5 Common Condiments and Their Strange International Uses

Featured, Food Lovers — By Amy Widdowson on April 10, 2010 at 7:03 pm

What you put on your food says a great deal about who you are, while traveling or at home. I know some people who will put cheese on everything, literally drowning even the most delicate piece of fish with a think layer of melted mozzarella. Conversely, I have friends who refuse to even taint a meal with salt and pepper, for fear of upsetting the delicate balance of flavors put in front of them. As a result, the condiment you put on your meal can reveal more about you than you intend, and can indicate where you’ve traveled and/or are from. Here’s are a list of familiar condiments and how they’ve been adopted around the world.


Image: kruder396

For most North Americans, including ketchup on a list like this might seem sacrilegious, an affront to our habit of putting the red stuff on everything. Although it entered mainstream American culture at the 19th Century (appearing in the cookbook Sugar House Book in 1801), Ketchup may have originated in China as early at the 17th century. Made (loosely) from tomatoes, vinegar, corn syrup, salt, spic, and garlic, Ketchup is most commonly put on top of barbecue foods like hot dogs and hamburgers, but can often be seen applied to noshables that are not always associated with Heinz.

Canadians have Ketchup flavored chips, which has created fond childhood memories in Canadians, and strange stares from Americans when you ask for it at 7-Eleven. Brazilians put ketchup on Pizza. Brits put steak sauce, a spicier version of ketchup on their breakfast.

Image: zieak

Related: As a response to a shortage of tomato ketchup in WWII, Filipino food technologist Maria Y. Orosa created Banana Ketchup, which is sweeter than most ketchups and used on just about any dish, including Filipino-style spaghetti.  We recommend checking out the “things you put ketchup on” board at Chowhound, as long as you’re prepared to hear about Richard Nixon putting ketchup on cottage cheese.


Image: rainvt

Mayonnaise is divisive – some people put it on everything, others risk getting sick if they are in the vicinity of it. Made from an emulsion of oil, acid, and spice, mayonnaise traditionally uses egg yolk as an emulsifier, resulting in a creamy, rich result. Though most associate mayo with the white stuff that comes out of a jar from the grocery store, basic mayo making practices serve as the basis for a plethora of fine food accompaniments, including aiolis. In North America, you’ll find mayo on many the lunch tray and staff picnic,  on sandwiches, in egg salad, and mixed in dips.

Image: Marshall Astor – Food Pornographer

Around the world, however, mayo is used on a great deal more munchies. In Western Europe, pommes frites are dipped in herbed or spiced mayo. In Japan, mayo doesn’t contain any water and contains rice vinegar and MSG and served with cooked vegetables or put on top of pizza. In China, they put mayo on top of Fruit Salad. Yep, Fruit Salad.


Image: Debs

Vinegar, from the Old French vin airgre (sour wine), is an acidic liquid left out too long to delightful (but non-alcoholic) results. Vinegar base can be one of many liquids, including wine and ale, pureed or soaked fruit, rice, coconut, cane, honey, etc. Used in cooking, vinegar’s acidity cuts fat and salt, adding flavor and depth to a recipe. Rumored to help with a variety of ailments including weight gain, vinegar popularity is sometimes subject to the whims of the populace (Apple Cider Vinegar diet, anyone?).

Image: Carly & Art

While some would assume that the typical cocktail connoisseur would be best to stay away from anything resembling vinegar, some foodies have started to seek out Vinegar cocktails, like the one found at thepauperedchef.com. Some Americans find it strange to hear that vinegar is sprinkled on fries (chips) in the UK, Canada, and beyond. These same people may find it very strange to hear that, in some countries, you’ll find vinegar as a topping for sweet desserts as well. A sweetened balsamic vinegar reduction poured over vanilla gelato can be found in many cafes in Rome, and balsamic vinegar jams and jellies on toast make a perfect breakfast.


