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The Secret Ingredient

Appearances define your success. It is expected that a master chef can rattle off the comprehensive ingredient list of any foodstuff with a dip of her finger and a tap on her tongue. To maintain this appearance, you must have a good nose—training will only get you so far. You can spend your 10,000 hours tasting everything in the market. You can invest in a good aroma kit. But if you don’t have natural nosing ability, you’ll simply never be a master chef by relying on your sense of smell and taste. So, is it hopeless if you can’t tell tuna from turnip? No! Our industry offers tricks that you can use to augment your limited olfactory sense. Though we refer to them as “tricks” because we employ them as magical acts to impress, they do represent a large, technological body of knowledge developed hundred of years ago and handed down through the tradition of culinary education.

Today, we’ll focus on a trick that leverages a bit of social engineering to identify “secret ingredients”. Certainly you’ve encountered the host of a food-oriented, social gathering who sets a dish of something unexciting amidst the group and proudly proclaims that “you’ll absolutely love it” due to his “secret ingredient.” And, of course, everyone absolutely loves it. As they gush through wine-tripped tongues and speculate about the ingredient, you quietly reach out and dip your finger into the dish. The audacity of sticking your finger into communal food immediately commands the room’s attention. Your fellow diners clutch their drinks and wide-eye you expectantly while you furrow your brow, sniff your finger suspiciously, and then—with a look that says, “I’ve decided this won’t kill me”—you stick your finger in your mouth. You narrow your eyes and proclaim, “the secret ingredient is…mayonnaise”.

How did you know it’s mayonnaise? You know because the secret ingredient is always mayonnaise. Always. Whenever you hear the phrase “secret ingredient”, you can safely and reliably assume it is mayonnaise, even if you can’t specifically taste it.

Let us walk through some common examples.

Dale’s creamy guacamole has a secret? The secret is mayonnaise.

A small, blue dish of guacamole with tortilla chips in and around it on a white plate with a jar of mayonnaise and a half of an avocado in the background

Florence makes better crab dip than anyone else? Florence uses mayonnaise.

A sourdough bread bowl filled with crab dip and topped with a sprig of basil with a jar of mayonnaise in the background

How does Shawnique keep her lemon cake so moist? Mayonnaise.

A slice of yellow loaf cake on a white plate with a jar of mayonnaise in the background, along with a coffee grinder and electric kettle

Jerry’s chocolate pudding is to die for? It’s nothing but mayonnaise and chocolate syrup.

A small white bowl of what appears to be chocolate pudding, next to another small white bowl filled with mayonnaise upon which chocolate syrup is being poured; a jar of mayonnaise is in the background

It is always mayonnaise. Always. Now go forth and amaze your family and friends with your new ability to divine the secret ingredient.

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