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Insubstantial Ingredients

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...And how am I supposed to get most of these ingredients?
Monk: This is terrible.
Jack: Really?
Monk: Yes. Yes, quite terrible. This tea has all the necessary ingredients, but it lacks the most important one. ...Balance.

When someone describes the constitution of an item as including things which are not actually things. Not just fictional things, like "hen teeth,"note  but abstract concepts like "exuberance" or intangible ones like "the sound of a cat's footsteps". Expect these items to be kept in jars or bottles and take the form of liquids or luminous gases.

As Applied Phlebotinum, they serve to highlight the magical skill of the one who utilizes them (face it, you have to be pretty badass to be able to capture a bear's fury in a jug, not to mention use it as alloy when forging a blade), and the inherent power and uniqueness of the end result. It also makes the recipe much harder for the viewer or reader to attempt to recreate (And Some Other Stuff serves the same purpose, without naming the items).

Insubstantial ingredients are usually standard payment in deals with otherworldly creatures, usually the less demonic but equally devious kind who have no need for your soul. If you're looking to buy the first laugh of a child, your best bet is a Bazaar of the Bizarre, though they most probably won't take cash, so be ready to trade one day's worth of luck for it. Or just go to Neverland and start raiding fairies (Made from REAL baby first laughs!) right out of Pixie Hollow.

It also may be the secret ingredient in Grandma's Recipe: maybe "love" or "kindness" or "happy thoughts." Occasionally, an entire culture will subsist off of these ingredients in a particularly exaggerated Weird World, Weird Food scenario.

Be especially careful with anything Made of Evil.

A subtrope of Eye of Newt. Compare Intangible Price, Intangible Theft, and Abstract Eater. See also Made from Real Girl Scouts. Contrast Secret Ingredient, where the ingredient is tangible enough, but the cook refuses to tell what it is.

Note that this relates only to the actual not-things going into the mix. Physical items with impossible flavors Taste Like Feet or Taste Like Purple.


    open/close all folders 
  • Subverted for laughs in an ad for mayonnaise. A girl asks her grandma why her food tastes so good, and Grandma replies that she makes it with love. Then a narrator cuts in and reveals that it's really the mayonnaise.
  • A 2017 sign advertising Starbucks' pumpkin spice latte stated that it's "sprinkled with autumn love."
  • When the Shaw Delivery Bots play a game of "I Spy", Bit spots something that's invisible, all around, and included with every Shaw high-speed internet package. Bud guesses it's Shaw Go WiFi, but the answer turns out to be love.
  • A 2023 sign advertising Starbucks' fruit lemonades stated that they're "shaken with sunshine".

