seasoning food
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19 Spices and Sauces to Keep Home-Cooked Meals Interesting

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seasoning food
Floriana/istockphoto

All in Good Taste

Spices and sauces can be key in reinventing new flavors with the same old ingredients, especially when trying to minimize the trips to the store for fresh foods or when buying in bulk. We consulted three experts, Jill Nussinow, chef/educator at The Veggie Queen; Christian Irabien, executive chef of ¡Muchas Gracias!; and Thomas Kelly owner of Mexicue to get their take on what the most useful flavor boosters were most valuable to keep handy, along with suggestions on how to use them. All of the ingredients are available to order from national retailers, and most of them are naturally shelf stable. Add a few of these to your repertoire and enjoy the variety of flavors they bring to your staple meals and ingredients.

Note: Prices and availability are subject to change.

Related: Can You Handle These 15 Hot and Spicy Dishes?

Chipotle Powder
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Chipotle Powder

Price: $2 from Amazon
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In addition or in exchange for the regular old chili powder, chipotle powder packs a spicy and smoky punch. Added to tomato sauces, marinades, or even on the rim of cocktails it can kick up the depth of flavor without any added salt or oils, just pure smoked pepper flavor.

Tamari
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Tamari

Price: $5 from Target
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Similar to soy sauce, this is a staple for Jill Nussinow: "Tamari, like miso, adds umami and saltiness to foods. It is always in my pantry since I often use it instead of salt in soups and stews. It is wheat-free, so it's great for those avoiding gluten."

Curry Paste
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Curry Paste

Price: $4 from Target
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This concentrated form of Thai curry is good for more than just mixing with broth or coconut milk for a traditional curry. Adding a spoonful to chickpeas to make a curry hummus, or a teaspoon in with the salad dressing can give your regular sauces more dimension. Try mixing some in with yogurt or sour cream for a tasty dip for veggies or chips.

Bibigo Korean Gochujang Sauce Hot & Sweet 11.46 oz
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Gochujang

Price: $4 from Target
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Gochujang is a fermented chili paste which is like a supercharged tomato paste. Thomas Kelly loves it because it is "savory, sweet, spicy and super funky, we'll basically swap it for tomato paste anytime we're looking for additional depth of flavor and spice in a recipe." It also makes a spicy and tasty alternative to ketchup.

Pickled Jalapeños
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Pickled Jalapeños

Price: $2 from Target
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These tangy and mildly spicy peppers come in a vinegary liquid, which is just as useful as the peppers themselves. After using all the peppers on nachos or on salads and sandwiches, the liquid can be used to make a piquant salad dressing or creamy sauce when blended with mayonnaise or tahini.

Adobo Seasoning
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Adobo Seasoning

Price: $1.50 from Target
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This is an all purpose seasoning that includes salt, garlic and other savory spices. It's a great shortcut to use when you want an all in one seasoning for vegetables, fish, meat, and even to make a quick soup base out of water. Once this becomes a staple in the kitchen, most people opt for the bigger size because of how fast they go through it.

Dried Seaweed
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Dried Seaweed

Price: $6 from Target
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Nussinow always keeps a pack of dried nori sheets around "to fill with cooked rice and veggies to make rolls, or to eat the roasted nori snacks instead of potato chips." In addition to their versatility and delicious flavor, she notes the nutritional benefits: "Dried seaweed is not only tasty, it is good for you ... it adds minerals and might aid in digestion. too."

Sesame Oil
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Toasted Sesame Oil

Price: $8 from Target
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Sesame oil is very pungent, so a little bit goes a long way. Using this to top vegetable stir fries, soups, or dumplings elevates the flavors to restaurant quality. Mixing this with some soy sauce and peanut butter, it becomes a quick and satisfying peanut sauce.

smoked paprika
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Smoked Paprika

Price: $7 from Amazon
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"Smoked paprika is a go-to for me because it can replace smoked meats in vegan cooking," says Nussinow. "I like to add it to recipes like my Smoky Sweet Black Eyed Peas, and it's also in my chili which I make weekly. It adds a great underlying flavor."

Garam Masala
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Garam Masala

Price: $3 from Target
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"Garam Masala is a blend of herbs, spices and chilies traditionally used in Indian cuisine, but I find that it's an incredible spice blend for pretty much any type of cooking," says Kelly. He uses it as a base and then adds additional chilies or other spices depending on what he's cooking: "It's easy to make at home by toasting and grinding whole spices, but store-bought blends are also great."

Chipotles In Adobo
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Chipotles In Adobo

Price: $3 from Amazon
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"A staple always and forever," according to Christian Irabien, "these smokey dried and preserved jalapeños can add depth to any meal at any time! … I chop them up and add to a sandwich or I blend them up super smooth and drizzle them over carrots or apples as a snack."

coconut cream
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Coconut Cream

Price: $3 from Amazon
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Thicker than coconut milk, coconut cream is a rich ingredient that is super versatile. A little bit mixed with water gives you the same result as coconut milk for a curry or sauce. It can also be whipped into a vegan whipped cream or used as a frosting when mixed with a sweetener. Replace heavy cream with this flavorful vegan alternative in baked goods as well.

Garam Masala
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Rice Vinegar

Price: $2 from Target
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Rice vinegar has a subtle sweetness to it which adds layers of flavor in the typical uses like marinades and salad dressings. This also works as a braising liquid or instead of wine in recipes that call for white wine, thanks to its acidity and natural sweet undertones.

miso paste
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Miso Paste

Price: $12 from Amazon
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"Miso is one of the staples in my refrigerator pantry. I often have at least two or three kinds," says Nussinow. She uses the salty paste to top rice and grain bowls, but her favorite way to use it is "to mix it with tahini, lemon juice and garlic and drizzle it on anything. Umami flavor to the max, even if a bit salty."

Anchovy paste
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Anchovy Paste

Price: $10 from Amazon
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Anchovies are a healthy source of nutrition while also adding flavor, even if you don't like anchovies. Using the paste in the base of sauces for pasta or pizza, it literally dissolves while adding umami and savoriness without any fishiness in the final product.

instant coffee
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Instant Coffee

Price: $2 from Target
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In addition to the trend-setting whipped coffee, instant coffee is a great secret weapon when it comes to baking. Adding a little bit of instant coffee to any bake with chocolate in it will deepen the flavor. Instant coffee can also be used to make coffee-flavored cocktails, like an espresso martini.

Tajin
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Tajin

Price: $5 from Amazon
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This Mexican spice blend has heat, salt, and tanginess, and is typically used to top fresh fruits for a snack or be on the rim of the infamous beer cocktail: the michelada. In addition to the traditional uses, it makes a great seasoning on savory dishes like stir fry, rice, and grilled meats and veggies.

Bay leaf
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Bay Leaf

Price: $3 from Amazon
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"I am a firm believer that bay leaf, or laurel as we call it in Mexico, should be present in every meal!" says Irabien. He includes roughly three leaves of the flavorful seasoning in "literally anything I cook, from chicken stock to beans to pasta to fish."

canned tomatoes
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Canned Tomatoes

Price:$2 from Amazon
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Irabien always has three to four cans of tomatoes in the house, "especially during times when tomatoes are not in season" he says. Aside from "laying the foundation for a delicious pasta sauce, these can make a quick salsa, a soup base."