33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have.
When cooking International food regularly, it’s good to have all the standard oils and vinegars at hand so that you can create any delicious recipe, anytime! Here are my selection of essential pourable ingredients to help take your cooking out of this World.
How many of my essential oils do you have at home?
When you cook and eat food from around the World, your stock cupboard fast becomes ready for anything, Packed with all the go-to ingredients you’ll ever need. Ready to help create mouthwatering dishes from any country, any time. That means you can travel anywhere on the planet at the drop of a hat.
My helpful guide takes you through 33 oils, vinegars and sauces every well-travelled home cook should have–so you can skip from Barcelona to Bangkok or Milan to Mumbai all without leaving the kitchen.
Let’s get that store cupboard stocked…
European, Middle Eastern , North African
The most abundant oil used throughout Europe and The Middle East. Regular Olive oil is the oil produced from the second or later pressings of the olives – It’s not really an oil meant for anything other than frying, or where you don’t want the flavour of olives to dominate.
Often comes as a blend of oils with vegetable or canola and called ‘Mediterranean Blend’
Dishes to cook using Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
European, Middle Eastern , North African
Extra Virgin olive oil refers to the oil coming from the first or second pressing of the olives. The process creates a refined flavour, stronger in flavour than that of regular olive oil. Olive oils are prized around the World, but it’s in The Middle East & Europe that they came to be.
Because it’s a more refined product, for the best flavour it should only really be used uncooked for dressings, finishing oils or simply to dip bread into. If you’re frying, don’t waste the good stuff, use a cheaper oil, most of the flavour is lost when you heat it anyway.
Dishes to cook using Extra Virgin Olive Oil
When I don’t want the flavour of olive to overpower a dish but still want a refined oil – I’ll turn to grapeseed oil. Grapeseed oil has a very mild flavour, so will act only as a vehicle to take on other flavours for things like salad dressings or mayonnaises. I’ll also use grapeseed oil in some baking recipes as the fat element – it’s a polyunsaturated oil and therefore less evil than butter (even though butter is a good friend of mine)
Dishes to cook using Grapeseed Oil
Avocado oil is a great alternative to Olive Oil, cold-pressed Extra-Virgin Avocado oil has a richly flavoured characteristic. A healthy oil too, rich in Vitamin E and has less saturated fat that Olive oil. This makes it an excellent ingredient to use for salad dressings and as finishing oils for Mediterranean dishes like Hummus or Baba Ghanoush.
Interestingly, Avocados are native to Mexico and Central America, and have been enjoyed for millennia, but the production of oil extraction only came to being in the 1990s in New Zealand.
Dishes to cook using Avocado Oil
- Instead of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, use it in a Heirloom Tomato Salad
Canola is my go to everyday oil for shallow or deep frying. Made from rapeseed It has a relatively low saturated fat content so it partially cancels out the deep frying (that’s the science I tell myself). I also choose to believe the scientists that tell us that the Erucic Acid levels are negligible in human consumption, and that it is beneficial to reducing cholesterol and better for a healthy heart.
I find it has a milder flavour than Vegetable or Corn oil, so it’s my first choice. It’s only a frying oil and never use it for dressings or mayonnaises.
Canola enjoyed around the world but interestingly, gets its name from the country that developed the oil we know today: Canada (Canada Oil)
Dishes to cook using Canola Oil
Coconut oil has become a contentious subject in recent years – with two varying opinions on whether it’s good for you or bad for you. The oil is high in saturated fat, which many believe (as it’s a plant based fat) has a different biological make-up to other saturated fats (mainly from animals). Worryingly it’s therefore marketed as a healthy oil. It’s not.
Most International health organisations differ in opinion, claiming coconut oil has the same health warnings as using butter or beef dripping; which is not a great path to stay on health-wise.
That said, the flavour of coconut oil is magnificent! I use it 50% of the time when preparing South East Asian or South Indian curries that also feature gallons of coconut milk or cream (in for a penny, as they say). It enhances the coconut flavour no-end and has a tendency to split in sauces, giving that super authentic oily finish that floats to the top of any good curry.
I never claimed this blog was a health food blog!
Dishes to cook using Coconut Oil
European, Middle Eastern , North African, Asian
Sesame oil is amongst my favourite oils to use. It has a completely intoxicating aroma when used cooked or uncooked. It will bring a distinctive nutty aroma and flavour to any dish. I mainly stick to Chinese or Japanese dishes, which it’s most commonly associated with, but the oil was actually first cultivated in ancient Pakistan by the Indus Valley Civilization 2600BC.
