12 Genius Ways to Flavor Food

When I was a kid, I could count the condiments in our fridge on one hand: mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, jam, and ranch dressing. We moved to California when I was in 6th grade and learned about Mexican food, at which time we added salsa to the line up.

Over the years, as our world has become more connected and our collective cooking more expansive, my repertoire of condiments and other “flavor-makers” has blown up. Fish sauce, sriracha, three kinds of mustard, and cornichons have been permanent fixtures in my fridge for a decade or more. And that list continues to grow. Below are 12 newer additions to the pantry that have really upped my cooking game. Some are common on supermarket shelves, while others require a trip to a specialty grocer (or an order from places like Thrive Market or Good Eggs). I’d love to hear what you are digging right now, too, so please share in the comments section below.

Calabrian chiles

Calabrian Chiles

I’m hooked on the complex heat of Calabrian chilis, which have become a go-to condiment for adding spice to Italian pastas, vegetables, and other dishes. I like to buy them crushed in oil, since there’s no need to chop them up before adding to whatever I have on the stove.

White Miso

White or mellow miso has become a refrigerator staple. It’s a salty paste made of fermented soybeans that adds an umami kick to everything from salad dressings to soups. I’ve even seen it being used in cookie recipes, though I’ve yet to venture there myself. Check out my Carrot Ginger Miso Dressing or this vinaigrette that relies on miso for a boost of flavor.

Cacao Nibs

Cacao nibs are great for adding flavor and crunch to breakfast cookies, granola, peanut butter toast, or to top smoothies. They pack all the good flavor and antioxidants of chocolate, without any added sugar.

How to make preserved lemons

Preserved Lemons

A kitchen staple in North Africa and parts of the Middle East, I’ve come to love the salty, briny taste of preserved lemons. I chop up the preserved peel and add it to salmon cakes, tuna salad, vegetable dishes, salad dressings, and braised chicken and meat dishes. You can find them in jars in some markets, but they are easy peasy to make at home.

Pickled Vegetables

Pickled cabbage, carrots, beans, and jalapeños add tart, briny flavor and good-for-you bacteria to tacos, sandwiches, and grain bowls. For the best quality and probiotic benefits, look for refrigerated brands rather than shelf-stable ones. Farmhouse Culture and Wild Brine are favorite brands.

Date Syrup

I like to add a little drizzle of this dark, sticky syrup to plain yogurt, nut butter sandwiches, and even my coffee. It has a lower glycemic index than honey and maple syrup and while it is pricey, a little goes a long way.

Nutritional Yeast

This is flaked or powdered yeast that has long been prized by the vegan community, in part because it delivers a hefty dose of vitamin B12 (a nutrient hard to get in a vegan diet). It’s a source of protein, fiber, other B vitamins, zinc, and selenium. I like it for its cheesy, savory flavor and routinely add it to my popcorn as well as roasted veggie dishes.

Thai Curry Paste

This little jar of green or red curry paste packs a whole lot of flavor. Anytime I want to make a curry or soup with Southeast Asian flavors, this is inevitably in the mix. My Coconut Curry Red Lentil Soup and Salmon Curry with Vegetables are two prime examples of how I put it to work.


Made from ground sesame seeds (think sesame seed butter), tahini is a common ingredient in hummus. It’s a handy and nutritious kitchen condiment that will give you a boost of key nutrients, most notably calcium. Try drizzling it over toast with honey, make this dressing to serve with roasted vegetable, these simple Tahini Cookies, or try this Lemon Tahini Yogurt Dip on for size.

Maldon Salt

Maldon is a flaky salt that comes from the Southeast coast of England and has become a kitchen essential. It’s considered a “finishing” salt, as in something added to dishes as a very last step. I crumble the delicate flakes over vegetables just before they hit the table, scatter the salt over chocolate cookies, use them on any and all types of toast, and keep a little crock on the dining table. It is more expensive than standard table salt, but it will last you a good long while.

Trader Joe's Everything but the bagel sesame blend

Everything But the Bagel Seasoning

“Everything” seasoning is all the spices you’ll find on an everything bagel, notably salt, garlic, onion, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds. While Trader Joe’s may have pioneered the bottled blend, it’s seems everywhere these days. I like it on my avocado toast, on roasted sweet potatoes that have been drizzle with olive oil, and especially for my Everything Baked Chicken.


I have historically been a “no anchovies, please” kind of girl. In the past year or two though, I’ve come to see the merits of a small dose of these tiny fish in my cooking. I prefer them in jars rather than canned, since I can stash them right in the same jar in the fridge. A couple of anchovies cooked down with tomatoes for a pasta sauce or smashed into a vinaigrette turns everything up a notch. I recently made a variation on this salad dressing and feel forever changed. If you are lukewarm on the idea, start with half the amount called for and see what you think.


02.19.2020 at6:17 AM #

Lisa Burke

I have recently been more intrigued by salt. We LOVE Maldon salt. What salt do you recommend for use in cooking?

02.19.2020 at6:17 AM #

Katie Morford

Hi Lisa, For my everyday salt, I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt. I just keep a crock of it near the stove. Also, if you like Maldon, you should check out their smoked salt!

02.19.2020 at2:48 PM #

Jenny Overstreet

WRT cacao nibs, I also love Alice Medrich’s savory take, her yummy “Nibby Pesto,” actually a little more like a tapenade. Delicious, and the texture of the nibs with the olives is fabulous!

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