A really great condiment can make or break a sandwich. It can inspire deep cravings, and make you an even better cook. Really great condiments can, in short, transform a meal in one squirt, spoonful, or drizzle.
Sadly, the fridge only has so much real estate, so you have to choose wisely. We polled countless people and searched various supermarkets to come up with this list of condiments that are so good they've inspired a fervent following.
1. Duke's Mayonnaise, $5.50 for eight ounces
The contents of mayonnaise jars may all look alike, but as any mayo-lover would tell you, every brand is different. Some are tangier than others, or more savory or sweet, saucy, or gloop-y. So, of course, people have their allegiances. Of all the brands, Duke's seems to have the fiercest following. Southerners, who put mayo in everything, are oh-so-loyal to Duke's out of South Carolina for its silky, custardy texture and bright tang (thanks to extra eggs and no sugar).
2. Maille Dijon Mustard, $6.50 for 7.5 ounces at Jet
This made our list of the 100 most essential groceries, which we published earlier this year. It's smooth, tangy, and doesn't contain sugar like a lot of other common brands. Use it in many, many things like soups, quiche, and eggs.
3. Durkee Famous Sauce, $18 for six, 10-ounce jars at Jet
For some people, mustardy-mayonnaise-y Durkee Famous Sauce is a staple. And then there are people who wonder how famous this sauce could really be considering they've never heard of it. If you're in the former camp, you probably live in the Midwest where Durkee sauce is made. If you're in the latter, you've probably been overlooking the little blue-labeled jar at your supermarket for years. Chances are, it's been there all along, next to the horseradish. Fans say no condiment is better on a turkey or ham-and-cheese sandwich, or in deviled eggs, and that you can even use this piquant blend like you would barbecue sauce.
4. Red Duck Curry Ketchup, $10 for 14 ounces
As the story goes, a trio of women in business school were sharing a basket of tater tots when they realized the world deserved better ketchup. Fast forward a few years and all-organic, junk-free Red Duck ketchup was born. The Portland, Oregon-based company has since expanded the lineup into taco and barbecue sauces, but its Curry Ketchup remains its most sought-after product — it's as good on fries as it is on fried rice.
There was a time, not that long ago, when only those from the Commonwealth would touch these thick, dark, and salty spreads made from fermented yeast extracts. Then Australia's Instagram-friendly version of avocado toast colonized the world and we learned that a thin swipe of the 'mite — when paired with something fatty and bland — is an umami bomb we can really get behind. Marmite is the OG British brand, a little more syrupy and less salty and intense than the more paste-like Australian Vegemite.
6. Patak's Lime Pickle, $9.50 for 9.9 ounces
The British eat tons of Indian curry, and this is their favorite condiment to go with it. Patak's sells more than half a million jars of lime pickle each year, not including the bulk orders destined for restaurants. When the company attempted to "improve" the pickle a few years ago, the outcry was so intense they went back to the original formula, stat.
7. Brooklyn Delhi Tomato Achaar, $15 for nine ounces
Lauded by nearly every food magazine out there, this zingy blend of tomatoes, tamarind, garlic, and chili powder is a fan-favorite among the food cognoscenti. It's still made in small batches in Brooklyn, New York, and adds instant South Asian flavor to everything from burgers to scrambled eggs.
8. Yuzu Kosho, $15 for two
These Japanese pastes are a fermented blend of fresh chiles, salt, and the intensely citrusy zest and juice from the yuzu fruit. They both add a big burst of salty, super-bright heat to whatever you put them on. No surprise to hear that chefs around the country are adding them to everything, from marinades to custards. The red version is made with red chilies, the green is made with green chilies. Get them both and start experimenting.
9. Crushed Calabrian Chilies in Oil, $11 for 10.2 ounces
Giada loves them, and you probably will too. These hot peppers from the Calabria region of Italy are a favorite among Italian chefs and fancy pizza makers for their perfect blend of heat and bright, almost fruity flavor. Once you crack open a jar you will not be able to resist stirring them into everything (think: hummus, eggs, and especially that store-bought jar of pasta sauce). Get rid of that jar of dry, flavorless red pepper flakes and stock up on these instead.
