Condiments are a must-have ingredient for any pantry; it doesn’t matter if you consider yourself a foodie or not.
Sauces, dips, marinades, and glazes are the easy way to amplify the dish’s flavor and enjoyment factor without spending a lot of time cooking.
Here is the definitive list of condiments we think you should consider when stocking your pantry. Adding even a couple could significantly improve anything from the simplest sandwiches to haute cuisine dishes.
Aioli is a Spanish (technically Occitan) sauce, particularly popular on Mediterranean coasts (Andalusia to Calabria). Traditional aioli is made with just garlic and oil, a deep yellow emulsion with a sharp and tangy taste. Nowadays, you aren’t likely to encounter it anywhere out of Valencia, and even in Valencia, the newer version of aioli is more common.
The newer version of aioli is a mayonnaise-like sauce, the garlic emulsion made with egg yolks (or sometimes whole eggs), with the addition of lemon juice.
In America, it’s common to refer to all flavored mayonnaise aioli, but garlic is a common ingredient. Certain brands, like Stonewall Kitchen, create unique aioli flavors like habanero mango, maple bacon, sriracha, etc.
Traditionally, aioli is served with grilled meat, fish, vegetables, and certain rice dishes. But these days, it’s considered one of the most versatile.
Mayo has a lot less complicated history than aioli. Its recipe has remained a classic throughout the years. You need oil, whole egg or egg yolks, and an acidic element (vinegar or lemon juice) to get a thick, creamy condiment. Just like aioli, mayo is one of the most versatile sauces out there, used as a sauce, dip, or dressing for meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables cooked in various ways.
You might want to pay special attention to Japanese mayo, which differs slightly from classic mayonnaise. It usually only uses egg yolks and rice vinegar, which results in a pale yellow sauce with a more pronounced egg flavor and less acidity. It’s traditionally used as a garnish for fried dishes such as okonomiyaki, takoyaki, katsu, and karaage.
Ketchup is ubiquitous in American pantries. A simple tomato sauce made with vinegar, sugar, and various spices, it can be (and has been) used pretty much in all ways a sauce can be used: as a dip or garnish, as a flavoring for soup or stew base, as a base for a dressing or a marinade. And, of course, it works fantastically with sandwiches of all types.
Most BBQ sauces use a combination of ketchup and mayonnaise as a base, but the signature smoky flavor significantly differs from both. BBQ sauce is typically flavored with various spics like dry mustard, black pepper, onion powder and contains a type of sweetener, like sugar or molasses. Sometimes liquid smoke is used to give it a richer, deeper flavor.
BBQ sauce is (unsurprisingly) used for meat-based dishes, both as a condiment and as an ingredient for marinades and glazes.
If there’s a sauce that can contend with ketchup in popularity on this list of condiments, it’s mustard. Mustard is, in fact, one of the oldest known plants used in condiments. It’s so old that we don’t even know which country to consider its country of origin.
There are many varieties of mustard, but broadly they can be divided into two types: smooth (with ground mustard seeds combined with liquids and seasonings to form a smooth paste or sauce) and whole-grain (with seeds mixed with other ingredients whole or only partially ground).
Well-known mustard varieties include:
Dijon mustard is traditional French mustard made with brown mustard seeds and white wine (or wine vinegar). It can be either smooth or whole-grain. It has a powerful tangy flavor, with a bit of spiciness to it.
Sweet Bavarian mustard is traditional German mustard made with yellow or brown kibbled mustard seeds. The condiment is sweetened with either honey, apple sauce, or sugar. It’s traditionally served with traditional Bavarian sausages.
Honey mustard is not simply another name for Bavarian mustard, despite the similarities. Honey mustard is a combination of the two at a 1:1 ratio and thus has a milder and sweeter flavor. It’s typically used either as a dip or as an ingredient in dressings and marinades.
American mustard, also called yellow mustard, i.e., the one we put on our hot dogs. It’s mild compared to European mustard and is seasoned with turmeric, which determines its bright yellow color.
English mustard may look like American due to its bright yellow color, but don’t let it fool you. It’s one of the strongest mustard varieties, with a sharp kick and well-expressed pepperiness.
Traditional French sauces
French mother sauces are one of the pillars upholding the entire French cuisine. There are five of them: béchamel sauce, Espagnole sauce, simple tomato sauce, Velouté sauce, and Hollandaise sauce. Not all five French mother sauces lend themselves well to bottling (Veloute being particularly prickly), but having even one in your pantry can upgrade your dish.
Hollandaise sauce is a prevalent option among bottled French mother sauces. It upholds well and maintains its flavor and texture. It’s somewhat similar to mayo, as it is made by emulsifying egg yolk with vinegar or lemon juice, but melted butter is used instead of oil. Bearnaise sauce is another traditional French sauce that upholds well. Considered a “child” of hollandaise sauce, it’s flavored with peppercorn, tarragon, chervil, and shallots.
Espagnole, a brown sauce made from stock reduction and flavored with tomatoes and bacon, is another of the French mother sauces that can get bottled without detriment to its flavor. The famous Burgundy sauce (Bourguignonne) uses Espagnole sauce as a base, mixing it with red wine reduction flavored with shallots, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf.
