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Just 23 (Very Good) Dishes That Use Up Commonly Forgotten Ingredients In Your Fridge, Freezer, And Pantry

If you've never had to throw out expired spices you've kept for 5-plus years, congratulations — you're the 1%.

I haven't cleaned out my pantry in ages. Anyone else? 👀

The author's messy spice cabinet, full of disorganized spices that are mostly full.
Ross Yoder

To be honest, I'm not sure if I'd be totally jazzed to find the forgotten treasures once lost in the depths of my spice cabinet...or absolutely mortified at how I could possibly hoard so many ingredients that some literally go MIA.

Recently, u/anythingkinder asked the Reddit community to share the "one ingredient you bought specifically for a recipe that's been sitting unused in your pantry since then," and let me tell you — I am feeling very attacked! Even though I basically cook for a living, my kitchen is overflowing with ingredients I've used one time (and one time only).

That said, this list of commonly forgotten-about ingredients is packed with ideas and inspiration from redditors, along with some of my own tips and advice mixed in. It's time to raid the deeeeeep dark corners of your pantries and fridges, folks — and then make some pretty darn delicious food out of everything you find.

1. OLD BAY: Sprinkle it on popcorn for an instant flavor boost.

There's a reason that Old Bay has become totally synonymous with seafood — that bright-but-smoky hit of celery seed and paprika is truly the ultimate for just about anything that comes from the sea — but it's also a sensational seasoning on just about anything. Case in point: this recipe. Dusting a freshly popped batch of steamy, homemade popcorn with this succulent spice blend (and plenty of butter) is an 11/10 experience, get to popping.

Recipe: Old Bay Popcorn

2. CORNMEAL: Quickly run it through a blender, and then simmer it on the stove to make goes-with-anything polenta.

I'm guilty of making polenta once a week, and I truly can't stop. It's as versatile as it is delectable — load it up with fresh herbs and top with a perfectly runny egg, or keep things classic and use it as the base for a tender roast. It's also an incredibly budget-friendly side dish, so I'd highly advise you to keep some cornmeal on hand for a quick polenta fix every once in a while. (Bonus: Leftover polenta fries up in a way that's next-level delish.)

Recipe: Creamy Polenta

3. BALSAMIC VINEGAR: Toss it with strawberries and a bit of sugar — then use it to top everything from granola to ice cream.

Balsamic strawberries in a serving bowl

Yep, we all know balsamic vinegar is scrumptious drizzled over some fresh mozzarella and ripe, juicy tomatoes (with a big sprig of basil, please), but the subtle sweetness and bite you get from this versatile acid makes it worthy of a generous drizzle over both the usual suspects and not-so-usual ones.

Turns out balsamic vinegar and strawberries are an absolute match in heaven... Who knew?! The syrupy acidity of the balsamic vinegar brings out the natural sweetness of the strawberries for the quickest, easiest dessert ever. This trick is especially useful when strawberries aren't in season, since the vinegar gives the strawberries a little bit of something special. The only thing better than devouring these balsamic strawberries straight out of the mixing bowl? Serving them atop a big bowl of vanilla ice cream. Absolute bliss.

Recipe: Easy Balsamic Strawberries

4. SHORTENING: Combine it with flour and buttermilk to make the world's easiest (and flakiest) three-ingredient biscuits.

I feel like I've had the same tub of vegetable shortening hanging out in my pantry for the past six years, and though it's awesome for things like seasoning my handy-dandy cast iron skillet, I'll admit that I could certainly be putting it to use more. To reiterate... Six. Years.

When a recipe calls for only three ingredients, you can go ahead and assume that each one is totally invaluable. This recipe is bona fide proof of that, and honestly, the shortening might be the most important ingredient of all. Many folks swear that making biscuits with vegetable shortening yields a moist result that's far flakier than what you'd get when using, consider that incentive for making a tray of these biscuits for yourself (and let me know what you think).

