29 Tiny Single-Ingredient Upgrades That Can Make A Huge Impact On The Final Flavor Of A Dish

    "It makes a 30-minute tomato sauce taste like it's been cooking all day."

    Have you ever added an extra ingredient to a recipe you make all the time only to discover it makes a world of difference? I rounded up some tips and tricks from the subreddit r/cooking and the BuzzFeed Community that do just that. These are some secret flavor boosters that home cooks swear by for making their favorite foods taste even more amazing.

    (Note: Of course, if you're incorporating any kind of 'secret ingredient' into your cooking and planning to feed a group of people, always check on food allergies first!)

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

    Cooking French toast in a frying pan.

    2. "For the best fried rice, use pre-cooked rice that's been sitting in the fridge overnight. Leftover rice doesn't stick together in the skillet or wok when you fry it, and the final result tastes more like takeout."

    Chicken fried rice in a skillet.

    3. "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."

    Homemade egg salad sandwich on multigrain bread on the stovetop.

    4. "Instead of using traditional Italian bread crumbs, add boxed dry stuffing mix to your meatloaf. It makes the final dish so much more moist and takes it to the next level."

    Homemade meatloaf.

    5. "The key to amazing pasta sauce is some properly browned tomato paste. You can make a 30-minute sauce taste surprisingly good if you fry a tablespoon of tomato paste in oil before you put your tomatoes in there."

    Spaghetti sauce in a pot.

    6. "Whenever I'm making a cheese sauce, I add a piece of processed cheese — like Kraft singles. It basically turns it into Velveeta. It’s revolutionized my homemade mac 'n' cheese game.

    A pot of chicken and cheese sauce.

    7. "Add mayo to boxed cake batter to make it even better. Mayo — which is mostly eggs and oil — makes the end product even more moist. (And don't worry, mayo haters: You can't taste the stuff.)"

    Chocolate cake batter.

    8. "Elevate your simple buttered noodles with a little white miso paste and fresh Parmesan. Egg noodles in particular taste especially delicious when prepared this way."

    Close-up of penne pasta in a white bowl with melted Parmesan cheese and butter.

    9. "Try mixing some soy sauce into beaten eggs to give your scrambled eggs a delicious flavor boost. If you add some toasted sesame oil and a dash of smoked paprika, scrambled eggs begin to taste almost like bacon."

    Wishing eggs in a bowl for a meal.

    10. "Add a splash of orange juice to tomato soup. The acidity really brightens the flavors. I learned this trick at a restaurant where they made tomato soup this way, and it was so delicious."

    Tomato soup with pasta and kale.

    11. "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."

    Sliced pumpkin bread.

    12. "My grandmother used to make this very specific kind of cornbread. It was flat, and the outside was hard as a rock. It had a very hard crust, but the inside was creamy and smooth. The secret ingredient: masa. It's the key to the perfect cornbread."

    Golden cornbread squares topped with butter or honey.

    13. "I melt butter in my homemade tomato sauce. Even if a recipe doesn't call for it, a bit of butter leaves your sauce with a lovely, extra creamy flavor and texture."

    Spaghetti with tomato sauce.

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

    Whisking gravy in a pot.,

    15. "Boil pasta directly in a cream-based sauce. This one-pot pasta trick is a true game-changer. You don't even have to wait for the water to boil. Just heat olive oil and garlic in a large skillet or saucepan; stir in chicken broth, butter, milk (or cream), and pasta; then bring it to a boil and cook until the pasta is al dente. The result: pasta Alfredo that takes very minimal effort."

    Fettuccine Alfredo in a bowl.

    16. "Cook grilled cheese with both softened butter and melted butter. If you butter your bread with softened butter instead of just melting the butter in the pan, you'll get a much more flavorful (and crispy) result. The fat solids emulsified in the softened butter make the bread crispier when it gets toasted over high heat."

    Close-up of a grilled cheese sandwich.

    17. "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."

    An apple pie in the oven.

    18. "Add a spoonful of chive cream cheese (in addition to butter and milk) when making boxed mac 'n' cheese. It makes it so creamy, cheesy, and flavorful."

    Cream cheese in a bowl.

    19. "Add fish sauce to homemade Caesar dressing. 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 homemade Caesar salad.

    20. "For exceptionally chewy cookies, try adding some form of syrup (think: maple syrup, corn syrup, molasses, or agave). A couple of tablespoons will do the trick. Using brown sugar in place of white granulated sugar also helps get that perfect chewy texture."

    Two chewy chocolate chip cookies.

    21. "When breading meat like chicken cutlets, use mayo instead of eggs. Mayonnaise is literally just an emulsion of egg and oil, so technically, coating chicken in mayo is the same as coating it in egg and oil. But the extra salt and fat from the oil in the mayo adds extra crispiness and flavor."

    Breaded chicken cutlet on cutting board.

    22. "The best thing you can ever do for a box of cake mix is use real butter instead of oil, milk instead of water, and add one extra egg. The difference those three small changes make in terms of moisture and texture is amazing. Turn that $2 box mix into a $100 professional bakery dupe, and no one but you has to know."

    Cake mixure being spooned into a cupcake tin.

    23. "When making grilled cheese, try buttering the outside of your bread and sprinkling it with finely grated Parmesan before toasting. It gets golden and crunchy and delicious."

    Close up of male hand grating parmesan cheese.

    24. "I always add a sprinkle of cinnamon to my chili. There's something wild about the way cinnamon changes the flavor in just the right way. I think it's like the rug that pulls the room together."

    A pot of chili.

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

    A tuna salad sandwich with lettuce.

    26. "The holy grail for making mashed potatoes is adding some cream cheese into the mix."

    A pot of creamy mashed potatoes.

    27. "For next level ramen, cook the noodles, drain all the water, then add the flavoring and a good bit of butter. Butter is the key ingredient that guarantees utmost deliciousness."

    Eating a bowl of ramen.

    28. "Season your popcorn with a Kraft mac 'n' cheese packet. Trust me."

    Cheesy popcorn close-up.

    29. "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."

    Two brownies on a white background.

    What's your favorite ingredient for upgrading a popular dish that people might not know about? Enlighten us in the comments!