Condiments have been around for about as long as humans have. They’re an extra addition of spice and flavor to the food we eat. They make meals more enjoyable and delicious. They might even add a splash of color to an otherwise bland dish.
Throughout history, condiments have been at the forefront of meal prep. Yet, for most home cooks today, condiments are a side thought. Everyone has a bottle of ketchup and mustard in their fridge, but not so many people know about the wide range of uses that each condiment was created for.
This ignorance leads to food and money waste, as well as missed opportunities for delicious meals. Knowing how to utilize the condiments in the back of your fridge can open the door to new food opportunities. It can also ultimately make you a better cook.
What is a Condiment?
What makes a condiment a condiment? Similarly, what makes a sauce a sauce, or a topping a topping? And what about dips, garnishes, and seasonings? As I said, condiments have been around for ages, but the definition of what a condiment is has gone through pretty drastic changes.
According to Wikipedia, the word ‘condiment’ comes from the Latin word ‘condimentum,’ which means spice, seasoning, sauce. It also comes from the Latin word ‘condire,’ which means preserve, pickle, season. From the original words, we can tell that condiments started out as pickled, preserved foods and seasonings.
In some parts of the world, even today, things like spices and cheese are considered to be condiments. Meanwhile, in the US, you’d get a funny look if anyone heard you calling salt and pepper a condiment. That’s just one of the fascinating things about language.
There may still be some arguments over what counts as a condiment and what doesn’t, but most people can agree on this: mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, hot sauce, horseradish, relish, and wasabi are all condiments. Of course, those are just a few members of the long list of popular condiments in the 50 states.
The most well-known condiments in the US are mayonnaise, ketchup, soy sauce, mustard, and pickle relish. So, those five are going to be the main focus of this guide.
In case you were wondering…
- In 2019, the UK imported more condiments and seasonings than any other country (according to nationmaster.com).
- The US seasoning, sauce and condiment market was $24.5 billion — 3.1% higher than in 2015 (according to ibisworld.com).
- Due to the pandemic, ketchup packets are being bought in bulk. Sales of individually packaged condiments have risen by 40% compared to 2019 (according to cnn.com).
You can find more interesting condiment facts below, but first, let’s talk about…
The Foreign Origins of Ketchup
Ketchup isn’t just the red tomato-based condiment that most people know about. In the US, the word ‘ketchup’ or ‘catsup’ is synonymous with the sweet and tangy red sauce. So, you may be surprised to know that ketchup wasn’t originally made with tomatoes.
In fact, the first ketchup was made in China as a fish sauce – its main ingredients being pickled, fermented fish and spices. Evidence of the sauce goes as far back as the 300s BC, and was called ‘koe-chiap’ or ‘gwai zap’ in the Amoy and Cantonese dialects respectively. Sound familiar?
Throughout the centuries, this salty, fishy sauce made its way through Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Eventually it was picked up by British traders in the 1700s.
Once the ketchup recipe was brought to Europe, it went through countless modifications. There were dozens of ketchup recipes calling for completely different ingredients and methods. There were oyster ketchups, mussel ketchups, and fruit ketchups, too. Though they tasted pretty different, they all had this in common:
They were paste-like in consistency, full of salt and spices, and could last for about 7 years without going bad.
Even today, some of these ketchup variations can still be found. One of the most popular non-tomato ketchups still around is mushroom ketchup. It’s mainly used in the UK, but isn’t anywhere near as popular as tomato ketchup.
The early 19th century saw a shift in ketchups, making them much more similar to the kind we know and love today. Tomatoes are historically not a fruit that people desired to eat. They were thought to be poisonous, or to have aphrodisiac powers, so most people avoided them at all costs.
However, James Mease, a scientist and horticulturist from Philadelphia came up with a tomato ketchup recipe in 1812 nevertheless. About 64 years later, Henry John Heinz began selling his own ketchup. Thus we have the start of modern ketchup.
His recipe was different from all other ketchup recipes, because he used vinegar and sugar as preservation ingredients. Tomatoes, being fruits, decompose rather quickly. So, the trademark of incredibly long-lasting ketchups went out the door. But, with those added ingredients, Heinz ketchup was able to last for many years without going bad. It also tasted much sweeter, making it a fast favorite.
Fun fact: Heinz was one of the first companies to use glass bottles. They wanted to make sure that the customer could see what they were buying. The bright red color was most likely an eye-catcher and selling point that they wanted to emphasize.
