Our Readers' Favorite Food Discoveries of 2011

When we asked our readers to share the best ingredients they discovered in 2011, their answers ranged far and wide: Some were simple, like trying dried beans for the first time. Others were less familiar and even exotic. (Prickly ash! Sweet potato leaves! Fancy hot sauce!) And then there was one luxurious ingredient that got an extra amount of love, clocking in with more mentions than anything else — can you guess what it is? (We put it at the top of the list below.)

As we head into the holidays, it is always exciting to discover new ingredients and foods, whether for gift-giving or for the sake of trying something new. Come take a look at our readers' food discoveries from 2011.

All Things Truffle

• It's a tie between truffle salt and this really nice basting oil that our grocery sells. I use truffle salt in odd places, like burgers (for a little extra umami kick). - Melissa - Suburbanitis

Truffle salt. Toasted onion powder. - manjar

Truffle salt for me too! - SuperDaniYell

Truffle oil. I could bathe in it. - AdelineA

Truffle butter for me... on pasta... mmm. - travelingpea

More from The Kitchn on truffle salt:

What Is a Great Way to Use Black Truffle Salt?
Pantry Must Have

Pin it button big

Fruits & Vegetables

• I discovered sweet potato leaves at the farmers market. Like spinach but more tender, with a pronounced sweet flavor, these leaves were a complete obsession for me in my exploration of dark leafy greens. I loved them and can't wait until next year to eat more! - KateSelner

• It's such a simple thing, but this year I've become enamored of shallots. Great oniony flavor, delicious raw or cooked, and I can generally cut them without crying! - srgallender

Beans, seriously, I never cooked them myself before. - JudiAU

Wapato - Camille S

Avocados... I put them on everything and discovered how much I love them this year! - caralovesyou

Nopales... yum. - brittanykate

Beets!! I always hated the deeply pickled ones that always showed up on the table at family gatherings and stained my fingers pink. This year, a friend suggested that I try roasting them - and i'm in love! Also, it turns out those pickled ones are pretty great, too! - Dublin09

Leeks, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes. And I have a persimmon at home that's about ready to eat. - therufs

More from The Kitchn on some of these goodies:

The Best Way to Keep Cut Avocado Fresh!
Five Ways to Eat: Beets
Seasonal Spotlight: Jerusalem Artichokes, a.k.a. Sunchokes

Pin it button big

Salts, Herbs & Spices

Adobo spice - TheObsessiveCompulsiveBaker

Smoked paprika. Never been happier to hop on a bandwagon. It's just great. - cmcinnyc

• I got to plant a huge herb garden that's still thriving, so just the never-ending used for fresh herbs. Makes me so sad for once we get a freeze here. Drying them won't be quite the same. - jmorri26

Espelette pepper. - Yuri - @ChefPandita

Dry mustard, I stumbled upon it this year. I add it to the onions/celery mix while that sautees and it creates a depth of flavor and just a little zing. Then I proceed with whatever I was making, soup mix, stew etc. - lenzai

Adobo spice blend! Makes everything delicious. - marmite

MSG. I know, but it makes certain delicious things SO MUCH MORE DELICIOUS. - Kate H.

Fennel pollen. - dawnie

Umami powder. All natural flavor enhancer made out of shiitake mushrooms. Makes every Asian dish so much more amazing. - UWSer21

Berbere. Like paprika but browner-tasting. - andypucko

• One high-brow, one low-brow: chickpea flour and liquid smoke. - piccola

Himalayan Pink Salt - denisepassarini

Cooking lavender! - vonlet24

• After travelling to Turkey this year, I discovered Nar Eksisi — Pomegranate Sour. It's so versatile! I also finally bought some Za'atar spice — it's wonderful on salmon. - njparr

• For my husband, it was definitely chipotle (he just moved to Texas from England) and for me, probably sesame oil. Now my stir fry almost tastes Asian! - Sarah Cx

Za'atar! Fabulous spice blend — good in (or on) everything from eggs to flat breads to meats. - truenorth

Slap ya mama. - loislane

• A sweet rub from McCormicks that has cinnamon in it. - Angela Watts

• Just returned from Bhutan and discovered a dried spice which grows wild there and what they call Local Pepper. It's also known as Prickly Ash. I came home with three bags of it! - tigress

Spice resources from The Kitchn:

Quick Guide to Every Herb and Spice in the Cupboard

Pin it button big

Grains!

Chia seeds! They are so much fun! We add them to our Greek yogurt with some honey or ripe persimmon puree, then let it sit overnight until it forms a super thick and rich-tasting yogurt! Creamy, delicious, and packs an extra fiber punch! - babygrace

Chia seeds. - Yuri - @ChefPandita

Pearl barley! It's a great substitute for rice and it's locally grown, low GI and cheaper! (I live in Scotland.) - creativevoyage

Pin it button big

Sauces, Vinegars & amp; Oils

Hot sauce, like this one, and also the citrus one. - Kate (NC)

A certain brand of hot sauce. I always used it at the Mexican restaurant, but it never occurred to me to buy a bottle for home until recently. Now it goes on everything! - nwatrous

• This REALLY strong pressed garlic oil I found at a specialty store. Just a dash or 2 makes everything taste so amazingly fragrant and garlicky!- jmorri26

• The garlicky herb-infused oil is like magic - I use it on roasted potatoes, chicken, steamed veggies...anything that could use a little extra love. - Melissa - Suburbanitis

Roasted garlic grapeseed oil. It's great for roasted potatoes and homemade croutons. - Hilaro

• I always knew about it but never knew how great it was on EVERYTHING: Balsamic vinegar!!!!! - cccb12

Colavita champagne vinegar, and fresh basil from my herb garden. - arielleb

Pin it button big

Baking Ingredients

• I am finding new uses for Trader Joe Almond Meal, pretty much anything with flour can be improved. - Kate (NC)

Coconut flour and oil. - Yuri - @ChefPandita

Almond flour. - ellystapes

Pin it button big

Meat & Seafood

Fresh mussels (I moved to the coast). - ellystapes

• Really high quality fish. I pay a lot more but it is worth it. - JudiAU

• This year, I learned how easy mussels were to make at home! Who knew? (Well, I suppose plenty of other people already knew.) They'll be a more frequent menu addition now. - misplacedtexan

• After 20 years of a veggie diet, I've rediscovered the goodness of good local pork! Mmmm..... Bacon. - Hmj

Pin it button big

Dairy & Soy

Yellow miso and butter. I could eat spoonfuls of the golden goodness. - mstesla

Eggs! Okay, so I didn't just discover eggs, but I've definitley been learning the versitility of eggs over the past year. - alicelost

• Just found buttermilk for use as an ingredient outside of baking. I love it. - scotchncoffee

Pin it button big

What are your favorite new discoveries from 2011?

(Images: Le Do, David P. Smith, elena moiseeva, picturepartners, ilker canikligil, all via Shutterstock)