Culinary Journeys

32 condiments we can't live without -- from ketchup to wasabi

Maggie Hiufu Wong, for CNNUpdated 16th March 2017
(CNN) — Prefer to pack a bottle of fish sauce than an extra pair of shoes? Think a jar of local chili paste sounds like a great travel souvenir? Only feel comfortable when there's three types of vinegar and no less than four soy sauces to choose from?
The diagnosis is clear: You're a condiment freak. Consider that a compliment.
There are things in bottles, jars, tubes and dispensers that we'd all struggle to survive without. So which are the most crucial?
Essentials like salt, pepper, sugar, herbs and spices aside, we've put together a list of the world's most delicious condiments.
Did we miss any?
Tag your tweets or Instagram photos #CNNFood and let us know.


It's tasty on takoyaki with teriyaki sauce.
Or as a truffle mayo dip for fries.
Or simply spread over deep-fried chicken.
Forget that a spoonful contains more than 90 calories, this creamy rich substance has the power to make every food finger-suckingly good.

Soy sauce

Who knew fermented soybeans could make such a delicious dark sauce?
There's actually no one single soy sauce.
Any proper Chinese family kitchen will contain a minimum of three types, all with different flavors and different uses.
There's the soy sauce that delivers a massive salty punch.
And there's the soy sauce that gives a delightful color to steamed fish.
And then there's the soy sauce that gets soused over everything to improve bad food in a cheap restaurant.


Great name, great condiment.
Or family of condiments, for relish is a catch-all term for lively sauces or pickles made from chopped fruits or veg.
There's the charmingly named gentlemen's relish -- an English anchovy paste for spreading on bread, potatoes or handlebar moustaches.
Also in the UK, there's Henderson's Relish, a bottled spicy liquid almost exclusively enjoyed in the northern English city of Sheffield.
The city's celebrated guitar band Arctic Monkeys are known to stock up on supplies whenever they're in town.


best condiments
Hot, hot heat: Tabasco.
courtesy Efren Masacaet
The Tabasco company is so proud of its home-grown peppers that it has its own seed vault to ensure a steady supply of quality peppers.
Comprised mainly of Tabasco peppers (originally from Mexico or Central America) and vinegar, Tabasco is one of the most popular hot sauces in the world.
Peppers are still handpicked, nowadays in Louisiana, to ensure only those with a perfect red hue make it into the sauce.


Can a hotdog be a hotdog without a squiggled snake of French's mustard running down its spine?
Maybe, maybe not, but the yellow stuff is gold when it comes to spicing up meat of most kinds.
In British slang, "mustard" is sometimes used as a synonym for "good."
Because -- whether it's wholegrain, Dijon, or sinus-clearing English yellow -- mustard is awesome.


Thanks to a wave of K-cuisine sweeping the planet, we're all enjoying more exposure to Korean foods beyond just bibimbap and kimchi.
Chief among these gastronomic gifts is gochujang, the savory and spicy hot pepper paste that gives many Korean dishes their unique taste.
Made from chili, fermented soy beans, sticky rice and salt, it's mostly combined with other condiments when used.
Gochujang mixed with sesame oil and doenjang (another soybean paste), for example, makes ssamjang, a delicious dip used in lettuce and meat wraps.

Fish sauce

Fish sauce's pungent smell may come as a shock to the first-time user.
But once diners start adding fish sauce to their food, they won't be able to stop.
Widely used around Southeast Asia, the sauce is mostly made from fermented anchovies, salt and water.
The clear condiment helps enhance the taste of the ingredients it touches.
Mixed with sugar, chili, lime juice and garlic, it makes nam pla prik, the classic spicy Thai dip.


It's ketchup. Need we say more?


The trick is to spread it thinly.
The trick is to spread it thinly.
AFP/Getty Images
In the highly unlikely event that Britain and Australia go to war, it'll be over Vegemite and Marmite.
These salty brown spreads are a way of life for many in both countries.
Despite being almost identical in appearance, aficionados insist they're poles apart.
Vegemite-loving Aussies declare Marmite an abomination.
Marmite-dependent Brits say Vegemite is simply wrong.
To the rest of the world though, the two taste exactly the same: disgusting.

Tartar sauce

What happens when capers, pickles, mustard and herbs collide in a creamy mayonnaise?
Tartar sauce happens. And it makes a perfect dressing for fried fish.

Hoisin sauce

We can't decide whether hoisin sauce tastes better when wrapped in a pancake with juicy Peking duck and spring onions, or when coated on a crispy suckling pig crackling.
But we're willing to dedicate an entire evening to researching it.


Full appreciation of wasabi involves a degree of masochism.
Its fiery refreshing taste rises quickly to attack nostrils and tear glands when consumed.
It's best sampled between the fish and rice of a delicately crafted piece of nigiri sushi.
The real wasabi -- one of the world's costliest vegetables -- should be grated only moments before it's eaten.
That fresh sharpness doesn't last very long.
Sadly, those packets of wasabi that come with a takeout sashimi box are unlikely to be the real thing.
They're usually a mixture of horseradish, mustard and food coloring.


A trendier cousin of peanut butter, Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds and peanut oil.
When thinned out with other ingredients, it's often served as a dressing in Middle Eastern cuisine.


30 best condiments
You hum it, we'll eat it.
Swiping a hummus plate clean with pitta bread is a satisfying experience.
Made mostly with chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice and tahini, this light brownish puree is usually served as a dip or a spread.
Once only a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean meal staple, it's become a regular on dining tables around the world.
Have we mentioned it's also protein-packed and helps lower cholesterol?