Today, ketchup is one of the leading condiments all over the world. 97% of American households have a bottle of ketchup in their fridge at any given time. Each country has their own favorite uses for ketchup, and some even have their own versions of ketchup.
With its many uses, and signature sweet and sour flavor, this condiment is surely not going to be losing popularity any time soon.
- In 2016, the US exported $379 million worth of ketchup, 60% of which went to Canada.
- Heinz ketchup factories are found in 6 continents.
- Heinz ketchup is sold in more than 200 countries and territories.
- Ketchup doesn’t need preservatives since two of its main ingredients are preservatives themselves.
- 4 tablespoons of ketchup is equivalent to eating 1 fresh tomato.
- Ohio physician, John Cook, sold ketchup as a cure for indigestion in 1834.
- The average American is thought to eat 71 pounds of ketchup every year.
- Heinz products tout the number 57 because Henry Heinz believed it was lucky. While he advertised that there were 57 varieties of Heinz products, he was actually selling over 60.
- A ‘Heinz 57’ person is someone who has many different origins, or is of mixed race or breed.
- June 5th is National Ketchup Day!
What Should Ketchup Be Used For?
Besides using ketchup on fries, hot dogs, and burgers, it has a long list of great uses. Firstly, ketchup can be used to create sauces. Barbecue sauce, cocktail sauce, thousand island dressing, bolognese sauce, and sweet and sour sauce all contain ketchup. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one to create the next great sauce using ketchup as a base.
Secondly, ketchup is a perfect pairing for many meat dishes. Meatloaf, meatballs, sloppy joes, brisket, pork chops, and ribs all benefit from ketchup. The sweet, sour, tangy condiment goes great with savory flavors!
Thirdly, you can use ketchup for cleaning. This might be the most interesting use of ketchup there is. Since ketchup is so acidic thanks to the vinegar it contains, you can polish silverware, copper, and brass with it. Just take a bit of it and rub it onto whatever you’re trying to clean. Wipe it off with a clean towel, and voila!
Interesting in making your own ketchup? Check out our article on How to Make Homemade Ketchup.
The Ancient History of Mustard
Mustard is one of the oldest spices that we know of and still use today. Believed to have first been cultivated in India in 3000 BC, and mentioned 5 times in the Bible, mustard started as a simple ingredient. Gradually it became the world-famous condiment that it is now.
From India, the popularity of mustard spread to Egypt, Greece, and Rome. By 42 CE, mustard could be found in most Eastern civilizations.
Unlike ketchup, the basic tenets of what mustard is made of haven’t changed that much from its humble beginnings. However the recipe was much simpler back then. Similar to how we crush pepper grains onto our food, mustard seeds were crushed by hand at the table and mixed into wine, vinegar, or water. This made a very simple mustard paste that could be used as a sauce for many meals.
Mustard wasn’t only used as a food, though. In the ancient world, mustard seeds were believed to be able to cure such things as scorpion stings, snakebites, battle wounds, and even the plague. Today, oil from black mustard seeds are used in common cures for colds and muscle aches — among other things.
In the 10th century, monks in Gaul, France learned of the recipe for mustard and began making their own. By the 13th century, mustard was so popular that Pope John XXII of Avignon created a job titled ‘Grand Moutardier du Pape,’ or ‘Grand Mustard-Maker to the Pope’ for his nephew. His nephew’s mustard-making took place in Dijon, France, and thus it became the mustard capital of the world.
Years later, in 1777, the Grey Poupon mustard was created by Maurice Grey and Antoine Poupon. In 1866, Jeremiah Colman, the maker of Colman’s Mustard, created the technique for grinding mustard seeds into a dry powder. He was then appointed official mustard-maker to Queen Victoria.
Finally, in 1904, French’s yellow mustard was enjoyed for the first time. It was at the World’s Fair in Saint Louis that French’s and hot dogs were first served together. Ever since then, hot dogs and mustard have gone together like… well, hot dogs and mustard!
- Mustard will not grow mold, so technically it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. However, mustard can dry out. If this happens to your mustard, just add in a few tablespoons of vinegar and stir well.
- National Mustard Day is August 5th!
- 85% of the world’s mustard grows in Canada, Montana, and North Dakota.
- French’s mustard is the most popular mustard brand in the US. Heinz mustard is used by about ⅓ as many people. In 2019, 149.58 million Americans used French’s mustard while only 54.84 million used Heinz.