Recipe: Three-Ingredient Buttermilk Biscuits

5. TAHINI: Drizzle some in this simple pumpkin bread for an anytime-snack cake that's perfectly nutty and ridiculously moist.

Pumpkin Tahini Loaf

I'm guilty of using my jar of tahini for hummus, and hummus only. That said, there's only so much homemade hummus you can make before it starts to become...well, blitzed chickpeas. Don't get me wrong — homemade hummus is unbelievable — but that jar of tahini can be used for so much more than that ever-popular chickpea spread.

The double-hit of sesame from both tahini and sesame seeds pairs perfectly with the sweetness of this pumpkin bread, and it turns this normally sweet treat into a perfectly balanced snack that you can munch on morning, noon, or night. If you're a pumpkin bread lover, you'll be an absolute pumpkin tahini loaf fanatic.

Recipe: Pumpkin Tahini Loaf

6. NUTRITIONAL YEAST: Blitz with apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic for a super-creamy dressing (that just so happens to be 100% plant-based).

Nutritional Yeast Dressing in a glass Mason Jar

Here's a fact for ya: Nutritional yeast actually comes from the same fungus used to make baker's or brewer's yeast... Only the actual yeast cells are killed when nutritional yeast is formed. So, don't use it in your next batch of bread. (It's also a complete protein — meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that humans need to obtain from the foods they eat.)

If you have a cup of nutritional yeast hanging around in the back of your pantry — which, if you're reading this post, you probably do — this recipe is simple to whip up and pour all over anything (and everything) you eat. This creamy, umami-forward dressing is *chef's kiss* drizzled over a crisp salad, but it might be even better used as a luscious sauce for roasted veggies or whatever protein you're making for dinner tonight.

Recipe: Creamy Nutritional Yeast Dressing

7. MISO: Spoon some into regular instant ramen for an easy weeknight meal that's bursting with umami.

Creamy miso ramen in a white bowl with chopsticks

I promise you: Miso is the ultimate flavor enhancer for so many non-miso soup foods. This fermented, fridge-friendly paste (available in many varieties) is a sure-fire way to add a punch of umami to whatever you're cooking — from proteins, to veggies...and even instant ramen.

Ultra-savory and just-a-little-funky miso paste is pretty much all you need to turn a humble package of instant ramen into something shockingly impressive. When stored in your fridge, miso will keep for at least a year, so grab a scoop and combine it with some instant ramen for a quick and easy (and budget-friendly) meal that you'll want to slurp up on repeat.

Recipe: Creamy Spicy Miso Ramen

8. HARISSA: Combine with mayonnaise to make harissa mayo, and use as a two-ingredient dip for pretty much anything your heart desires.

This North African hot pepper paste (traditionally made from red chiles and a variety of herbs and spices) deserves a dedicated spot in the front of your fridge, so you'll remember to use it frequently. It's particularly delicious in dishes like shakshuka or hummus...but this two-ingredient harissa mayo gets made on repeat in my household. I's mayo and harissa, folks! Crisp up some fries in your air fryer and dip away, drizzle all over a juicy burger, or lick it straight off the darn spoon.

Recipe: Harissa Mayo

9. POWDERED MILK: Add to your next batch of chocolate chip cookies for an extra punch of creamy richness.

Don't get this confused with malted milk powder — powdered milk is...well, basically milk condensed down to its most concentrated, dry form. It adds richness to anything you cook with it, without requiring excess liquid, so it's the ideal method for adding some extra creaminess to whatever you're cooking without messing up your proportions. Christina Tosi (of Milk Bar fame) actually swears by milk powder, so yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and trust her opinions here.

Besides being ridiculously delicious (from the brilliant addition of powdered milk), these salted chocolate chip cookies are even more ridiculously easy to make — everything comes together in one mixing bowl, which means you can bite into an ooey-gooey chocolate chip cookie without dirtying up every piece of equipment in your kitchen. In my book, that's a major win.

Recipe: Milk Bar’s Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

10. STAR ANISE: Simmer in a warm bath of red wine, citrus, and warm spices for a cozy mulled wine that practically makes itself.

