This Condiment Is Having a Major Identity Crisis

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: TobiToaster at the German language Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the world of condiments, most of them know exactly who or what they are. Ketchup is the popular kid who’s friends with the theater folks and the lacrosse players. Mustard (stone-ground, yellow, Dijon — all varieties!) is the wacky-but-smart kid who is good at everything he does. Sriracha is the trendsetter who decides what’s cool and how long it will stay cool.

Then there’s A1. Oh, A1. What superlative would A1 win in its senior yearbook? Probably not Most Likely to Succeed, sadly.

But First: What Exactly Is A1?

The lore goes that A1 was invented in 1824 by a chef for King George IV of England. He declared it “A.1.” and the name stuck. Regardless of the veracity of this origin story, it was first introduced to the United States in 1906.

The recipe has likely undergone some changes over the years, but 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. The rich flavor is actually good; it’s winey and tangy. And the slim dark bottle — with bold typography — isn’t bad to look at.

Great, but what should it be doused on? Well, that is where things start to get confusing. Follow this timeline through old commercials and you’ll see the sad reality that A1 has never been comfortable in its own skin.

Put it on steak! And also cream cheese!

While originally it was marketed as a steak sauce, as early as 1963 this commercial shows all of the other great uses for it. In the ad, a hostess gestures to an entire spread of canapés made with the sauce. The pièce de résistance? An “A1 sundae,” which is “a package of cream cheese topped generously with A1 steak sauce.” Just dunk some crackers in and voila! Scrumptious?

Put it on burgers!

In the ’80s, we start hearing that it’s not a hamburger, it’s a steakburger, with A1 as the proper condiment to put on a patty. A tacit play to dethrone ketchup, perhaps?

Again, put it on steak!

Briefly in the ’80s, A1 went back to its steak roots with this commercial that asserts rhythmically in a kitchen-prep montage that steak is not done until you add A1.

Don’t put it on steak!

A few years ago, A1 dropped the word “steak” from its name all together in a gimmicky campaign that announced it was ending its exclusive relationship with the meat that made it famous. The sauce updated its Facebook status and said it was rekindling its relationships with a variety of foods. Now it’s just called “A1 sauce.” So it’s essentially a self-hating steak sauce.

An Unsolicited Pep Talk

My advice? Get away from the burgers and the cream cheese, A1! Put steak back in your name! Why fight what you’re so good at? People love you just the way you are.

Do you love A1? Discuss in the comments!