Image: Mrs. Gemstone

Crush mustard seeds and combine that with liquid – you’ve just made one of the most common condiments in the world, ranging from mild store-bought creations to far more intense home concoctions. You can find a version of mustard almost anywhere in the world, on every continent, and in most cuisines.

Image: WordRidden

When not invading distant lands and wearing togas, the Romans invented mustard mixing grape juice with ground mustard seeds to create the burning condiment. As the Romans brought their might and taste preferences across Europe, mustard spread. The first case of mustard in official records is in, unsurprisingly, Dijon, France, which is now considered the “mustard capital of the world“. Mustard can be used as a glaze for ham, combined with other ingredients for vinaigrettes and marinades, dipped in by Bavarian pretzels, and slathered on foot-longs before a baseball game.

Though most are familiar with the Dijon and the typical American Mustard, with its bright yellow hue from the addition of turmeric, mustards around the world contain more than ground seeds and vinegar. In Italy, Mostarda combines mustard-flavored syrup with candied fruit, with some variations containing quince and pears (each region has its own take on this salty/spicy/sweet condiment. In Arran, Scotland, scotch and other spirits are added to mustard.

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Horseradish, in the same plant family as the mustard plant, is created in a similar way as regular mustard, by crushing or grating the horseradish plant and mixing it with vinegar – wasabi is made the same way. If you’d like to learn more about mustard, visit the National Mustard Museum in Wisconsin, where you can check out an “ever-growing” display of 5,100 jars, bottles, and tubes of mustard from over 60 different countries.


Image: 96DPI

Peppers are not to be messed with – these fiery little devils can add a pleasant heat to a stew, soup, or pizza, or they can get under your fingernails and burn your eyes when you least expect it. Peppers from the Piper and Capiscum genus comprise the majority of peppers used in cooking, and range greatly in ‘heat’. The black flakes you find on the table at Thanksgiving belong to the Piper genus, made from grinding up the fruit of the plant, peppercorns. Practically all of the pepper in Europe came from one region in India until after the Middle Ages, and its trade (as well as the trade of various other spices) radically changed world history, establishing dynasties and colonial occupation.

Image: stevendepolo

When one thinks of a ‘pepper’, they are thinking of a peppers from the Capiscum genus. Ranging in heat from the Bell Pepper (large and mild) to the multitude of chili peppers, they are typically treated as vegetables in cooking. Peppers contain capsaicinoids, which bind with pain receptors in the mouth, causing a burning sensation. Scoville heat units are a way of conveying how spicy a pepper is, and units are based on how many times an extract must be rinsed in water before losing its spice.

Image: 2Eklectik

Nearly every cuisine in the world incorporates some form of pepper, whether Piper or Capiscum. Pureeing peppers of the Capiscum variety and adding vinegar and other spices creates the basis for a variety of hot (or chile) sauces, which can be found on tables across the world. Beyond food, peppers have been used for a variety of personal defense and military endeavors. Pepper spray contains extract from Capiscum peppers, and India has used chillies in hand grenades as a non-lethal form of crowd control.

Tags: Canada, Chile, foodies, hot sauce, Japan, ketchup, lays chips, mayo, mayonnaise, mustard, pepper, USA, vinegar


  • Spencer Spellman says:

    Indeed interesting uses of condiments, coming from me who is a hoarder of condiments. I’ve been curious about the Ketchup Chips? Has anyone ever had them? My sister-in-law puts ketchup on everything, even scrambled eggs.

  • Amy Widdowson says:

    I have had ketchup chips before and I actually really like them (taste harkens back to my childhood). They’re salty and tangy, with a bit of sweetness, and they leave your fingers bright red. Personally, I love ’em.

  • lindseyashjian says:

    Ketchup chips are HUGE in Spain! They take out the middleman. Just shipped a boxload to my fanatic best friend back in California 🙂

  • Rachel says:

    Yuummmmm ketchup and cottage cheese…that’s not a totally acceptable dinner dish?? It’s such a good combo!!

    Great post Amy. Love the pics!!


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