What foods and condiments are better homemade?
December 17, 2019 6:01 PM   Subscribe

What kinds of food/condiments (that one typically buys at a store) are significantly better homemade? For example, I've been making my own mayo recently, and it's sooo much better. What else can I make that will be awesome?

I'm in the process of making fermented hot sauce, but I'm wondering if it will really be that much better than a fancy store-bought bottle (it's fun to make, so it's not like it will be a waste, but I'm still interested to see).

Also, something might be better homemade, do you think it's worth the effort? For instance - I've made homemade pasta many times, and it's great, but I started buying the semi-fresh pasta and I think that making homemade pasta might not really be worth it on a regular basis. Of course, people will have different thoughts on this, but I'd love to hear yours. Though, even if you don't think it's worth it to always make it at home, I'd still like to hear about it, because I'm always looking for involved food projects. Thanks all!!
posted by catcafe to Food & Drink (54 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Tartar sauce. I spent a ton of effort making gluten-free fish and chips (yeah, the chips were easy) for my wife. The big hit was the homemade tartar sauce, which was soooooo easy.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:07 PM on December 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

posted by General Malaise at 6:09 PM on December 17, 2019 [10 favorites]

Caesar salad dressing. Blue cheese salad dressing. ALL salad dressing.
posted by CheeseLouise at 6:09 PM on December 17, 2019 [21 favorites]

Butter! I loved the butter I had in Ireland so much I was on a homemade butter kick for a bit.
posted by beccaj at 6:13 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Whipped cream
posted by sallybrown at 6:17 PM on December 17, 2019 [19 favorites]

Foods worth the effort:
Bread, if you're eating it in thicker slices, rolls, etc. If you're typically just using bread for sandwiches, a lighter, pre-cut loaf may be the better choice. This can highly vary depending on whether you have a good bakery near you, and how much bread you eat.

Tomato/pasta sauces. Crushed/diced potatoes (can buy this canned if you want, or use fresh when in-season) plus whatever seasonings you like best, cooked down to the consistency you want. It just feels good to make your own pasta sauce!

Pretty much any soup whatsoever. If you like more blended soups, invest in a immersion blender and your life will transform. Making homemade stock is worth it if you have a large freezer to store it in until you need it -- otherwise I'd go with store stock/broth.

Cookies, scones, other sweet treats. I suggest cruising smitten kitchen for recipes. I don't think I've ever had a store-bought cookie of any kind I've liked better than homemade, and homemade is easy.

Pie crusts will take awhile to learn how best to mix them and roll them out, but I think it's a skill worth learning.

Condiments worth the effort:
Aioli of any kind.

Vinaigrette of any kind.

Whipped cream.
posted by curious nu at 6:21 PM on December 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

There's a whole book of this: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.
posted by shesbookish at 6:22 PM on December 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

Not to piggyback but if you put very cold heavy cream into a very cold bowl and beat it with a very cold whisk and add sugar and maybe vanilla extract to taste; not only will it be delicious, but if there is another person there, they will think you are a goddamn wizard.
posted by ftm at 6:23 PM on December 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

Chicken Pot Pie.

Cream of whatever soups.

Taco seasoning.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 6:23 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Tamarind sauce, the smooth thin kind you (or I at least) can get from Indian restaurants but I cannot find in Asian or South Asian groceries. Proper fully-spiced version here, simplified Serious Eats here.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:25 PM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by Thorzdad at 6:27 PM on December 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

Kimchi. I'll never forget the kimchi that a coworker's mother made.
posted by kathrynm at 6:29 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cocktail sauce. Even though I use prepared ketchup, adding my own horseradish and lemon means I can control the heat and lemon kick. Making your own ketchup would kick it up a notch.