Star anise and other warm spices — like cloves, and cinnamon sticks — turn an ordinary bottle of wine into a comforting, fragrant pot o' goodness. Let it simmer on your stove all day long for an unbeatable aroma that'll stick around until the last drop is happily sipped. Simply put: Your favorite candle could never.

Recipe: Mulled Wine

11. GOCHUJANG: Use this fermented pepper paste as a succulent glaze for this weeknight stir-fry that's as easy to make as it is wildly delicious.

Sweet And Spicy Gochujang Chicken

Gochujang — a fermented, spicy chile paste that's popular in Korean cooking — pairs perfectly with chicken. It lends a gentle touch of sweetness and funk that's guaranteed to turn an occasionally boring protein into one that you'll want to cook for your family on a weekly basis.

Recipe: Sweet and Spicy Gochujang Chicken

12. MOLASSES: Round out the savory, meaty flavors in your next pot of chili with the perfect amount of sweetness for a cold-weather favorite that's totally competition-worthy.

Chili Con Carne in a dutch oven being scooped by a ladle

To be totally honest, I don't think I've ever successfully finished a jar of molasses in my life...which, let me tell ya, is a shame! That sharp, slightly bitter note of sweetness you get from adding molasses to whatever you're cooking is undeniably unique. Redditors are adamant about making your own brown sugar (it's easy and keeps really well!), but my favorite way to use up molasses is in this cozy, vibrant chili.

Nothing says comfort like a hot bowl of meaty chili, especially when all those savory flavors are balanced with just a hint of sweet molasses. Everyone has their own "secret" chili hacks, and believe me, I've tried most of them...but I think the addition of molasses might just take the #1 spot for me.

Recipe: Chili Con Carne

13. FISH SAUCE: Use in this perfectly balanced Larb Gai for a light meal that's super quick (and only requires one skillet).

Drizzling sauce over Larb Gai in a lettuce wrap

Once you learn how to use this easy umami-booster, you'll want to sprinkle a few drops over so many different dishes. Fish sauce is just a mixture of oily fish (like anchovies or krill) and salt, that's been allowed to ferment for a number of years. Many restaurants in Thailand actually keep bottles on the table — in the same way that Americans display salt and pepper shakers. (TBH, maybe we should all start keeping fish sauce on our tables.)

If you're not a lettuce wrap fan (truth be told, they're not my favorite), this traditional Thai dish might very well change that. In addition to packing in some perfectly balanced flavors — you've got umami from the fish sauce, spice from the chile, and brightness from the lime — Larb Gai is nearly effortless to make. Any meal that comes together in one wok or skillet is a definite keeper, and I have a funny feeling that you just might agree with me.

Recipe: Larb Gai

14. CARDAMOM: Combine with cinnamon to enhance this expertly spiced coffee cake that's 1) packed with apples and 2) finished with a delightfully crumbly streusel topping.

Cardamom Apple Coffee Cake on a serving platter

A close relative of ginger, cardamom is deliciously fragrant and pairs well with a variety of flavors. Next time you're steaming a pot of rice, pop in a pod or two of whole cardamom for a tantalizingly perfumed side dish (that'll make your whole house smell absolutely magical). Personally, I love the way cardamom pairs with apples. You know how coffee makes chocolate desserts taste even more chocolatey? Well, I feel STRONGLY that cardamom makes anything with cinnamon taste more...cinnamon-y. (IDK. Just trust me, OK?)

Coffee cake is already the MVP of all breakfast cakes, IMHO, but the addition of apples and a cardamom-spiced streusel topping take this coffee cake straight into a league entirely of its own. If you need me, I'll be eating this cake straight off the serving platter. No plates necessary for something this tasty.

Recipe: Cardamom Apple Coffee Cake

15. ZA'ATAR: Sprinkle over freshly grilled flatbread (brushed with olive oil) for an herby, handheld appetizer that'll disappear fast.