Sesame Oil is perhaps most associated with Chinese and Chinese influenced cuisine, lending its aroma to many of my favourite stir fries and stews.
Dishes to cook using Sesame Oil
Ghee is delicious. It’s butter that’s had all the dairy cooked out of it. But as we (should) know, a lot of butter isn’t good for anyone. The use of ghee in India is on a steady decline as their population gradually opt for healthier, unsaturated alternatives. I use ghee occasionally for curries that I want the full, authentic experience from and when I do I don’t hold back! It’s once or twice a year so I’m OK with it!
It has a wonderful nutty richness that brings a curry to life but is also magnificent to fry pakoras or bhajia in. If I’m feeling like a quick treat, I’ll fry an egg in it too. It’s very delicious.
Dishes to cook using Ghee
North India, Pakistan, Bangladesh
Mustard oil is a potent oil derived from the mustard seed. As you would imagine it’s a spice laden oil which is used sparingly in Northern Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi foods. It’s a great way to add another layer of heat to curries and vegetables.
I also use it occasionally as a ‘tadka’ – finishing oil to many Indian dishes like Daal, whereby you fry combinations of whole spices, onions, and curry leaves and pour it over the dish at the end of cooking to add a new layer of flavour.
Dishes to cook using Mustard Oil
China, Japan, Korea, Italy, Portugal, Middle East
Chilli infused oils are used around the world but most notably the oil is ubiquitous in China, especially in Sichuan cuisine. It’s also used commonly in Kore and less often in Japanese cuisine.
It is obviously a spicy oil and should be used with the correct amount of caution (or not as is the case in Sichuan food). It retains its chilli hit during cooking and has a fiery bite – so beware!
Interestingly in Calabria, Southern Italy, where the spicy chilli grows, an infused oil is popular as a finishing oil for simple pasta dishes to give a chilli kick. It’s delicious.
Dishes to cook using Chilli Oil
An abundant vinegar with lots of uses. Can be used to replace most vinegar recipe requests. It has a clean vinegar flavour that’ll give any dish requiring an acid sourness the right note. Also a good base vinegar for pickling vegetables, especially onions. I also use it for cleaning my windows!
Dishes to cook using White Vinegar
- Vietnamese Lemongrass Pork Chops (Thit Heo Nuong Xa)
- Vietnamese Bun Cha Vermicelli Salad
- Filipino Pork & Vegetable Adobo (use instead of Filipino vinegar)
- Beef Balti
Malt vinegar is strong. In the UK it’s fantastic on fish and chips. But a top tip, put some on your mushy peas! It’s divine.
I’ve also seen onions pickled in malt vinegar. They’re like little pocket rockets of sourness.
Dishes to cook using Malt Vinegar
- Fish & Chips.
Black vinegar is a condiment used in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine. Both in cooking and as a table condiment for dipping with dumplings.
Black vinegar is often be mixed with soy sauce and sesame oil to create dressings for Chinese dishes.
Dishes to cook using Black Vinegar
Red Wine Vinegar
Red wine vinegar is predominantly used within Mediterranean Europe and Middle East. A great condiment for salad dressings and to add an acidic note to sauces and condiments.
Dishes to cook using Red Wine Vinegar
White Wine / Champagne Vinegar
Like Red Wine vinegar, white wine vinegar is a great all-round vinegar, great for dressings and for pickling. Mostly used within Mediterranean style food, but also popular in all wine producing regions around the world. For a more refined flavour, use a Champagne vinegar in your mayonnaise or salad dressing.
Dishes to cook using White Wine / Champagne Wine Vinegar
The best Sherry vinegar comes out of Spain. A bolder, deeper flavour than wine vinegars, it’s a great wine for dressings and to add to soups or stews in small quantities to give a depth of flavour. I’ll also use this vinegar or apple cider vinegar in Indian dishes (particularly those from the Goa area of India) to create the required sourness.
It was in fact, the Spanish who brought vinegar to Indian cuisine – namely Vindaloo which directly translates as Wine & Garlic.
If you can find Portuguese port vinegar, snap it up – it’s a delight.
Dishes to cook using Sherry Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar
European, Middle Eastern , North African
Apple Cider Vinegar is used in cooking in much the same way as white wine vinegar. A good vinegar for pickling, dressings and to add souring to soups and sauces.
