From plankton to mashed potatoes.

By Lane Nieset
June 02, 2021
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Sugar and flour are classic pantry staples, but chefs also reach for some other surprising powdered favorites when they're in a pinch. Read on for a few chef hacks sure to elevate your next meal—or at least save it.

Jars of honey powder and other food powders
Credit: NearTheCoast.com / Alamy Stock Photo

Mashed potatoes

"It seems weird, but it's a great thickening and binding agent and helps to achieve the perfect texture for creamy sauces and soups. You can also add a little to real mashed potatoes when they are too runny." — Scott Linquist, executive chef of Como Como, Serena, and Coyo Taco

Honey

"Powdered honey—like normal honey—can be used as a great, healthier alternative to sugar or artificial sweeteners. It's versatile, less messy, and has a pretty long shelf life." — Tyson Cole, executive chef and founder of Uchi Restaurants

Cheese

"Mac and cheese with hot dogs is one of my go-to comfort foods, and adding a little bonus cheese powder to the sauce—because I rock the boxed stuff real hard—makes it extra delicious. It also takes my scrambled egg game to another level." — Kate Sigel, executive pastry chef of Nashville's Marsh House, L.A. Jackson, and Killebrew Coffee

Milk crystals

"Dry milk crystals can be added to enhance the creaminess of sauces—both sweet and savory. My favorite way to use dry milk crystals is to cook them slowly in butter until they begin to brown and use them as a textural ingredient for anything from salads to ice cream." —Sara Hauman, chef at Soter Vineyards and Top Chef Portland contestant

Espresso

"I use espresso powder in my dry rubs for smoking pork necks, ribs, and chicken. Espresso powder enhances caramel color, and there's a bitterness that I love to balance all the sugar, salt, and spices when we cook BBQ. The powder is also a secret weapon in our turmeric-smothered chickpeas." — Sophina Uong, chef of Mister Mao

Chocolate Espresso Pie Bars
Credit: David Cicconi

Edible vegetable ash

"I use ash in cheesemaking to cover goat cheese. I mix ash with flour and sea salt to make a crust around fish that keeps all of the moisture inside." — Marios Salmatanis, owner and chef of Thalassamou

Plankton

"Among the powdered products we use the most there is a freeze-dried plankton used to enrich sauces, create fish-based dishes, and give a very pleasant marine aroma to raw fish and crustaceans." — Paolo Rota, executive chef of DaV Mare Portofino

Chicken stock

"Might sound a little wacky, but I love powdered chicken stock. I use it for all kinds of stuff—except stock! I put it over popcorn, use it to make a chicken-flavored ranch, and, best of all, I put it in my fried chicken flour dredge to make chicken fried chicken!" — Isaac Toups, owner and chef of Toups' Meatery

Ranch

"I always have ranch powder in my pantry. I like to make crispy chicken skins, toss them in ranch powder, then put them on a salad for flavor and texture." — Nina Compton, chef and owner of Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro

"Those Hidden Valley Ranch packets are always around in our house, but never used to make dressing. As a Pacific Northwest family, we eat a lot of salmon. I make a dish for the kids with salmon and what I call 'dad rice': a packet of ranch with rice in a rice cooker. Not to be outdone, my wife, Hana, has a 'mom rice,' where she adds miso soup mix into a rice cooker." — Gabriel Rucker, owner and chef of Le Pigeon

Ranch Dressing Popcorn
Credit: © Ryan Liebe

Ube

"Powdered ube (purple sweet potato) is an incredible ingredient that's rising in popularity because of its vibrant hue and vanilla-meets-pistachio flavor. While it's not widely available in most grocery stores, you can find it online. If you're a baker or dessert fan, spin in waffles or cupcakes and impress yourself." — Nicole Ponseca, James Beard finalist, author, and chef at Jeepney

Cassava flour

"When I found out gluten was causing my arthritis pain, I thought my culinary world might diminish; however, with lots of playing, practicing, experimenting, and throwing away recipes, I found cassava flour. It changed me; it's so much like wheat flour, easy to use, and grain- and gluten-free." —Michelle Bernstein, chef and television personality

Porcini mushrooms

"At home, I always keep porcini mushroom powder on hand. I love that it's ready-to-use and a little goes a long way. It adds a complex, umami layer to cream-based soups, risotto, and pasta sauces when I don't have fresh mushrooms on hand. I also use it in my steak rubs from time to time. Before grilling, I mix it with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper and apply it straight to the meat for a deeper, savory flavor." — Cesar Zapata, owner and chef of Phuc Yea, Arepitas Bar, and Pho Mo

Wondra flour

"We like to use it as a trick to get an easy golden brown." — Greg Baxtrom, chef and owner of Olmsted and Maison Yaki 

Chicken Pot Pie Soup
Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Melissa Gray / Prop Styling by Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Tekka

"I always have tekka powder (a Japanese miso condiment), which has a salty and umami effect. I sprinkle it right on finished items, like a grilled piece of swordfish, with a squeeze of lime. It even works great on popcorn." — Tim Wiechmann, restaurateur and executive chef of BronwynT&B Wood-Fired, and Turenne Bagels 

Ras el hanout

"Ever since taking a deep dive into spices while working at Adar, in Paris, I realized ras el hanout is one of the most versatile spice mixes. It can be used for marinating chicken or lamb, or you can add a spoon to any soup or broth. I even add some to a vinaigrette used when marinating roasted vegetables or over leeks with a soft-cooked egg." — Aaron Rosenthal, chef, teacher, and consultant in Paris

Sabatino truffle zest

"I like it so much—it can be sprinkled on almost everything." — Oliver Lange, corporate executive chef of Zuma restaurants in the U.S.

Ají panca (red chile)

"I always have this item stored in my pantry. It's an ancestral ingredient from my Peruvian roots that provides smokiness and a unique smooth spice taste to everything." — Fabrizio Garofolin, executive chef of Kaori Miami