18 Unique Pantry Staples That'll Take Your Basic Meals From 'Eh' to 'Wow'

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With a growing number of us staying (and therefore, cooking and eating) at home right now, having a well-balanced supply of shelf-stable items is more important than ever. The basics, of course, are pretty much a no-brainer: stocks, grains, legumes, dried pasta, canned goods, and a few frozen items like fruit, veggies, and maybe even soup that you can deploy as needed.

But that's not what this article is about. With a solid base of, well, basics in place, we're more interested in those decidedly _un-_quotidian pantry items we can use to spice up our 300th bowl of rice and beans. And while your neighborhood grocery store might be showing off a lot of bare shelves right now, there are some often-overlooked sources of pantry items you can avail yourself of online to get your kicks. (And by kicks, of course, we mean spicy honey and coffee hot sauce.) Read on for a few of our favorite secret sources for stocking up.

1. BLiS Bourbon Barrel Red Boat Fish Sauce, pack of 2, $38

Soups, noodle dishes, and even instant Ramen takes on a high-end air with the addition of this bourbon barrel-aged umami bomb. And since a little goes a long way, this two-bottle pack will last you a long time.

2. Humble House Foods Tamarind Hot Sauce, $12

Tamarind + ancho chili = two great tastes that go great together. We can't wait to add this to our next batch of homemade Pad Thai for a smokey, cross-cultural kick.

3. World Market White Chicken Chili Mix, set of 2, $10

An oft-overlooked source for pantry staples and quirky international finds alike, World Market's online food and drink selection always has something to pique our interest. These affordable chili and soup mixes are a no-brainer for those days when you blink and it's suddenly dinnertime. Best of all, they're infinitely customizable — so you can tinker and add to them to your heart's content.

4. Tuthilltown Bourbon Barrel Matured Maple Syrup, $29

Now that we're spending mornings at home and every day can be Pancake Day, it's time to upgrade from that too-sweet store-bought stuff.

5. San Marzano Strianese Tomatos, set of 12 cans, $48

Sure, they're pricier than your local grocery store's house brand, but San Marzanos are the gold standard of canned tomatoes — and the D.O.P. label proves they're authentically Italian-grown, unlike many brands. (Plus, if you're going to be leaning hard on canned goods for a bit, it might be worth the extra spend.)

6. Giddy Up Nuts Buffalo Wing Almonds, $11

Guilt-free snacking with a major kick, so you can satisfy the munchies in between Zoom meetings.

7. Black & Bolyard Grassfed Brown Butter with Bay Leaf, $14

A little spread of this transforms even a basic slice of bread into something tasty.

8. Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, $29.95

If you're baking more during this time (and who isn't?), it's smart to invest in this top-notch vanilla used by the pros. (It'll be ready for use in your pantry for years to come, so consider it a one-time splurge.)

9. India Tree Demerara Sugar, $10

Because we know you're trying to beef up your at-home bartending skills — demerara sugar makes a richer, more caramel-like simple syrup that can bring out the best in bourbon drinks and the like. (Plus, it's just as good in your morning coffee.)

10. Ortiz Spanish Anchovies in Olive Oil, $17

The internet has spoken: It's the perfect time to become a tinned fish snob. (Don't shoot the messenger.) Even if you're not normally a fan of rare imported sardines and the like, a jar of quality anchovies is a great place to start — they dissolve magically in soups and sauces, imparting a deliciously salty tang, and lend some easy authenticity to your next homemade Caesar dressing. (Plus, the accompanying tiny fork is pretty adorable.)

11. Global Gardens Fruit Infused Balsamic Vinegars, $30

While we're on the topic of dressing: Fruit-infused balsamic makes whipping up a light salad dressing a breeze ... which will especially come in handy when your spring CSA boxes start to arrive on your porch.

12. Edmond Fallot Dijon Mustard Pail, $20

Yes, a literal bucket of good French mustard is on our stock-up shopping list. Listen, we don't judge what you consider essential.

13. Brightland Olive Oil Alive + Awake Duo, $74

Antioxidants? Check. Instagrammable, countertop-friendly packaging? Check. The best olive oil you've ever tasted? Check. Stock up on a few bottles of this stuff and you'll find yourself using EVOO in ways you never imagined.

14. Olo's Chipotle Paste, $7

Every good home-kitchen cook has a tube (or two) of tomato paste stashed nearby. This chipotle pepper paste proves itself just as convenient and versatile. (And even with just those two tubes, you've got the makings of a good pasta sauce starter.)

15. Patagonia Provisions Organic Mushroom and Savory Grains, $7

Patagonia — yes, that Patagonia — has a surprisingly robust pantry section, including these handy single-serve pouches of whole grains, quinoa, and organic mushrooms that are a quick and easy side for dinner (or a light lunch on their own).

16. Beautiful Briny Sea Magic Unicorn Salt, $13

The "unicorn everything" trend may be so 2015, but this universally appealing mix of sea salt, rosemary, garlic, and smoked paprika is decidedly timeless.

17. Queen Majesty Red Habanero and Black Coffee Hot Sauce, $10

We like our hot sauce like we like our coffee: With coffee in it. Add some to your next slow-cooker pulled pork or brisket to bring out the coffee notes beautifully.

18. Public Goods Seven Grain and Lentil Pouch, $5 with annual basic subscription

Public Goods is a smart first stop for basics, whether it be apple cider vinegar, penne, or hand soap for the bathroom. But their microwavable, ready-in-90-seconds grain pouches are where they go from "simple" to "inspired." Even last night's leftover chicken breast feels healthy and chic atop a bed of blink-and-they're-ready mixed grains. We'll be keeping a few of these in our cupboards from now on.


Emily Bihl is a freelance writer and sometimes-songwriter who can invariably be found rearranging furniture in a domicile somewhere along the Mississippi River. She lives with her black labrador Selkie and a small army of homemade ceramics, and has not willingly closed a browser tab since 2011.

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