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • One theory of the mystery ingredient in the alloy that makes up Captain America's shield is that it's American righteousness (as opposed to self-righteousness), and because it's an ideal that Cap truly stands for, nothing can break it. Of course, since there's No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup (the guy making the shield fell asleep while creating it and can't remember the process), it'll remain a mystery.
  • Shown in one issue of Green Lantern: when Ganthet personally forges his own Green Lantern Ring, massive amounts of willpower must be channeled in the process of creation.
    • It could be said that in one way or another, every Lantern Corps ring is made out of their respective emotion.
  • The ritual used to bind Morpheus in The Sandman (1989) has a lot of these, such as "I give you a song that I stole from the earth" or "I give you a name, and the name is lost."
  • In The Smurfs book "The Smurfette", the eponymous character was originally a clay statue that was given life by being dipped in a formula made from a pinch of coquetry, a good layer of bias, three crocodile tears, a lizard brain, viper tongue powder, one carat of sympathy, a handful of wrath, one finger of lies, a thimble of gluttony, a pint of bad faith, a pinch of inconscience, a bit of sentimentality, a measure of silliness and a measure of cunning, much ingenuity and stubbornness, and a candle that has burned at both ends. The panel listing the recipe has a footnote apologizing for the recipe's creator's attitude towards women.
  • Loki (at least one of them) put the meta in metal when creating Gram the Sword of Truth. The whole process was a ludicrously complex Batman Gambit, but the main ingredients were apparently a death curse, greed, revenge, story logic and the metaphysical weight of legends.
    • Back when they were just Kid Loki in Journey Into Mystery, Nightmare forges a crown of fear with similar processes. He takes Kid Loki's lingering Serpent-induced fear of all of his crimes, tempers it with the burning passion of separated lovers, hammers it with the iron will of a father who refused to talk to his daughter even on his death bed, and cooled it in the utter apathy of an internet commentator that always comments but only with a "meh".
  • Robin (1993) #168 mentions some of the seven parts needed to put together a map to the usually unmappable Nanda Parbat. These include a pendant, a scrap of parchment, a tattoo, a birthmark, and a speech impediment all held and passed down by families across the globe.
  • In Saga, the people of Wreath have a spell that allows them to escape bindings through the revelation of a secret. Either they or someone else has to tell a secret they haven't told anyone else. Marko and Alana use it to break out of jungle vines by having Alana reveal she's tasted her own breast milk. Marko's father uses it by revealing that he has a terminal illness.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • One of the ingredients for the Farmslayer cure in Carrot Top Season is a smile. Carrot Top has a recipe for brewing an artificial smile (which features ingredients like lollipops and puppy fur), but Granny Smith knows how to put a real smile into a potion, so the point's kind of moot.
  • Changeling nectar in RealityCheck's Nyxverse is made of sugar, water, and love, and is the way changelings store up love for later consumption.
    • And Twist has discovered how to infuse love into her candy, which allows changelings to use it as an alternate food source.

    Film — Animated 
  • Monsters, Inc.: The power source for the city of Monstropolis is "scream," harvested from terrified children by the titular utility company. "Scream" is stored in steel canisters as if it were compressed gas. It's later replaced by laughter, which has ten times as much energy.
  • Over the Moon: Chang'e says that Jade created the city of Lunaria from her "tears, heartbreak and sighs."
  • Shrek 2: The Fairy Godmother is seen brewing a love potion out of ingredients such as "a drop of desire," "a pinch of passion," and "just a hint of lust" (though she dumps in a large container of it).
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The queen's "peddler disguise" spell contains such ingredients as "black of night", an "old hag's cackle", and a "scream of fright". Interestingly, "mummy dust" is Truth in Television; ground-up mummified remains have been used as both medicine and paint pigments.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Alice in Wonderland (2010) has the White Queen putting two teaspoons of "wishful thinking" (pale pink and resembling cake frosting) into her potion.
  • Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me: Dr. Evil's plot involves stealing Austin's 'mojo' from his cryogenically frozen body. This takes the form of a liquid extracted with a syringe from Austin's crotch, which Dr. Evil has a sip of when it's delivered to him. When he does, he gains a taste of the incredible sexual abilities possessed by Powers when he had the 'mojo'.
  • Ghostbusters II has emotions like hate and anger coalesce into a pink slime that flows like a river underneath New York City. Our heroes later find out how to make slime with "good vibes".
  • Mean Girls: A theoretical example.
    I wish I could bake a cake made of rainbows and smiles, and we could eat it and be happy!
  • Street Fight: In this political documentary, a young girl is giddy with delight after mayoral candidate Cory Booker shakes her hand while walking around a Newark residential neighborhood. She says that if anyone doesn't believe her, they can smell her hands. When the nonplussed cameraman asks if Cory Booker has a smell, she says "He smells like the future."
  • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: The song "The Candy Man".
    Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it in dew
    Cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two?
    The candyman, the candyman can
    The candyman can cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good