I agree with you that the difference in jarred mayo and homemade is enormous. Try lemony homemade mayo on dead-of-summer BLTs - with good toasted bread they are sublime! Better than jarred mayo by a wide margin.
posted by citygirl at 6:29 PM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Kombucha. Also, this habanero hot sauce is really good and better than anything I've bought in a store (I use a lot less garlic than the recipe calls for).
posted by alex1965 at 6:29 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


Oh YES this. So, so easy, so worth it!
posted by curious nu at 6:30 PM on December 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is right up my alley - we are in the “make it all from scratch” camp, even if it’s not really worth it. Off the top of my head, here are...

Worth doing at home:
-anything bread, pastry, or dough based with few exceptions (bagels and phyllo mostly). Why wife recently made her own mini tart shells for a party and they’re so much better than what you can get in the freezer.
-sausage. Lots of work but I know exactly what’s going in each one and my Hot Italian is far superior to the supermarket.
-sodas. We will make concentrates with real sugar and juice and cut it with seltzer.
-stock. Any bones from meals go in to stock, and I keep four or five different varieties on hand. You can pressure can stock and keep it shelf stable or freeze it.
-most things in the freezer aisle - dumplings, pizzas, burritos, etc.
-kimchi and sauerkraut
-pickles of all sorts
-jams and jellies

Maybe not worth doing (as in I have not found a significant difference versus store bought but we have tried making them):
-ice cream
-rendering animal fats (I do it anyway because it’s a good way to reduce waste and I can get things that are not normally available like lamb suet but I think the store bought stuff is fine)
-preserved lemons
-mustard and ketchup, depending on your taste
-beer (it’s definitely fun but I have yet to make something at home that can compete with any of the many great microbrews near us)
-frozen veggies (one place where industrial machinery really works well)

I would note that I do think most of the things in the “maybe not” category probably get bumped up to “definitely yes” if you have a good source of quality ingredients. Buying milk and spices from the supermarket? Probably skip it unless you’re doing it to say it’s homemade.

Definitely don’t do it... I honestly can’t think of something we haven’t felt was worthwhile at least trying to make.

Haven’t tried to make phyllo, crackers, cheese (beyond ricotta), coffee from green beans, cured olives from fresh, oils, vinegars, yogurt. But try doing stuff and you’ll figure out what you like made at home!
posted by backseatpilot at 6:38 PM on December 17, 2019 [8 favorites]

I would also say that, for me anyway, growing and harvesting my own ingredients is very rewarding. Maybe a little more extreme than what you were thinking, but if you really want to go down this rabbit hole you can try gardening, fishing, hunting, or raising livestock. Storage and transport sensitive produce (like tomatoes and blackberries) are so much better when they come from the backyard.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:42 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

An anti-recommendation: according to Stella Parks, not vanilla.
posted by Lexica at 6:43 PM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Tahini sauce. Try the recipe here (though if you use the Trader Joe's tahini to make it, you can cut the added salt in half).
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:43 PM on December 17, 2019

Nthing whipped cream. I am lazy and hate cooking, but I always make the effort for real fresh whipped cream.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:47 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Jam and pickles. Definitely soup.
posted by synecdoche at 6:57 PM on December 17, 2019

Cranberry sauce
posted by belladonna at 7:01 PM on December 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

Corn tortillas! They're so quick to make, with just some masa, water and a pinch of salt, and the difference between a freshly made tortilla and a store-bought one is downright shocking. You can pick up a serviceable tortilla press for less than $30, and your investment return in amazing tacos will be basically unlimited.
posted by flod at 7:10 PM on December 17, 2019 [8 favorites]

The only problem with making your own pesto is that it renders all commercial pesto inedible by comparison.
posted by praemunire at 7:17 PM on December 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

Wait, what? Whipped cream? People BUY THAT?


whipped cream
all salad dressings
tzatziki (by a mile)
posted by pompomtom at 7:18 PM on December 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

ice cream
cookies, cake, brownies

All these are definitely worth making to me, but especially cookies, cake and brownies. Store-bought versions, even from nice bakeries, are generally so inferior I rarely find them worth buying. And they're so easy to make at home.
posted by Redstart at 7:19 PM on December 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I forgot to make the whipped cream before we left for thanksgiving dinner, then remembered 5 minutes before we were out the door.