Traditional Italian Sauces
No list of condiments can be complete without traditional Italian sauces. In fact, they probably deserve an article of their own, but for now, we’ll do a short rundown on the most popular ones you can easily buy online without worrying about the quality or taste.
Marinara is a traditional Italian pasta sauce made with tomato, basil, and oregano and sometimes flavored with olives and salted anchovies. It’s likely the most renowned and versatile among Italian tomato sauces. Marinara is somewhat similar to pizza sauce (and sometimes even used as pizza sauce), though chefs do differentiate between the two. Classic pizza sauce is seasoned like marinara sauce but tends to be thicker.
Ragù alla Bolognese is a thick and chunky meat-and-tomato sauce traditionally flavored with soffrito (mix of celery, carrots, and onions) and wine. It’s another traditional Italian pasta sauce, typically served with flat egg noodles like tagliatelle, fettuccine, and pappardelle, though spaghetti has become a popular alternative.
Arrabbiata is a particularly spicy Italian pasta sauce made with tomatoes cooked in olive oil and lots of garlic and dried red chili peppers. Arrabbiata is traditionally served with tube-shaped pasta with rigged surfaces, like penne.
Puttanesca is not so much a sauce but a dish. Spaghetti is mixed with a sauce made from tomatoes, chili peppers, anchovies, olives, capers, and garlic, cooked in olive oil (somewhat of a crossover between arrabbiata and marinara). It’s rarely served with dishes other than pasta, but its rich and complex flavor lends itself well to various dishes if you’re open to experiments.
Pesto is possibly the second-best known and most versatile among Italian sauces. It’s widely used as a pasta and pizza sauce, as well as a flavoring ingredient in soups, stews, baked goods, etc. Two varieties are most common: green Genovese (made with basil, olive oil, pecorino cheese, and pine nuts) and red Siciliana (made with the addition of tomatoes and almonds).
Calabrian Chili Sauce
This chili sauce is made by crushing Calabrian peppers with olive oil, sometimes with a bit of salt and vinegar. It’s very spicy and has distinct smoky and savory undertones (if you can detect them through spice, that is).
A particular variety of this traditional Calabrian condiment is Nduja. Nduja is a spreadable pork sausage flavored with Calabrian peppers. Depending on how thin the Nduja is, it can be considered a sauce instead of a spread.
Soy sauce is a liquid condiment made from fermented soybeans. There are two popular varieties: Chinese-style soy sauce, made 80% from soybeans and 20% wheat flour, and Japanese-style soy sauce, called Shoyu, made with soybean and toasted wheat at a 1:1 ratio. Shoyu has a milder, less salty, and more complex flavor. A Japanese-style gluten-free soy sauce made entirely from soybeans is called Tamari.
Gochujang is a traditional Korean condiment, a red chili paste made with gochugaru (red chili powder), fermented soybean powder, barley malt powder, and glutinous rice. It has a uniquely complex flavor profile, spicy and savory, with distinct sweet undertones. Same as gochugaru, gochujang spiciness levels can range from mild to very hot.
Gochujang is often used to flavor soups and stews, as well as a base for thick spicy sauces for tteokbokki and stir-fries.
The star of Chinese cuisine, this condiment is prevalent in most East and Southeast Asian countries. It’s made with vegetable oil (usually soybean or sesame) infused with plenty of chili peppers. Common flavoring ingredients include garlic, Sichuan peppers, and paprika. Mass-produced chili oil may also contain soy sauce and sugar.
It’s usually used either as a dip for grilled or boiled meat and dumplings, as well as a seasoning for noodle dishes and salads.
Like modern aioli, tartar sauce is basically flavored mayonnaise. Tartar sauce is typically flavored with chopped pickles, capers, dill, and tarragon. It’s most often served with seafood, mainly fried seafood dishes, as a garnish or a dip.
Curry paste is a blend of spices like garlic, coriander, cumin, cloves, turmeric, and chilies mixed to form a thick, smooth paste, used to flavor various dishes. The dish in question may be curry, or the paste may act as one of the flavoring agents for a marinade (typically for poultry or meat).
Thai curry, for example, is typically made with such paste mixed with coconut milk or water and used to stew other ingredients. Popular Thai curry paste varieties include:
Yellow curry paste, made with yellow chilis, lemongrass, galangal, and spices. Massaman curry is a variety of yellow curry, but with a milder and sweeter flavor and a thicker texture.
Red curry paste, made with red chili peppers, shrimp paste, lemongrass, galangal, and spices. Panang curry is a variety of red curry. It’s spicy but not as spicy as classic red curry. It’s richer and creamier, with coconut undertones.
Green curry paste, made with green chilis, lemongrass, galangal, and spices. It’s the mildest of all three varieties.
Japanese curry is another popular curry variety. It’s usually in solid cubes, made with curry powder, flour, oil, and various spices.
Classic truffle sauce is a thick spread-like condiment made with a mixture of edible mushrooms (the mushroom species differ by manufacturer), extra virgin olive oil, herbs and spices, and, of course, black or white truffles. This type of sauce has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor, with a distinctly earthy and woody (particularly oaky) aroma.
Another popular (though not nearly as highly praised) truffle sauce variety is a cream-based sauce that combines truffles and cheese. It’s a popular garnish for creamy pasta dishes.