Skip to content   Skip to footer navigation 

This pantry staple is good for so much more than drinking

Instant coffee is a magic ingredient you can put to work in the kitchen. 

Last updated: 12 October 2023

It's often dismissed as the poor cousin to sophisticated cafe brews, but with six instant coffees in our recent expert testing scoring the same, or better than, coffee from an espresso machine, it seems instant coffee has come a long way. 

And if the rising cost of living means you've opted to forgo your daily cafe coffee in favour of making a brew at home, perhaps stocking up on this humble pantry staple isn't the worst idea. 

Not only did our expert coffee taste testers say that our top-scorer Bushell's Classic Gourmet Instant Coffee tastes better than an espresso made from fresh beans, it costs just $8.50 for a 200g tin.

And once you've made your cuppa, instant coffee is good for so much more than just drinking. It's a great-value, versatile ingredient that can add a flavourful hit in your cooking and baking, particularly when you want that coffee flavour without the extra liquid you would get with a shot of espresso.

Here are 10 delicious ideas to help you get more our of your jar of instant coffee.

1. Even better bolognaise

Everyone has a secret ingredient that makes their bolognaise "the best". Italian cuisine purists, look away – we're here to tell you, a teaspoon of instant coffee in your tomato sauce, added while it's bubbling away, could well be the secret flavour boost you're looking for. It can add an intense richness that counteracts the sweetness of the tomatoes.

2. Amp up your chilli

In the same way that it can boost your spag bol, a spoonful of instant coffee will take the unctuous meaty mix that is a good pot of chilli to the next level. It works beautifully with the winning combo of spices, beef and beans, helping to tenderise the meat and add a delicious deep, roasted flavour.

Use a finely ground instant powder and add sugar and salt to balance it out (don't go too heavy on the coffee as it could create too much bitterness).


Add a flavour boost to your spag bol sauce with a teaspoon of instant coffee.

3. Next-level cookie batter

Get your morning caffeine hit in cookie form, by adding a dash of instant coffee to a batch of plain batter (you can't use espresso here as it would be too much liquid). Get baking and enjoy the comforting aroma of roasted coffee wafting through your kitchen.

4. Coffee cakes, buttercream and icing 

Using instant coffee to flavour your cakes means you don't need to add extra liquid to your ingredients, and it gives a more intense result.

As you're using a powder/granules and not liquid it's easier to add more if you'd like to up the coffee taste even further.

You can also use it to make coffee buttercream and icings – you may like to dissolve the instant coffee in a tablespoon of hot water before adding to icing though, so you don't get specks of coarse granules. 

5. Savoury rubs for steaks

Turns out coffee and meat really are fabulous together, with instant coffee a surprise ingredient in savoury rubs for steaks or roasts.

Try making your own with a mix of instant coffee, smoked paprika, brown sugar and dried spices. When deciding how much coffee to add, start small with a ratio of one part coffee to two parts sugar and spices, then adjust to taste (keep in mind the coffee flavour will become more intense while the meat cooks). 

6. Sprinkle it over ice cream

Were you one of those kids who sprinkled Milo over their vanilla ice cream for an instant DIY dessert? Try the grown-up version with a dusting of instant coffee (maybe with a bit of chocolate sauce for a mocha effect). 


Add a dusting of instant coffee to your iced drinks or affogatos.

7. Milkshakes and smoothies

Whipping up a banana smoothie before you head out the door and looking for a little extra buzz to get you through the day? If you don't have time to extract a shot of espresso, a spoonful of instant coffee will do just as well. Pop it in along with your banana, yoghurt, milk and honey.

Read more to find out how much caffeine is in your instant coffee.

8. Magic mocha brownies

Surely you can't improve on the glorious gift that is a chocolate brownie? Instant coffee says you can. Add a spoonful, dissolved into your wet brownie mixture, to create some mocha magic and take your addiction to dramatic new heights.

9. Coffee crumble

A sweet coffee crumble is an irresistible topping for cakes, muffins, banana breads, pastries and desserts, and is easy to make in a food processor. Just blitz 125g unsalted butter with 1 cup flour and ½ cup sugar, then add 2 tablespoons of instant coffee and blend until coarse and crumbly.

Spread on an oven tray and bake at 180℃ for 20-30 minutes, then break up to sprinkle over your treats.

10. On your body

Step outside the kitchen and experiment by using instant coffee as an ingredient in DIY beauty products, like a body scrub. Coffee is celebrated for its antioxidant properties, after all, and the instant coffees with coarse granules create a great exfoliant that can help promote circulation.

Mix a few spoonfuls with sugar and coconut oil, or olive oil, to find a consistency that suits you and your skin.

Convinced? Find out which instant coffee CHOICE says is the best.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.