Whipping cream. Vanilla. Powdered sugar. Turn on mixer. Done before my husband had the kids in the car.

And my brother tried to steal the leftovers.

Definitely whipped cream (for special occasions but it does make a whole lot so if you only want a little bit occasionally then store bought is fine)
posted by kellygrape at 7:23 PM on December 17, 2019

Yeah, I could have eaten my own weight in my ex's pesto (with basil she grew herself). Haven't found anything as good since.


My "homemade" vote would be chili powder from the dried chiles in the "Latin" section of your typical grocery store (or any bodega/Latin market if you're lucky enough to have one nearby). SOOO much fresher and more flavorful than the premade powder you get in the store, it's literally like night and day. Plus you can control how much heat you want in it. This very good Serious Eats article is the one I used to get started.

Also seconding stock and aioli.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:24 PM on December 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Vegetable stock in particular.

The thing is that storebought chicken stock (like, the good kind in a box from a trustworthy brand) is not great but fine, and storebought vegetable stock (even from the same brand) is straight up nasty. So making your own chicken stock is a bit of an improvement, but making your own vegetable stock is like night and day.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:32 PM on December 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

Beer, if you want something that isn't a mass-produced lager. Counter to expectations, those clean and mildly flavored beers that dominate TV ads are actually some of the hardest to make at home, and they are inexpensive to buy anyway. But for pretty much anything else (super fresh, low bitterness and high aroma/flavor IPA is a revelation), homebrewing is a great way to get it. There is a small hurdle of equipment and experience to get there, but it's not too bad.
posted by exogenous at 7:32 PM on December 17, 2019

Honey mustard
posted by Automocar at 7:41 PM on December 17, 2019

For me this is hard to separate from home grown tomatoes but Ketchup. It's a ton of work and it won't taste anything like store bought but it can be very delicious. Really anything that uses home grown tomatoes is going to be vastly superior to a store bought variant. Chili, spaghetti sauce, pasta sauce, etc; even pizza.

Also BBQ sauce (people use that as a condiment right?). We made it one once out of excess cherries and OMG!.
posted by Mitheral at 8:00 PM on December 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Anything baked except crazy stuff like croissants. At least when you live in the US where bakeries (IMHO) are generally not great.

Beans. I cook a whole big instantpot full, using homemade stock (usually from a roast chicken carcass) and freeze in cup servings. So much better (and cheaper) than cans.

Sauerkraut, curtido, escabeche, kimchi or whatever fermented veg you prefer. I’ve found comparably good kimchi at the store but it was imported from Korea and ridiculously expensive.

Every soup you can imagine. The big thing about soup is that it’s for using up leftovers you’d otherwise throw away, AND it tastes vastly better than storebought.
posted by The Toad at 8:39 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Apple sauce. I hated apple sauce my entire life. Then about a year ago I got a ton of apples in my CSA and made some quick apple sauce with them and holy crap, its so good! Now I put in everything. But ONLY the apple sauce I make. All store bought apple sauce is disgusting and tastes like elementary school.
posted by silverstatue at 8:40 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mustard - super simple, amazing, can be surprisingly spicy


ice cream (but WITHOUT any gums, fillers, etc. - use a LOT of cream and a LOT of fruit, and scalded milk, and plan to eat very very quickly -- it's a transcendent experience)
posted by amtho at 8:53 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:13 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cooking beans from dried rather than using canned
Anything pickled (sauerkraut, kimchi, cukes...)
posted by momus_window at 9:33 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sauerkraut!!! Salsa. Any tomato-based sauce. Applesauce (which I’m now required to can in the fall and supply for people’s Hanukkah parties in the winter). Whipped cream for sure. Soup stock because you can tailor it to what you want and use up otherwise wasted veggies. Most salad dressings (there are exceptions). Pickles that aren’t cucumbers or green beans. I’ll add, also: growing garlic is super easy if you have any kind of outdoor space, and it’s about a billion times better than store-bought garlic and a billion times cheaper than good farmers market garlic.
posted by centrifugal at 9:43 PM on December 17, 2019

These are a few of the recipes I use at home:

Properly fermented ketchup.