  • A variation is found in in The Dresden Files. A lot of the potions have ingredients that are meant to invoke these sorts of things. Played straighter when Dresden folds sunshine into a handkerchief for later use, and played totally straight in that he has to be totally happy in order to collect that sunshine. A later book explains that he's been unable to pull it off since the love of his life was turned into a vampire and left him.
    • He also has a few others, like a jar full of mouse scampers for use as potion ingredients. In early books he says that potions need an ingredient for each of the five senses; as such, the hearing ingredient is usually appropriate music (energetic music for a vigor potion, boring elevator music for a stealth potion).
  • In the first The Elder Scrolls novel, The Infernal City, the lords of Umbriel eat souls, and can "taste" the states of life, death, and ethereat.
  • In Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, women discuss whether a box's color is lavender or blue, not knowing that it is, in fact, heartache. (The color is distilled from the tears of spinsters who must live virtuous lives without knowing a day's happiness — and its rarity is not through lack of tears but through skill to mix the color.)
    • And when Mr. Strange is pondering how to See the Invisible, he notices that The Fair Folk are visible to the insane, so he finds the maddest person he can, siphons the insanity from her, and makes a "tincture" from it that he drinks in small doses until he finds the right balance of madness to be able to both see his quarry and do something about it.
  • The Wine of the Gods in John Barnes's One for the Morning Glory. Includes such things as starlight and autumn.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novel Deus Sanguinius, the Mallafax's sword is made from dead men's bones and solid delusion.
    • Pretty common in Warhammer, actually. Chaos Sorcery tends to require both physical ingredients and insubstantial ones (such as certain emotions present in the area where the ritual is performed), and since Daemons are essentially mankind's hates, fears, etc. given form, it's not uncommon for them to carry swords forged out of pure hate and such.
  • In John C. Wright's Fugitives of Chaos, Grendel wants to bring Amelia to his mother to get her blessing — which, he tells Amelia, she keeps in a jar.
  • In Valiant, the troll alchemist Ravus keeps these for his potions. However, they are often found in seemingly mundane items. For example, 'A dying man's breath' can be found in the stub of a cigarette, and 'summer sunlight' can be found in dried grass.
  • Discworld:
    • Death has a scythe, naturally — but this one is made of pure sharpness. Makes sense, since the things it's designed to reap are pretty insubstantial themselves.
    • Also in Discworld, Quirmian (i.e. French) cuisine is characterised by containing "far too much avec"note .
    • An advertisement for Merkle and Stingbat's Very Famous Brown Sauce in The Compleat Ankh-Morpork City Guide claims that it's made from "100% Real Brown".
    • The Wintersmith's inability to understand the last three ingredients that make a man doom its attempt to become human as they are not physical substances.
      "Strength enough to build a home, Time enough to hold a child, Love enough to break a heart."
    • Deep-sea blowfish sushi (the Disc's counterpart to fugu) is an interesting one. The deep-sea blowfish is a real, material thing. It's also incredibly poisonous in multiple ways. A skilled blowfish chef creates sushi around the idea that there was a blowfish in the kitchen at one point, and then carefully drops the real thing in an incinerator. With tongs. And tries not to inhale.
  • In Pyramid Power, a novel by Eric Flint and Dave Freer, insubstantial things are typically used to bind things. For example, Loki is bound with iron chains that were transmuted from the intestines of his beloved son. It isn't that he's bound by iron chains that he is unable to escape, but the fact that he is bound by the link between father and son, which is contained within those chains. For him and his lover, the chains are unbreakable. For anyone unrelated to them, however, they're just strong iron chains that, with sufficient skill and knowledge, can be broken. More than once, gods are bluffed into believing that they have been immobilized, being told that they've been held in a spell reinforced with various insubstantial ingredients, the least immaterial being "the dust from an old king's tomb". Even Loki is occasionally impressed by this subterfuge, as the idea of making up stuff like that never really occurred to him.
  • In The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul, the god Thor expresses a need for various herbs for his injuries, as well as vengeance. The person who provides the herbs (in the form of various bath oils) doesn't have any vengeance to hand but offers him a bottle of a perfume named Obsession.
  • In Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie, Miss Franny tells the girls that the Littmus Lozenge's secret ingredient is sorrow. Nobody knows how that works since the formula was lost after the inventor died and the company that made them dissolved.
  • In Devon Monk's Dead Iron, played with. Alun Maddox talks of spoons made of moonlight — and Cedar says his gun is made with pain.