I also use it in Southern Indian sauces as it resembles the local vinegars closely.
Some people drink Apple Cider Vinegar as a medicinal tonic. It’s widely accepted that it has various health benefits, namely lowering cholesterol and fighting diabetes.
Dishes to cook using Apple Cider Vinegar
Fruit vinegars are varied in the flavours but mostly useful for salad dressings and flavour enhancers to dishes. I am prime target, wherever I travel for this category of vinegar. A bottle always comes back with me wherever I’ve been.
I currently have pomegranate vinegar from Mexico, tarragon vinegar from Italy, maple vinegar from Canada and cane vinegar from Sri-Lanka
Dishes to cook using Fruit Vinegar
The most popular vinegar in Asia is not surprisingly rice vinegar. Used in marinades and to flavour sauces and as a key ingredient in some stir fries.
In some Asian countries, rice vinegar plays a central role in creating dipping sauces, pickles and dressings.
Rice vinegar is a lighter, more delicate vinegar overall so has a wide range of uses.
Dishes to cook using Rice Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar is a strong, dark vinegar made from grape must. It’s traditionally created in the Modena and Emilia-Romagna regions of Italy.
In Italy it’s used sparingly to enhance the flavours of meats, fish and vegetables. It’s also used to bring out the sweetness of fruits like pears and strawberries. And made into intense glazes and dressings for many dishes.
It’s also great simply combined with a good quality extra virgin olive oil as a dip for bread.
Dishes to cook using Balsamic Vinegar
Next time you make a simple risotto, add a few small splashes of balsamic vinegar over the top. It’s delicious.
Essential Sauces & Condiments
The most abundant sauce used in Asia is Soy Sauce. A salty, umami fermentation from soy beans. It’s used in a mind boggling array of ways – from dressings to sauces, to condiments and comes in a variety of strengths, textures and colours. Flavours and brewing techniques differ between countries so try to get a soy sauce from Japan if you’re cooking Japanese food same with China, Korea etc.
Regular soy sauce is lighter in colour and texture and is the variety you should use when a recipe doesn’t specify. Dark soy sauces is aged longer and has a dark caramel colour and thicker texture. Dark soy is used predominantly cooked, but also included in some dipping sauces and dressings.
Dishes to cook using Soy Sauce
Japanese food wouldn’t be Japanese without the help of mirin. Mirin is a sweet rice wine used for cooking. Similar to sake, mirin has less less alcohol and more sugar – it plays a part in creating a balance of flavour when combined with salty soy sauce and lends a subtle sweetness to many Japanese sauces, dips, and dressings.
Dishes to cook using Mirin
Kecap Manis is loved across Indonesia and Malaysia. Kecap Manis is a sweet soy sauce, enhanced generous amounts of palm sugar and reduced into a thick, gloopy such like caramel. It’s quite an addictive flavour, super intense and fragrant.
Satay sauce features Kecap Manis and delivers a ‘scoop up with your hands’ delicious salty, nutty sweet flavour. I can’t get enough of the stuff.
Dishes to cook using Kecap Manis
Made from fermented fish or crill and salt, fish sauce has a very fishy, salty flavour. It stinks! I’ve come to absolutely love the aroma. It’s used in curries, stir fries and dressings to give a salty finish. I’ll add it like vinegar to fried rice and add (probably too much) to my South East Asisn Curries for a complex salty flavour.
In Vietnam it is the essential ingredient in Nước chấm – an addictive salty, fishy, citrus dipping sauce served with many dishes.
Dishes to cook using Fish Sauce
- Thai red curry chicken
- Vietnamese Pork with Lemongrass & Chilli
- Burmese Chicken Curry
- Beef Massaman
- Vegetable Thai Green Curry
- Malaysian Prawn Laksa
- Chicken Satay Curry
- Pad Prik King
- Laotian Chicken Larb (Larb Gai)
- Thai Beef Salad (Yum Nua)
- Cha Kroeung Sach Moan (Cambodian Lemongrass Chicken Stir-Fry)
- Thai Crying Tiger Beef with Nam Jim Jaew Sauce
Worldwide, Germany, Switzerland
Maggi Sauce is somewhat of an enigma. It’s like Coca-Cola, everyone loves it, but nobody really knows what it is, or can describe its flavour.
