Condimentsâ¦it's a funny word! C'mon, you know you've laughed and made jokes when out with friends at a fast food restaurant! But seriously, condiments are serious business. Okay, maybe not, but they are big business. Chances are that you use at least one condiment each day with one meal or another. Wikipedia defines condiments as, "a sauce or seasoning added to food to impart a particular flavor or to complement the dish. Often pungent in flavor and therefore added in fairly small quantities." Apparently they haven't been in my house at dinner time because if they had, they might be astonished at the amount of condiments my family can manage to use in one meal! On any given day, you will find ketchup, ranch dressing, barbecue sauce and salt and pepper all on the table at the same time and used all at once!
When most of you think of condiments, the first and most common that likely pops into your mind is ketchup! Also known as catsup or catchup, although I would have to laugh at anyone who pronounced it that way, this amazing and versatile sauce is made mainly of tomatoes and is generally the bright red color of a ripe tomato. There was an attempt by Heinz in 2000 to introduce new colors of ketchup in the hues of green, purple, pink, orange, teal and blue, but as you can imagine, the public found the colors less than appealing and they were discontinued in January of 2006. There's just something about putting green ketchup on a burger that ruins your appetite! Ketchup is packaged in many forms, depending on where you are. In most of our homes, we now have the plastic squirt bottles to make pouring ketchup as easy as possible, but it also comes in glass bottles, little packets and in large pump dispensers like you would find in a fast food restaurant or outside of a hot dog stand. If you've never had the opportunity to try ketchup then you're probably living under a rock and you should really come out and try it on a burger, French fries, or chicken strips. These are all pretty common places to find ketchup, but in my house it's been known to be eaten on fish sticks, steak and even eggs - yuck!
Another common condiment that complements ketchup nicely is mustard. Mustard was first seen on a hot dog at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 when French's introduced their famous yellow mustard. The seeds of the mustard plant take many forms and colors. There are white, brown, yellow and black mustard, with the black generally being the spiciest of the 4 types. Some common variations of mustard that you may have heard of are Dijon mustard that comes from Dijon, France, spicy brown, whole grain, stone ground and yellow mustard. I personally, prefer the spicy brown mustard variety as it has just enough kick without being too acidic. This condiment is, perhaps, one of the most varied of the condiments and can be mixed with a large number of other ingredients. There are sweet mustards that contain honey, brown sugar, or maple flavors. There are fruit mustards that contain large chunks of fruit preserved in a sweet, hot mustard. You can find many herb-based mustards that contain basil, dill, fennel, garlic, peppercorn, rosemary or even tarragon. Then you have hot mustards that are made with things like chipotle, habanero and jalapeno peppers. You will most commonly find mustard on hot dogs, sandwiches, hamburgers or as an accompaniment to roasted meats.
Something that you may not have thought of as a condiment is olive oil. Olive oil is, not ironically, an oil made from olives which are the traditional crop of the Mediterranean Basin. There are over 750 million olive trees worldwide and 95% of them come from this region, with Spain being the top producer. Olive oil is used as a cooking oil, salad dressing, and in dips for bread and artichokes. I love a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dip when eaten with a steamed artichoke - yummy! There are two basic types of olive oil and they are virgin and refined. Virgin olive oil is produced using purely physical means and no chemical processing. Refined olive oil has been chemically treated to neutralize the strong olive flavor and to also reduce the acid content. When you go into your local supermarket and see the different labels on the olive oil jars you may be wondering what they mean. Well, here's a brief summary: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is made through virgin oil production only and is generally thought to be the most superior. This would be best used as a dressing or dip and not as a cooking oil because olive oil loses much of it's flavor when heated during the cooking process. So if you're using it to sautÃ© vegetables, you would be fine using a refined olive oil and you will save money too. Virgin Olive Oil is made from only virgin practices and contains less than 2% acidity. Then there is Pure Olive Oil which is produced using a blend of virgin and refined oil. Finally, there is just straight Olive Oil. This version is a blend of virgin and refined oils and lacks the strong flavoring of the less refined oils. This would be a perfectly acceptable cooking oil but wouldn't taste too great as a salad dressing!
