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Underrated cooking ingredients in America

Chestnuts for sure. I especially love desserts made with chestnuts.
whole fish- with head and tail...meat from tail is tastiest..and i love the taste of fish head and eyes. different types of mushroom, not just a white button mushrooms

few i can think of.

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    1. re: jhopp217

      I'll go with American lamb. When my friend brings me lamb from their ranch, I am in heaven. Way better than the New Zealand lamb I've had. Of course, it doesn't much fresher than ranch to me in a day.

      1. re: nvcook

        ohhh! and game (elk, venison, antilope) and game birds, the best being chukar.

        1. re: luckyfatima

          Goat is my favorite meat. It's great at Pakistani and Afghan restaurants.

        2. re: jhopp217

          Used to be a big mutton culture in Kentucky, barbecued being the favorite cooking method. Now there's just one place I know of for sure that has it, Moonlite (??) in Henderson. It's been a while since I was by there - unfortunately on a Sunday, and they were closed, thus destroying my lunch plans - so the exact name is eluding me. I had some about fifteen years before that, at a little roadside joint between Kentucky Lake and Cadiz that appeared to be on its last legs, and it was wonderful.

          1. re: Will Owen

            there's a place in Owensboro that's well known for its bbq mutton, too...but it's been a while and I can't remember the name.

            My great-great-aunt used to tell me that her father would take her and her sister there for lunch on their once-monthly shopping trips to Owensboro.

            (The rest of the bbq was awesome, I remember...but the mutton was just a little too mutton for my taste)

        3. Leaf Lard
          Duck Fat, though that's changing

          1. As long as one doesn't have a sensitivity, a little MSG is yummy as a flavor booster---not to be used as a way to make up for lack of good ingredients, but as a simple enhancer.

              1. Heart of palm, although that's for practical reasons.
                Blood. A bit strange since I don't like my steaks rare. I really like the Korean blood sausage.

                  1. re: Chowrin

                    LOL. Cilantro is practically the state (legal) herb here in Texas. We must have the lowest percentage of "cilantro-soap-tasters" here.


                  2. Leeks, lemongrass, jicama, celeriac and offal in Canada. Whenever I go to the grocery till, without fail, I am always asked what they are. They are wayyyy underused.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: chefathome

                      I love jicama, hard to find around these parts, also in Canada.

                      1. I can't say I've noticed many people using kangaroo. A delicious game meat that has the added bonus of being good for you :)

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: TheHuntress

                          The vast kangaroo herds that once dotted our Great Plains have been greatly reduced by overhunting.

                          1. re: erikschwarz

                            LOL Ah that explains everything. And we all thought Skippy was safe as an ex-pat...

                        2. Shallots. How do people get by without these little miracles?
                          Fresh thyme. This is the classic "what is that flavor?" ingredient.

                          1. Shallots, mushrooms, goose/duck fat.

                            1. Sweetbreads, tripe, other offal.
                              Pork belly (other than in ethnic/Chinese/Asian cuisine) - but this is changing...Yay!
                              I second the suggestion of lamb posted elsewhere here on this thread. I find it odd that so many folks here in the US don't like the meat.

                              I kind of consider many veggies other than the standard salad greens as falling into this category - most are cooked unimaginatively (or in a limited number of ways) or cooked to death in mainstream cuisine. Even 'standard salad greens' tend to be thought of as used only in salads or as garnishes - how about using them in stir fries, in soups, blanched and drizzled with some other kind of sauce - oyster-flavored sauce, for example; Watercress - stir fry them, use in soups...they're not just for salads. Etc etc. BTW, the dreaded (to me) "mixed vegetables" [those cubed carrots, peas, maybe teeny onions boiled or steamed or microwaved mixture you get in too many routine restaurants etc] surely must count as a really boring veggie course and tantamount to underuse/underappreciation of those veggies...

                              1. Seaweeds, aside from Nori...

                                1. any form of animal protein except beef, pork, and chicken.

                                  1. Curious that almost half the suggestions are not from America, including chestnuts.

                                    6 Replies
                                      1. re: amyzan

                                        Yep...chestnuts are rare in the US because all the chestnuts were wiped out by a blight a few decades ago. The only way to get chestnuts right this minute is to buy them imported, which means they are not fresh (even if they're still in the shell) and very expensive.

                                        Fortunately, there seems to be some progress (see above link) in re-establishing the chestnut in North America...and there very well may come a day when you can buy American chestnuts in any store.

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          Last Autumn, we had scads of them on the ground in Boston Parks. So I guess the comeback is upon us.

