You’re a budding chef. You’re a college student. You’re a mom who wants to take beef stroganoff to the next level. You’ve ran grandma’s repertoire of secret ingredients, but nobody’s oohing and ahhing over dinner anymore. 

Allow me to change your life. 

At my local supermarket, its on aisle seven, dressings and oils, which is somehow also cake mixes and flours. Never mind that. We’re looking for a hidden treasure. 

It’s on the bottom row, buried beneath an unnecessary number of oil derivatives—ranging from avocado oil in a spray can to good ol’ Wesson. 

It’s called cooking wine, and it needs to be an essential part of your fridge or pantry. 

*Okay, so you rarely “uncork” it. 

The names might sound familiar: port, sherry, marsala, vermouth and even rice wine. White, red, brown and a few shades in between, these are some of the most nuanced flavoring agents one can come by. 

What makes cooking wine different from the good stuff? 

Not a whole lot, chemically speaking. Think of these as concentrated bursts of flavor that echo your favorite notes of the wine you’d pour a glass of. 

A sherry, for example has the woodier, earthier vibes of, say, an oaky chardonnay, while port might give you the heavier sweetness of a merlot or cabernet. Asian cooking wines burst with acidity, like a splash of sauvignon blanc in your stir fry. 

The added bonus is that these wines are nowhere near as expensive as bottle made for drinking. Ranging from about $3-9, you won’t feel bad throwing some of this into a pan and watching all the carmelized bits float up into a savory broth or rich pasta sauce. 

Add some marsala or sherry to your next grocery list, and reinvent dinner.