How to Use Mustard
Mustard is perhaps the most versatile condiment there is. With one bottle of mustard, you have a starting point for dozens of possible meals and food combinations to try.
Sauces, salad dressings, crusts, and more benefit from the tangy spiciness of mustard. Mix it into a vinaigrette to pour over a fresh green salad. Make a mustard and herb rub to coat meat or fish before roasting. Use mustard to make a sauce for deviled and poached eggs. Or, use it as an ingredient in a creamy pasta sauce. There are practically endless uses for mustard.
If you aren’t into cooking, you can use mustard to make simple dips for gatherings and parties. Mustard and mayonnaise make a great, easy-to-make dip for chips and pretzels. If you’re feeling fancy, you can use it with steamed artichokes, too.
Another great mustard pairing is potatoes. Whatever way you can think of to prepare potatoes, mustard is the perfect companion. Try mashed potatoes with cheese, onions, and mustard, and you’ll see what I mean.
Finally, of course mustard is perfect for hot dogs and sausages. If you’re looking for a way to amp-up hot dog night, try making sausages with grilled onions and peppers. Then, top it all off with an easy squirt of mustard.
Interested in making your own mustard? It’s easier than you might think, check out our article on How to Make Your Own Homemade Mustard.
The Confusing Origins of Mayonnaise
The true origins of mayonnaise are different to different people. This is because both the French and Spanish claim that the condiment was their own ingenious invention. Surprisingly, they both might actually be right.
The common story of how mayonnaise was first invented recalls how the Duke of Richelieu, in 1756, won the Battle of Minorca and besieged the Port Mahon. After the victory, the Duke’s chef realized that there was no cream to make a sauce for the Duke’s meal. So, he improvised a sauce made of olive oil and eggs.
Inspired by the winning of Port Mahon, the chef called this sauce ‘Mahonnaise.’
Anyways, that’s how the legend goes. In recent years, this story has come under plenty of scrutiny. Some argue that the sauce couldn’t have been invented in Mahon, but in the town of Bayonne. Others say that there were sauces so similar to mayonnaise already invented by 1756 that the Duke’s chef couldn’t have invented it.
In the 14th century cookbook, Libre de Sent Sovi, there is a recipe for a sauce similar to modern mayonnaise containing garlic and oil. Nobody knows who wrote this book. It was written in the language of Catalan, which is spoken in Spain, Andorra, France, and Italy.
In 1742, a similar mayonnaise-like sauce recipe was written down by a French chef named François Marin. Then in 1745, Juan de Altamiras wrote his Nuevo Arte de la Cocina Española. It contains a mayonnaise-like recipe as well.
There are dozens of examples of these sauces appearing in various cookbooks across Europe. So, you can see why the confusion over mayonnaise’s origins is so prevalent, even today. But, no matter who invented mayonnaise first, it was the French who popularized it.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, cookbooks from England and Germany dedicated to French cuisine shared recipes for mayonnaise. Soon French chefs brought the recipe to the US where mayonnaise quickly became a favorite.
The high-society elites enjoyed putting mayonnaise on their salads, vegetables, and sandwiches. Meanwhile, in 1905, a German immigrant in New York City named Richard Hellmann started selling his own mayonnaise. Eventually, everyone knew about mayonnaise, and pairing it with sandwiches became common practice.
Since then, mayonnaise has become a favorite condiment across the globe. New mayonnaise recipes, and even mayo containers, are being invented every few years, keeping supermarket shelves fresh and interesting.
- Mayonnaise is one of the most useful condiments, as it appears in the recipe for dozens of other sauces. (We’ll get back to this later)
- Mayonnaise makes your hair feel softer, look shinier, and feel smoother. It may sound icky, but if you’re tight on money, a bit of mayonnaise is a cheap alternative to store-bought hair conditioner.
- A thick lathering of mayonnaise on your scalp can kill lice overnight.
- Even though eggs are a main ingredient in modern mayonnaise, you don’t technically need eggs to make it. That’s why a vegan diet doesn’t also have to be mayo-free.
- According to the New York Times, Barack Obama hates mayonnaise. His other dislikes are salt and vinegar potato chips, asparagus, and soft drinks.
- Mayonnaise is high in calories due to its oil content. Just 1 tablespoon contains 90 calories.
- In the Netherlands, mayonnaise is preferred over ketchup for french fries.
