25 Condiments We Can’t Live Without

Since the inside of our refrigerator door is almost entirely occupied with dozens of little tiny bottles and jars of sauces, dips, marinades, and condiments.

Here are the favorites we can’t live without:

1:

Instant yeast: I’ve read that these days, almost all yeasts are “instant,” meaning that the yeast doesn’t need to be combined with sugar and warm water to activate before use. My problem with this is that it seems to be completely untrue; my baked items never turn out as well if I don’t activate the yeast separately from the other ingredients.

Concentrated tomato paste: Almost every recipe I have ever used that calls for tomato paste seems to call for half a can…which inevitably leads to the other half of the can sitting in the fridge, drying out and growing bacteria, while I wait several weeks to finally throw it away. A resealable tube of tomato paste solves this problem.

Prepared wasabi paste: Used for cheap supermarket sushi, and occasionally added to the egg yolk mixture for spicy deviled eggs.

Peach freezer jam: Made from our own peaches, this quick jam lasts for about three weeks in the fridge.

8 packets of Taco Bell “Fire” sauce: I learned today that “Fire” may not necessarily be spicier than Taco Bell’s “Hot” sauce, as previously thought, but may instead describe the sauce’s smokier flavor. Used for when we want to make non-Taco Bell items taste more like Taco Bell, which is to say, when we want them to taste like a stomachache and a nap.

2:

Dilly beans: I am definitely a student of the school that adds an entire mixed green salad to a Bloody Mary, because vegetables tend to taste much better after they have been soaking in vodka. Dilly beans provide a snappy, spicy hit, when the drinking is done.

Wickles Hoagie and Sub Relish: I believe I have devoted more than enough space on this website to singing the praises of this mixed pepper and pickle spread.

Strawberry rhubarb jam from Beth’s Farm Market: Beth’s is located in Warren, Maine, and we stop by every time we pass through the Midcoast for fantastic homemade jams, apple cider donuts, and mouth-puckeringly sharp blocks of crumbly cheddar cheese.

3:

Wei Chuan Dumpling Sauce: This sauce, a combination of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and spicy peppers, enlivens even the worst Chinese takeout steamed dumplings.

TryMe Original Tiger Sauce: A peculiar combination of sweet and sour sauce mixed with cayenne, I use this sauce exclusively on chicken wings. I cook them with tons of butter, before stripping all of the skin and meat from the bone with my fingers, swabbing them through a healthy swipe of Tiger Sauce, and eating them in one bite. The whole scene is disgusting to watch, which makes this a habit I tried to keep a secret from Jillian for a very long time. Not to be confused with the creamy, horseradish-based sauce that you put on pit beef sandwiches or onion rings, which some people also call “Tiger Sauce.” Those people are lunatics.

DennyMike’s Hot ‘n’ Nasty BahBQue & Slathah Sauce: As much as I tend to shy away from heavy, sugary, tomato-y barbecue sauce, and as much as the name of this product makes my skin crawl, I cannot deny that this is some rockin’ barbecue sauce. Made in Maine in small batches and spiked with habanero peppers, this sauce brings a bit of heat to ribs and pulled pork.

4:

Bolthouse Farms Thousand Island Yogurt Dressing: It is with my head lowered in shame that I admit that every time I am eating a salad, I wish it were from the long-shuttered Bonanza Steakhouse, as it existed in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Rockland, Maine in 1984. Sadly, all that remains of the restaurant is a wild tangle of weeds, some boarded-up windows, and cracked pavement. But if you believe that lettuce needs to have ketchup, mayonnaise, and pickle relish on it, this is the only dressing you need. We get the yogurt version, as though that classes it up.

Pickled sliced jalapenos: They’re not just for nachos. Start there, and soon you’ll be adding them to hot dogs, sandwiches, and even pizza. Where does the madness end?

Mustard, both dijon and coarse-ground: Sometimes, on ham, I want a sharp, wine flavor in my mustard. Other times, as when I’m eating roast beef, I’m into more of a coarse-ground situation. It’s cool.

Heinz Tomato Ketchup: Though you can certainly make your own ketchup, it’s never quite the same as Heinz’s classic version. It’s got a chemical signature that stays in your brain, and is the only thing that makes sense on cheeseburgers. Or on macaroni and cheese. Or on meatloaf. I love ketchup. “Oh, but Malcolm,” you say, “it’s just straight sugar.” You’re absolutely right.