  • In Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, the ingredients of Wonka-Vite include "the hip (and the po and the pot) of a hippopotamus" and "the square root of a South American abacus" among a Long List of similar nonsense.
  • Another one from Stardust: the magical chains used on the fairy flower-seller and Yvaine are made of "the usual: cat's breath and moonlight and the glint off fishes' scales." A reference to the dwarf-forged chain of Norse Mythology (see below).
  • In Moonflowers, the cursed Ned Song finds out that his daughter Alima is going to be a victim of The Wild Hunt's upcoming Fairy Raid. After the patron of his immigrant father's town arrives to help him, he makes a deal to return to his human form and kill the Wild Hunt's leader before any of the victims die, in exchange for the color of his eyes. The Lady of Scales mentions that apart from slight risk of going blind, it's not a big deal for humans (their eyes mostly turn white, or cloud over as with cataracts)—but it IS a big deal for The Fair Folk, who view appearance changes as a huge sacrifice. Initially she suggests taking a year's memories or the color of his hair.
  • Kvothe's shaed cloak in The Kingkiller Chronicle is woven — or perhaps grown — from moonlight, shadows, and magic. About what you would expect when a thousand-year-old Fae demigoddess does your tailoring.
  • In the first book of the series Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard the heroes are tasked to renew the bindings of Fenrir. Similar to the original rope, the replacement is created from impossible ingredients: Wi-fi with no lag, A politician's sincerity, A printer that prints, Healthy deep-fried food, An interesting grammar lecture.
  • The Scholomance: Magic runs on Clap Your Hands If You Believe, so a wizard who's hopped up on the right drugs can spin "things like the flavor of freshly-picked strawberries and poems and golden-green" into household furnishings — at least, as long as they stay in a sufficiently magical place.
  • In Dealing with Dragons, Cimorene needs hens' teeth to complete a spell of protection against fire, which naturally proves quite hard to find. She eventually gets the ingredient from a genie's wish.
  • Discussed in The Witcher series, on one hand wizards intentionally overengineer their alchemical recipies like requiring albino tarantula venom when generic spider venom will do because they'd lose their prestige if everyone thought magic was simple, on the other hand sometimes you do need a specific ingredient even if its not for the reason you expect, in the second game Geralt is tasked with finding some royal blood and asks if its one of those overengineered recipies and finds out it isn't, the cure needs blood from a person with specific genetic traits that a member of some royal family long ago happened to have, and since royal families tend to intermarry each other they all have it by now.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dave Chappelle has described grape "drink" (not to be confused with grape juice) as consisting of "sugar, water, and, of course, purple."
    • Similarly, apple drink (not apple juice) is made of green.
  • In Dollhouse, while Adelle and Topher are doped up on memory drugs:
    Topher: You know what I like? Brown sauce. What's it made of? Science doesn't know!
    Adelle: It's made of brown.
    Topher: Brown. Mined from the earth by the hardscrabble brown miners of North Brownderton.
  • In one Everybody Loves Raymond episode, Marie teaches Debra how to make a certain type of food. Marie tells her that the most important ingredient is "love".
  • Just Shoot Me!, "Lemon Wacky Hello": the titular concoction's ingredients are listed as "cornstarch, citrus taste and hello." Nina concludes that 'hello' is probably a processed opioid.
  • Twin Peaks has garmonbozia (pain and suffering) take the shape of creamed corn.
  • Subverted in Two and a Half Men. After Charlie offends Berta and she quits, Alan takes over her duties. One of those is making coffee, and Charlie complains that Alan's coffee doesn't have the "Christmassy" taste of Berta's. Alan protests that all they did to make coffee was put water and powder in the coffee maker and turn it on, implying that Berta may have used an insubstantial ingredient. When Berta eventually returns, she reveals the ingredient was cinnamon.
  • On Peep Show, Super Hans throws Mark's laptop across the room.
    "Oh, what, just because it's a computer you think it's made of spider's webs and magic? It's just a metal box, Jez, they're indestructible."
  • In Mahou Sentai Magiranger, one of their many potions required, among other things, the honey of a queen bee that gathers no honey.
  • The celestial beings of The Good Place intake these sort of ingredients to highlight their otherworldliness. At one point a Bad Place employee is seen snorting the concept of time instead of cocaine, and the Judge likes to season burritos with envy.
    Judge: Really makes it pop.
  • Doctor Who features this in the episode The Doctor's Wife, when companions Amy and Rory have to get through a locked door with the password Crimson Eleven Delight Petrichor. Turns out it's a psychic password and they have to call a memory of each in sequence to unlock the door. Petrichor trips them up until they realize it's the chemical that gives soil its distinctive scent when it rains.

