The Unexpected Ingredient You Should Be Adding To Your Thanksgiving Gravy

Ah, gravy — it's arguably one of the most underrated, yet most important, things on any Thanksgiving table. The roast turkey, the stuffing, and the mashed potatoes are all good on their own, sure, but if you really want to take your meal to the next level, you need a decent gravy. Whether you're someone who uses a light-handed splash on your potatoes or who drowns everything on your plate in a sea of liquid deliciousness, turkey gravy is an integral part of Thanksgiving dinner.

While you can buy it pre-made in a jar, you can also easily whip up homemade gravy, whether you make it from scratch or with a pouch of powdered mix. Most gravy recipes require similar ingredients, like turkey drippings or stock for flavor and all-purpose flour for thickening. However, there's recently been a new trend in gravy-making. According to Delish, a lot of people are adding a special ingredient to their gravy that you likely would never have thought to use — one that's more familiar as an common accompaniment to fried rice, dumplings, and stir fries. This special ingredient really is more versatile than you realize, and one you should consider trying if you're making gravy for Thanksgiving this year.

Try adding soy sauce to your gravy

The secret ingredient that could take your gravy to the next level is something you probably already have in your pantry (especially if you're a fan of Chinese takeout). Delish reports that people are mixing soy sauce into their holiday gravy. While the idea of soy sauce in a gravy destined for roast turkey may seem odd, it actually improves your gravy in an unexpected way. Epicurious shares that soy sauce is made by fermenting soybeans with water, wheat, and salt, a process that gives it a dark color and distinctive, complex flavor. So why add it to gravy? Soy sauce is a potent source of umami, which means "pleasant savory taste" in Japanese, and a boost of umami adds heartiness to dishes (via MasterClass). 

Adding a splash of soy sauce is also a great tip for those making a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving meal this year. Because soy sauce is made without animal products, it's an especially ingenious way to improve the flavor of vegetarian gravy, giving it a certain meaty and hearty taste that it might otherwise lack. 

How to make gravy using soy sauce

So how much soy sauce you should add to your gravy recipe? It turns out you don't need much. According to Southern Living, start with just a tablespoon. After adding the ingredient, taste the gravy and, if you'd like more, mix it in a little at a time. Delish shares that the goal is not to add so much that your gravy tastes like soy sauce, but to add just enough to enhance your gravy, giving it a greater "depth of flavor."

J. Kenji López-Alt shares on Serious Eats that for his gravy, he uses soy sauce earlier in the process: While making stock. First, turkey trimmings and giblets are combined with vegetables, herbs, and store-bought or homemade chicken broth. López-Alt adds only a teaspoon of soy sauce to the pot, then simmers the ingredients for over an hour to make a "fortified stock." This stock is then whisked into melted butter and a little flour to make a thick and flavorful gravy. 

More ways to boost the umami in your gravy

If you don't have any soy sauce in your pantry, the good news is there are other ways to give your gravy more savory, umami flavor. According to Delish, one product you can substitute is bottled Worcestershire sauce, which is also known for its strong and salty flavor. Vinegar-based Worcestershire sauce is made with molasses and tamarind, which give it sweetness and a distinct flavor. Because it's also made with anchovies, it can't be used for vegetarian or vegan gravies. 

J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats says that Marmite is another "umami bomb" that will boost gravy flavor. Marmite, and it's Australian cousin Vegemite, are brown pastes made from brewer's yeast, a byproduct of beer making. Marmite is salty with a strong smell and funky flavor. López-Alt uses just a ¼ teaspoon of the paste along with soy sauce in his gravy. 

One more way to add umami to your gravy — whether vegetarian or meat-based — is with mushrooms. MasterClass says that using mushrooms like shitake and Portobello in your cooking is a good way to add umami flavor. The Vegan Mushroom Gravy recipe from The New York Times combines Portobello mushrooms and soy sauce to create a gravy with a rich, brown color and loads of savory flavor. Try adding soy sauce or one of these other "umami bombs" to your gravy this holiday!