The Condiments We Put on Everything

You can take our chili crisp when you pry it from our cold, dead hands.

Jar of homemade chili crisp
Photographs: Vicky Wasik, except where noted

A favorite all-purpose condiment can almost feel magical—how is it that a single spicy/tangy/funky/creamy/all-of-the-above substance, with its own distinct flavor profile, can taste equally good on tacos, eggs, and grilled vegetables? It's that kind of alchemy that has led to our near-fanatical devotion to certain sauces or seasonings, and, while making our own mayo or hot sauce brings rewards in both flavor and sense of accomplishment, we're just as likely to cling fervently to certain store-bought brands. (And, accordingly, just as likely to panic upon finding the jar scraped clean, or upon learning that the grocery stores in a new city don't carry the stuff.) From garlicky homemade toum to the be-all, end-all of ketchup, these are the condiments we hope we never find ourselves without.

Stella Parks, Pastry Wizard

I loved chili crisp long before I dreamed it was something that could be made from scratch—I shoveled it over fried rice, nestled it into omelettes, and spooned it over garlicky green beans. So when Sohla gave me a pint of the good stuff, her very own homemade chili crisp, I couldn't believe my luck. Or my misfortune, rather, because I plowed through it within a week (well, with the help of my husband). One solid, very spicy, very flavorful week of not just good but great eats. With dumplings! Over slices of quesadilla! On potato skins! With avocado toast! Everywhere!

We immediately ordered everything we'd need to make it ourselves, including gloves, and it's been part of our culinary routine ever since. At this point, I'm just shamelessly spooning it over bowls of ice cream, ready to mainline it however I can.

John Mattia, Video Editor

I picture a Venn diagram of condiments, in which the three intersecting sets are "spicy," "tart," and "creamy." In the center sits Peruvian ají verde. Make it in your blender at home (dead easy), or pick some up from your local rotisserie-chicken place (ask for extra).

Vicky Wasik, Visual Director

I use grated Parmigiano-Reggiano as a condiment. Obviously on pasta, but it's also great on top of veggies, eggs, salads, soups, anything! It always adds a salty pop, and when I'm done with the block, I can throw the rind into a soup for an extra umami bump.

J. Kenji López-Alt, Chief Culinary Consultant

A bottle of Todd's Inner Beauty Hot Sauce, with a Polynesian-style mask on the label
Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Inner Beauty Hot Sauce! I first became familiar with it because my dad kept a bottle of it, with its distinct tropical-mask theme, in our fridge growing up. It originally came from Chris Schlesinger of Cambridge, Massachusetts' East Coast Grill, where the recipe was scrawled on the back of a menu.

Schlesinger has since sold both the restaurant and the menu, and the hot sauce was unavailable in supermarkets for a long time—you had to go to the restaurant, and get lucky, in order to taste it. But a few years ago, the hot sauce company Todd’s bought the recipe and started making the sauce again, and it’s as good as ever. Mustard and mango balance out a good amount of heat in a sauce that’s perfect on eggs, but almost custom-made for dipping grilled cheese sandwiches.

Ariel Kanter, Director of Commerce

I really, truly, and deeply love Heinz ketchup. There are way too many places out there making "fancy" ketchup, which never scratches that same salty/sweet/vinegary itch. In fact, don't even call that ketchup; call it "tomato product" or anything else you want, but the homemade stuff will never live up to Heinz.

A few ways I eat ketchup that will likely offend people: on roasted broccoli, on hot dogs, on steak (if I'm too lazy to make a pan sauce), and fried clams. I refuse to eat a burger or most fried foods without it.

Another corn syrup–laden condiment I love is store-bought barbecue sauce. I know there are a lot of homemade barbecue sauces that are amazing, but Sweet Baby Ray's is something fine. I'll always take a squeeze if you've got some. Finally, I'll give a special shout-out to sherry vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, which make just about anything taste better.

I know you're probably still shuddering over the fact that I put ketchup on roasted broccoli. But I will not apologize for that one.

Miranda Kaplan, Senior Editor

I love making (or ordering) vegetable-heavy dishes—roasted mushrooms, sweet potato batatadillas, kale soups—and then drowning them with either dollops of sour cream or, like Vicky, showers of grated Parmesan. I've also picked up a very uncouth habit from my husband of dipping all sorts of stuff (French fries, Tater Tots, pizza crust) in blue cheese dressing, and no, I certainly don't make my own—Brianna's is a favorite.

Kristina Bornholtz, Social Media Editor

Toum sauce.

Last summer, I kept a small container of Sohla's toum in my fridge at all times, and put it on everything—swirled it into pasta dishes with fresh summer veg; slathered it on toast, then topped it with tomatoes and chives; dolloped it on herby grilled chicken. It is my dream condiment—so garlicky it’s almost spicy, with a balanced acidity and creaminess that I can’t get enough of. Just don’t plan on kissing anyone after you’ve eaten it...unless, of course, they’ve eaten it, too!

Unfortunately, making it is a bit of a time-consuming task, so I've fallen out of my routine of keeping it in the fridge. On a more day-to-day basis, I love this Mango Garlic Ghost hot sauce from Kauai Juice Company, white balsamic vinegar, and a good squeeze of lime juice.