  • Bing Crosby's "Sunshine Cake" contains several such ingredients.
    Start with a tablespoon of trouble
    Then add a smile and let it bubble up
  • Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" refers to coffee as "a cup of ambition".
  • Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Cocktail".
    Couple of jiggers of moonlight and add a star,
    Pour in the blue of a June night and one guitar,
    Mix in a couple of dreamers and there you are:
    Lovers hail the Moonlight Cocktail.
  • The traditional song "All Around My Hat", popularised by Steeleye Span:
    Here's a quarter pound of reasons, and half a pound of sense,
    A small sprig of thymenote  and as much of prudence.
    You mix them all together and you will plainly see,
    He's a false deluding young man, let him go, farewell he.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • In Norse Mythology, insubstantial ingredients are often the main ingredients of powerful spells and objects, an oath being the most powerful.
    • The dwarves made an unbreakable rope with ingredients such as the sound of fish breath, cats' footsteps, and women's beards. Justified, because the myth also acts as a "Just So" Story for why those things don't exist. Alternatively, the rationale has been given that because the rope is made of things not of this world, nothing in this world can break it. Also, given typical depictions of dwarves in today's popular culture, dwarves treating women's beards as a rare or nonexistent ingredient is more than a bit Hilarious in Hindsight.
    • A more unusual example may well be the binding of Loki. Loki is bound to a stone with chains, transmuted from the intestines of Loki's murdered son (who had been killed for the sole purpose of using his guts to bind Loki). No chain would actually have bound Loki, but what is actually binding Loki is not the chains or the fact that they were made from the intestines of a god, but rather that the chains contain an insubstantial ingredient: the bond between father and son, something that not even a god can breaknote . However, Ragnarok is fated to occur due to a simple oversight on the part of the gods: The chains binding Loki are unbreakable, but the stone that Loki is bound to is an ordinary rock, so his endless struggling against the stone slowly grinds it to dust.
  • In Classical Mythology Tisiphone is described as brewing a potion/curse to induce insanity. Among the ingredients are both material things, like Cerberus' lip froth, Echidna's venom, tears, and fresh blood, and immaterial like hallucinations, "blindness of the brain", crime, and the lust for murder, all mixed in a bronze pan and brought to a boil while stirred with a green stick of hemlock.
  • In the tale of the Butterfly Lovers (Liang Shanbuo and Zhu Yingtai), the titular Yingtai fakes being ill, and then crossdresses as a doctor claiming to her family (who don't recognize her in disguise) what it would take to cure her would be a collection of such impossible ingredients.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Changeling: The Lost:
    • Hobgoblins in the Goblin Markets use such things as currency, trading your first kiss for a handful of broken dreams. In game terms, this sometimes explains spending experience points or a dot from the Point Build System on an item.
    • Hedgespun Item Crafting usually includes at least one insubstantial ingredient per item, so a changeling looking to enchant a dagger might have to work out a narratively appropriate way to imbue it with their spite or to forge a secret into the metal.
  • Intangibles are often used as ingredients for Artifacts in Exalted. For example, the Mantle of Brigid (an incredibly powerful sorcery-enhancer) was made from the moment of humanity's discovery of Sorcery.
  • Sometimes called for in magical item recipes in Dungeons & Dragons. Want something cheap, like a potion of water breathing? Some naturally pure water, a few strands of nixie hair, and you're done. Want an Infinity +1 Sword? Steel heated by burning ice, sear it with a widow's regret and a warlord's triumph, quench in a fanfare blown on a trumpet made of blood, inlay the nobility of evil harvested with the cruelty of good, and cool it with the dying breath of a true immortal. Good luck. (Older editions play this trope straighter than more recent ones in which — at least in terms of rules, not necessarily in the game world itself — creating magic items is mostly abstracted out into just throwing enough money, time, and possibly Experience Points at the problem.)
  • Most of the goods traded in the Mad City of Don't Rest Your Head are some form of memories or mental states or evocative sensations. Since the entire city runs on dream logic, they're usually bound into some object with a symbolic connection to them, in a general sense.
  • Alchemy in The Dark Eye is based on allegories. If the concepts are related, the effects will work in the same direction (as a side effect, players can be prevented from "inventing" gunpowder, as it simply will not work). A shrinking potion for example will require among other things dwarven beer and ant legs, while a wisdom elixir needs snake eyes and owl feathers. More powerful recipes will play out this trope harder. Having the first snowflake of winter and the skull of a former emperor at hand can be expected from a seasoned alchemist.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dark Eldar use tortured souls as currency (they use them to extend their lifespans and stave off the advances of Slaanesh on their own souls). A subspecies called Mandrakes goes even further by demanding things like the heartbeat of a virgin or the dying breath of an innocent as payment for their services. The Haemonculi follow this trope as well, known to offer their services for the price of one's ability to laugh.