5:

Sriracha (“Rooster Sauce”): There’s not a lot we can say about this Thai hot sauce, a paste of chile peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt, that hasn’t already been covered by every food blog in existence. Originally a topping for steaming bowls of Vietnamese phở, the sauce’s use has evolved beyond its original Asian intent, and is increasingly found on chicken wings, scrambled eggs, and on the tables of American cafes. Some people, who speak primarily in cliches, say that “everything is better with sriracha,” which isn’t true. But it’s still delicious.

El Yucateco Green Habanero Hot Sauce: We fell head over heels in love with this hot sauce while we lived in Mexico. We added it to everything, eventually referring to it in conversation as “Green Monster.” Leaving this seriously spicy Yucatecan hot sauce behind was one of the things that made us sad about leaving; what a relief to find it at the Topsham Hannaford.

Cholula Hot Sauce: This is the hot sauce we use when we only want things to be a little spicier. And don’t tell anyone who lives in New Haven, but it does a helluva job dressing up bad pizza.

Frank’s Red Hot Original Hot Sauce: I always keep a bottle of Frank’s on hand. Why? Because when you melt a stick of butter into it, you end up with some of the best buffalo wing sauce around. And that’s the only buffalo wing recipe you’ll ever need.

6. Smiling Hill Farm Organic Milk: I was brought up drinking milk (my mom even had to impose a four glass-cutoff, when I was little). While in Mexico, though, in an area where most people drink either yogurt or the ultra-pasteurized shelf-stable stuff, I lost my taste for it. We still keep a jug around for cooking, cookie-dunking, and because, frankly, we like that it comes in a glass bottle. Secretly, I also still really enjoy a tall glass of cold milk with a bowl of spaghetti, of all things.

Claussen Whole Garlic Pickles and Vlasic Zesty Bread & Butter Chips: While technically not condiments, I feel I should address my pickle problem. See, I like Bubbies Kosher Dill Pickles, with the cloudy brine. Bubbies, however, are hard to find. That means that more often than not, when I buy pickles (every 53 days, perfectly in sync with the national average), I am buying both Claussen refrigerated garlic pickles, whole, or Vlasic “Zesty” bread and butter chips. They’re sweet, they’re spicy, and they’re great for eating with your fingers in the middle of the night while standing with the door to the fridge open.

Bottled lime juice: Because lime juice should be added to every homemade Mexican dish you can think of. Imagine if I had to buy, cut, and use whole limes? Preposterous!

World Harbors Jamaican Style Jerk Marinade: We first discovered this stuff when we got our first apartment together, slapping it on everything we could find after a long, arduous day working at the bong store. We continue to keep it on hand for when we feel like we want to grill, but we don’t necessarily feel like we want to cook. It’s sweet, it’s spicy, and you won’t find anything like it anywhere near Jamaica.

Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise: I know you can make your own mayonnaise. I don’t want to make my own mayonnaise. I want to eat it out of the tub with a rubber spatula, like a fat kid eats frosting.

Baileys Original Irish Cream Coffee Creamer: Because sometimes, I want to feel like I am drinking in the morning, but without the annoying buzz and the lost wages. Also, because I feel like nothing goes with coffee like Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate.

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the junk food blog "Spork & Barrel," and "Brocavore," a blog about food trucks and street food culture. His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, Eat Rockland, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

27 Comments

  1. I agree about the Claussen pickles. They are the best readily available commercial pickles, and I gladly pay extra for them. I love them so much, in fact, that I used to tape photos of them in my locker for decoration in high school. Not kidding.

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    1. I also drink vats of Sriracha, and have to be held back from eating my weight in strawberry rhubarb jam. I do disagree about the ketchup and mayo though: those are Satan’s condiments, and should be exiled to a place to never be seen again.

      In my condiment pantheon, we worship Magi seasoning. It’s one of these things that only German/Dutch people (and a few Asian nations) seem to get. We add it in lieu of salt to gravy, soup etc. I have to smack my husband on the hand on soup nights, because he’ll keep dumping the brown stuff into the bowl until the sodium content is near that of a salt lick. Have you ever met Magi?

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  2. I like your blog, usually. But really, why do you have to go the fat kid route? I was a fat kid, and it sucked. I was mocked and bullied. And I didn’t eat any more frosting than you did, I assure you. In fact, we weren’t allowed frosting because I was a fat kid. Sometimes life just kicks you in the ass. Yeah, I know, everyone is going to think I am overreacting. Just a joke. But to me, it’s akin to saying “like a black kid eating watermelon.” That’s how crappy it feels.

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    1. I was a fat kid, too. Wait, what do I mean, “was?” I suppose I could have said, “I want to eat mayonnaise with the zest and zeal that a frosting enthusiast consumes frosting (that is to say, rapidly),” but sometimes a quick turn of phrase just makes a sentence read better. It certainly wasn’t my intention to offend any current or former fat kids, though I think comparing it to any sort of racial epithet is, perhaps, overstating things just a tad.

