I love cooking. And in the summertime, especially, I enjoy adding fresh condiments to my homecooked meals. It’s a nice way to add flavor and important nutrients to any dish.
So, today, let’s talk about three of the most-popular condiments here in the U.S. Then, for the more adventurous spirits, we’ll move on to discuss six lesser-known international flavorings, too.
Let’s jump right in…
Three of America’s most popular condiments
1.) Mustard. Mustard is a popular, tasty condiment made from the seeds of the mustard plant. But did you know it’s also loaded with nutrients? In fact, the wild mustard plant is the original source for cultivated brassica plants (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower).
Of course, mustard pairs nicely with cheeses and meats. But you can also add it to stir-fries, as they do in Asia. I particularly like the “kick” mustard gives to a basic salad dressing of olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice.
Just make sure to choose a variety made without any sugar. Or better yet, try making your own mustard at home! To make it, just grind the mustard seeds and mix them with water, salt, vinegar, lemon juice, wine, salt, and other spices to taste. You can even add some fresh, local honey—if you’re looking for something a bit sweeter.
2.) Ketchup. Ketchup is another popular condiment here in the U.S. It’s made with concentrated tomatoes, which contain high levels of a carotenoid called lycopene. Studies show this healthy carotenoid helps prevent everything from prostate cancer to heart disease. (I helped discover the role of lycopene in food nutrient composition and in human nutrition and metabolism in the mid-1980s, when I worked together with researchers at the National Cancer Institute [NCI] and the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland.)
Unfortunately, most regular varieties of ketchup found on the market today contain loads of sugar and/or high-fructose corn syrup. So, make sure to opt for an organic, sugar-free product. Or here again, you can make your own with tomato paste, vinegar, salt, mustard powder, and garlic. Just add water to thin it out and a little honey for sweetness.
3.) Mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is another popular condiment. (Last year, it actually climbed above ketchup as the No. 1 best-selling condiment in the U.S.)
Traditionally, it contains healthy ingredients, including eggs and olive oil. So, it’s a great way to add essential fats and nutrients to something that can be dry and bland like poultry.
I enjoy sprucing up regular mayonnaise by turning it into a kind of aioli, with the addition of garlic, cayenne pepper, paprika, and/or tomato paste. It goes great on fried eggs or potatoes, as they do in Spain.
Here again, you want to be cautious of popular varieties on the market, which may be full of sugars and artificial ingredients. I encourage you to find a good, organic, full-fat version. (My favorite is the “Sir Kensington” brand. It focuses on all-natural ingredients—with less processing and sugar.)
You can also make your own mayonnaise, as my grandmother did. All you need is organic eggs, fresh–squeezed lemon juice or vinegar, olive oil, and sea salt.
Now, let’s move on to some lesser-known flavors you can also add to your dishes…
International condiments add flavor and nutrition to your meals
Ever since sriracha chili sauce began gaining popularity among U.S. consumers about 10 years ago, there’s been a massive influx of other international condiments to the market.
Here are six of my favorites that I encourage you to try:
1.) Colatura di Alici. This condiment is a tasty, traditional, Italian fish sauce that dates back to ancient Rome (garum). It’s similar to Southeast Asian fish sauce, as you make it by layering anchovy filets in barrels with sea salt. You then allow the filets to age and ferment, giving the salt time to pull out the healthy, essential minerals and fatty acids from the anchovies. Then, you gather the nutrient-dense, amber-colored liquid that drains out of the barrels.
You can use a splash of colatura along with some olive oil and garlic to add flavor, richness, and depth to simple pasta dishes, marinades, and salad dressings. And it keeps naturally for months without refrigeration. (Interestingly—anchovy paste was the secret ingredient in my Italian grandmother’s red sauce.)
2.) Harissa. This condiment hails from further south in North Africa, and it’s a spicy paste made with hot chili peppers, caraway, cumin, coriander, garlic, mint, olive oil, and other spices. It’s somewhat similar to traditional Mexican chili, which makes sense, as the North Africans controlled much of the Iberian peninsula for hundreds of years, before the Spaniards eventually drove them out and turned toward exploration of the Americas.
I recommend adding harissa to couscous (bulgur wheat), rice, and soups—or as a garnish to fish and meat. You can also use it as a spicy dip with fresh pita bread. The high vitamin C, carotenoids, and botanicals from the spices will nicely complement the carbs and proteins.
3.) Shiro dashi. This condiment comes from Japan. It’s a concentrated soup base made from kelp seaweed (kombu) and dried bonito fish flakes. But you can use it just like soy sauce—adding it to stir-fry and ramen dishes, omelets, or marinades. Plus, it’s rich in healthy amino acids, to boot!
4.) Smorgaskaviar. This condiment is a classic, marinated spread from Sweden made with cod roe, tomato paste, salt, and dill or chives. Typically, you’ll find it packaged in a metal tube for easy squeezing onto eggs, sandwiches, and toast. It’s available in smoked or unsmoked varieties. And it adds healthy vitamins and other important nutrients to dishes, such as lycopene and omega-3s.
5.) Tkemali. From Georgia (formerly Soviet Central Asia), this thick, sweet-and-sour sauce is made from sour cherry plums.
Red tkemali is made from fully ripened plums, while green tkemali uses unripe fruit. Both include coriander, dill, garlic, and other healthy ingredients, providing you with a wealth of nutrients, including vitamins C, E, B1, B2, minerals, tannins, and carotene.
In Georgia, they use tkemali on just about anything—including grilled meats, vegetables potatoes, and seafood.
(Of course, plums belong to the same family as cherries [prunus] and carry many health benefits. In fact, Amarena cherries [from Italy] are a great way to add flavor without the sickening sweetness and cardboard texture of maraschino cherries. They’re typically preserved in a rich syrup in jars and are packed with healthy constituents. They go well with nuts, and enhance savory dishes like cheeses and meats [pork roast]. They can also be used in cocktails calling for a cherry garnish.)
6.) Za-atar. This is a spice blend from the Middle East. The exact recipes vary from region to region, tribe to tribe, and family to family. But typically, it includes thyme, toasted sesame seeds, coriander, fennel seed, oregano, and sumac. You can mix it with olive oil and apply it as a topping to breads and other dishes. On pita bread, it makes a kind of Middle Eastern pizza. You can also use it to season meats and vegetables.
Plus, this spice blend is packed full of nutrients, as the typical recipe contains vitamins A, C, E, and K. In particular, sumac (a dried berry with lemony flavor) is rich in flavonoids, vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids, and has exceptionally high antioxidant properties.
And there you have it: A quick tour around the world, from A to Z, about ways to spice up and enhance the taste and nutritional content of your cooking…without adding a lot of calories (or sugar)! So when you’re preparing your homecooked meals—or planning your next, safe, summer cookout—remember there’s more than ketchup, mustard, and mayo.
P.S. When it comes to condiments, most people believe they have to be refrigerated after opening. But some don’t actually need to take up space in your fridge at all. I talk all about it the May 2020 issue of my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“My ultimate ‘Spring Cleaning’ food storage guide”). Not yet a subscriber? Click here to become one!