    Theme Parks 
  • In the original version of Journey into Imagination at Epcot in Walt Disney World, the last ingredient that Dreamfinder uses to make Figment is a dash of childish delight.

    Video Games 
  • Implied in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker as the explanation for why Link's grandmother's soup is the best healing item in the game, and possibly the entire seriesWhat does it do?  When you think about it, it makes perfect sense for food made with love to fill up your hearts.
  • From Portal the intelligence sphere rambles on about the Cake recipe as follows. It starts with perfectly natural ingredients, then doesn't let you forget garnishes such as the insubstantial.
  • Subverted in a skit in Tales of Vesperia which has Yuri claiming Love is the secret ingredient to his cooking. Yuri's only saying it so as not to reveal the real secret to his cooking.
  • In MySims Kingdom, Chef Gino claims that the secret ingredient in his pizzas is fame, but actually believes it to be luck. What it actually is is debatable; nothing outside of flour, tomatoes, and milk is ever seen.
  • Umineko: When They Cry has the [Colour] Keys that become the main 'weapons' of both the protagonist and the antagonists from Episode 5 onwards. They are made of truths and theories.
  • Sigil in Planescape: Torment is full of many, many portals that only open for a specific key. Sometimes that key is an actual physical object, though it can just as easily be a key phrase, or even just a thought or an abstract idea. Since Sigil (and Planescape in general) is all about Clapping Your Hands If You Believe, it's not quite as ridiculous as it might seem.
  • Luxaren Allure: There's the Lucky Serum for Luck, which is "The bottled essence of a jester".
  • Tokyo Dark character Crow is upfront about the physical goods he'll accept in trade for something else. The metaphysical goods? Not so much. One girl gave him a photo of her deceased father, and weeks later realized she had forgotten her father's face entirely...but by then, it was too late. Crow does not accept refunds.
  • As a homage to the Norse Mythology examples, in God of War (PS4) there's a quest to collect three components for a legendary armor: A Dragon's Fury, the Screams of the Innocent, and an Ultimate Sacrifice. Luckily, another guy already found them (dying in the process; that was the Ultimate Sacrifice) so you don't have to go to the trouble. The sequel God of War Ragnarök continues the trend, with remarks that it's specifically Dwarven magic that can catch and use these. You even get a demonstration as you're riding an elevator through a windy canyon with Brok, looking to capture the Sound of the Wind to forge a spear: The place is so loud and gusty that everyone has to yell to be heard even while standing right next to each other... and then Brok gets a leather bag out, somehow swipes the Sound into it right in front of you, and suddenly the entire canyon is so quiet you can hear the elevator's creaks.
  • Some of the crafting ingredients in Control are fairly ordinary (corrupted mold samples, for instance), but others are stranger, including memories, patterns, and potential.
  • Cultist Simulator has Influences; memories, thoughts, or emotions that carry mystical power. Influences last only a short time but can be used in Ritual Magic. You might visit the Stag Door of the Mansus and come away with a memory of the gatekeeper's burning tears, which you then use to summon a Forge-spirit.


