Knowing how to whip up a few reliable specials, such as a spicy pot of chili, or savory spaghetti bolognese, or a classic plate of chocolate chip cookies as your go-to homemade treat is a valuable skill. Yet, knowing how to get your food to taste better on a whim without the help of a recipe can serve you better in the long run.

Recipes will only get you so far, providing enough in-depth details and descriptions to bring a dish from the stove to the table. Learning how to boost flavor and make a dish your own develops in time as skills evolve and grow. But, we're about to let you in on a few simple hacks that will start improving the flavor of your food today.

Fat Equals Flavor

butter on table with butter knife

Imagine your favorite dishes without fat, and they would, without question, be painfully bland. Fat-free foods never seem to be as satisfying as their fat-laden counterparts. Fats can remarkably adjust and carry flavor, as well as change texture.

Fat can be used in several ways when cooking, either as a main ingredient, cooking medium, or seasoning. No matter how fat is used, whether it's schmeared on a warm crusty piece of toast in the form of butter or used as an oil to saute garlic and onions, fat is a powerful way to channel flavor and enjoy the taste of food. Don't skimp on the fat when you're cooking. Always remember that fat equals flavor.

Toss the Salt, Drop Acid

freshly squeezed lemon juice with lemons on cutting board

When tasting our food and thinking something is missing, we often reach for the trusty salt and pepper shakers. Although salt and pepper will undoubtedly add some flavor, they certainly won't offer that depth and flavor you're truly looking for.

Next time your dish seems to be missing a little something, reach for a drop of lemon juice or vinegar. Acid does a terrific job at brightening flavors while also giving a pleasant contrast to foods that may be too rich or sweet.

Restock the Spice Cabinet

array of spices and herbs

Spices genuinely don't go bad and are considered a shelf-stable product. However, they lose their flavor potency over time, especially after the best-by date on the package. When spices are exposed to heat, moisture, or air, they often lose flavoring much faster. It's safe to say you're not adding much flavor to your cooking with that dusty paprika bottle that's been sitting in your pantry cabinet for over five years.

For optimal flavor, opt to purchase whole seed or pod, then grind as you go to achieve fresh seasoning. However, when whole seed or pod is not ideal, restock your ground spices frequently to avoid flavor from fading out.

Soy Sauce For the Win

soy sauce in a prep bowl

Everyone has a faithful bottle of soy sauce kicking around in their kitchen. Surprisingly this savory, salty sauce is much more helpful than just a simple condiment used to flavor plain white rice.

Soy sauce can also offer dishes the umami flavor they are lacking. Umami flavor is described as the “essence of deliciousness,” in Japanese, often depicted as meaty and savory with an intense saltiness that can deepen flavors. Given soy sauce's high levels of glutamates, a couple of teaspoons easily give a dish such as a chili or pan-seared steak a savory boost.

If you're avoiding soy or happen to be gluten-free, other options are available to capture that rich and complex umami flavor. Enjoy Worcestershire sauce or coconut aminos, both fantastic alternatives that offer mouthwatering umami flavor for better-tasting food.

Use the Fond

Closeup, deglaze gravy sauce in a cooking pan with red wine or sherry, restaurant and fine cuisine

Although it may not look like much, what's left in the bottom of your pan after searing or sauteing is liquid flavored gold, called fond. Packed with delicious savory flavor the fond, or caramelized crusted bits at the bottom of the pan should never be discarded. 

To save the fond for unbeatable flavor to be joined into any dish, start by deglazing the hot pan via wine or broth. Scrape the fond free and incorporate into a lovely, gravy, sauce, or soup to include with your tasty meal.

There's a Right and Wrong Time to Add Fresh Herbs

fresh kitchen herbs and spices on wooden table

Believe it or not, knowing when to add fresh herbs to your dish truly matters. It's possible to add heartier fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, and marjoram too late in the cooking process, resulting in an overly intrusive texture. Avoid this by adding hearty fresh herbs earlier on, giving them time to soften while also allowing them ample opportunity to release their unique flavors.

On the other hand, more fragile herbs like parsley, cilantro, tarragon, chives, and basil, are served better by being added at the last minute, so their delicate flavors and vivid colors aren't lost in the dish.

Ditch the Table Salt

kosher salt

When you ditch the table salt and trade it in for kosher salt, the changes in your cooking are often unmistakable. Table salt can quickly sabotage one's meal simply by being too fine and easy to disappear, resulting in an unbalanced dish not harmonizing with other flavors.

Kosher salt features larger grains, distributes more easily while gently enhancing the flavor instead of making the dish taste overly salty like with iodized salt.

A Word About Salt and Pepper

salt and pepper shakers

Knowing when to use salt is essential when learning how to make your food taste better. Salt can alter food in many ways, either by enhancing the flavor, and improving balance, or dialing down the taste of other intense flavors. Adding salt prior to cooking adds a variety of different effects, depending on what exactly is cooked. Salt added to meat before cooking helps draw out some of the juices that, when cooked, help build that delicious crust around a steak. Salting vegetables reduces their moisture and helps them taste less watered down.

Pepper is found in just about any home kitchen. Like salt, this versatile spice can be added at different stages in the cooking process to create different effects. Pepper added during cooking will have a stronger peppery kick while pepper added prior to cooking is less pronounced.

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