Essential Oils

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have.

How many of my essential oils do you have at home?

When you cook and eat food from around the world, your stock cupboard should be ready for anything, It should be packed with all the essential ingredients you’ll ever need. Ready to help you create mouthwatering dishes from any country, any time.

My helpful guide takes you through 33 oils, vinegars and sauces every cook should have–so you can skip from Barcelona to Bangkok or Milan to Mumbai all without leaving the house. Lets get stocking…

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Essential Oils

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - olive oil
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Olive Oil

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’

Spaghetti Arabiata

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - extra virgin olive oil
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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.

Spaghetti Arabiata

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - grapeseed oil
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Grapeseed Oil

European, Mediterranean

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).

Asparagus with Smoked Alioli

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - avocado oil
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Avocado Oil

Worldwide

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.

Substitute Extra Virgin olive oil in this recipe for a delicious Tomato Salad

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - canola oil
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Canola Oil

Used around the globe

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)

Enjoy this crispy fried Japanese Chicken Katsudon

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - coconut oil
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Coconut Oil

South East Asia, South India

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!

Try this deliciously coconut infused Panang Chicken Curry from Thailand.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - sesame oil
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Sesame Oil

European, Middle Eastern , North African

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.

One of the simplest recipes is in my side dish of Chinese cucumber salad. It’s really well balanced alongside the crisp, fresh cucumber.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - ghee
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Ghee

India, Pakistan

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.

Madras Lamb Curry

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - mustard oil
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Mustard Oil

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.

Tadka Dal (coming soon)

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - chilli oil
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Chilli Oil

China, Japan, Korea, Italy, Portugal

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.

Chinese Wontons with Chilli Oil (coming soon)

Essential Vinegars

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - white vinegar
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White Vinegar

Worldwide

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!

Can be used in salad dressings or condiments like Alioli to give a little acid note.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - malt vinegar
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Malt Vinegar

UK, Canada

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.

Fish & Chips.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - black vinegar
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Black Vinegar

Asia

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.

Shantung Lamb Ribs (recipe coming soon)

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - red wine vinegar
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Red Wine Vinegar

European, Middle Eastern

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.

Great for salad dressings and even a delicious Chimichurri sauce.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - white wine vinegar
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White Wine / Champagne Vinegar

European, Middle Eastern

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.

Great combined with olive oil, dijon mustard and fresh tarragon and poured over fingerling potatoes.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - sherry vinegar
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Sherry Vinegar

Spain

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.

Asparagus with Smoked Alioli

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - apple cider vinegar
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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.

Chicken Vindaloo (recipe coming soon)

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - fruit vinegar
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Fruit Vinegars

Worldwide

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

Salad dressings

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - rice vinegar
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Rice Vinegar

Asia

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.

Mix 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 Tablespoon fish sauce and 3 finely chopped Thai chillies to create a spicy dressing for salads or meats.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - balsamic vinegar
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Balsamic Vinegar

Italy

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.

Next time you make a simple risotto, add a few small splashes of balsamic vinegar over the top. It’s delicious.

Essential Sauces & Condiments

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - soy sauce
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Soy Sauce

Asia

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.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - mirin
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Mirin

Japan

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.

Try my splendid chicken cutlet rice bowl – Chicken Katsudon

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - recap manis
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Kecap Manis

Indonesia

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.

I’ll often marinate a steak in Kecap Manis – simply pour over 1/2 cup over a thick steak and marinate in the fridge for 2 hrs – overnight for the best results. Then cook on the BBQ!

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - fish sauce
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Fish Sauce

South East Asia

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.

Thai red curry chicken

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - maggi sauce
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Maggi 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.

Here’s a simple recipe! Fry an egg – splash on a little Maggi sauce. Eat.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - oyster sauce
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Oyster Sauce

China, South East Asia

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.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - shaoxin wine
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Shaoxin Wine

China

What is Shaoxin wine? It’s a Chinese rice wine used throughout the country predominantly for cooking. Much like Japanese sake, Shaoxin 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.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - sriracha sauce
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Sriracha Sauce

Thailand, USA

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.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - hot sauce
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Hot Sauce

Mexico

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 a few splashes over my Pork Flautas

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - honey
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Honey

Worldwide

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.

One of my favourite uses is in winter time – I’ll simply mix 1 teaspoon of honey with the juice of 1/2 lemon and a few sprigs of fresh mint in a mug and add boiling water. It’s so warming and tasty!

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - rosewater
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Rosewater

Middle Eastern

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.

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - pomegranate molasses
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Pomegranate Molasses

Middle Eastern

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!

Try this tangy Lebanese Fatoush Salad

33 oils, vinegars and sauces every home cook should have - Worcestershire sauce
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Worcestershire sauce

UK

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.

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