My refrigerator and pantry shelves are chock full of condiments. I’ve rarely met a dish or sandwich that couldn’t use one - or more. Condiments go everywhere, literally - on top of fish, chicken or meat, inside a sandwich, on the side with chips or pita, or as a dip for dumplings or other bite-size foods. Many condiments work well together, and some are also ingredients in other sauces and dishes.
This list turned out to be harder to create than I thought it would be. First, there was the definition. Condiments are flavor enhancements to food. Although spices and herbs are technically included, I decided they deserve a separate post. I didn't include salt, pepper, or honey on this list either. I did include oil and vinegar, even though I also covered them under pantry basics.
Then there was the question of how many condiments to include. I couldn't narrow it to 10 and 20 seemed extreme, so I landed on 15. I had to leave a few favorites out - such as pickle relish, but those are the breaks.
Several of the condiments listed have many variations beyond those normally associated with different brands. For example, I have 5 types of mustard in my refrigerator right now. Starting off, you certainly wouldn’t buy so many, but over time you may accumulate several. The same goes for other categories such as chili sauce.
Using online shopping at a major grocery chain, I estimated that you could buy a decent-sized bottle/jar of each condiment on this list for a total of $60. If you shop carefully, I bet you could buy all 15 for $40.
In alphabetical order here are my 15 essential condiments.
- Chili sauce – 2 types: Thick, spicy sauce - varieties include Asian chili garlic sauce and an Americanized chili sauce sold by Heinz; and a liquid chili-based sauce that comes in varieties, such as Sriracha (Southeast Asian), Tabasco (American brand), Cholula (Mexican).
- Chutney – Southeast Asian (Indian) in origin, I use with fish, chicken and on sandwiches. Can be made with a fruit or vegetable base and either spicy, mild or somewhere in between.
- Fish sauce – Essential for many Southeast Asian foods, fish sauce has an intense flavor. It is often made with anchovies.
- Hoisin sauce – A thick Asian sauce that contains vegetable starch, vinegar, garlic, and peppers. Hoisin is used (often with soy sauce) as a dipping sauce, can be added to pho (the Vietnamese soup/noodle dish), and is great in barbecue sauce.
- Horseradish – Made by grinding up a light colored root, horseradish may be mixed with beet juice for a red colored version that is less strong than the straight white type.
- Jam/jelly/preserves – Typically a sweet topping used on bread, but there are other versions, such as hot pepper jelly and sweet onion jam.
- Ketchup – A thick, tomato-based sauce. My favorite expert on ketchup is Garrison Keillor.
- Maple syrup – Great on French toast, bread pudding, sweet potatoes, pork loin and so much more. This is the pure stuff, not the mass-marketed type diluted with cane sugar or corn syrup variety.
- Mayonnaise – Made from egg yolks, and oil, it can also include mustard, and lemon juice or vinegar. Mayonnaise is often used on sandwiches as an ingredient in tuna, egg and potato salad and as a base for dressings and other sauces.
- Mustard – A paste or thick condiment made from ground mustard seeds and a liquid such as vinegar, lemon juice, or water. There are many varieties, including black mustard (the hottest type) and mustards with added ingredients, from beer to fruits to herbs. Start with a versatile one like Dijon (medium strong) or one that you particularly love.
- Oil – There are lots of different oils used in cooking. I prefer olive oil as a condiment.
- Salsa – A spicy sauce from Mexico or Central America, often made with tomatoes or tropical fruit such as pineapple or mango.
- Soy sauce – A liquid made from fermented soy beans, soy sauce is a key to many Asian dishes.
- Vinegar – A fermented liquid. See my description of balsamic vinegar. Other varieties include sherry, rice wine, red wine, white wine, and cider vinegar.
- Worcestershire sauce – Although its origins may be similar to fish sauce, this brown sauce has a distinct taste. The English version typically has sugar and vinegar as well as other ingredients. It is often used on fish or meat, alone or with other ingredients.
Which are your favorite condiments? Did I miss any of your favorites?
A tip of my hat (as one of my favorite commentators would say) to Alexis. Her comment noted that I pictured Crystal hot sauce and that I should have given credit to that brand. She's so right and I do love Crystal. It has been made in Lousiana by a family-owned business since 1923 - a few years before my own mother was born! Thanks Alexis. PS - No disrespect to Tabasco, another wonderful Louisiana family-owned brand.