Grace Chen, Office Manager and Associate Podcast Producer

I think I might be mildIy addicted to furikake, the Japanese seasoning mix of dried fish, seaweed, sesame seeds, and MSG. I put it on almost everything: popcorn, fries, eggs, oatmeal. I’m even guilty of pouring it directly into my hand and, from there, straight into my mouth. It gives an otherwise plain and boring dish some depth and umami, and I love the extra crunch from the sesame seeds.

Daniel Gritzer, Managing Culinary Director

I'm apt to use every condiment under the sun, but if there's a single thing that I have put on more foods more often than anything else, weirdly enough, it might be nutritional yeast. I dump it in salads, sneak it into sauces, and rain it down on nearly everything.

It sounds boring just typing it—nutritional yeast is hardly the most flavorful food enhancer out there—but I think that's exactly why I use it so much. It's less an umami bomb than an umami hum. It's neither fishy nor ferment-y nor pungent nor piquant, but instead subtle, unassuming, a bass note of savor that provides backup instead of leading the charge. Not that I'm against assertive condiments—I love them!—but the very nature of their loudness means I want each of them only some of the time. The condiment I put on everything has to work all of the time.

Maggie Lee, UX Designer

Black vinegar, pico de gallo, or a squeeze of lemon (or lime!). Some folks get their thrills from umami bombs. I drop acid.

Sasha Marx, Senior Culinary Editor

Side view of a spoonful of XO sauce.

Condiments are life. Along with a usual-suspects lineup of five kinds of mustard, mayonnaise, chili crisp, gochujang, doenjang, and miso, I always need to have at least one jar of prepared Calabrian chilies and one jar of homemade XO sauce in my fridge at all times. A good condiment is like a culinary cheat code for flavor, and there’s no better way to add dimension to a flat sauce, or give an umami or spicy/acidic pick-me-up to a mediocre takeout order.

Preserved Calabrian chilies have a lingering fruity heat to them, with salty and acidic background notes. I toss spoonfuls into vinaigrettes, pasta sauces, scrambled eggs, and more. XO has a lot of those same qualities, but with a crazy amount of can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it savory depth from the dried seafood and pork. I spoon it over rice and citrus salads, toss it with charred broccoli, stir it into bowls of noodles, and just eat it straight out of the jar. Good condiments will drastically improve your life, I promise.

Elazar Sontag, Assistant Editor

I eat mayonnaise the same way some people eat butter: with joy and extreme frequency. If I'm choosing a restaurant for breakfast, I'll scan the menu to find the house take on home fries—something I can use as a vehicle for creamy, thick mayo. And not the fancy stuff either. I have nothing against aioli, but what I'm really looking for is Hellmann's. I don't want to taste high-quality olive or avocado oil, or pick up a hint of seasoning in the emulsified mixture. I love the simplicity, the familiarity, the je-ne-sais-quoi flavor of inexpensive mayo.

While I'm sure nearly all of my coworkers would suggest that I make my own mayonnaise—and it really is delicious when made from scratch—there's nothing quite like sitting down for breakfast and eating a quarter cup of store-bought magic.

Paul Cline, VP of Product

My kitchen is almost never without a super-sized bottle of Tapatío. Sure, there are better hot sauces out there, but Tapatío hits the sweet spot (for me) between quality and price. Most of it probably winds up on eggs, but my favorite way to use it is sprinkling it over a giant bowl of salty, buttery popcorn.

Sho Spaeth, Features Editor

Overhead shot of a bowl of cucumber raita sprinkled with sliced scallions and cilantro leaves

Seems to me that any condiment worth its salt—and all good condiments are nicely salty—should pretty much work with anything savory. That being established, here are my thoughts on condiments:

  • Every finfish tastes better with soy sauce.
  • I make a simplified nuoc cham—just Red Boat fish sauce, lime, tons of dried and fresh chilies—and I put it on curries and fried rice, sure, but also any other kind of rice dishes, like pilafs, paella, takikomi gohan. Also on beef, pork, fish—whatever, although it's particularly good with stuff that's a little oily.
  • Same thing goes for chimichurri and chimichurri-ish things—tons of chopped (not blitzed) fresh, soft herbs, plus garlic, chilies, red wine vinegar, and olive oil.
  • I tend to use (good) olive oil as a condiment for any pasta dish and most salads, especially since I fully came to understand olive oil as a fresh product that needs to be used quite quickly once you've opened a bottle.
  • Not so much a condiment in the way I eat it, but it's definitely a condiment—and I eat it pretty constantly, not really with other stuff, but while I'm eating other stuff—Indian chili pickle.
  • If I have toum around, I find ways to give myself heartburn with it daily.
  • I grew up in India and used to have a weird aversion to yogurt in all forms, but I've since come around a little bit, mostly because homemade raita is insanely good—if you add a ton of chilies and kala namak, and bits of fruit (I also dislike fruit generally, but not in raita), like pomegranate seeds or a fine dice of (salted) apple, or pickled mustard greens—with charred meats and heavily spiced (as in cumin- and coriander-spiced, not chili pepper–spiced) dishes.