For years I called it magic sauce, because it really is! Since the introduction of the word Umami into western cuisine in recent years, Maggi Sauce fits into this category very well. It’s an intense meaty umami hit, that I’ll use for simple steak sauces, I’ll add a few dashes to sautéed mushrooms or a couple of splashes over a fried egg! Whatever it is it’s magic!
Learn more about Maggi Sauce at The Spruce Eats.
Dishes to cook using Maggi Sauce
- Here’s a simple recipe! Fry an egg – splash on a little Maggi sauce. Eat.
What is oyster sauce? Here’s an actual surprise – it actually IS made from oysters. Cooked low and slow until the juices turn thick and caramelised. It has a super rich and intense flavour and is used to great effect in many stir fries and sauces to add that authentic ‘what its that?’ flavour hit.
Oyster sauce is a staple in many Chinese households so it’s an essential ingredient to have at home if you plan on cooking Chinese food any time soon.
Dishes to cook using Oyster Sauce
What is Shaoxing wine? It’s a Chinese rice wine used throughout the country predominantly for cooking. Much like Japanese sake, Shaoxing wine is mild in flavour, but gives a richness and depth of flavour to many stir fries, marinades and dressings.
It’s another staple ingredient to have in your cupboard if you’re planning a Chinese feast.
Dishes to cook using Shaoxing Wine
Sriracha sauce has become something of a success story in the USA, where it’s gone completely mainstream. The sauce originates from Thailand and is a spicy, tangy hot sauce.
It’s used throughout South East Asia as a spicy dipping sauce, and to give heat to marinades, sauces and stir fries. In the US, it’s used like ketchup to add heat to all manner of foods and in spicy barbecue marinades.
I recently discovered these Sriracha flavoured almonds which I became slightly addicted to.
By World standards, Mexican food isn’t particularly spicy on its own, but on any Mexican table are an array of hot chilli sauces. From the mild to the mighty. Sauces that will blow your socks off. Hot sauce is a staple in any Mexican household.
It can be used as a condiment, but also adding a few drops of your favourite hot sauce during cooking will add a chilli hit recipes from around the World. If you don’t have fresh chillies in the house, substitute with a few or a lot drops of hot sauce.
Add as a spicy condiment to:
Honey is a staple in kitchens around the globe. It’s an ingredient I purchase whenever I’m at a local market, a food fair or visiting a new country. The flavour of honey can vary wildly and is dependent on what the bees are eating, which makes it one of the more fascinating kitchen ingredients. I have around 5 varieties of honey at any time to help with all kinds of dishes.
I’ll often use it as a sugar substitute in marinades, add it to salad dressings and as a sweet element in sauces. I’ll also use it in baking in cakes and sweet tarts.
Dishes to cook using Honey
Rosewater is exactly what it says on the label. It’s an ingredient used across the Middle-East to give the distinctive rose flavour to many sweets and cakes like Baklava and Turkish Lokum (Turkish delight). It’s also used in savoury dishes such as rice pilaffs for an authentic Middle Eastern aroma.
It’s a potent ingredient which should be used very sparingly – overuse can create a medicinal flavour so a few drops is all you need.
Dishes to make using Rosewater
Mix with some cream and serve alongside my delicious Turkish Lime Yoghurt Cake
Pomegranate molasses is an intense pomegranate reduction. A super-sour syrup used in many middle eastern marinades and dressings. The unique flavour adds a sour note to many Persian dishes, sweet and savoury and in Lebanon it’s used abundantly in dressings or simply poured over vegetables and meats.
I have a slight allergic reaction to pomegranate and molasses which leaves my tongue slightly paralysed! It hasn’t stopped me eating it I might add!
Dishes to cook using Pomegranate Molasses
What is Worcestershire sauce? Few people actually know that it’s made from fermented anchovies. Created in the 1800s in the British county of Worcestershire, England and a derivative perhaps, of the Ancient condiment ‘Garum’ that the Romans adored.
One other thing few know about Worcestershire sauce is HOW TO PRONOUNCE IT. As an Englishman I will show you. Woos-Ter-Shire. There you have it.
Used as an umami flavour hit the sauce can be used in marinades, sauces and gravies to big-up the savoury flavour. It’s also used in the Bloody Mary – which I find to be one of the most horrific drinks ever created. Don’t try and tell me otherwise.
Dishes to cook using Worcestershire Sauce
Add a few splashes to sautéed garlic and mushrooms with a guzzle of cream. Then pour over a juicy steak!
Thanks very good information
Thank you, glad you enjoyed.