salad sandwich seasoned with paprika

23. "I add a spoonful of cottage cheese to my eggs before scrambling them. I know it sounds strange, but you can't even taste it. The cottage cheese just makes the eggs perfectly fluffy."

Overhead view of someone whisking milk into eggs in a bowl

24. "Instead of milk, I use full fat vanilla or plain yogurt in my bathing mixture for French toast. It turns out perfectly every time."

French toast sprinkled with sugar and butter

25. "Whenever I make chili, I always add dark cocoa powder, cinnamon, and coffee. It makes a huge difference in flavor."

A ladle in a pot of chili

26. "Add a splash of orange juice to pumpkin or banana bread. The acidity really adds some brightness against the spices. I use this same ingredient hack when making carrot cake and zucchini bread, too."

Ingredients for baking next to and inside a mixing bowl with a glass of orange juice beside them

27. "Rice vinegar. If a recipe calls for soy sauce, I also always add rice vinegar to complement it — even if it's not called for in the ingredient list. It adds the perfect amount of acidity, and I swear, it takes dishes like fried rice to the next level."

Pouring rice vinegar into risotto

28. "I mix melted butter and soy sauce together and use it as a sauce. It's one of my favorite flavor combinations. It's excellent in just about anything savory, but my favorite use is for sautéed mushrooms."

Rice with soy sauce and a pat of butter

29. "Soy sauce. I add it to pretty much anything savory like tomato sauce for pasta, chili con carne, and even mushroom risotto."

A pan of pasta sauce with noodles

30. "Try using fish sauce in homemade Caesar salad. I had the best Caesar salad at a friend's house, and she revealed her secret is using fish sauce instead of anchovies. I was floored and jealous I didn't think of it first, but now I've adopted this flavor hack as my own."

A Caesar salad

31. "Toss cooked noodles into toasted sesame oil after they’ve drained. All you need is a tiny bit, but it takes them to another level."

Cooked rice noodles

32. "I love cooking with toasted sesame seeds. If you're making soup, stew, or broth, try sautéing a handful of sesame seeds and running them through the food processor with a bit of your cooking base. It adds a deep, rich, and nutty flavor."

Toasted sesame seeds in skillet

33. "I swap in coconut milk for anything that could normally be boiled in water. I'm talking lentils, rice, quinoa, farro, etc. It makes the grains taste so much richer."

An open can of coconut milk

34. "Sumac is my go-to ingredient, and I add it to tons of dishes right before serving. It's ever-so-slightly sour, savory, and herbaceous, and it really helps brighten dishes. It adds a similar element to food as does a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Chickpeas with scallions, sesame seeds, and seasonings

35. "Kaffir lime leaves. It imparts big, powerful lime flavor without having to keep fresh limes on hand all the time. Try adding it to curry or really any recipe that calls for coconut milk."

A bowl of curry with kaffir lime leaves

36. "Mushroom powder is my go-to. It's so underrated. I actually don't love mushrooms in general, but porchini powder adds the perfect understated oomph to whatever savory dish you're cooking.

Beef Stroganoff with mushrooms and mashed potatoes

So, what's your secret ingredient or go-to flavor booster that you love using in your home cooking? Tell us in the comments!