- You can use mayonnaise to clean grease and tar off of skin and hard surfaces. It can also remove water stains and scratches from wood. There are numerous other cleaning tips involving mayonnaise, but that would have to be a whole other article!
- May 5th is national mayonnaise day!
How to Use Mayonnaise
There seems to be a strong prejudice against mayonnaise these days. But. for all the people who are disgusted by the condiment, there is someone who can’t get enough of it. If you’re one of those mayo-lovers, you may be wondering about all the uses that mayonnaise has.
I’ll tell you now that mayonnaise can be so much more than a sandwich or french fry topping. Firstly, mayonnaise is a key ingredient in so many of the sauces that we eat day to day. Mayonnaise is the key ingredient in aiolis, tartar sauce, remoulade sauce, and onion dips. You can also mix it with ketchup to make a simple dipping sauce. Or, mix it with honey and mustard to make honey mustard mayo dip.
You can use mayonnaise to lighten and brighten quiches, breads, muffins, potato salads, deviled eggs, biscuits, and even cupcakes. And, let’s not forget about its importance in nachos and burritos.
The mayonnaise options are practically endless. It’s an incredibly useful condiment. You can easily incorporate it into dozens of complex, tasty meals, making even the biggest mayo cynic a mayo fan.
Interested in making your own mayonnaise? Check out the article we did on How to Make Your Own Mayonnaise.
A Quick History of Relish
Relish can really refer to anything that gets pickled. There’s red bell pepper relish, onion relish, chili pepper relish, vegetable relish (also called Chow-chow), cranberry relish, anchovy relish, tomato relish, and so many more. These relishes can be found in the US, but they are nowhere near as popular as pickle relish.
Both dill relish and sweet pickle relish are served with one of the most popular meals in the country — hot dogs! But where did all this relish come from?
The word ‘relish’ first appeared in 1798.
But, relish originated in India in the 1600s, and was soon adopted by the British. It was then spread to other European countries by the late 1700s. Relish was inspired by the desire to eat vegetables during the winter when fresh harvests were no longer available. Since pickling and canning vegetables preserves them, making relish was the perfect solution.
Relish didn’t become popular in the US until the Heinz company started selling a mustard and vegetable relish called Chow-chow in the 1870s. In 1888, Heinz started selling pickle relish called piccalilli — also made of vegetables and mustard and is a yellow color. Piccalilli is still popular, moreso in Britain than the US.
Then, in 1889, Heinz started selling ‘India relish’, which quickly became a hit. It contained pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, cauliflower, onions, bell peppers, celery, mustard, cinnamon, and spices.
Over the years, India relish went through some changes, simplifying it to the pickle relish that we know today.
- There are specific relishes meant for hamburgers and hot dogs. They are hamburger relish and hot dog relish respectively. The former is made of pickle relish with a ketchup base. The latter is pickle relish in a mustard base.
- Most, if not all, Indian meals are not complete without chutneys or relishes.
- The average American eats nearly 9 pounds of pickles every year.
- Dill pickles are the most popular type of pickle, yet dill relish makes up only 21% of relish sales. Meanwhile, sweet relish takes up the remaining 79%.
- Queen Cleopatra claimed that pickles were the cause of her good health and beauty. Julius Caesar also believed in the power of pickles, and gave them to his troops to make them stronger.
How to Use Relish
Relish falls on either side and in between the distinction between a condiment and a chutney. A condiment is something that you use only a little bit of as a topping. A chutney is something that can be eaten by the spoonful alongside a main dish.
Our modern pickle relish probably isn’t something most people want to eat a spoonful of on its own. But, in the proper dishes, pickle relish can prove to be mouth-watering.
The most common uses of relish are with hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salads, and egg salads. It also goes great with deviled eggs, as a sandwich spread, and as an add-on to tartar sauce.
For more complex uses of pickle relish, try adding some to meatloaf before baking. The relish will help keep the loaf moist in the oven, while also giving it a delicious, zesty flavor. Or, use it as a topping for white fish or salmon. The sour/sweet flavor of the pickles with the rich fish flavor is a perfect combination.
Interested in making some relish? We have an easy recipe to help you get started. Check out our How to Make Relish article.
The All-Encompassing History of Soy Sauce
As the most popular product made from soybeans in the world, soy sauce is a common household ingredient for over 140 million Americans (according to the Statista Research Department).
Fun fact: Soy sauce actually made its way into Europe and the US before the soybean did!