Yogurt (note: add a few tablespoons of powdered milk for thicker yogurt).


Mayo (just dump it all in a mason jar and blend w/ a stick blender).

Liqueurs and infused liqueur.

Most fermented and pickled items, including kimchi, require more patience than skill, and the payoff is incredible.
posted by asnowballschance at 11:42 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Caramel sauce. It's just sugar in a pan but omfg is it good fresh. Again, makes store bought taste like wax.
posted by benzenedream at 2:01 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Guacamole. It's fun to try different ingredients!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:35 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Salsa, even if the tomatoes are canned.
posted by theora55 at 5:06 AM on December 18, 2019

Liqueurs and infused liqueur.

On this line, I was astonished how easy it was to take some fruit, spice and a tea bag and turn bottom shelf spirits into delicious stuff.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 5:45 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Barbecue sauce should be made, not bought, and there are so many different sauces from so many traditions, it’s a delicious rabbit hole to dive into.

As for things that are better homemade, unless you’re getting it from a proper place, bacon. Making your own bacon is awesome. So many different spices and variables to play with and match with the smoke wood that grabs your fancy. From there it’s a slippery slope to making your own smoked salmon and so much else.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:54 AM on December 18, 2019

In re the “Buy/Make” book, it is a marvelous treasure. I made homemade cream cheese several times and it is wonderful. Beyond great. Not a lot of trouble but not dirt simple, so I didn’t mention it earlier. You need rennet to start with, which isn’t available at my grocer (note: there are vegetable rennets, so you can go sheep-stomach-free if you like).

About vanilla extract, I bought two kilos of vanilla beans back when they were cheap and made extract using rum in one batch and vodka in the other. Got around a quart. It was also wonderful and the kitchen and house smelled amazing for months. So the article by Big Vanilla is wrong in at least one instance. I’m sure it is not the best vanilla ever, but I like it.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:27 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Toum, when you can get fresh garlic.
Jams and jellies. Actually specially jellies. I have two big quinces in my bag right now, and I'm going to make a pretty clear jelly with a bit of chili flakes in it. You can eat it with a strong cheese, but also with venison or other sorts of game, and lamb. Or put it in the sauce for a sweet touch. I've made membrillo, but no one in my family likes it, so it's a lot of trouble for little gain here. On the other hand, I am not personally a big jam eater, but during berry season, my jars are emptied so fast I can barely keep up. Same with the cordials.
All the pickles, too. I don't even use special recipes, I don't know what the industry does wrong, though I do know that for cucumbers and onions, a light, fast pickle is better than a long one. Make it in the morning for use in the evening.
Gelato and ice parfait.
Bread, though it took me years of practice to get to a point where it was at the level of a good baker's bread. Still far better than supermarket bread, healthier and cheaper.

I rarely make homemade pasta, because a lot of the pasta dishes I like are better with dried pasta. For lasagna we have a really good brand of fresh lasagna in a local store. IMO, its the only good packaged fresh pasta, so if I want to cook fresh pasta and don't want to do all the rolling, I buy the good lasagna sheets and cut them up.
posted by mumimor at 6:58 AM on December 18, 2019

Homemade mayo is so good, we made it so much when I was a kid that my father wrote the recipe on the wall above the blender. It was a cool thing for him to do, I loved that he did that in a rule breaking kind of way.
posted by chocolatetiara at 11:03 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks all, you're all amazing!! I definitely have tons of new project ideas now. I agree that baked goods are almost always better at home (I haven't really tackled the flaky French pastries, though). Also surprised that people buy whipped cream canisters; I thought those were only for bachelorette parties? I think the most unexpected was the multiple BBQ sauce suggestions - I'm not crazy about BBQ sauce but maybe I will be after I make my own!

