Contemplation: On Condiments

I think about food a lot because it often makes me happy in my life.  I love shopping for food.  I love cooking food.  And I especially love eating food.  The topic of food is one that can branch out into a wide diversity of other subjects and they are all worthy of examination considering that food consumption is a vital part of being alive.  Recently I found myself sitting back and thinking about an oft overlooked part of food consumption; the use and preference of condiments when eating.  So allow me to go off into a contemplation on condiments.

Right off the bat my first thought is that condiments are really weird in regards to the whole of food stuff.  They are these extras that we add to different foods, yet none of them are necessarily vital to the main food itself (though a number are consider part of proper consumption practices). Except for when they are!  Because some happen to be main ingredients (ketchup in meatloaf, mayo in potato salad, etc.).  Furthermore, most condiments are not generally consumed as a stand-alone food product.  You rarely see somebody just eating mustard with a spoon (there may be individuals who approach their condiments of choice this way but in general I think this is a rarity).  Thirdly, just consider the basic purpose of condiments, in that they are supposed to add additional flavor to a food.  Then ask yourself, “why isn’t there more flavor in the first place?  Why do we need condiments at all?”

Well I think I can answer that last question.  Condiments are all about individual control over flavor.  People have a lot of preferences in regards to how their food tastes and often times their preferences do not coincide entirely with the preferences of other individuals or the actual prepared flavor of a food.  Thus condiments provide a convenient means by which a person can add their own specific prefered flavor to a meal.  Over time, and general consensus, certain condiments have gained the status of being accepted for specific food items (think ketchup for french fries and tartar sauce for fish).  People using condiments can apply their desired amount to add the additional flavor they want and then enjoy their eating experience.

Considering that condiments are all about prefered flavor experiences I think they, specifically, incite more love and hate in regards to foodstuff than anything else.  What I mean by this is that when you talk about ketchup, or mustard, or mayonnaise you will get some folks who absolutely love them and others who hate them with a burning passion.  Of course there are also people who form selective love/hate relationships with their condiment (for example, I think ketchup is a must have for french fries but I really do not like it at all on hot dogs or hamburgers, upon which many people do like it).  I know some folks who absolutely hate mayo in all cases but then love mustard.  And then I know others who gag even at the mention of mustard but can find a use for mayo in everything.

Thinking about this I will offer you a look inside my own opinions of condiments.  Now let me make it clear, I know people don’t agree with me 100% on any of this.  Great, wonderful, and all that jazz.  Just remember, as I pointed out above, I realize that condiment preference is in no way universal.  So please, any of you reading this, don’t take it personal.

Let’s start off with what I will call the Big Three of American condiments, those being Ketchup, Mustard and Mayonnaise.

Ketchup

While ketchup is a widely popular condiment for many people, it is really one of my least favorite.  Primarily I like it with french fires (usually for dipping and only a small amount) or in meatloaf (and generally not on the meatloaf when I’m eating it).  I have never really cared for ketchup on either hot dogs or burgers which is in contrast to a great number of people.  I have found that, like many food things, I do tend to prefer craft made ketchups more than the standard store brands (Kraft, Hunts, etc.).  Blue Ridge Brewery, in downtown Greenville, has their own house-made ketchup which is absolutely delicious and I have bought several bottles of it.

Mustard

Of the Big Three, mustard is definitely my favorite.  The thing about mustard though is that in many ways it can act more as a category of condiments which share some common ingredients than as a singular specific condiment.  This is of no matter to me, as I tend to love all the varieties.  That’s right, give me deli-style, give me Dijon, give me honey, stone ground, or horseradish! I’ll take them all!  Seriously, I love mustards.  I use them as both condiments and essential cooking ingredients.  My burgers and hot dogs always have mustard on them (yes even chili dogs and the like). Really I can just about sum up my feelings about mustard by saying “that’s some fucking yummy stuff!”

Mayonnaise

I think mayonnaise is that classic hit-or-miss condiment for me (oh, and note that Greenville, SC is mentioned in that linked Wikipedia article for Mayonnaise for Duke’s Mayonnaise).  Sometimes I like some mayonnaise on or in stuff, other times I find it annoying if not outright gross.  I just really think mayo is a condiment to approach with care and caution.  Furthermore, I think I know more people who have ill regards for mayo than for any other condiment.  Where do I put it?  Turkey sandwiches, a bit in potato salad (though I often put more sour cream and mustard these days), and bacon-cheeseburgers.  I do all of these with caution though, because too much mayo is a good way to gag.

Beyond the Big Three

Listen, there are a lot of condiments out there and I am sure some amazing literature has been devoted to them (if not, perhaps I will have to investigate my future options).  Basically what I am saying is that I could go on forever on this post, writing deep analysis of every little condiment that comes along.  I don’t really have the time or patience to do that currently, so instead let me offer just a few passing thoughts on a few other condiments.

  • Tartar sauce: Kind of a weird one.  The bad pun would be to call it fishy.  The strange part is that it seems to be a mix of several other condiments.
  • Cocktail sauce: Another “fishy” one (though primarily of the shelled variety).  Also appears to be a concoction of several other condiments.  Very food specific use.
  • Relish: Basically chopped-up pickled vegetables.  In the US this tends to be chopped-up pickled cucumbers (which many Americans simple refer to as Pickles).  A strange condiment, though not altogether bad.  Kind of one of those “it has its time and place” condiments.
  • Hot sauce: Like mustard more of a catagory than a single specific condiment.  Definitely popular and offering a wide variety of experiences.  I love spicy food and so hot sauce can provide some wonderful opportunities for kicking up the heat.  See: Tabasco sauce and Sriracha sauce for two popular specifics. 
  • Soy Sauce: Pretty much ideal (as both an ingredient and a condiment) for the broad food category of “Asian.”  Salty and umami.  Really just some wonderful stuff.
  • Salt & Pepper (black):  Listen, if you keep only two things in your kitchen it should be these two flavoring elements.  It is as simple as that really.
  • Oils & Vinegars: Beyond the salt & pepper above, these are the next two food stuffs you should consider keeping on hand (but do realize one cannot very well sustain themselves on just salt, pepper, oil and vinegar.  You might want to buy some fucking bread or a vegetable or two).

I am sure that there are many more condiments that I could list and discuss (and y’all are welcome to offer them up in the comments) but I am feeling like this place is the end of the line for this post.  Just remember, condiments are all about bringing a flavor to food so that it meets individual preference.  Furthermore I’d advise not relying on condiments alone.  People should learn to find what is good in foods to start off and only use condiments as an amendment to the overall experience (just my personal opinion on the matter).

Well that is that and now I am hungry.

~ by Nathaniel on March 8, 2010.

2 Responses to “Contemplation: On Condiments”

  1. “Condiments are all about individual control over flavor.”

    Oh! Yep. Also, my cousin used to bypass the spoon and drink his ketchup. Come to think of it he probably still does. Yay for mustards!

  2. […] years back now I wrote a post contemplating condiment usage and preferences. I stand by pretty much everything that I wrote in the post, and so this one isn’t really […]

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