Thousand Island dressing

Its name conjures up images of far-flung exotic lands.
Which is more than could be said for its main ingredients.
But when you're mixing together some of the world's greatest condiments -- Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, Tabasco, chili sauce -- how can it be anything other than marvelous.
Well played, Thousand Island dressing.


One of the biggest joys in a classy Indian meal is the small bowls of chutneys that line up at the side of a dish.
Made of fruit or vegetable marinated in vinegar, spices and sugar, chutneys can be sweet, savory or spicy.
Regular restaurant combos include tamarind, mint and mango chutneys, served with crispy poppadoms.

Datu Puti vinegar

Filipino brand Datu Puti is synonymous with vinegar in the Philippines.
Also known as sukang maasim, or cane vinegar, it's one of the key flavors of home for Filipinos living overseas.
Brewed from sugarcane juice, sukang maasim has a rather mild, sour flavor.
It can be applied to almost any food but goes best with fried dishes.
It's the key ingredient of the marinade for adobo, the national dish of the Philippines.


A byproduct of soy sauce, miso is one of the most important condiments in a Japanese kitchen.
Apart from being used to make soup, miso paste can be served directly as a topping on rice.
Miso ramen with curly yellow noodles is a specialty in Japan's Hokkaido region.
The best place to get some miso is from Yuasa, the birthplace of Japanese soy sauce, in Wakayama prefecture.


30 best condiments
Aioli: Good with sunshine.
A close, but infinitely more cosmopolitan cousin of mayonnaise, aioli begins with a ground garlic paste before whipping in egg yolk, olive oil and mustard.
The emulsion is sometimes seasoned with lemon juice, saffron or chili.
It's a perfect dip for seafood, veggie crisp or patatas bravas (Spanish fried potatoes).


The words "healthy" and "delicious" don't normally appear side by side, but they make an exception for salsa.
A perfect salsa blends crunchy, chunky tomatoes and onions with a generous chili kick, cilantro and lemon juice.

Brown sauce

Prosaically named brown sauce has been a staple of British diets since it was created in 1899.
Often known as HP, thanks to the popular brand that originated it, the thick sauce blends tomatoes, vinegar, dates, sugar, tamarind and other spices.
It's usually found near the breakfast table, where it accompanies the heart attack on a plate that is the full English breakfast.
Even celebrity chef Jamie Oliver likes to pair his bacon sandwich with it.


Tunisia's de facto national condiment, harissa is an aromatic hot chili pepper paste made from (surprise, surprise) chili and pepper, plus a few other assorted spices.
The bright red paste is used to flavor tagine, marinate meat or make a dip for bread.


Sriracha was originally created in Si Racha, an eastern coastal town in Thailand, before spreading around Southeast Asia.
It's more sweet than spicy and has a garlicky taste.
Thanks to David Tran, a Vietnamese-American who founded Huy Fong (sometimes known as rooster sauce), sriracha has amassed a following worldwide.
It's now become a common pantry item.
Sriracha sauce is mostly served with seafood in Thailand.
It's also commonly seen in Vietnamese pho places.
Instead of drowning a flavorsome pho broth with sriracha, it's better to use it as a dip for meat on the side.

Currywurst sauce

30 best condiments
Currywurst: Big in Germany.
In theory, squirting a mixture of tomato sauce, curry powder and paprika over a sausage should be a very bad thing.
In reality, currywurst -- as one of Germany's favorite fast foods is known -- is highly addictive.

Oyster sauce

More than 100 years ago, the founder of Hong Kong condiment company Lee Kum Kee accidentally reduced a pot of oyster soup into a thick dark sauce.
As many great food stories go, he realized it was a delicious invention and turned it into one of the bestselling sauces among Chinese communities around the world.
Oyster sauce is saltier and is used more often in everyday cooking than hoisin sauce.
It's as at home marinating a steak as it is dressing boiled choi sum.

Barbecue sauce

Grill purists may disapprove. We don't care.
Barbecue sauce -- in its many forms -- is a delicious addition to any meat.


It's said that pesto can be traced back to the 1600s in Italy. After centuries, the fresh green paste still hasn't gone out of fashion.
Consisting of basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil and salt, pesto is great on any pasta.

Toasted sesame oil

Extracted from sesame seeds, this oil delivers a robust fragrance.
Indians use it as a cooking oil, but also toast it to use a dressing or ingredient.
We love to dunk our Korean barbecued meat in it, season our Chinese stir fry and braise our Taiwanese sesame chicken.
The sight of a pool of black sesame oil floating around in a bowl of Japanese tonkotsu ramen is a joy to behold.

Worcestershire sauce

In Britain, it's pronounced "Wooster."
Maggie Wong/CNN
Another pride of Britain in the condiment world, we bring you Worcestershire sauce.
Similar recipes of a fermented anchovy sauce can be traced back centuries.
It was popularized as Lea & Perrins when a small drug store of the same name in Worchester, England, bottled and branded it.
It's a welcome addition to many recipes including cheese on toast and Bloody Mary cocktails.

Nam jim gai

A sweet chili sauce in Thailand, nam jim gai marries very well with almost all chicken dishes.

Lingonberry jam

It's hard not to love Swedish meatballs.
But the best thing about these bite-sized treats is the sweet and slightly acidic lingonberry jam that often accompanies them.
It's so good, it's managed to infiltrate many Scandinavian dishes -- from pancakes to beef stew to Christmas rice pudding.


Japanese cooking 101 students will get nowhere without a bottle of mirin.
It's a type of rice wine with a sweetened flavor that's often used in place of sugar.
The clear golden brine can help hide an unwanted gamey or fishy taste in meat.
It gives food a more attractive glaze too.
November 30 is Mirin Day in Japan, as 11 and 30 sound like good and mirin in Japanese.
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