We all love French fries with ketchup, but French fries with malt vinegar are infinitely better -- and how about French fries with aioli? The world of condiments reaches far beyond ketchup, and even much further than your mustards and relishes. It's a vast and varied terrain of flavor-boosters, from fiery hot sauce to cooling tahini.
What defines a condiment is simply that it imparts flavor onto another food -- it could be a dip, sauce or in some cases even a spread. It's all kind of subjective, however. We count jam, but we do not count peanut butter, which is definitely more of a spread. We count salsa, but we don't count guacamole, which we think of more as a stand-alone dish. There's a fine and elusive line -- so subjective that even the dictionary won't commit to calling a condiment anything more than just "something that is added to food to give it more flavor." (Emphasis our own.)
Whatever it is, a condiment isn't eaten by itself, which makes it hard to compare as a stand-alone food. Vinegar on French fries might be better than jam on French fries, but vinegar on toast? We'll take the jam. With no universal food to fit all condiments, we're left to rank condiments on a purely un-scientific scale, based on our guts. The best we can do is consider respective condiments when they truly shine -- hot sauce on a taco, dijon mustard on a sandwich -- and compare how well they do their job. Some, we believe, do a lot better job than others.
Here are 25 of the world's favorite condiments, in order from worst to best:
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Ketchup is the most basic condiment of all, the overrated tomato-sugar paste that goes on everything from scrambled eggs (gross) to well-done ribeyes (the worst). As if it not already bad, some people like to spell it "catsup." Use it if there's nothing else available.
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Almost as bad as ketchup, relish is secretly just chopped up pickles! You can also make relish out of fruits, but since it is a gross idea to mix peaches and mango with salt and vinegar, we kept it on the worst side of our list.
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Piccalilli is one of those tricky condiments, because the ingredients are tasty -- green tomatoes, salt, cabbage, onions, green peppers, turmeric, mustard seed, celery, brown sugar and allspice are usual suspects -- but it just looks too gross to eat.
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Why wouldn't you use mayonnaise or aioli instead? Why would you add pickles, olives and onions? No thank you, tartar sauce.
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When there are so many good mustards out there, why would you choose this one? Yellow mustard, you are only a few ranks better than ketchup.
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Some people swear by ranch -- for everything. Salad? OK. Chicken melt? Mayyybe. Pizza? Get out of here!
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We'll take it on toast, in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, in cookies or in cake. We love the seeds and the tart flavor, but that's about all it's good for.
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Horseradish is about the only condiment we can condone putting onto your steak (go home, A-1 sauce) plus it goes well in a bloody mary, the T-bone of cocktails.
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Fish sauce -- fish fermented with salt -- is the secret ingredient to making the best burgers
in the world. No kidding. It also makes everything else taste better, too. It can bring layers of depth to your food and once you start cooking with it, you won't look back.
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Like mayonnaise, aioli is an emulsion of egg yolks, oil and lemon juice, but aioli contains
garlic. We love 'em both.
Oh, hoisin sauce. You are quite limited, but what you do to duck is sublime. How you transform everything from spring rolls to soup is something special. We don't want to live in a world without you, and we never want to eat Chinese food without you at our side. But other than that, we'll keep you out of it.
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We feel very medium about soy sauce (or shoyu sauce, if you live in Hawaii). It's so salty. And there are so many different shades of soy
, as well as Chinese or Japanese versions. You can make it yourself if you don't mind waiting for it to ferment for a year. Still, it's verrrrry deliciously salty.
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Made well, barbecue sauce can be golden. Made poorly -- as in too sweet -- it can ruin an ENTIRE RACK OF RIBS. That's a lot at 'steak.'
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Certain food trends are inexplicable. Sriracha is not one of them. In bloody marys
or on chicken wings, Sriracha tastes good on basically everything.
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Yellow mustard might be as lame as it gets, but stir in some honey and you've just put it IN OUR TOP FIVE.
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Vinegar might seem like an unlikely candidate, but it works magic -- on fries, potato chips, fish, meats and even vegetables. Like mustard, it's the base of many other condiments and sauces, and eaten alone, it will sharpen your food to a new level. With so many kinds of vinegar, you can pretty much use it on anything, and you should. It's the skeleton key of condiments!
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Salsa goes on everything that ketchup goes on, but it's way better than ketchup. And healthier, usually. Plus, people like to say "salsa."
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Salt is the king of the condiments. If, by definition, a condiment is what "enhances your food
," nothing does it better than salt. Sure, you may argue that it's a "seasoning" and not a condiment, but to each his own. Just pass the salt.
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