Grilled flatbread topped with a za'atar and olive oil blend
J. Kenji López-Alt / Via

Here's the scoop on za'atar: What we colloquially refer to as za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend that varies in its exact contents, depending on geographic location. That said, blends usually contain sumac, marjoram, thyme, sesame seeds, and oregano. Za'atar is also an herb (also referred to as hyssop), and, surprise, that herb often makes an appearance in many za'atar blends.

If you're feeling like a weekend project, you should totally give this from-scratch flatbread recipe a go. That said, if you're in a hurry and need to get something tasty on the table stat, feel free to grill some store-bought flatbreads instead. The crucial step here is slathering the grilled flatbread with olive oil and za'atar, so there are indeed multiple pathways to dinnertime success.

Recipe: Grilled Flatbread With Olive Oil and Za'atar

16. SESAME OIL: Elevate your stir-fry game forever with Three-Cup Chicken — a Taiwanese dish that should have a prime spot in your weekly rotation.

I'd advise anyone to start keeping sesame oil right on your countertop (next to your olive oil or other cooking oil), and for good reason. When we talk about sesame oil, we're really talking about toasted sesame oil, and whew, this stuff is incredible. No shade to regular sesame oil, either — the toasted variety just intensifies that sesame flavor and makes it the perfect finish for rice bowls of any kind, or adding some silkiness and depth of flavor to ramen. You can even make a low-effort batch of quick pickles for an easy way to add some brightness and zing to anything you're cooking.

Three-Cup Chicken — a classic Taiwanese dish — practically explodes with rich and punchy flavors, and it couldn't be easier to make. The "three-cup" bit refers to the equal amounts of sesame oil, rice wine, and soy sauce that are traditionally used to make this simple weeknight meal, but most recipes, including this one, maintain that ratio while lowering the overall volume of ingredients. That said, if you want to make a full batch of three-cup chicken and eat it nonstop, I won't stop (or blame) you.

Recipe: Three-Cup Chicken

17. POWDERED SUGAR: Mix with peanut butter for a satisfying four-ingredient dessert that'll please any crowd.

Peanut Butter Snowballs

I don't even want to know how long I've had a bag of powdered sugar sitting in my pantry. Years? Decades? Either way, it's legitimately impossible to go through a bag of anything when it's merely used as an aesthetically pleasing dusting over the occasional baked good. Enter: this recipe, which uses a WHOLE lot of powdered sugar and is endlessly crowd-pleasing.

Let me quickly sell ya on this easy dessert: no baking necessary, four ingredients, and a guaranteed favorite of kids and adults alike. When I say these Peanut Butter Snowballs require a lot of powdered sugar, I really, truly mean it. A full batch uses an entire pound (!!!) of the sweet stuff, but it also makes ~72, feel free to halve the recipe as needed. Or, for the ultimate life hack, store the extras in your freezer for a sweet treat whenever that peanut butter craving hits.

Recipe: Peanut Butter Snowballs

18. NORI: Wrap around rice and pan-fried Spam to make this Hawaiian snack that's effortlessly portable and oh-so-delicious.

Allison Cherry / Getty Images/iStockphoto, Richard Ernest Yap / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Emily Mariko may have revolutionized the TikTok universe with her mega-viral salmon bowl, where she uses sheets of nori to scoop up a quick lunch made of leftover salmon and rice, but I'd like to inform you that the uses for nori are practically limitless — even if you're hesitant to roll your own homemade maki sushi.

IDK why Spam gets a bad rap — fried up in a skillet, it's nothing short of magic — and the popular Hawaiian snack of Spam musubi might just be the greatest vehicle for Spam ever. It's also surprisingly straight-forward to make; many recipes will suggest you buy a dedicated Spam musubi mold, but honestly, using the can of Spam itself (lined with plastic wrap for easy removal of the compacted rice) is just as easy, and since you need the Spam anyway, virtually free! Wrap it all up in a crispy sheet of nori, and you've got a 10/10 easy handheld snack.

