15 (and a Half) Popular Condiments Ranked From Worst to First
Foodies, this one's for you. We love food, and credit is given where credit is due: to the condiments. Usually, all the focus is on the meat and potatoes of the meal, but meat and potatoes would taste as bland as white rice without sauces and seasonings.
Condiments include any substance that's added to food after cooking to complement the dish, and they make a huge difference. Of all the condiments out there, these 15 best condiments do the heaviest lifting, and we love them for it. But which one reigns supreme?
It's not entirely fair to put Gochujang so far down on this list. It's only here because it's not a requirement for most common American dishes. If you live in the U.S. and aren't familiar with Korean cuisine, you probably aren't familiar with Gochujang. But we recommend you get acquainted, stat.
A fermented red pepper paste, Gochujang is made with red chile flakes, sticky rice flour, fermented soybean powder, barley malt and salt. Other flavorings can be thrown in for good measure, but the result is always a uniquely sweet, savory, earthy sauce with enough heat to clear your sinuses. Enjoy it in all its umami glory to flavor soups, marinades, glazes and more.
If you've never had aioli you're missing out. It's a cold sauce popular in Mediterranean cuisine made using just two ingredients: garlic and olive oil.
It's a creamy emulsion that upgrades a sandwich with ordinary mayo into a flavorful vacation to the coast of Europe. Add it to a grilled turkey panini, or use it as a dipping sauce for crispy, salty, thick-cut fries.
13. Fish Sauce
Fish sauce doesn't have the most appealing name, but don't be deceived. If you like Thai, Indonesian or Vietnamese cuisine, you're already a fan. It's made from salted fish or krill that's fermented for a year or more, resulting in a savory, umami sauce with endless applications.
It's used to flavor pad Thai and curry dishes as well as to give soups a richer flavor. Use it to marinate meat, dress vegetables or impress guests with a killer stir fry. True fish-sauce fans will gladly use it as a dipping sauce for chicken and other BBQ staples.
Relish is right up there with ketchup and mustard as a popular condiment to add to hot dogs, but it's not quite as universally loved. Relish can be made with many types of pickled and chopped vegetables, fruits or herbs, but pickled cucumbers are by far the most popular variation.
If the sharp, tanginess of the vinegar is too strong for your taste, try sweet relish. If you still don't like it, you clearly don't relish relish.
11. Balsamic Vinegar
The addictive oil-and-vinegar combo served with warm, crusty bread at Italian restaurants wouldn't exist without balsamic vinegar, and many of our favorite salad dressings wouldn't either. Originating in Modena, Italy, balsamic vinegar is made with aged grape juice instead of fermented alcohol like other types of vinegar.
It's often used in dressings, marinades and sauces, but it can also be reduced into a thicker, sweeter sauce to drizzle over grilled meats and seafood or even fresh fruit. Don't knock it before you try it!
10. Honey Mustard
Honey mustard isn't quite as essential as your basic yellow mustard, but would we still miss it if it were gone? Absolutely. It's mustard, only sweet. In the places where locals add sugar to everything from bread to spaghetti sauce, it's a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
Honey mustard can be used as a stand-alone dipping sauce for fried chicken, but it's just as good when brushed on roasted potatoes or mixed in with a summer macaroni salad.
Ranch isn't a dressing — it's the dressing. There are about a million different brands making ranch dressing, but they all produce roughly the same result: a creamy, savory salad dressing made using a buttermilk base, salt, garlic, onion, mustard, and a variety of other herbs and spices.
You can't go wrong with classic Hidden Valley ranch, but you can also make it from scratch if you'd like. While you're at it, try dipping onion rings or fries in it. Just using it on salad is for underachievers.
A life without salsa would be very sad. Salsa originated in Central America, but it's now an indispensable element of almost every Mexican dish. Think of how depressing salty tortilla chips would be without salsa — in fact, the combo is so iconic that it was named the state snack of Texas in 2003.
Add salsa to breakfast burritos, quesadillas, tostadas or even pizza. Make it as mild or spicy as you want, although everyone knows that loving fiery hot salsa immediately gets you extra points.
It's hard to choose between salsa and pesto. They couldn't be more different, but they're both hard to pass up. Pesto is more of a spread than a dip, made from olive oil, basil, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. It's not low-cal, but all the ingredients are good for heart health.
When added to a grilled sandwich or a hearty portion of pasta, it's even better for your soul than it is for your body. Try adding it to potato salad for a uniquely Italian twist.
6. Soy Sauce
Sushi lovers would riot if there was a shortage of soy sauce. It's made by blending soybeans and wheat grains into a fine paste and then fermenting it with salt brine. Sure, it's high in sodium, but it's actually pretty good for you in moderation.
Dark soy sauce is high in antioxidants, so don't feel bad adding it to soups, stir-fries or just rice or noodles. Obviously, no to-go order of sushi or sashimi is complete without a few packets of soy sauce thrown in the mix.
5. Tabasco or Sriracha
The battle between these two famous hot sauces will rage on for all of eternity, but one thing's certain: A life without hot sauce would be a tragedy. Would it even be worth living? Tabasco is the more Cajun-inspired of the two, made with nothing but distilled vinegar, red pepper and salt. Sriracha throws in a bit more, including chili, garlic and sugar.
Both are good, but Sriracha is more like a sauce, while Tabasco just turns up the heat. And then there's Cholula and Tapatio. Whichever one's your favorite, it goes without saying that hot sauce is hard to forego.
Mayo might seem like an American thing, but it was the French who invented it. Well, merci beaucoup — because mayo is responsible for so many other delicious concoctions. Without it, we wouldn't have tartar sauce, ranch, deviled eggs, chicken salad and the best-ever dipping sauce for fries.
Mayo's made with oil, egg yolk, and vinegar or lemon juice, and it's thick, creamy consistency makes any sandwich or burger infinitely more tasty.
3. BBQ Sauce
For a condiment as commonly used as BBQ sauce, it's hard to believe that its ingredients are so vast. BBQ sauce can be made with many different blends, but vinegar and tomato paste are a common base, plus onion powder, mustard seed, pepper, liquid smoke and other flavorings to add a touch of sweetness or spiciness. Some BBQ sauce recipes also include Worcestershire sauce.
How would one eat pulled pork, a rack of ribs or a BBQ chicken pizza without BBQ sauce? You wouldn't. It's that tasty.
It might seem like a stretch to list mustard as No. 2 on our list, but it shouldn't be. It's not the most exciting condiment, but so many foods would be missing something without mustard. Sure, it can be boring on its own, but it makes almost everything better. Use it in dressings, to add acidity to cream sauces or to add a nice, herby crust on seafood or roasts.
If you really love mustard, try mixing it with butter to spread on toast or to season roasted veggies.
What can we say? Ketchup is ketchup. Who woulda thunk that tomatoes, sugar and vinegar would become the most popular condiment of all time? Spices are usually included, of course, but the base of ketchup is exceptionally simple. That's probably why everyone loves it, including picky kindergarteners who refuse to eat anything but chicken nuggets.
Ketchup has a home on every burger, sandwich and hot dog. Potatoes love ketchup, too, and so do we. Ketchup is love. Ketchup is life. Ketchup is the best condiment ever, end of story.