Have you ever eaten something and wondered wow, what is that added flavour? You can't quite put your finger on it but that extra umph is definitely there. A lot of people tend to think that big flavours and bold food, equals using ingredients in large amounts. This is logical in a sense but isn't always necessarily the case. There plenty of Asian ingredients whereby a little of it goes a long way.
Tiny Ingredients that add big flavours
1. Sesame oil
Aside from Chinese cooking, the Koreans also use a lot of sesame oil. From being a dipping sauce in Korean BBQs to cooking oil when it comes to Japjae, sesame oil never fails to add a nutty flavour to the dish. Its distinctive taste is always recognisable, which is why most cooking shows will tell you just a tiny amount of this oil will do.
2. Cooking wine
Cooking wine is extremely versatile and more commonly found in Chinese cooking. But let's exclude the famous ones like drunken chicken or clams soup with ginger and wine because those actually DO get big flavours from huge amounts of wine. Instead, think braised meat and stir-fried veggies in most Chinese restaurants. The chef always adds a tiny splash of Shaoxing wine to give their dish another layer of flavour.
3. Thai basil
Very different from the common sweet basil, the Thai basil has a bolder and distinctive fresh, herbal-liquorice flavour not quite like anything else. Commonly used in stir-fry, soups and curries, you can even add a tiny bit on top of your dish as garnish.
Think about how much flavour you can get from a turmeric latte, and let's not forget about that beautiful colour! Supposedly anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and high in wound-healing properties, it only takes 3/4 teaspoon of turmeric powder or 3cm fresh turmeric for you to make this nutritious drink!
5. Star anise
The star anise is a popular spice that adds big flavours in a lot of Asian dishes, including Indian, Malay and Chinese cooking. Whether it is braising meat, added to marinades, or used to infuse soups and rice, you only need one or two at the most. A little goes a long way when it comes to this spice!
6. Hoisin sauce
If you have tried eating Peking duck you would know the taste of Hoisin sauce. There is a good reason why you only apply a tiny amount on your flatbread. A strong salty and sweet taste, it is a perfect combo with the fatty duck and the freshness of the spring onion and thinly julienned cucumbers.
Aside from giving tamarind prawns that finger linking deliciousness, tamarind is also added in small quantities into curries and other sweet dishes to give the dish balance. It can also be used as a marinade, be added to sambals, the list is endless. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water!
You never need to add too much garlic into anything because when raw, it does have a rather pungent taste. And when it comes to Asian cooking, we use the humble garlic in small quantities on a daily basis! Every time we do a quick stirfry, or in soups or even kneaded into naans, garlic adds big flavours at every meal.
9. Fish Sauce
Some might turn a nose after getting a good whiff of fish sauce. Made from fish coated in salt and fermented from anytime between weeks to up to two years, there's nothing else that can pack a punch quite like the fish sauce. It is sweet, salty, fishy, funky all at once and commonly used as a seasoning in most Thai dishes. But don't use too much! A little bit will already give your dish that added umami.
10. Shrimp paste
Any Asian who is not a fan of the shrimp paste is probably allergic to it - we're kidding. Another fermented seafood, you can see why the shrimp paste is again an acquired taste. It is extremely salty and is usually added in small quantities to a lot of Asian dishes like rojak (like a fruit salad) and sambals just to name a few.
11. Wolfberry or Goji berries
Since we've covered big flavoured food and drink, what's left is dessert. Wolfberries are a common ingredient when it comes to Chinese cooking. There's always a handful of them in herbal dishes, and even in this Tremella jujube lotus nuts sweet soup. Adding just a tiny handful of them would give your dish an added sweetness. Known to be great for your eyes, you won't see this ingredient used in huge amounts in any recipe!
So you see, even small ingredients can make a difference and bring on big flavours. Which ones do you always use when cooking at home and which ones are your favourites? Share some of your pantry must-haves in the comment box below.