The Unusual Ingredient You Should Add To Your Meatballs

There is no shortage of meatball hacks. The internet abounds with many meatball recipes for pasta and a wide array of ingredients sworn to revolutionize this rather humble comfort food.

To better understand the culinary world's aspirations, we attempted to examine the meatball's history but found more questions than answers. Thanks to a surviving cookbook of Apicius (an elite Roman foodie), we can tell that it already existed in Roman times, according to Historical Italian Cooking. Despite this early account of the hand-rolled meat morsel, others believe that the meatball hailed from Persia, given the similarity to the technique used to make the kofta (via The Atlantic). But, per Serious Eats, there are also Turkish, Dutch, and Swedish variants, among other delicacies around the world, bearing a resemblance to the meatball, in addition to the American and Italian versions.

For simplicity's sake, we resign ourselves to the version introduced to America by early Italian immigrants when they arrived post-1880, as stated by Auguste Escoffier's School of Culinary Arts, and assign it the standard American-Italian meatball recipe.

The meatball hack

Today's classic meatball recipe contains egg and bread crumbs for binding, a mixture of regular ground beef and pork (which determines the flavor), salt, pepper (and other seasonings), onion, and sometimes cheese and milk, via Martha Stewart. Further additions to this recipe are likely the result of experimentation.

For instance, American Chef and writer Mario Batali claimed in the Chicago Tribune that "the true secret is day-old bread, soaked in milk or water, to bring lightness to the mixture," while, at Food52, WinnieAb endorsed the use of miso (the Japanese fermented paste) to amplify the flavor.

We found one truly unique ingredient in food writer Hannah Loewentheil's Tasty recipe. She uses standard meatball ingredients but adds unsweetened apple sauce to the mix, resulting in lighter and juicier meatballs with hints of sweetness – an improvement on the original recipe. She is far from the only person to advocate for this unexpected add-on, with Jennifer from Plowing Through Life stating, "Applesauce meatballs are the best meatballs I've ever eaten!"