                                          1. re: gourmaniac

                                            Those are inedible "horse chestnuts" and not a true chestnut at all. But there should once again be commercial quanties of North American chestnuts, shortly after our lifetimes! China and Italy will continue to be the principal sources in the U.S. for years to come.

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Veggo., I buy chestnuts from this man http://www.chestnutcharlie.com/ They're entirely edible, and delicious, and grown in the next county. They may not be widely available in the US, but there are pockets of cultivators in the US who sell commercially in season. I have about a pound left double bagged in the frig, and cooked ones in the freezer, and dried ones in my pantry, and they're all Kansas grown chestnuts.

                                              1. re: amyzan

                                                Excellent, and it's fortunate that Charlie's 15 year old seedlings are allready producing. Growing up in CT, I was lucky to have access to the drops at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station farm, and fond memories of roasting them in the hearth and eating them with butter and salt. But they are not commercially available in that region, and the ones mentioned above in the Boston parks and Arnold Arboretum are definitely "horse chestnuts".
                                                The chinese and Italian chestnuts are perfectly OK, but it would be nice to have more domestic.

                                    1. Fish sauce. Not just for Asian dipping sauces. It's awesome in European soups, stews, braises, tomato sauces, and many other applications where no one would ever know it's there.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                        Agreement--I use it a lot when for its unidentifiable umami. Gotta love something that has such a "nose" but is such a flavor expander :) From Italian to Mexican and on it goes. I have also been experimenting widely with preserved lemons,,,,who knew?

                                      2. the offal cuts like sweetbreads, heart, tongue, luver, brain, feet, cockscumb, bone marrow, oxtail, etc,
                                        game like squab, quail, wood pigeon, etc.

                                        1. ditto on the sweetbreads. And kabocha squash - so much tastier than the butternut squash alternative!

                                          1. I'd have to say poultry gizzards, since I never see any recipes. It's a shame because they taste quite delicious.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: cristallin

                                              What about Cajun dirty rice? Dee-licious.

                                              1. re: cristallin

                                                Ah, I love chicken gizzards. Love the texture. I once bbq'ed them at my summer bbq and everyone loved it.

                                                1. re: Monica

                                                  Oh good gracious I used to love gizzards. But I also love chicken livers. Haven't had them in ages. They are considered unhealthy. Even calves liver fixed properly is good, but try and find anyone who cooks it! I had excellent grilled calves liver in London. I don't cook liver myself because Mr. Sueatmo is on a low cholesterol diet. And, he has no taste for it.

                                              2. Leeks
                                                Mushrooms other than white button (cepes, girolles, trompes de mort despite the name, etc., etc.)
                                                Fresh herbs of nearly any kind
                                                Game, whether farm-raised or not
                                                Yogurt! (European yogurt is SO much better)
                                                Creme fraiche
                                                Fresh fennel
                                                salad greens like mache and frisee
                                                Anything that that's bought FRESH, not frozen, canned, or suffocated in plastic
                                                Raw milk cheeses
                                                Real butter

                                                I'll stop now...

                                                1. I'm with all the gut and goat eaters here, and that includes bone marrow and tendon!

                                                    1. re: Rasam

                                                      I love okra cooked just about any way--in stews, curries, coconut milk, fried, in gumbo, or just blanched and drizzled with salt and vinegar. Unfortunately, it's hard to find good fresh okra here in New England.

                                                      Beets are another story. They seem very popular here. I can always find several varieties and some delicious cooked versions are showing up in the prepared produce section at Whole Foods. The Fire and Ice beets they sell are delicious.

                                                      1. re: Isolda

                                                        Fire and ice beets? Sound delicious! Description? Recipe?

                                                    2. My vote goes to salt pork. It's the American version of pancetta sans seasoning. It's much more versatile than bacon because of the lack of smoke. It's much more versatile than you'd think and adds great porkiness to all sorts of things.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: agoodbite

                                                        Do you need to soak the salt pork before using to get rid of the salt?

                                                        1. re: MARISKANY

                                                          I suppose you could, but the salt is typically part of the point.

                                                      2. Interesting reading this list -- some of the things listed ARE appreciated...regionally.

                                                        Things like okra and jicama are easy to find and popular in some regions, but not in others.

                                                        12 Replies
                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                          Indeed. Okra is a staple in South Louisiana, where I live.

                                                          1. re: erikschwarz

                                                            True, okra is a staple in some regions, but on the "national" radar, it seems to be very under appreciated and a butt of jokes second only to beets.

                                                            1. re: Rasam

                                                              Allow me to invite you all to Oklahoma for the annual "Okrafest" in Checotah Oklahoma. Truly a festival of all things Okra!

                                                              1. re: Firegoat

                                                                I'll be there! :) What time of year?

