It's often dismissed as the poor cousin to sophisticated cafe brews, so we’re here to champion instant coffee as the kitchen ingredient you never knew you needed. And these days, when it's not as easy to travel to our local cafe for a caffeine fix, you might have to reach into the pantry instead. Good for so much more than drinking, instant coffee is perfect for adding to recipes when you want that coffee flavour without the extra liquid you would get with a shot of espresso.
Here are 10 delicious ideas to rediscover instant coffee in your cooking and baking, plus CHOICE has tested 14 supermarket instant coffees to let you know which one tastes the best.
1. Even better bolognese
Everyone has a secret ingredient that makes their bolognese 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 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 spoonful 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 is 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.
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. Want to know how much caffeine is in instant coffee? Find out here.
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.