The Canned Ingredient That Will Change Your Mac And Cheese Forever

Sometimes the most delicious dishes are the ones with the simplest ingredients. Take macaroni and cheese for example. Whether from scratch or from the box, it consists of only two main components which are right there in the name — macaroni and cheese. People will often upgrade the dish by mixing in different types of cheeses, and there's always the option of turning it into a casserole and topping it with a layer of crunch, but most versions of mac and cheese don't differ all that much from the classic.

If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, however, there's one ingredient that is bound to transform your go-to recipe for the better — and you may already have it in your pantry. 

Tomato soup adds a familiar flavor to your mac and cheese

Next time you whip up a batch of mac and cheese, try adding condensed tomato soup. According to chef and Food Network personality Dan Langan, he's been eating mac and cheese prepared this way since his childhood. Though unconventional, we think the flavor speaks for itself (think the gooiest, cheesiest grilled cheese dipped in tomato soup, and you're more than halfway there).

To incorporate condensed tomato soup into your recipe, simply prepare a roux, then pour in a 10.75-ounce can. Give the mixture a good whisk, and bring it to a simmer before adding in your choice of cheese and stirring in your cooked pasta.

Why does canned tomato soup work in mac and cheese?

There's no denying that mac and cheese is tasty on its own, but the reason tomato soup is a great addition to the dish all comes down to food science. According to Food52, tomatoes and dairy are essentially the yin and yang of the cooking world. Tomatoes are acidic and sweet, while dairy is fatty and salty. Therefore when you combine tomatoes and cheese, you get a unique balance of flavor and umami that just isn't possible with any other two ingredients.

As Samin Nosrat, cookbook author of "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat," explained to Food52, tomatoes and dairy create the ideal amount of contrast in a dish, ultimately making it taste more complete. The reason grilled cheese and tomato soup goes so well together is the same reason it works well in mac and cheese. So next time you make mac and cheese and feel like it's missing a little something, try adding a can of tomato soup.