In college, I had a roommate who would put hot sauce on absolutely everything. I didn’t think of myself as someone with a huge spice tolerance and was pretty taken aback by it, but when I asked him how he could do that, he said “it gives cheap food flavor.”

I started adding some to my raman and nothing has been the same since. Now I’m just a hot sauce fiend.

That’s my very dumb and unrefined version of the discoveries made by chefs and cooks who know what they’re talking about – as chronicled by this thread on Reddit.

Chefs of Reddit, what’s is your single favourite ingredient and why? from AskReddit

Let’s get some ingredient ideas for our next big meal. Bon appetit!

1. Bay Leaves

Like salt you don’t want them to be the dominant flavor in anything, but they make a night and day difference in stews, pasta sauce, you name it.

– notasparrow

2. Cardamom

It’s still not super common in American baked goods, and while I love cinnamon, that flavor isn’t special to my palette anymore.

Cardamom gives such a warm, floral scent/flavor to whatever you make, and can be paired with so many things.

Treat yourself: add some cardamom and orange zest to your next batch of banana bread. 🧡

– DaygloDago

3. Black garlic

MAKES EVERYTHING 100x better.

Most of what I see here is staple pantry items. IF YOU DON’T HAVE BLACK GARLIC, GET IT.

Crush it into a paste and make a compound butter or anything.

B L A C K G A R L I C.

SWEET STICKY HEAVEN

– bananapursun

4. Going in stages

We go through stages. I’ve had my jalapeno/chipolte stage. My mushroom stage. My chicpea stage. My panceta stage.

My favorite was my porchetta stage. I had the stuff on the specials menu in one way or another for so long we had to put it on the permanent menu of suffer the wrath of big eaters.

– Aragorn_71

5. Onions

Cut off both ends. Peel off the paper. Put them on top of a rectangle of aluminum foil. Pour oil over them and smooge them around with your hands so they are all covered. (Bonus points for flavored oil, herb-infused or mushroom.) Salt. Garlic salt. Pull the sides of the aluminum up to make a pouch and pinch/fold/crimp the sides shut. 350F for 45 minutes, but I’ve done 400 for an hour and they were still good.

When they are done, they will be heavy and soft and the inner parts will slide out of the outer layers and they are just so mellow and delicious. I could eat all of them straight out of the oven but I try to save some for cooking — you know how roast garlic ups your garlic game? Same concept here. Just use a serrated knife to dice — they are slippery.

– kroganwarlord

6. Sodium Citrate

I can turn any shredded cheese (single or blend) into a sauce of whatever consistency is needed, in five minutes.

No messing with roux, just velvety goodness.

– crojohnson

7. Spring Onions

I’m going to start off by saying basic seasoning, herbs, and spices don’t really count. So that rules out salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, and basil, which are all big favourites of mine.

My answer for a big a** ingredient that you can sink your teeth into is spring onions and similar grassy onions. Reason being they have a profound effect on any dish they’re included in, they look beautiful in white, green and both, are super versatile, forgiving to cook with, caramelize beautifully, and work well in dishes from so many cultures and geographic regions.

I’ve got a particularly good honey beef recipe that I make with spring onions, home grown chillies, and basil, for a strange but satisfying euro-asian fusion kind of deal.

– Flux7777

8. Everything Bagel Seasoning

Let me tell you right now, THAT IS THE BEST SEASONING EVER.

It is salty, seedy, I don’t even know how to put it in words.

– PhamFrenzy

9. Vietnamese Fish Sauce

I’ve been working in kitchen for 10 years, mostly Italian kitchen and Aussie steakhouse, but my most favourite ingredient is always Vietnamese fish sauce (for my foods only).

It contains salt, seafood and umami flavour and I don’t have to use MSG.

I tried Thai fish sauce but the smell was quite strong, and the flavour wasn’t good.

– AlternativeIcy3602

10. Habanero

I would never call myself a chef but I was a line cook and kitchen manager at a wing joint and helped create a few of our sauce choices… Habanero; powder or the full-on peppers(we had a habanero salsa that was pretty good).

It just tastes good, obviously it’s only fun if you are willing to deal with the burn but our customers seemed to love some of our concoctions.

– peoplearejustok

11. Pepperincino

I have it in a shaker like salt and haven’t looked back I use it in everything.

Just the right amount of heat and actually full of flavour.

I hate stuff that’s hot for being hots sake but that hits just right.

I’d recommend buying some if you do a lot of Italian/Greek cooking

– downbrown94

12. Caramelization

I pour the peanut oil, add the seasoning, fry my cheap, frozen vegetables in the high quality oil, seasoned to be savory, and after roughly 8 to 10 minutes of stirring, I stop, and let it burn just a little for flavor and texture.

Then I vigorously stir it for a couple more minutes and let it sit for another 2 minutes, to let another side of the vegetables brown a small amount.

– Zer0-Sum-Game

Aw man, now I’m super hungry!

What’s your big secret ingredient?

Tell us in the comments.