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Must-Have Condiments for Every Pantry

Updated on February 20, 2012
With the right condiments, you can add a punch of flavor to any meal, or even clean your house!
With the right condiments, you can add a punch of flavor to any meal, or even clean your house! | Source

1. Vinegar

Vinegar is not only a useful condiment, but it has many household and health uses too, not the least of which is as a simple, natural ingredient in a home-made fruit fly trap. Now this is probably not the most appetizing way to begin an article about condiments, but vinegar has so many uses, that it is the first on my must-have condiment list.

Vinegar is made from fermenting ethanol from a variety of ingredients. Vinegars vary from place to place, depending on the availability of the ingredients used to make them.Varieties include rice vinegar, malt vinegar, beer vinegar, distilled vinegar, fruit vinegars, and apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is a popular health food product and is believed to help with weight loss and to help diabetics control blood sugar levels.

Cooking With Vinegar

As a flavorful food item, you can mix vinegar with a little olive oil and spices to make a simple salad dressing, or use as a key ingredient in beef, chicken, and other meat marinades. Apple cider vinegar has a stronger flavor than white distilled vinegar, but is less intensely flavorful than balsamic vinegar.

Unlock the flavor and nutrition of greens such as cabbage, collard greens, swiss chard, or spinach by sprinkling a little vinegar onto cooking greens. Use vinegar to make delicious homemade pickles,and slaws.

Cleaning With Vinegar

Add vinegar to hot water for a powerful everyday cleaner that will soften hard water and to remove grime from stainless steel pans. Vinegar is a healthy alternative to powerful chemical cleaners and is not believed to be harmful to children or pets. It is an inexpensive alternative to many of the cleaners on the market.

2. Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar has a more highly concentrated, "woody" flavor than diluted vinegars that will lend a gourmet touch to everyday dishes. Balsamic vinegar is made from pressed grapes, but it isn't a wine vinegar.

It has an intense, complex flavor that, when used sparingly, can add a quick gourmet touch to simple meals. Start using as a quick flavor enhancer for spinach salads flavored with feta cheese, or in marinades, dips, and sauces for sea food, such as shrimp and scallops, beef, chicken, etc.

Balsamic Vinegar is a product of Italy and and can be sold in its original form, which takes 12 years to age into a finished product, or in a commercial, condiment grade form, which doesn't age as long.

3. Ketchup

Ketchup is the unofficial official condiment of the American Midwest, and even has a regular spot of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show. Ketchup is a sauce made from tomatoes or tomato puree, vinegar, sugar, and selected seasonings.

Ketchup is most popular for dipping potatoes like french fries, tater tots and as a topping for hash browns and hamburgers, hot dogs, and sausage. It can be used to moisten and add flavor to meatloafs and steak.

Less commonly it is used as a sauce for vegetables, eggs, hash browns, and is even a secret ingredient in Heinz Ketchup Cake! Ketchup is one of the prime ingredients in fry sauce. Another dipping sauce made from ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard. Ketchup should be refrigerated after opening.

4. Mustard

Mustard is a mainstay of summer cooking. Used as an ingredient in marinades, it adds flavor to grilled meats. Honey mustard is a standard flavor for prepared barbecue sauces. As an ingredient in dressings it will add zing to grilled veggies and salads. It is a must-have condiment for cold cut sandwiches and deviled eggs, some traditional picnic fare.

Mustard is a sauce made from a spice: mustard seeds, It has a spicy tang and comes in a spectrum of flavors. Usually mustard is squeezed from a plastic bottle or spread with a butter knife from an open jar. Some mustards have a bold, spicy flavor, others are sweet and tangy. Honey mustard, horseradish mustard, bold and spicy mustard, and plain yellow mustard are common varieties sold in the U.S.

5. Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce is a strong, piquantly flavored sauce used to flavor meatloaf, egg dishes, and rice. It can add a wonderful flavor boost to chicken too. It can be used to flavor oysters and seafood, and is also a key ingredient in Welsh rarebit. Some caesar salads use Worcestershire sauce, and you will also find this intensely flavored condiment in Chex mix. I have personally used this sauce as a secret ingredient to flavor beef and vegetarian soups, especially Hungarian green bean soup, a recipe found in Crescent Dragonwagon's Bread and Soup Cookbook.

The recipe for Worcestershire sauce is believed to have originated in India. The original sauce is Lea and Perrins brand, which is packaged and sold in the United States and Great Britain using slightly differing recipes. The sauce has a vinegar base, and is sweetened with molasses, then flavored with some intense seasonings that include tamarind, garlic, peppers, and possibly clove.

 Jinyoung Lee
Jinyoung Lee

6. Lime Juice

Lime juice can be purchased artificially from most grocery stores, but I prefer to use the juice from fresh limes, which is not in the strictest sense an actual condiment, but rather a fruit juice. However, lime juice and its sister-condiment, lemon juice, are important components in cooking and preserving foods, and I try to keep fresh limes in stock during the spring and summer months when they are in season in my area.

Lime juice is a delicious addition to fresh homemade salsas, and draws out the flavor of cooked spinach and other greens. Lime juice is a wonderful addition to lightly baked seafoods, especially flaky ocean fish varieties like Tilapia. Lime juice is also a nice addition in salad dressings, or squeezed onto a fruit salad or a slaw.

Limes are often used in alcoholic beverages or to flavor foods such as rice, Mexican food dishes, and sometimes in desserts like meringues and pies.

The citric acid in lemon and lime juices have a preservative effect, and so lemon juice and sometimes, though less frequently, lime juice, is used in canning recipes for jams, jellies, and other types of preserves.

7. Hot Sauce

I like a little heat in my food now and then, and a good hot sauce can work wonders with a bland menu. There are many, many types of hot sauce on the market, varying in availability by region and type.

Hot sauces can be used to flavor beans and ground beef, chicken, ground turkey, or any other meat to intensify the flavor of an already spicy flavorful dish of chili or beans.


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