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:
Vegemite or Marmite
Go back from whence you came.
Red Pepper Jelly
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Sweet, savory, spicy -- in all the wrong ways.
A good honey mustard is really hard to come by, so while we may like it in theory, we almost never see its good side.
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In theory we like relish -- which is essentially chopped up pickles -- but in practice it's always way too sweet.
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Why wouldn't we use mayonnaise or aioli instead? Tartar sauce is essentially the same thing, but it might also have some added ingredients that we find unnecessary, and in some cases, unappealing (we're looking at you pickles, olives and onions).
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It may be good for clearing out your sinuses, but the way it tastes? It's so bitter! We'll take it in a Bloody Mary, but for anything else, we'll need convincing. The only acceptable way is to grate it yourself.
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When there are so many good mustards out there, why would you choose this one?
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Some people swear by ranch -- for everything. Others do not. We're in the "others" camp.
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We wish we liked chutney better, but there's something about its sour pungency that usually throws us off. Not always, but usually.
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Salty, salty, salty. But it has its uses, and goes far in moderation.
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Made well, bbq sauce can be golden. Made poorly -- as in too sweet -- we want to run and hide.
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A sesame paste that can be both cooling and neutral, tahini has many uses. We like it, but it's hard to love.
You can't go wrong with classic, but we can't limit ourselves to its overly sugary and overly salty, artificial flavor all the time.
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A North African blend of hot peppers, spices and oil, harissa is an up-and-coming hot sauce that we can't get enough of.
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Filled with umami, fish sauce really does make everything taste better. 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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We're talking about anything from Frank's to Crystal to Tabasco. There is life after Sriracha, you know.
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Like mayonnaise, aioli is an emulsion of egg yolks, oil and lemon juice, but aioli contains garlic and starts with a mortar and pestle, not a blender. We love 'em both.
Oh, hoisin sauce. 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.
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Certain food trends are inexplicable. Sriracha is not one of them. In Bloody Marys or on chicken wings, Sriracha taste good on basically everything.
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.
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We like our salsa spicy and chunky, so that it adds heat and texture.
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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.
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Grainy or smooth, dijon mustard is sharp, pungent and uniquely versatile. It goes well with everything from meats to pretzels, and is used to make so many other kinds of condiments, sauces and dressings. It is the king of all condiments.