10. Chile Crunch, $13 for nine ounces at Chile Crunch
This unassuming jar contains an irresistible crunchy-smoky-garlicky-spicy blend that you'll want to slather on everything. It's made from roasted chiles, garlic, onion, and spices — all sautéed in canola oil until impeccably crispy. Texture-wise, it's a bit similar to Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp (see number 17) but with a Mexican rather than Asian bent.
11. Hidden Valley Original Ranch Dressing, $4 for 24 ounces at Jet
Toddlers and adults agree that ranch makes everything better — specifically, Hidden Valley's Original Ranch Dressing. We'd tell you put it on sandwiches, dunk pizza in it, and smother veggies with it, but you already know to do that.
12. Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q White Sauce, $9 for 16 ounces
There are dozens — if not hundreds — of bottled barbecue sauces on the market, from big brands like Kraft to famous institutions like Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City. And they come in every style imaginable: tomatoey, mustardy, tart, hot, sweet, smoky, thick, thin, and everything in between. But this Alabama classic is the one that seems to consistently find its way onto every best-of list. Maybe that's because it's one of the few bottled white sauces out there. Or maybe it's because it's just that dang good. The vinegary, peppery sauce goes with just about anything you want to grill, but particularly chicken, pork, and vegetables, and can even be added to slaws and potato salads.
13. Trader Joe's Zhoug Sauce, $3 for eight ounces
This Yemeni-Jewish condiment is like a Middle Eastern version of pesto, thanks to its base of cilantro and parsley (instead of basil) and generous spike of cumin. Best of all, though, is the spark of heat from hot peppers. Zhoug (also sometimes spelled "zhug") comes in either green or red (less green herbs, more red peppers) but here in the States you'll most likely find the green stuff. Trader Joe's started carrying it earlier this year and it's been pretty popular among shoppers ever since. Use it wherever you would use pesto: stir it into grain salads, spread it on sandwiches and wraps, add a dollop to marinades and dressings, etc.
14. Huy Fong Foods Sriracha, $4 for 28 ounces at Target
Somehow this smooth Thai chili sauce with a Chinese label has become synonymous with Vietnamese food, particularly the fragrant beef noodle soup called pho. Confusing? A little, but that just proves how universally beloved this condiment has become. Although there are many producers of Sriracha in Asia, and more U.S.-based brands (both boutique and big) joining the fray seemingly every day, the "Rooster Sauce" is the one that we all reach for.
15. Bragg Liquid Aminos, $8 for 32 ounces at Walmart
Think soy sauce, but a little less salty and more complex. This dark brown liquid made from soy-based vegetable protein has been a longtime favorite among health-conscious vegetarians for decades. Now it's become fairly mainstream. The label purports that the sauce has 16 essential amino acids, something non-meat-eaters often don't get enough of. Sounds good, but these days it's prized for more than its health claims. It's like instant umami. Dash it on salads, stir-fries, slaws, soups — really anywhere that can benefit from a little depth of flavor.
16. Haechandle Gochujang Pepper Paste, $20 for 2.2 pounds
Depending on the brand, this Korean fermented chili paste can vary in sweetness, complexity, and heat. But one thing's for sure — it's fast becoming a staple of American kitchens. It offers a quick way to add sweet heat and a little funk to stir-fries, marinades, rice bowls, and even soups. The Haechandle brand is one of the most consistently well-regarded. Look for it at Asian markets.
17. Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp, $9 for 7.4 ounces
If you've ever had dumplings in Szechuan chili oil, this is familiar territory. But what sets this brand apart from all others is its cracker-crisp flakes of fried dried chilies. Nicknamed "angry lady" for the stern face on the label, this is the best-selling brand in China and a chef favorite. It's spicy, yes, but it's also a little savory and funky, too. Use it to dress up stir-fries, sautéed greens, pizza, and frozen potstickers.