If anyone's interested, here are some of my notable worth/sometimes worth/not worth items.

Kimchi (my dad makes it for me, but I'm counting it)
Beef jerky
Nut butters

Sometimes worth:
Bacon (absolutely amazing but such a pain)
Chinese chili oil (not sure how much better this is but it's good and fun)
Ricotta (hard to find fresh stuff around me)
Infused liquors (made Sichuan peppercorn vodka; weird but good)
Ice cream (good but machine is too big for apartment)

Not worth:
Marshmallows (weird, annoying)
Tofu (SO hard, I spilled blended soy bean all over myself, and definitely not better)
Sourdough starter (I guess I had a bad tasting microbiome in my apartment)
Ginger ale (weird)
Makgeolli (weird and required too much stuff; maybe one day I'll try again)

TBD (haven't made yet but will!)
Hot sauce (in progress)
Microgreens (in progress)
Soda syrup
Cream cheese (I had some 'homemade' cream cheese at a B&B and it was so good, I gotta try it)
Honey mustard
Red wine vinegar (also other vinegars)
Hot pockets
Compound butter
Hummus (tried once but I think I just messed it up; will try again)
Mozzarella, and maybe other cheeses one day
Chili powder
BBQ sauce
posted by catcafe at 12:05 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

One one of the latest episodes of Good Eats (yay! It's back) Alton made sour cream. Working from memory, it was just cream and a little bit of buttermilk that sits around a day or so.
posted by kathrynm at 7:33 PM on December 18, 2019

To add to the tomato craze, tomato paste and over-dried tomatoes. You'll never go back.

Nth the recommendation for cooking your own dried beans and making your own soup and soup stock. In addition to everything everyone has said, the sodium content is significantly lower and it is so much tastier.
posted by dancing_angel at 11:01 PM on December 18, 2019

Yorkshire puddings are wayyy better homemade (compared to frozen ones you reheat in the oven). There's a trick to making them but they're not hard once you know the technique.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:02 AM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I noticed your list of "meh" items included ginger ale. One thing I forgot was ginger beer. This is nothing like ginger ale and is probably best described as "burning ginger fizzwater." It is not something that you would drink by itself, but it is terrific in cocktails, e.g., a dark and stormy (which is actually better with Cruzan Black Strap) or gin gin mule. In fact, do cocktails count? There are a bunch of cocktails that are both simple and great and cost nearly nothing if you make them at home.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 4:41 PM on December 19, 2019

Fermented beverages are great to make yourself. As exogenous mentioned, the lagered beers are much harder to make at home. An advantage of homebrew is that you can afford to be more adventurous than commercial breweries. If a commercial brewery tries something unusual, that can be a huge financial risk. If you try something unusual, at worst you're out the ingredient cost (typically $20-40 for a 5G batch) and a little bit of time. So, get weird! I've experimented with sour and wild fermentation, and made some beers that I really enjoyed.

Similarly, making mead at home is great. Homebrew mead can be much cheaper than commercial mead (mostly because of the aging involved). I made a mead with some cranberry juice and local peaches, and it came out quite good!

For any kind of homebrewing, high-quality beverage is in reach without spending a lot. The quality of your finished product is mostly dependent on how good your process and recipes are.

Also, black bean burgers. Specifically, I follow this Serious Eats recipe. I've stopped getting black bean burgers when at restaurants, because I'm invariably disappointed. I am not a vegetarian, I like these because they're flavorful.
posted by Adamsmasher at 11:04 AM on December 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you do get into making cheese, make sure you also make ricotta. It's basically a free bonus you can make with leftover whey and some vinegar. I don't even really like bought ricotta, but the fresh homemade stuff is awesome.
posted by pompomtom at 11:37 PM on December 21, 2019

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