An ingredient is an edible substance which is cooked in combination with other edible substances in the preparation of a dish. Vegetables, meat, seafood, egg, milk, flour, sugar, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are all used in various dishes. Some ingredients like fruits and milk are also consumed independently.
Usage of Ingredients in Cooking
The food that is readied for consumption contains the usage of an ingredient in certain proportions. A recipe is a set of instructions containing details of the edible substances used, their quantities and the method of including them in the preparation of the food which may be a dish, drink or any item fit for human consumption. Vegetables, milk, fish, meat, and seafood are all used in different combinations to prepare food.
Types of Ingredients
An ingredient may be organic or chemical.
- Organic- An organic ingredient is of plant or animal origin. Fruits, vegetables, milk, seafood, fish and meat are all substances of organic origin. Sometimes, prepared food items which are themselves made of two or more edibles substances, may be used as an ingredient in the preparation of another food. For example crushed bread crumbs which are used for making breading which is used as a coating in the preparation of dishes like cutlets and as turkey stuffing, are themselves made of flour and yeast which are again ingredients.
- Chemical –they are also used in the preparation of food. Artificial flavoring agents, food additives, food preservatives and coloring material, and artificial sweeteners are all different types of chemical ingredients used while preparing food.
An ingredient may be used as a main ingredient or as a complementary in a food depending upon its usage. Usually an ingredient is called the main ingredient of an edible item when they are used in the largest quantity in the item. For example, the main ingredient in rice pilaf is rice.
Some ingredients, though not used in the largest quantity on the item are the most dominant in terms of taste and/or appearance. For example, chocolate in chocolate cake , though not used in the largest quantity dominates the taste and appearance of the cake and hence it is its main ingredient which is used in combination with others in the preparation of food.
Common Ingredients of Different Cuisines
Every cuisine has its own set of specific ingredients, though some of them may be commonly used by all cuisines. Here are some common to different cuisines:
- Asian - This cuisine comprises edible substances from Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Japanese, Korean, Filipino cuisines. Garlic, ginger, coconut and related products, and some spices are common to all Asian cuisines. Bok Choy is a special ingredient of Chinese cuisine and soy sauce is another from the same cuisine. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are typical of Indian cuisine. Galangal is a traditional ingredient of the Indonesian cuisine; and tofu and bamboo shoots are typical flavor enhancers of Japanese cuisine. Lemon grass is a common ingredient of Laotian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines.
- American - Cornmeal is a commonly used ingredient of the cuisine and it is used along with wheat and fish since colonial times. Deer, buffalo, bear and wild turkey are the different types of meat that go into the making of dishes like roasts and soups and stews. The Dutch, Spaniards and English introduced the sheep to the American cuisine. Pork fat and butter were favored cooking media of the colonial Americans. Seafood dishes made using lobster, turtle and cod fish were popular since the colonial times. The common ingredients of the Southern part of United States of America are meat of squirrel and rabbit, possum, rice and cornmeal. Maize based dishes were a favorite of the Latin Americans. The North American cuisine includes those of the Canadian, Mexican and Caribbean cuisines. Wild rice, maple syrup, caribou, Saskatoon berries, fiddleheads and a number of cheeses of different varieties are typically used in the Caribbean cuisine. Nopales, chocolate, tomatillos, avocado, sapote and mamey including some others are used in indigenous Mexican cuisine. Breadfruit, green papaw, cascadura fish, and conch are some of the typical of the Caribbean cuisine. In the modern times, the American cuisine is considerably influenced by the different cuisines of the immigrants and the ingredients used by them are now an almost integral part of the cuisine.
- European - This cuisine is a collection of a number of cuisines such as those of German, French, Spanish, and other cuisines. Though the different sub cuisines of the European cuisine use a wide range of ingredients, some of them are common to most of them. Wheat is one such ingredient which is used for making breads. Pasta is another ingredient that is used for making a number of main and side course dishes, in the Italian cuisine, in particular. Potato is an ingredient that assumed widespread importance in the European cuisine.