12 Saucy Facts About Our Favorite Condiments We Can't Wait To Spread Around

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Vote up the tastiest facts about your favorite condiments.

Regardless of what you like to eat, you're likely to add a sauce or condiment to it once in a while. Hot dogs need mustard (and ketchup, depending on who you ask), a bland dish might benefit from a dash of hot sauce, and sushi wouldn't be sushi without wasabi (more on that below). Some of our favorite condiments themselves have taken on lives of their own. Ranch dressing is no longer just a salad dressing, while salsa makes its appearance at breakfast, lunch, and dinner alike.

But how much thought do you give to condiments? For those curious, here are some awesome-sauce facts about the most common condiments eaten. Some of the facts clear up misconceptions (sorry, mayonnaise), while details about the ingredients of some condiments might leave people a bit uneasy. Through it all, it's been genuinely delightful to learn some fascinating history about what we put on our food. 

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  • Soy sauce - made of soybeans, wheat, salt, and water - takes between six months and one year to ferment properly. The process for making soy sauce, according to Kikkoman's website, involves mixing soybeans and wheat, then setting the concoction aside so it can grow Aspergillus. But what is Aspergillus?

    It's mold. 

    Aspergillus is a type of koji mold, and it is essential to the production of soy sauce. As a result, Aspergillus and koji are interchangeable in the soy sauce lexicon. 

    Once the koji forms, it's united with water and salt and fermented for months. Koji is considered a "good" type of mold,  but it's a mold nonetheless; as a result, chefs and cooks are not allowed to make their own koji. According to chef Kevin Adey

    Although it's the way all soy sauce is made and part of food culture all over the world, there is nothing you can say to the health department to make [growing mold] OK - if they see it being done, they'll lose their mind.

  • The origin of mayonnaise is debated, but many of the stories about where mayonnaise got its start are based in Spain. While the word "mayonnaise" is French, it's linked to Mahan, the capital of Menorca in the Spanish Balearic Islands, which were occupied by France on and off during the second half of the 18th century.

    At its core, mayonnaise is made with only three ingredients - raw egg, oil, and vinegar. The presence of raw eggs has led to assertions that mayonnaise can cause food poisoning with relative ease, but this has been overstated. Commercially prepared mayonnaise, according to experts, has such a high pH level that bacteria can't survive. In fact, research indicates mayonnaise may prevent or limit the growth of bacteria in food.

  • The word "ketchup" is an Anglicized version of the Chinese word "ke-tsiap," which means fish sauce. The Chinese version of ketchup was eaten as early as the 17th century. The sauce was made with pickled fish, and it was taken back to England by sailors trading in the region. The English added to the Chinese recipe, notably incorporating walnuts and mushrooms.

    In 1762, Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery contained recipes for "ketchup of mushrooms" alongside several additional ketchup variations. One recipe was as follows:

    Take a stew-pan full of the large flap mushrooms, and the tips of those you wipe for pickling; set on a slow fire, with a handful of salt, without water; they will make a great deal of liquor, which you must drain, and put it into a quarter of a pound of shallots, some pepper, ginger, cloves, mace, and a bay leaf: boil, and skim it well; hien 'tis quite cold, bottle and sloop it very close. 

    It wasn't until 1812 that James Mease introduced the first tomato-based ketchup, made from what he called "love apples." H.J. Heinz, who was already selling various sauces in Pennsylvania by 1869, started manufacturing ketchup 10 years later. 

  • There's A Burlesque Comic Opera About Tabasco Sauce
    Photo: George W. Chadwick / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The original performance of The Burlesque Opera of Tabasco took place in 1894. Composed by George W. Chadwick and produced by Thomas Q. Seabrooke, the show traveled around the United States for only a short time.

    According to Shane Bernard, a historian for the McIlhenna Company, the show was commissioned by military cadets in Massachusetts:

    These well-to-do cadets hired an actual composer and librettist to create the show... We don’t know how they came up with the idea, but what it does tell us is that by 1894 Tabasco must have been a household word, otherwise it wouldn’t have made sense to everybody and the opera would have needed an explanation, but clearly it didn’t.

    As the story goes, Chadwick and Seabrooke later had a falling out over royalties, and the show was abandoned.

    The show tells the story of an Irishman, Dennis O' Grady, who gets lost at sea only to land in Morocco. O'Grady becomes a chef but his food is too bland for the Pasha (Turkish official). To remedy the situation, the Irishman adds a fiery liquid to his meals - Tabasco

    A partial revival of The Burlesque Opera of Tobasco ran during the 2010s, and it was well received by critics

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    Ranch Dressing And Sunscreen Include The Same Ingredient

    Ranch dressing is popular on salads, buffalo wings, French fries, and numerous other foods. In 2017, the Association for Dressings and Sauces reported that dressings - especially white ones like ranch  - were increasingly being used on foods other than salads. 

    The ingredient that makes ranch dressing white is titanium dioxide, which can also give skin products their white appearance, especially sunscreens. Titanium dioxide was first used for white coloring in 1923 and has found use in paint, ceramics, textiles, and personal care products. Some of the food products made with titanium dioxide include dressings, cheese products, and icing

    Titanium dioxide cannot exceed 1% of a food product according to FDA guidelines. While it's considered to be safe in the US, some companies like Dunkin' Donuts have taken titanium dioxide out of their products. In May 2020, the European Food Safety Authority decided titanium dioxide was no longer safe as a food additive.

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    Anchovies Give Worcestershire Sauce Its Flavor, Likely With Bones And All

    Similar to early forms of ketchup and notoriously difficult to say, Worcestershire sauce was developed by John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins during the 1830s. Sold commercially for the first time in 1837, the sauce was purportedly created to replicate a condiment eaten by Marcus Sandys, 3rd Baron Sandys, while he was serving as the governor of Bengal in India.

    Awarded a Royal Warrant in 1904, Lea & Perrins's recipe - and distinct orange label - has remained consistent:

    Malt Vinegar (from Barley), Spirit Vinegar, Molasses, Sugar, Salt, Anchovies (Fish), Tamarind Extract, Onions, Garlic, Spice, Flavourings.

    After mixing all the ingredients together, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce ages for 18 months before being bottled and sold.

    While the exact spices and flavorings are not known, cooking with anchovies often means using the entire fish body (sans heads and tails). Some canned anchovies have the bones removed, while others do not, with salt-packed anchovies keeping "scales, fins, and bones" because they soften during the process. The same is true when anchovies are cooked, with their bones becoming soft when heated.