18. Soom Sesame Tahini & Chocolate Sesame Tahini, $19 for an 11- and 12-ounce jar
We were going to pick just one of these for this list, but they're sold as a pair on Amazon and, frankly, that's how they should be purchased. The regular is the best tahini you can buy in the United States. Seriously. And the chocolate tahini is chocolate tahini.
19. Rose Gold Wildflower Honey, $20 for 12 ounces at Dark Horse Organic
We are so obsessed with Dark Horse Organic that we not only made the founder sit down for an interview with us, but also some of our staffers also travel with lots of his condiments in their suitcases. The stuff in this jar is made with 100 percent raw wildflower honey, organic Moroccan roses, and 24 karat gold. "It's just about getting more minerals into your diet and into your body," says the founder.
20. Signature Harissa, $13 for 10 ounces at New York Shuk
Hot, but not searingly, so, this North African red pepper-based condiment is essential to many Moroccan dishes, but it's just as good swirled into hummus, dolloped on eggs, or stirred into grain bowls. The once hard-to-find condiment is now in most well-stocked supermarkets (you should be able to find at least one brand of harissa). The boutique producer making the biggest waves is NYShuk. Its harissa with preserved lemon packs a serious punch of flavor, with extra garlic and caraway.
21. Secret Aardvark Hot Sauce, $10 for eight ounces
What's the number-one hot sauce on Amazon? The one with more than 1,500 reviews, 84 percent of which are five-star? It's the weirdly named and labeled Secret Aardvark. Made in Portland, Oregon, it's a thick and saucy savory-sweet-spicy-tangy blend of tomatoes, habaneros, vinegar, mustard, sugar, and a bunch of other stuff, which is why it goes beyond hot sauce into true condiment territory. You'll find it in most of the pizza and sandwich shops in Portland and, judging from the Amazon reviews, a lot of dining tables around the rest of the country too.
22. Momofuku Spicy Ssäm Sauce, $7.50 for 12 ounces
The tagline says "Good with Everything" and we just might have to agree. Celebrity chef David Chang's signature umami-rich Korean sauce made with gochujang, miso, sake, soy sauce, and rice vinegar is a staple at his NYC restaurants, and now that he's partnered with Heinz the rest of the world can easily get its hands on it too. The spicy version is said to be the closest in flavor to the restaurant version, while the smoky flavor is akin to barbecue sauce. Do what the chef says and squirt it on pizza, fried chicken, noodles, stir-fries, hot dogs, burgers, and more.
23. A.1. Steak Sauce, $5 for 10 ounces at Jet
This stuff has been sold in the United States since 1906 and although it's gone through a few ups and downs, it continues to be a mainstay in many steakhouses, and lots of omnivores wouldn't dream of cutting into a T-bone without a dunk. While the recipe has changed over the years, the present-day version includes tomato purée, vinegar, corn syrup, salt, raisin paste, crushed orange purée, spices, dried garlic, caramel color, dried onions, potassium sorbate (to preserve freshness, the bottle says), xanthan gum, and celery seed.
24. Hey Boo Coconut Jam, $12 for 10 ounces
Known as kaya or srikaya in Southeast Asia, this creamy spread is like a coconut version of lemon curd. Made by slowly cooking coconut milk with eggs and sugar until it forms a luscious custard, it's incredible spread on toast or swirled into ice cream. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hey Boo started with the original coconut flavor in 2012 and has since expanded into mango-coconut, lemon-coconut, plus caramels and chocolate sauce.
25. Nando's Peri Peri Sauce, $16 for four 4.7-ounce bottles
A South African restaurateur built an international empire on his finger-lickin' peri-peri chicken, a marinated and grilled dish with both Southern African and Portuguese roots. There are now more than 1,000 Nando's restaurants and fast-casual joints in 35 countries, and a whole line of sauces in supermarkets so you can get your peri-peri fix at home. They vary in heat level depending on how much of the peri-peri pepper is used, but they all have a bright hit of citrus with a savory backbone of garlic and herbs, making them perfect for dipping, drizzling and marinating.
Did your all-time favorite condiment make this list? Anything you think we missed? Discuss in the comments below!