    Western Animation 
  • In the Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom, Nanny Plum cooks a dish that requires very substantial ingredients such as cheese and vegetables but she only serves the steam to King and Queen Marigold.
  • Futurama:
    • "Mom's Robot Oil: Made with 10% More Love than the Next Leading Brand". In this case, "Love" is also a registered trademark.
    • Played with in "The 30% Iron Chef", where Lethal Chef Bender is given a vial of "the essence of pure flavor", which makes any dish he adds it to delicious. At the end of the episode, the Professor analyzes the vial and reacts with astonishment that it contains nothing but water, leading Fry to conclude that the vial was a Magic Feather and that all Bender needed to be a good cook was to believe in himself. The Professor then finishes his earlier sentence: the vial contains nothing but water...laced with LSD.
  • The Penguins of Madagascar, "Misfortune Cookie":
    Julien: That is a misfortune cookie. It's just like a regular fortune cookie, only it's full of hate, and bile, and sugar, and evil!
    Private: That doesn't sound very good, except for the sugar part.
    Julien: You need the sugar. Otherwise, the bile will overwhelm the flavor.
  • According to the opening titles, the titular heroes of The Powerpuff Girls were made with sugar, spice, and "everything nice" (which if we go by what's on-screen apparently includes rabbits, unicorns, and cartoon hearts (could be toys and candies, who knows?)) before Chemical X was accidentally added.
    • In Craig McCracken's original version of the cartoon (prior to retooling it for Cartoon Network), it was "a can of Whoop-Ass!" that was accidentally added.
    • The episode "West in Pieces" is set in the Old West counterpart of Townsville, where the Professor creates the Steamypuff Girls using sassafras, arsenic, and "everything old-fashioned" (which includes items such as a pocket watch, a spool of thread, and a dead rat). The accidental addition of coal triggers the reaction.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Homer offers Lisa a donut. She refuses, and asks if he has any fruit:
    • When Moe starts selling 'Flaming Moe's', his competitors try to uncover the recipe. Cut to Prof. Frink in front of a device.
      "Brace yourselves, gentlemen. According to the gas chromatograph, the secret ingredient is... Love!? Who's been screwing with this thing?"
    • A Springfield Elementary cafeteria worker once mentions that their gravy is just made up of "brown and water".
    • Also when Skinner's mom directed some award ceremony in a Navel-Deep Neckline outfit (the very one worn by Jennifer Lopez to the 2000 Grammy Awards).
      Abe "Grandpa" Simpson: What is holding that together?!
      Sideshow Mel: The collective will of every man in this room!
    • Subverted in one episode in which Homer praises Marge's pork chops. She replies with "You might say my secret ingredient is salt."
      • Played straighter in an earlier episode, in which she claims that her pork chops are "nothing special. The extra ingredient is care" (but also "a whisper of MSG").
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Plankton's Army", an episode where Plankton's family gets together and attacks the Krusty Krab, among the ingredients for the Krabby Patty is "a cup of love". This is told completely nonchalantly since this is NOT the secret ingredient. Yet, it is a pretty important one, as other attempts to make Krabby Patties without it turned out vile.
  • In Madeline's Christmas, the most important ingredient in a porridge that cures sickness is "love".
  • In the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode "Cookie Dough", Bloo gets rich from selling Madame Foster's cookies; but when he starts mistreating his workers, he ends up going out of business because the love is gone, taking the flavor with it.
  • In Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures, the secret to Strawberry Shortcake's cider is "warm wishes."
    • In one episode of the 2003 series, it's revealed that the strawberries of Strawberryland get their color and size from berry fairies. One fairy in particular sings a song about the process, which includes "love and trust plus irrigation," as well as collecting the color from the rising sun reflected off a lake.