Vinegar is a common condiment that is more commonly mixed with something else before eating. There aren't too many people that enjoy the straight form of vinegar without something else to cut the acidity. My son loves to dip hard-boiled eggs into vinegar and then salt and eat them. The thought of that makes me shudder! Most people who love a good order of fish and chips are fond of vinegar as it is a traditional part of this dish, usually in the form of malt vinegar. Vinegar is made from fermented ethanol and the term comes from the Old French "vin aigre" meaning, "sour wine." There are several common variations of vinegar and these are white, wine (red or white), apple cider, balsamic, and rice vinegars, but it can also be made from things like coconut, palm, cane, raisins, dates, beer and honey. Vinegar is used in the pickling process of many foods and in things like flavoring for salt & vinegar chips (yummy!), in salad dressings and dipping sauces.
One of my favorite condiments is barbecue sauce. This wonderful sauce is generally tomato or ketchup based and comes in many varieties. In the U.S., where this sauce is most popular, there is a constant and ongoing debate as to which region of the country makes the best sauce. There is the "Kansas-style" barbecue sauce that is sweet and thick, the South Carolina version is more yellow and consists mostly of mustard. Down in Texas, they like their sauce heavily seasoned with things like cumin, chili peppers, bell peppers, chili powder, black pepper, fresh onion and only a touch of tomato. If you are in Alabama you just might find yourself eating a white barbecue sauce that is usually mayonnaise based. Then there is the North Carolina version that has little or no sugar in it and a sharp taste that is used mainly for basting and not dipping. This sauce got it's name from the style of cooking that it is generally employed in which is a roasting style called barbecue, grilling, or just BBQ. Each region has their own methods for getting the sauce to the meat whether it is marinating it, basting the meat while cooking, or putting it on the side after as a dipping sauce. I love shredded pork cooked in barbecue sauce at a low temperature all day so that it is tender and saucy!
We can't forget horseradish. This is a love or hate condiment. There are very few people that are on the fence as to whether or not they like horseradish, they either love it or hate it. I hate it and my husband loves it! Horseradish is made from the ground roots of the Horseradish plants and is sometimes used in cooking in its ground form, but is usually prepared into a sauce that you would buy at your local grocery store. In the U.S., the ground root is combined with mayonnaise or Miracle Whip. One common form of this is found at the popular fast food restaurant Arby's. Their "Horsey Sauce" is a beloved condiment by millions of people. You will often find horseradish sauce eaten with corned beef, roast beef and in soups.
Another condiment that is commonly used in many foods is hot sauce. Hot sauce is a pretty general term that describes a sauce made from chili peppers and other ingredients. In Mexico it is a very common sauce that is used in many dishes and is almost an art form! There is a growing trend in the United States to make hotter and hotter sauces and there are some doozies! Some sauces are so hot that a person must wear gloves when they are working with it to avoid skin irritation. I'm not sure why you'd want to eat that kind of sauce, but there are a lot of people that claim to enjoy having their palates set on fire by these super hot versions of chili sauce. I prefer to taste my food rather than having it burn it's way to my stomach so I like chili sauces more along the lines of green chili sauce that is more sweet than hot. It is not uncommon to see hot sauce used on eggs or macaroni and cheese, but you'll never catch me doing that!
We also don't want to forget relish. Relish is most commonly made from pickles, both sweet and dill varieties. It can also be made from most vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, cucumbers, mangoes and peaches. A lot of pickle relish, especially the sweet variety, is sold in the summer season in the U.S. for use on hot dogs and hamburgers and it is pretty synonymous with hot summer nights. My husband swears by a relish called Wickles that is a blend of sweet and dill pickles along with some peppers and other seasonings!
There are so many condiments that it would take too long to talk about them all in detail, but where would we be without them? They enhance our food almost each and every day and can be quite important in the enjoyment of a dish. Some things that we might not think of as condiments but are still considered part of this culinary family, like salt and pepper, sugar and other seasonings. Most of you use those commonly in your cooking every day! So next time you make a meal, think about how different condiments can make or break the success of your dish and choose wisely!