We Finally Know The Difference Between Sauces And Condiments

High on the list of contentious and seemingly irresolvable arguments (like if hot dogs are sandwiches and whether pineapple on pizza is an abomination or a joy) is trying to agree on the differences between sauces and condiments. Ask someone to identify a condiment, and the answer comes easily — ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, mayonnaise, and toppings like these that are typically found inside fridge doors or served in little packets. Why can't these things also be sauces? What happens if a sauce is used to top a burger or is spread inside a sandwich? Is it still a sauce, or is it now a condiment?

To resolve this debate, The Kitchn canvassed a group of chefs for their opinions on what makes condiments and sauces distinct. They agree that condiments vary widely across cultures but, in general, are used to accentuate or add a finishing touch to already cooked and composed dishes. That includes a shake of hot sauce on scrambled eggs or fresh chimichurri spooned over a steak. By contrast, a food is considered a sauce when it's used as an ingredient to create a dish, an integral part of a recipe that would be changed without it. Think of how a Parmesan cream sauce is crucial to a good pasta Alfredo or how barbecue sauce makes for a sticky and flavorful batch of chicken on the grill.

Your favorite condiment can also be a sauce — and vice versa

However, these definitions don't help when it comes to deciding which category foods like ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard should be in. They're condiments, right? But what happens when mustard is basted over a pan of baked chicken? Is it still a condiment, or is it a sauce? Mayonnaise, a Hollandaise-like emulsion, is considered part of the French family of mother sauces. Of course, barbecue sauce is a sauce, but what if it's served in a little dish for dipping chicken tenders? That sounds like a condiment. 

What this chef feedback reveals is a surprisingly simple solution. Whether something is a condiment or a sauce isn't defined by the foods themselves but by how they're used. Salsa, ranch dressing, soy sauce, and hummus can be condiments, sauces, or, more often, both. In this age of cooking as entertainment on TV and social media, chefs and home cooks are all too happy to experiment, pulling these foods away from their conventional uses and comfort zones into more exciting creations. 

So while you may argue over whether these foods are good or not (there will always be mayonnaise haters), when it comes to the question of condiment or sauce, the answer is "both."