  • In one of the Honey Halfwitch cartoons, Fraidy Bat says that the secret ingredient in any cake is love. So Honey adds some Love Potion to the cake she's baking. What do you expect from an eight-year-old witch?
  • In Phineas and Ferb ("Meatloaf Surprise"), the secret ingredient in the Doofenshmirtz family meatloaf recipe is hate. "Usually it's love, but Great-Grandma Gretel had some issues."
  • In the Adventure Time episode "Goliad", Princess Bubblegum used "some algebra" to create Goliad... by which she means she wrote "A+B=C" on a chalkboard and shook some of the chalk dust from the equation into a batch of "candy creature soup".
    • Also, one of the ingredients for Jake's best sandwich ever is "lobster soul". Not lobster sole, but the actual soul of a boiled lobster.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic:
    • Subverted in the episode "Hearts and Hooves Day". When the Cutie Mark Crusaders are making a love potion, one of the ingredients is "a bright rainbow's glow". However, because of the way Equestria works, they simply take a vacuum to a rainbow and suck all the colors out.
    • Also subverted by Pinkie Pie in "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone" when she assesses that Gilda's scones are missing one important ingredient.
      Gilda: (sarcastic) Don't tell me. Friendship?
      Pinkie Pie: Uh, no. Baking powder.
    • Further subverted in "Slice of Life". When Doctor Hooves' "flameless fireworks" are introduced, the Doctor says he doesn't know what would cause them to ignite. When Muffins/Derpy takes them to a wedding as a substitute for flowers, they're ignited by the newlyweds' love, which in Equestria is a close sibling of the series' titular magic.
  • In Milton the Monster, Milton is created by six drops of the essence of terror, five drops of sinister sauce, and Professor Weirdo intended to only use a touch of the tincture of tenderness, but all of it was knocked in, which is why Milton ended up as a nice monster.
  • Subverted in the Gummi Bears episode "Too Many Cooks". Sir Paunch calls out rather odd ingredients as he makes his special taffy, like "Starfire Blossoms" and a "golden goblet of midsummer fog". In truth, he's doing this to fool the eavesdropping King Gregor, and only using conventional ingredients, like flour, milk, sugar, and the like.
  • The Smurfs had a "liar potion" with ingredients not unlike those used in the Smurfette formula from the comics. Fittingly, it's Smurfette who ends up sprayed with it.
  • Samurai Jack: In the backstory, three gods forged a magical sword capable of destroying the demon Aku from the goodness of Jack's father, manifested as a brilliant spark they extracted from his body (though it looked painful, he was ultimately no worse for wear).
  • Played with in an episode of Garfield and Friends, featuring an elderly neighbor who makes the perfect lasagna, and a corporate entity that is trying (and failing) to replicate her recipe. At the end Garfield reveals that her special ingredient is "love", but then he explains what that means: the old woman constantly tastes her sauce while it's cooking so as to add exactly the correct amount of spices.

    Real Life 
  • Many jury-rigged objects (particularly Alleged Cars) are often described along these lines — "held together by spit and hope", say, or "chewing gum and prayers".
  • Stripperiffic outfits have a similar composition. "Double-stick tape and a wish" are a popular combo.
    • A top being held up by decency or the stares of every man in the room.
  • Much of the Made of Index on this very wiki.
  • In real life, it's a common cliché to say that love is the main ingredient in someone's cooking.
    • Some boutique health food brands cheekily include "love" in the actual list of ingredients. So far, none have had enough of a sense of humor to add a "This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA" disclaimer underneath.
  • Homeopathic remedies from moonlight. Or, in the most commonly encountered form, the memory of medicine or poison.
  • In accounting, there is such a thing as Intangible Asset; a class of assets that has no physical form and non-monetary in nature, but it does have value, can be exchanged and traded. For instance, purchasing Google would cost significantly more than another obscure company, even if both companies possess exactly the same amount of physical resources. You're spending that higher amount for the reputation Google has built over the years, which is known as Goodwill in accounting.