Okay, it's true: even the highest quality instant coffee is never going to replace really good fresh beans (and properly cleaning your coffee maker) when it comes to creating a great cup of joe. However, instant coffee does have all kinds of uses in the kitchen, as the smart folks over at Reddit observed.
Keep reading and you'll be tempted to break into your survival MREs, snatch up spare packets of the stuff from your office break room, or even lay in a supply during your next grocery store visit.
DIY Kahlua isn't hard to make. The main ingredients are vodka, vanilla, and sugar. Most recipes tell you to make it with instant coffee. Why?
Well, as Lexy Levin writes, most brewed coffee doesn't have enough flavor to stand up to the other ingredients. Plus, it would take a lot of espresso to get the flavor right, which would mess with the recipe proportions. For the purposes of most home cooks, instant coffee is the way to get the most flavorful coffee liqueur. Plus, it's easy, cheap, and fast (that's what she said).
Almost every mocha frosting or mocha-flavored cake I've made has called for instant coffee, pretty much for the same reason that DIY Kahlua recipes call for it: flavor and proportion. Instant coffee crystals give the immediate aroma and taste of coffee for a lot less effort.
Heck, even the Barefoot Contessa uses instant coffee for her mocha frosting, and she's practically aristocracy, right?
A little bit of coffee in a baked good famously makes chocolate taste, well, chocolatier (sorry, I know that's not really a word). No one really knows why. The Kitchn speculates it's because the two ingredients have very similar flavor profiles while the coffee brings out the darker, richer notes in the chocolate. Baking Bites concurs.
I've used this trick many a time, but instead of making a little bit of espresso, I just use instant coffee or, if I'm feeling really money, baby, instant espresso powder. That way I don't have to worry about dumping in two ounces of coffee and subtracting other liquids so my cake batter doesn't come out runny.
Redeye gravy is a Southern classic that shouldn't taste good, but it does. In fact, it tastes terrific, and the two main ingredients are horrifying at first glance: meat drippings and black coffee. The culinary history of the dish is fun: according to legend, the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, is responsible for its invention, although that story is most likely apocryphal.
Momofuku chef David Chang makes a variation on this classic called redeye mayonnaise and he uses instant coffee. If it's good enough for a guy whose restaurant has gotten two Michelin stars, it's good enough for me.
You guessed it... instant coffee, pretty much exclusively. When my friends and I went backpacking across Europe, we fell in love with these sweet and delicious coffee drinks you could get all over the Greek isles. They were rich, creamy, and sweet, but with just enough of that coffee bite to wake you up.
I was convinced there was some sort of special process to making the drink, but when I peeked in the kitchen at one hostel, all I saw were giant canisters of instant coffee and evaporated milk. Well, shut my mouth.
I'm a big fan of using spice rubs and brines on any kind of protein, but many cooks swear by instant coffee as the secret ingredient in any kind of dry rub.
Serious Eats describes coffee as adding a complex, unique flavor to steak that can't be reproduced by any other ingredient. The Savory describes the robust richness and acidity of coffee as key components in calling out the best in beef. Get a great recipe for a spice rub with instant coffee from the Food Network.