What is a Condiment?

G. Wiesen

A condiment is a type of food that is rarely eaten as a principal food during a meal, but is instead often added to another prepared dish to provide increased flavor or texture. There are just about as many different types of condiments as there are different types of food, with various cultures having versions that are unique or particularly important to the people of that culture. Common examples of condiments include ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salad dressing, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, relish, salt, and pepper.

Mustard, ketchup, and pickle relish are familiar condiments on many American tables.
Mustard, ketchup, and pickle relish are familiar condiments on many American tables.

Often added to a food to introduce new flavors or enhance existing ones, a condiment is seldom served or eaten by itself, and does not typically contribute much nutritional value. They may also be used in food preparation as an ingredient in a dish, and sometimes are served alongside a dish that it was used as an ingredient within.

A hot dog with mustard, a condiment.
A hot dog with mustard, a condiment.

This is typically the case of seasonings and herbs that can be used as condiments as well. Some cooks prefer to use only light amounts of salt or pepper while cooking, and allow the people eating the food to add more depending on their preferences. This treatment of a condiment as an ingredient and a potential additive while eating is common for herbs and spices, especially those that can provide some visual appeal or textural contrast when added to a cooked dish.

Wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger are traditional condiments for sushi.
Wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger are traditional condiments for sushi.

Some foods lend themselves toward the use of condiments, such as hot dogs and hamburgers. While these can be eaten plainly, many people prefer to add things like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, or relish. Some foods can also be used in this way, even though they can be eaten separately, making the use of the word fairly contextual. A slice of tomato added to a hamburger is typically considered a condiment, while the same tomato slice could easily be a fundamental part of a salad.

French fries are often served with condiments like ketchup or mayonnaise.
French fries are often served with condiments like ketchup or mayonnaise.

Many condiments are culturally connected to different types of foods or may be used with certain foods in some areas while with other foods in other areas. French fries are often eaten in America with ketchup and sometimes barbecue sauce, while in Belgium they are often served with mayonnaise, and in the United Kingdom they are commonly sprinkled with vinegar. Similarly, certain types of foods are often served with specific condiments, such as soy sauce being commonly served with Asian dishes and grated cheeses such as Parmesan being a staple condiment of Italian cuisine.

A spoonful of mayonnaise, a popular condiment.
A spoonful of mayonnaise, a popular condiment.
Grated Parmesan cheese is often considered a condiment that accompanies Italian dishes.
Grated Parmesan cheese is often considered a condiment that accompanies Italian dishes.
A tomato slice is commonly used as a burger condiment.
A tomato slice is commonly used as a burger condiment.
Honey is a condiment.
Honey is a condiment.
Pepper is considered a condiment.
Pepper is considered a condiment.
Chutney is a popular Indian condiment served around the world.
Chutney is a popular Indian condiment served around the world.
Some people consider pickles for sandwiches to be a condiment.
Some people consider pickles for sandwiches to be a condiment.

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Discussion Comments


I love condiments, but (and I'm sorry to say this) most of them aren't very good for you. Most condiments, like ketchup, have a ton of added sugar, and very little nutritional value. Even salad dressing usually has a lot of fat and sugar in it!

I make a lot of my condiments at home now, especially my salad dressings. Yes, it does take longer, but at least I know exactly what's in it, and I can control the amount of sugar that will be in the final product. I think my homemade salad dressings taste as good as the store bought kind!


@starrynight - I like spicy mustard too. I like to put it on hotdogs instead of using regular yellow mustard.

I'm also pretty fond of condiments, but I used to find that they would create a dilemma when I had people over for dinner. Just putting a bottle of ketchup or mustard on the table doesn't look that great, especially if you're using fancy dishes.

Awhile ago, I got a set of condiment dishes. You put the condiment in the dish, along with a utensil for people to use to scoop the condiment onto their plates. It looks much better than putting the bottles on the table.


I am a huge fan of condiments of all types. My favorite is probably honey mustard, but I also love ketchup, soy sauce, and mustard (all used on the appropriate dish, of course.) I like to try new kinds of condiments too!

Awhile ago, I got a condiment set that came with a bunch of different kinds of mustard. I think it definitely broadened my horizons as far as mustard is concerned. Usually I would just buy regular yellow mustard, but now that I've had a chance to try several different kinds of spicy mustard, I'll probably start buying those as well.