                                                                I ADORE okra! One of my favourite veggies, since I was a little kid.

                                                                1. re: Rasam

                                                                  I believe it is in September every year. You can enter the okra eating contest!

                                                                2. re: Firegoat

                                                                  Oooooookrahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain...

                                                                  Sorry, I couldn't resist.

                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                    LOL! When I first moved to Oklahoma many years ago as a copy editor at a newspaper, in addition to learning all the bizarre spellings of towns I learned that they have a festival for ANY kind of food in Oklahoma. The Checotah Okra Festival, the Stillwell Strawberry Festival, the Porter Peach Festival, Bixby Green Corn Days, the Okmulgee Pecan Festival.... I could go on and on without even getting into all the BBQ festivals.

                                                                    1. re: Firegoat

                                                                      So the Porter Peach festival is held in Porter OK? That's a tiny town isn't it?

                                                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                                                        It is, very very tiny.... but it gets really big during the Peach Festival!

                                                                      2. re: Firegoat

                                                                        oh, you should see the stuff they'll have a food festival around in France...stewed chicken, frogs' legs, snails, cheese, tarte tatin...it borders on the obscene.

                                                                        Fun, though, especially to trip over one being held in some one-horse village in the middle of nowhere.

                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                          I've been remiss in listing some of the odd food festivals in Oklahoma by not mentioning the world's largest calf-fry festival in Vinita, Oklahoma and the Chocolate festival in Norman and the National Indian Taco Championship in Pawhuska and the Kolache festival in Prague. We'll have a darn festival for anything, and those are barely scratching the surface of the Oklahoma food festival scene.

                                                                  2. re: Rasam

                                                                    Well, okra ain't takin' it no more! See pic of Fightin' Okra in my post above.

                                                              2. Beet greens. Incredibly tasty with some olive oil and garlic and broth. Also one of the most nutritious foods around. I can't believe that they are routinely tossed away in markets or at home when people buy beets.

                                                                15 Replies
                                                                1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                  Yes! Beet greens are incredible and far too often discarded. They have a meaty texture and deeply satisfying flavor - like what you wish spinach was. Swiss chard falls into the same category. Try creaming some chard or beet greens instead of spinach and you'll get everything you always wanted from spinach without the chalkiness.

                                                                  1. re: agoodbite

                                                                    Do they taste like beets, though?

                                                                    It's weird, I know...I'll eat jellyfish and raw conch and cheese that smells like it needs a Hazmat team...

                                                                    but I can't stand beets.

                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                      Beet green taste absolutely nothing like beets. I actually like beets a little, but I never crave much of them. Beet greens are like a mellower but still tasty form of chard.

                                                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                        Good...then perhaps I'll ask the vendors at the market for some (they'll think I'm completely insane)

                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                          Maybe they'll think you're odd. But I've always counted it as a score when I get my local markets to sell me just beet greens for the beet's per-pound price. They just cut off the greens and then package them for me and sell by weight!

                                                                          1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                            No -- the French don't eat the greens of anything - mustard, collard, turnip, beet.

                                                                            Spinach and swiss chard, absolutely, but those are leaves that are grown specifically to eat.

                                                                            They'll think I'm nuts because I want the stuff they're throwing away -- in their eyes, it's fodder for the compost pile, or it should be fed to the pigs or chickens, but mon dieu, you don't eat it! (Not that it would be the first time this Yankee in King Louis' court made the produce guy think she was nuts.)

                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                              Wow! Something the French won't eat!

                                                                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                :) I didn't realize that beet greens were something that people who ate beets would not eat :)

                                                                                Like sunshine, I too like beet greens, and that comes from the overall idea that it is wasteful to throw away perfectly good food. When I buy beets at the supermarket, they usually come with greens attached. I cut those off, wash, chop, and use.

                                                                                1. re: Rasam

                                                                                  By the way, I've read that when you buy beets with the greens on, it is best to chop off the greens rights away and store them unconnected to the beets themselves. They keep better that way. I haven't done a side-by-side test, but my experience also suggests that this is true.

                                                                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                    Huh. Didn't know that. I can't say I've been diligent about this, but I usually cut off the greens right away otherwise it's difficult to stuff everything into the veg drawer of the fridge.....

                                                                                2. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                  it's funny -- they'll eat darned near anything else -- but greens and corn on the cob are animal food, and not for people.

                                                                                  The shops here mostly sell dried out, tough field corn -- it's no wonder they see it as animal food, because it's not fit to eat!

                                                                                  For that, I have to go to an African or Portuguese grocery -- THEN I can get fresh corn on the cob. Still not as good as a roadside stand, but it's pretty tasty and fairly tender.

