For the chefs out there looking to add some flair to their dishes in the most creative and unique ways, then these rare cooking ingredients are need-to-know. These wild and infrequently-used ingredients have their own special taste and cooking properties, allowing them to truly bring out a wide myriad of flavors in your meals. These ingredients might require you to go out of your way to find them, but they are certainly worth the chase.
1) Black Garlic
Black garlic is actually made from normal garlic, but these bulbs of intense flavor have undergone a transformation that turns their cloves dark and stickier. Garlic undergoes this transformation, known as the Maillard reaction, by being stored in a humid environment at low temperatures for a period of time. This process makes garlic lose most of its sharp, distinct flavor, and have it replaced with more subtle flavors. Black garlic is sweeter, and known specifically for its strong umami flavors, similar to crispy meat or onions. Black garlic can be used in similar situations as average garlic, which is usually in conjunction with other spices to bring out the strong flavors of a meat or vegetable dish. The main difference is the dish will have a much larger presence of umami, leading black garlic to be considered something of the shadow to traditional garlic.
2) Ostrich Egg
Ostrich eggs are the biggest egg in the bird kingdom, making them quite the challenge for cooking. They are considered to be about twenty times the size of the average chicken egg, so if you plan to cook up one of these eggs, you’re going to want to have some hungry people to share it with. These eggs are also more sweet than chicken eggs. While these eggs can be cooked in similar ways to average eggs, their size makes certain methods basically impossible. You’d need giant utensils to try to fry this egg, so hard boiling it or scrambling it are much easier possibilities. Either way, you’ll need your biggest kitchen equipment and the commitment to spend twenty minutes ensuring you cook this entire massive egg successfully.
3) Achiote Paste
Achiote is a paste or powder made from several seeds and nuts, and originates from the Americas, specifically Caribbean and Mexico. It has a great deal of uses in it’s countries of origin, including dyes, insect repellant, and more. It’s culinary use, however, is as a spice for meats, poultries, and fish. This vividly red paste has a peppery smell, but a more subtle flavor when tasted. It retains some of that peppery quality, but is also considered nutty, earth, and a little bit sweet.
Gochujang is a thick, versatile sauce used in a lot of Korean dishes. Since it is so thick, it tends to be mixed with other ingredients when making sauces or used to make flavorful meat dishes. It even has a variety of flavors, with the primary being its heat. But it is much more than a simple hot sauce, as it also provides a meaty, salty depth, and even some sweetness. This sauce is quite time consuming to make, as part of it’s process involves sitting in the sun for half a year. Don’t worry, you can find plenty of good premade options as well. This sauce is made from chili pepper powder, fermented soybean powder, rice flour, and more.
One of the harder to obtain cooking ingredients on this list, the cherimoya is a soft, sweet tropical fruit. It is known to be soft and smooth, able to be easily scooped with a spoon and eaten like ice cream. Its taste is a combination of many other tropical fruits, including bananas, strawberries, and mangos, though many people claim to taste different fruit when trying it. Since it is so sweet naturally, it can easily be eaten on its own, but is great for other dishes like desserts. You can make excellent custards or sorbet out of the cherimoya, or go for sweeter meals like tropical variations on seafood like shrimp.
Truffles are one of the rarest, most expensive foods you’ll find nowadays. This fungus is notorious for being hard to find, so if you get the chance to cook with one, savor the opportunity. Their oil is commonly used in dishes to bring out their umami flavors. They usually aren’t cooked, and shaved on top of meals to increase their flavor. Truffles are often shaved onto soups, meats, eggs, or soups. They go best with fatty foods, since their flavors enhance the fat, or for things without much natural flavor. Their taste is described as earth, pungent, and funky.
Berbere is an Ethiopian spice, used often in their dishes. This is a wide array of things, but mostly dishes containing lentils, beans, meat, or roasted vegetables. Some even use them for other dishes like burgers, roasted chicken, or meatballs. Berbere is a spice mixture, some of its ingredients being chilies, garlic, allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and many more. While there are certain dishes it is more commonly used with, it’s known for its wide variety, so if you get your hands on this mixture, try experimenting to see what it works best with!
Saffron is another expensive cooking ingredient, and is certainly more subtle than some of the other spices on this list. Saffron is so rare because the flower it grows on will only produce three stems, meaning many, many flowers are harvest just to produce a basic amount of saffron. It is most often used in rice dishes like paella or risotto, since it brings out the rice’s natural flavour. It also can be used in desserts, replacing vanilla wherever it might appear. You only need a few strands per dish to flavor them fully. It’s flavor is subtle, like a mix between honey and floral scents, and tends to be hard to describe.
9) Goji Berries
Goji berries are a Chinese berry, frequently used for medicinal purposes, but just as good as a cooking ingredient. They are characterized by a sweet, slightly sour flavor, and the fact that they often come dried like raisins. They are a good substitute for raisins or other berries when used in cooking. They can be used in drier foods, like trail mix or cereals. You can also use them for teas and juices, or even cook them down and make them into sauces.
Freekeh is a wheat product originating in the Middle East. It is composed of wheat kernels, but taken early in their growth periods, then dried and rubbed. It can be considered one of the most ancient grains you can find. In meals, it is often used as a substitute for quinoa or rice, a soft grain to go with the rest of the dish.