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      1. You could have just said kid eating frosting. Not just fat kids eat frosting. Or if you wanted to turn a clever phrase, I bet you could have come up with another. Do you know that weight discrimination is more prevalent than race discrimination at this current time? So I don’t think I went too far. And you can’t deny how embarrassing something is to someone else. I appreciate that you can’t have every other person’s feelings in mind when you write your own blog. We all have our own sensitivities. But, whether you like it or not, that is how it read to me. Stand on principle or accept that your clever phrase was offensive to at least one person. I see you are already getting defenders. That’s cool. As long as your feelings aren’t hurt, I guess it doesn’t matter if mine are. And I guess you had an easier time of it being a fat kid than I did.

        You, and others, may think I am making too much of this. I don’t. And frankly, I had no intention of getting into a debate about social sensitivities from reading about 25 condiments, but it happened. What would have been cool, rather than defending your clever phrase, is if you said “I hadn’t thought of that, thanks for letting me know.” That would have been the end of it.

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        1. Wow, so much angst over an innocent comment. I read the comments section first (more on why in a second) so when I saw GUFK’s comments, I was expecting to scroll up to see that you had advocated sending us fatties to prison camps or something.

          As a former fat kid (and current fat adult), let me assure you that I wasn’t the least bit offended. And I enjoy frosting.

          Anyway, the reason why I immediately scrolled down to the comments section after seeing the banner image was because I wanted to ask if you really keep all of those condiments in your fridge, or if it was just for the sake of the photo? I ask because I’ve been told that with a lot of the various hot sauces, unless specifically instructed to store them in the fridge, you’re not supposed to. Something to do with the cold temp taking away the heat from the sauce itself? I dunno… its probably complete hogwash, but I thought I’d ask.

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          1. Thanks for writing, CW. Nope, that was our fridge; the only thing I added was a new jar of pickles, and a new bottle of Sriracha, since I knew those were things I wanted to talk about. I hadn’t heard or read anything about keeping hot sauce out of the fridge, but I tend to err on the side of caution. Also, the way we go through hot sauce in this house, it’s hard to imagine having it around long enough to lose potency.

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      1. If you don’t find it, let me know. I have cases. Send me an address. It’s the perfect thing for half an avocado with coarsely ground pepper, fresh lemon juice, and Pickapeppa. It’s great with Jamaican brown stew. Slosh it on meat patties. Yum.

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  3. did you clean your fridge before taking this picture? and which of you (I think it’s Jillian) admitted to standing in front of your array of condiments with a cold piece of chicken, dabbing on various dribbles of this and that condiment?

    I should send you my recipe for dill pickles. They are ridiculously easy to make and are soo good. This is what you do: pack into canning jar cucumbers, a garlic clove, a tblsp of dill seed, and several dried hot peppers. pour hot liquid consisting of vinegar, water, and salt over cukes. Place lid on jar. Yes, it is work, but they are soo good it is worth it. sooo goood.

    .

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    1. It’s not a recently cleaned fridge…it’s a recently ACQUIRED fridge. 🙂 I have always wanted to try making pickles, but haven’t…I will follow your recipe!

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  4. Reading about the Bonanza Steakhouse in Rockland made me smile. I don’t remember it being open, it was all weeds in the parking lot in my memory, but I do remember driving past it with my parents and for some reason wishing we could have gone there. I used to feel the same way driving past the A&W in Portsmouth as a kid.

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  5. RE #4: Ate at a Ponderosa steakhouse in Herkimer New York. If they had one in Connectthedots I would be a regular. Twelve bucks for a nice ribeye and I think $7 for the buffet.

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  6. Bonanza Steakhouse in Rockland was a treat. I spent almost every weekend with my grandparents, in Hope, and Bonanza was like “fine dining” back then. I always had to go for the sickly sweet might-as-well-be-sugar clear-red no.5 Russian.

    Add in some candle-pin bowling and you had a perfect weekend.

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  7. Did you know you World Harbor Jerk marinade was made by a company in Maine? For an awesome alternative, buy a jar of Grace Jerk Seasoning from Mitheap in Portland. It’s the real deal from Jamaica.

    I spent a week in Guadalajara this winter and brought back some bottles of PORKI hot sauce. It is made in GDL and doesn’t seem to be sold outside of Jalisco. It has a more developed flavor than most hot sauces. The local arbor chile, clove and garlic flavors come together to make my new favorite hot sauce.

    I am already thinking about hiding it when friends come over to make it last!

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