Looking for ways to spice up your meals? Want your in-laws to be impressed with your cooking whenever they visit for the holidays? Well, you can cook with a secret ingredient — tea! Whoops, did I say that too loud? Make any dish you serve a party for the mouth. There is such a wide variety of scrumptious recipes with tea as an ingredient, from cookies to smoothies and even chicken noodle soup.

Whether it’s oolong, Earl Grey, matcha, Darjeeling, hibiscus, chamomile, or jasmine tea, advanced and amateur cooks can all use tea to cook with. You will want to choose the tea specifically to format the taste you want your meal to have. You can use tea as a brew or as sprinkled leaves. Tea leaves are sold in grocery and specialty stores ranging in price depending on quality.

Cooking with tea started in Ancient China. The Chinese used to fill fish with dry oolong tea leaves by stuffing them into the mouth of the fish. They would then proceed to steam and eat the fish. Tea-smoked duck is a Chinese classic and tea-leaf eggs are a Chinese New Year special. Hard boiled eggs are soaked for an hour in green or black tea while keeping the tea brew hot. A few minutes prior to taking the eggs out of the pot their shells are cracked slightly, allowing the egg to have a brownish, marbled appearance.

In recent years, cooking with tea has made its way from China to the western parts of the world. Currently, some of the world’s most famous chefs use tea in their recipes. Martha Stewart has a popular Earl Grey Tea Cookie recipe. In her Green Tea Poached Chicken with Green Tea Rice recipe, “brown rice soaks up the green tea, giving it a delicate, earthy taste.” Her Green Tea Poached Salmon seems like a delectable dish for the family. Stewart’s Pacific Halibut in Green Tea Broth combines a cup of brewed green tea with peanut oil, soy sauce, and honey, creating a unique and sharp taste on your tongue. Her Green Tea Ice-cream will look appealing to your children and have them begging for more. Using tea relieves you of the guilt of unhealthy eating.

Daniel Patterson, renowned chef and owner of Coi, the Michelin two-starred restaurant in San Francisco, had his famous Jasmine Tea Rice recipe featured in the New York Times. He’s added ground chamomile tea to almond cake and used finely ground oolong tea leaves to transform scallops in citrus sauce. Yes, tea has found itself a place in many of his recipes at Coi. In Bon Appétit magazine, Patterson tells home cooks to “think of it as a spice,” much like you would cumin or thyme.

In an article he wrote for the New York Times, Patterson elaborates on his use of tea as a way to elevate the usual. “Tea has a way of making the most mundane dishes feel exotic and new — for example, chicken soup infused with green tea.” The seasoned chef admits, “No tea can save a badly made stock, but it will make a good one better, adding a nutty dimension.”

Pierre Hermé, a world-famous pâtissier, is yet another chef who incorporates tea in his creations. Hermé, famed macaron maker, is known for his unique combination of flavors. He uses the green-colored matcha tea in his matcha and chestnut and matcha and black sesame macarons. Hermé also makes a beautiful jasmine tea macaron. According to Bon Appétit magazine, “Matcha prices range from $5 per ounce to a whopping $100 per ounce. For drinking, look for premium grade. For cooking, buy the less-expensive culinary grade.”

It’s important to use precise amounts of tea so as not to give the food a bitter taste. To receive the best taste from your tea, use loose tea. Tea coming from bags is usually the less appetizing parts of the leaf. Loose tea also provides healthy antioxidants that tea from bags lack. Regular tea bags will give off a decent amount of flavor but loose leaves pack in more due to size. Their scent is hypnotizing, too.

In addition to the unique taste, dishes made with tea can be healthier. As mentioned earlier, tea leaves supply the body with antioxidants when consumed. Antioxidants are nutrients that counter diseases like cancer and heart disease. The tea leaves also provide your body with plant polyphenols that fight against pathogens trying to harm your body.

Any recipes that require water can have tea as a substitute. For example, when you are making cake out of the box and the instructions call for one cup of water, you can use one cup of tea instead. You will want to use fresh brewed tea, of course. If you have a recipe that you enjoy making, give it a twist with tea. You’ll have your own unique and delectable way of cooking. Your secret ingredient will be tea. Shhh!

Yousuf Khan is a budding chef and in his spare time experiments with spices in his family’s pantry.


IFANCA® has certified a number of tea products, including teas made by Isagenix, POM Wonderful, and Third Street Chai; syrups made by Monin, Inc.; nutritional supplements made by 4Life Research, Herbalife, Nutrilite, and Unicity International; cosmetics made by Baqi Inc. (Amara); flavors made by Arnet Pharmaceutical; dairy products made by Baskin Robbins and Nestlé Pakistan; and personal care products made by Melaleuca, Inc. and Sunrider International. I guess tea truly is a ‘secret ingredient’! Please note not all of these products are available in every market. Check the website for regional availability. [IFANCA]