Recipe: Spam Musubi

19. CANNED ARTICHOKE HEARTS: Combine with frozen spinach and cream cheese to make this crowd-pleasing dip that's lightyears better than the store-bought version.

If you've ever tried that store-bought, mayonnaise-based spinach artichoke dip and thought — "meh" — you're not alone. This dip, however, will be the life of any party you throw, and it's practically as simple as dumping a bunch of budget-friendly ingredients into a dish and baking until it's melty and piping hot. Truth be told, you might start keeping cans of artichoke hearts around just so you can make this dip with a moment's notice.

Recipe: Spinach Artichoke Dip

20. CLOVES: Use in tandem with molasses to create these snappy, spiced cookies that are destined to be dunked into a tall glass of milk.

Molasses Clove Cookies
James Ransom / Via

Cloves might be one of the most puzzling spices when it comes to figuring out just how to use 'em up. You could always make a pomander (which actually became a thing during the era of The Plague to cover up any "bad smells," if you catch my drift), but I can't exactly recommend eating one of those. You could always make a cup of easy clove-infused coffee — one of my faves — but IMO, dessert is the way to go when it comes to the small-but-mighty clove.

These snappy Molasses Clove Cookies were practically made to be dunked into a tall glass of milk. They're loaded with spice thanks to cloves and cinnamon, and sweet enough to know that you're definitely eating a cookie, without being overwhelmed with the sugar-of-it-all. Think: the best gingerbread cookie you've ever made, but far more complex (without a lot of effort).

Recipe: Molasses Clove Cookies

21. CAPERS: Make this ultimate pantry-staple pasta dish using ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen, like capers, olives, and canned tomatoes.

Lifting spaghetti alla puttanesca out of a skillet to serve

Did you know that capers are actually the young, unripe flower buds of the caper bush? The buds are harvested and then pickled in a salty brine, which is responsible for that pop of tang and saltiness. They're also an easy way to add a touch of brightness to whatever you're cooking — in my case, I made chicken piccata a thousand years ago and...the leftover capers are still sitting in a jar in my fridge today. I'm sure I'm not alone here, either.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca packs in many pantry staples in addition to capers — like olives, anchovies, and canned tomatoes — which make this an easy back-pocket pasta recipe you can throw together even when your fridge is essentially empty. It's briny, savory, offers just a touch of sweetness, and let me tell you: The leftovers are even better.

Recipe: Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca

22. SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK: Lend creaminess and sweetness to Thai iced tea for a luxurious but simple afternoon pick-me-up.

Thai Iced Tea in two drinking glasses
Kelli Foster / Via

I, personally, would never find unused sweetened condensed milk in the back of my pantry...but that's only because I would happily drink that stuff out of the can.

If you like baking, I'd highly recommend using up that sweet, milky goodness in my favorite key lime pie, but if the thought of exerting that much energy on a baked good deters you, there's a much quicker sweet treat you should make.

Thai iced tea is the best iced tea — and it's all thanks to the magic of sweetened condensed milk. It's worth tracking down the authentic Thai tea mix for this refreshing beverage, and trust me, it'll last a long time in your pantry...but if you can't get your hands on any, black tea bags will do just fine. Making Thai iced tea couldn't be simpler, either. Just steep, pour over ice, and top with alllllll the sweetened condensed milk your heart desires.

Recipe: Thai Iced Tea

23. ANCHOVIES: Let 'em dissolve into the best-ever tomato sauce, and you might just ditch buying store-bought tomato sauce once and for all.

I swear this anchovy sauce is the greatest tomato-based sauce you could ever make for a bowl of pasta, and it's all thanks to the total umami bomb that is the humble anchovy. No, the final dish won't taste like fish; it'll just have incredible depth of flavor. Trust me: Whenever I have leftover anchovies in my fridge (usually from making Caesar salad on repeat), I'll use 'em up with this brilliant recipe. It might just become your new go-to sauce — it certainly became mine.

Recipe: Spaghetti With Anchovy Sauce