                                                                        2. re: sunshine842

                                                                          Fresh raw conch, prepared as ceviche or conch salad, is a sweet delicacy with mild flavor. Any conch that requires bravery is not fresh and has gone bad.
                                                                          But bring on the stinky cheese!

                                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                                            There are those, Veggo, who get squicked out by the fact that it's an overgrown snail, regardless of the freshness.

                                                                            (but I've collected my fair share of them, banged them out of the shell myself and peeled 'em with my teeth as the Bahamians taught me to do. How's that for fresh?

                                                                            Oh, and before anybody has apoplexy, that was a LONG time ago, and well before they were even threatened...they were plentiful back then, sadly.)

                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                              Conch are like snack food in the sea - octopus suck them out of their shells, sharks eat them like pistachios.
                                                                              There is a conch farm in Turks & Caicos that supplies most of the US demand, frozen of course. I'm in Florida where taking queen conch is a hangin' offense.
                                                                              But fresh is still available throughout the Bahamas, Providenciales, the Yucatan, and Belize.
                                                                              And yes, their spanish name caracol simply means snail.

                                                                              1. re: Veggo

                                                                                and I can't blame 'em -- I love it, too!

                                                                                Been to the farm in the Turks & Caicos - Publix will occasionally carry it, especially if you ask nicely. There were a ton of us who love the stuff in the town I used to live in, so it was available fairly often...and cheap enough to eat it when they had it!

                                                                                Best ceviche ever though, was at some bar out by the beach in San Juan where my customers used to mingle. Fresh fish, fresh lime juice, fresh bird peppers, all served up with plain old saltines and good Puerto Rican rum. (oh yeah, I was working...don't tell my former boss.)

                                                                    2. I use at least a little bit of some form of chili pepper in almost everything I cook. It's wonderful.

                                                                      1. At least where I'm located I'd say goose, duck, lamb and goat. Goose and goat are impossible to find at a regular market, even during the holidays. Duck shows up during the holidays but is over priced. The lamb selection is dismal except for Christmas and Easter. I suppose wild game could be added to the list, except I live with a hunter so I just think it is normal.

                                                                        1. +1 for goat. I'm going to add fermented foods to the list. Kombucha, natto, shrimp paste or even just the bacteria that give a pleasing tang to foods don't get much respect in the American kitchen.

                                                                          1. Radishes; all shapes, shades and depths of flavor
                                                                            Radish butter is a staple in my house but I know it's a surprise to most people eating in my home.

                                                                            Turnips...far beyond the soup pot. Roasted turnip chips, braised with beef, mashed with truffle oil....oh my!

                                                                            Cinnamon-outside the baking realm-such a flavor enhancer for soup, stew, curry, ice creams.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                              I use cinnamon sticks in lots of dishes in both Western and East/SE Asian savory dishes...e.g.: potato/carrot/onion/beef stews, bak kut teh, South-Indian inspired curries, versions of pasta meat/tomato sauce, pho (required), etc etc. :-)

                                                                              1. I couldn't think of an underrated ingredient, so I read the entire thread and mostly eschewed everything everyone listed. Not going for the natto, the mutton, etc. and don't consider them underrated in my world.

                                                                                The only ones I agreed on were
                                                                                Leaf Lard & Schmaltz & Real butter

                                                                                i.e. margarine is a travesty

                                                                                I love beets but don't find them underrused, I guess that is regional.

                                                                                Here in Southern California, Jicama is widely available and utilized.

                                                                                As for "Anything that that's bought FRESH, not frozen, canned, or suffocated in plastic" I feel that is more of a social comment than really about underrused food(s).

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: laliz

                                                                                  Fresh food is largely underused, and frequently underappreciated.

                                                                                2. Mackerel

                                                                                  I've always wondered why Americans don't eat it as it's always been my favorite fish. I've never seen it on the menu of a restaurant that wasn't Japanese or Korean. My husband told me it's considered "poor people fish" and that's why restaurants don't serve it. Too bad 'cause it's really tasty!

                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: uwsister

                                                                                    I totally agree. It's so fatty and flavorful...and meaty too....i prefer fresh mackerel over salmon.
                                                                                    mackerel sashimi is to die for..hard to get here in america.

                                                                                    1. re: Monica

                                                                                      I don't find mackerel sashimi/sushi that rare here Stateside but good stuff is less commonly found in my (limited) experience. I've had stuff ranging from dreadful to fine.

                                                                                      1. re: huiray

                                                                                        You are right, mackarel sushi/sashimi isn't so rare at Japanese restaurants. Even grilled mackarel isn't so hard to find at Japanese restaurants that serve home-style Japanese food. I was mainly talking about American/Western restaurants.