Soy sauce originated in China in the year 160. It probably would not be recognized as soy sauce by a modern person. But it was a clear ancestor to today’s soy sauce. It was called ‘qingjiang’ and was more similar to a soybean paste than to a sauce.
Qingjiang was made as a food preservative and was also used as a way to make salt last for a long time. Generally, it was made with fermented fish, soybeans, grains, and salt.
Throughout the first millennium, many variations of soybean-based pastes and sauces were made in Asia. Eventually the recipe made its way to Denmark through the Dutch East India Company.
By the 1640s, the Danes were routinely importing soy sauce, as well as miso and sake. It was during this time (more specifically 1704) that Saheiji Mojo from Noda-Machi, Japan started the well-known soy sauce brand, Kikkoman.
In the 1730s, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Great Britain got hold of soy sauce. They each started creating their own variations on it. Using soy sauce, vinegar, horseradish, oysters, anchovies, and other household ingredients, people would make all sorts of sauces and condiments for their meals.
By 1750, soy sauce was a common condiment found at New York City ports and in New England cities. Soy sauce was used mainly as an ingredient in other table sauces.
In 1765, after returning from China, Samuel Brown brought the soybean to Savannah, Georgia. He was the first person to cultivate soybeans in the US, and to mass produce soy sauce.
About 100 years later, in 1873, Kikkoman soy sauce, which had gradually been growing and expanding since its inception, won a gold medal at the International Exhibition in Austria. In 1879, Kikkoman began exporting soy sauce to California. So, between Kikkoman and Samuel Brown, the American’s need for soy sauce was covered.
Finally, in 1957, Kikkoman International Inc. built a headquarters in San Francisco. Since then it has become the sought-after brand that we know and love today.
- The Asian Pacific produces the most soy sauce in the world. North America comes in second (according to veraciousstatisticsresearch.com).
- Soy sauce is high in protein, carbohydrates, and antioxidants which can help prevent heart disease and cancer. Plus, soy sauce can also help with digestion, strengthening your immune system, and reducing allergies.
- Soy sauce is extremely high in sodium. 1 tablespoon contains nearly 900 mg of sodium.
- Drinking soy sauce straight from the bottle sent a 19 year old into a coma. He survived without lasting damage, but the high salt content nearly killed him.
- Global soy sauce sales are only going up. In 2018, the soy sauce market was valued at $39.7 billion (according to grandviewresearch.com).
- National soy sauce day is September 29th!
How to Use Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is a great base ingredient for a range of things. It goes perfectly in all kinds of recipes, and adds a much-desired splash of rich, salty flavor. As I said previously, soy sauce is a great ingredient for other sauces. In fact, soy sauce can play an important role in barbecue sauce, hollandaise sauce, oyster sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and even ketchup.
Soy sauce is also perfect for marinades. Roast chicken, seared steak, pork chops, etc. all benefit from a soy sauce-based marinade. Just mix some vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, pepper, and soy sauce together, and you have yourself a super simple meat marinade. Just let the marinade do its thing for 2+ hours and you’ll have a delicious meal ahead of you.
You can also use soy sauce for deliciously sweet and salty glazes. Just mix some soy sauce with honey and brush it onto your roasted meat.
Another meal that really lets soy sauce shine through is a stir-fry. Get your favorite meat and/or vegetables together. Then, fry them up in a pan and use soy sauce as a base ingredient in your sauce. Or, if you’re in a rush, you can simply use soy sauce on its own as the stir-fry sauce.
Soy sauce is one of those sauces that you can use in just about any type of savory meal. And, of course, you can use it simply as a condiment by pouring it over soup, noodles, rice, or salads.
Interested in making your own? Check out our article on how to make your own soy sauce.
Want to Make Your Own Condiments?
You can find condiments in every grocery store, and even in most corner stores and delis, too. So, you might be wondering why knowing how to make them yourself would be useful. Well, besides being a fun, satisfying way to spend an afternoon in the kitchen, making your own condiments is a great way to stay healthy.
Most modern condiments either use high-fructose corn syrup, too much salt, or a mixture of both. When you make your own condiments, you’re fully in control of what you’re putting into your body. That means, you can use only the best ingredients, and make a healthy, tasty substitute to the store-bought stuff.
Plus, just think about all the money you’ll be able to save when you don’t have to buy condiments at the store.
Now that you know all about the most popular condiments in the world, why not check out our recipe articles? You can learn to make each one of these condiments from scratch at home. It’s easier than you might think!