I think I use salad dressing more than any other condiment. I eat spinach every day at lunch, and I don't think I could tolerate the taste without some Italian dressing on top.

I don't use a lot, though, because it is high in sodium. The label says the serving size is two tablespoons, but I probably use one or less. That is enough to coat all the spinach leaves but not so much that it overwhelms my taste buds.

Sometimes, I switch things up and use a raspberry vinaigrette instead. This pairs well with blueberries and strawberries on top of the spinach. The sweetness of the condiment ties everything together, making the spinach taste sweet and the fruit taste even sweeter.


@OeKc05 – I would definitely consider jelly a condiment. If you eat it alone, you would get a sick feeling from all the intense sweetness. Also, all that sugar cancels out any real nutritional value. I don't know anyone who would eat jelly just to get some fruit in their diet.

I like to melt strawberry jelly in the microwave and use it on top of my waffles. Most people just use syrup, but jelly has a much more intense, fruity flavor, and if you warm it up, it becomes very fluid.

I've seen little packets of jelly in condiment holders at restaurant tables, so I guess they consider it a condiment, too. It's usually in a basket with packets of butter and sweetener, right next to the ketchup bottles and salt and pepper shakers.


I wonder if jelly is considered a condiment? I never eat it by itself, and I keep it with the other condiment jars in the refrigerator.

I either spread it on toast or English muffins. When I make linzer cookies around the holidays, I fill them with raspberry jelly. In this case, it would be considered a filling, but on top of bread, I believe it should be classified as a condiment.

It has its own section in the grocery store, so it's a little hard to tell. It's never with the ketchup and mayonnaise. It's by the peanut butter on the aisle with cereal and granola bars.


My husband likes to make his own condiments, so we bought some plastic condiment dispensers that can be washed and reused. They are just tall, cylindrical bottles with little tubes on top where you can squirt the contents out. They have a top to go on the small mouth of the tube that is attached by a little piece of flexible plastic, and it can be secured to the side when not in use.

He makes a great sauce for fries and chicken tenders from mayonnaise, ketchup, salt, pepper, and a touch of soy sauce. I can't get enough of it, and sometimes, I make fries just so I have something to dip in the sauce!

He also makes a really good Asian sauce for dishes like chicken teriyaki. He's kind of secretive about the ingredients in this one, because he doesn't want me to reveal the recipe to my friends. It is sweet yet savory at the same time, and everyone who has tried it loves it.


I think one of the best and most unsung condiments is Thai sweet chili sauce. You can find it at a lot of international grocery stores and even some major chains. It is hot and spicy but also sweet and savory. It has a kind of jelly like texture.

Some people are hesitant to try it because it looks like congealed blood but it is absolutely delicious and it enhances the flavor of just about everything. I eat it on eggs, meat, veggies, rice, even fries.


@simrin-- It seems like we use a lot of condiments, but other cultures use even more!

When I visited India, I was shocked with the varieties of condiments that were available to eat with foods. The most famous condiment in India is definitely "chutney". Indians make these relishes with various vegetables, fruits and spices. Mango, coconut and tomato chutney are ones that come to mind right now.

I like spicy condiments and I really enjoyed the spicy tomato chutney when I was in India. But I learned fast that I need a very small amount with my food, because it's very spicy!

Indian cuisine also has a lot of pickles, called "achar" and sauces too, like yogurt sauce.


I don't restrict my use of condiments as a side to other foods. I cook with them all the time!

One of my favorite meals that requires condiments is sloppy joes. I can't make my sloppy joes without ketchup, tomato paste, mustard and black pepper. It just wouldn't taste right. I include these along with the ground beef and onions while they're cooking on the stove and add some water. It comes out really good.

I also use mayonnaise a lot to make different types of dips. The other day, I made one to eat with shish kebabs. I combined mayonnaise, lemon juice and garlic together. It came out pretty good.


Condiments don't seem very important, but sometimes you just can't do without them.

I just moved into a new apartment and had to buy all my essential groceries since I didn't bring anything with me. At first, it seemed like condiment sauces weren't important. So I only bought what I saw as essential foods like meat, pasta, bread, cheese, milk and so forth.

In a few days though, I realized that I'm not enjoying my food because I don't have any condiments in the house! I had to make a trip to the store to buy ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard.

Even though we might not realize it, condiments have become a very important part of our meals. I can't even imagine having a hamburger and fries without them.

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