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Wierd ingredients, secret ingredients, unknown ingredients?

I am a culinary student and this semester I am taking a class on product identification. One of our large assignments is to write a paper about ten ingredients that we are not familiar with, how they would be used, what they are like, where you can buy them, etc. I have been doing research on lots of cool ingredients... but I would like to know what real foodies use in their recipes. It's always more informative and more interesting to find out from people who know what they're talking about. What's the most unusual ingredient you use in your cooking? What's your favorite secret ingredient?

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    1. I don't do a whole lot of cooking, but I add paprika to a surprising amount of things with good results.

      And oh, the ways I DON'T use peanut butter...

      1. 1. Legally and sustainably harvested dried African game meat for beans and lentils.
        2. Bit of Kenyan m'chuzi mix in braises
        3. Pinch of different chile powders in sweet dishes; pinch of chocolate, cinnamon, or coffee in savory (pinch = very, very little).
        4. Splash of fish sauce in many savory dishes.
        5. Beer in batters

        4 Replies
        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          "African game meat" please tell me you're not talking chimps and gorillas here, Sam!

          1. re: pikawicca

            That would be bush meat, not game.

            1. re: Humbucker

              Yes, generally kudu, maybe impala, perhaps some wildebeeste--grassland grazers that can over-populate their habitats in eastern Africa. Not hominids in west and central Africa. Bush meat is a global problem. Legal and sustainable harvest of east African plains meat is part of modern solutions to habitat and animal management.

          2. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Ditto # 4 !!! Fish sauce is a better way to salt soups, stews and chili. It adds a richness that can rarely be identified.

            I add a dab of peanut butter to Guacamole

          3. probably not new to anybody at all, but one of my favorite ingredients is Bragg's Amino Acids. use it in salad dressings, stews/braises, stirfries, soups, grills, etc.

            I also use seasoned rice wine vinegar in dressings, salads, grain salads, pasta salads.

            Espresso or coffee in both sweet and savory dishes.

            1. maple syrup
              vanilla
              cinnemon in savory dishes
              nutmeg