The most popular condiments from around the world

While some might condemn condiments as the last resort to making a bad meal not-so-bad, we think that's absolutely unfair. Condiments are much, much more than just something you slather on a hot dog to cover the taste of that hot dog, and when they're done right, they compliment the meal — they don't overpower it. 

Is it a surprise that most of us have a refrigerator door filled with open, half-used bottles and jars of condiments? It shouldn't be. Condiments are wonderful, if for no reason other than the fact they allow us to easily cater to the different tastes of everyone sitting around the dinner table. And that's a win any night of the week. The draw is inexplicable, and even if you know you have literally no more room, the temptation to buy more when you see cool new jars and sauces at the grocery store is real. Just one more type of spicy mustard, you tell yourself, because this is a different sort of spicy mustard than the three you already have open. At least you're not alone. 

Did you ever wonder what a refrigerator door (or cabinet, or cupboard) might look like on the other side of the world? What condiments are other cultures using with their other, unfamiliar types of food? Let's find out (and put more on your to-buy-from-Amazon list)!

Lingonberry jam is a popular condiment in Scandinavia

At the risk of sounding like the beginning of a bad joke, let's ask this: How popular is lingonberry jam? It's so popular that you can get it in the most popular of all Swedish stores: IKEA. They even call it "Super-Swedish," and it's no wonder. Lingonberries can be found growing wild in forests across Norway and Sweden, and the Scandanavian Kitchen calls them "as essential as salt and pepper." They're sometimes called mountain cranberries, and according to Swedish Food, they're very similar to cranberries in a few ways. They're hard when they're on the bush and bitter when they're raw, but once you cook them with some sugar they turn into a hugely popular condiment. Depending on how it's prepared, it can be as thick and as sweet as a typical jam, or it can come with more tangy tartness than sweetness. 

Lingonberry jam is served with a number of meals, from breakfast porridge to potato pancakes, cabbage rolls, and meats like game and fish. Even better? If you didn't think Swedish meatballs could get any better, try them the traditional way: with lingonberry jam. The idea might sound a little odd, but it's no stranger than cranberry sauce… right?

Agliata is a condiment that gets a lot of love in Italy

Condiments and pasta don't seem to go together at first glance, but according to Taste Atlas, the Italian condiment agliata, also known as garlic sauce, is still a popular choice for using with all different kinds of pasta, fish, and meat dishes. It's typically made by blending garlic with bread crumbs, vinegar, and sometimes olive oil.

Agliata dates back to ancient Rome and was used by all classes of people, from the rich to the poor. It likely originated in the region of Liguria — near Genoa — and spread from there as not just a condiment, but a preservative. That means it hasn't just been popular, it's also practical: the Sardinian version, made with tomatoes and red wine vinegar, has such a high garlic and vinegar content, it was used by fishermen to preserve their catches while still on the boat. 

Berkeley Wellness says it's super easy to make — even if you're not in Italy — and it's very similar in texture to a pesto that uses breadcrumbs in lieu of cheese. It's thick consistency is the reason for its wide range of uses. 

Gochujang has been a popular Korean condiment for a very long time

When the Journal of Ethnic Foods published an entire paper on the history and importance of gochujang, they called it "an age-old ethnic food" and one of "the most fundamental" types of sauces in Korean cuisine — and it's been around for a long, long time. 

There are scattered mentions of gochujang being used over the course of thousands of years, and it's been a staple item of mealtimes for hundreds. It was even medicinal, recommended for those suffering from digestive issues and given to anyone who was showing signs of a stroke. 

So, what is it this Korean condiment? It's a pasty red pepper sauce that you often see accompanying dishes of all kinds, and many families make it from scratch (although in the West, you can pick it up in the specialty section of your grocery store). Making it is a long process — it's basically dried soybeans, red peppers native to Korea, rice flour, and salt, all fermented for months. Fermentation, we all know, is pretty much magic.

Depending on the type, Good Food describes it as being anywhere from slightly to extraordinarily spicy, with a salty sweetness that helps cut through all the heat and make it much more than your typical hot sauce. When it's used as a condiment, it's typically cut with a mixture of sugar, vinegar, and water, and put on everything from pork chops to carrots and cabbage.

Vegemite and Marmite are different, but equally popular in Australia and Britain

If you ever want to confirm someone is really, truly Australian, just ask them what they think of Vegemite. If the answer is anything but, "I love it!", they just might be faking. According to HuffPost, more than 22 million jars of the stuff are sold every year, and it's found in pretty much every Australian kitchen. 

And to outsiders, it's weird. It was invented in 1922 when a cheesemaker stumbled onto the idea of making a yeasty, savory spread. It's still made with brewer's yeast today — and in much the same way — and it's surprisingly packed full of all kinds of vitamins. Sometimes it's an ingredient in things, but usually it's just smeared on some toast and particularly, tomato toast. 

Let's follow that with a public service announcement: Vegemite is not the same as Marmite. 

Marmite is a similar-but-completely-different brown, yeast-based spread that's popular in Britain, and it's so popular The Guardian says it's seen as one of those quintessentially, uniquely British things. Sort of like the Queen. In 2016, the fallout over Brexit resulted in Marmite manufacturer Unilever trying to raise the price, and if you think Britain's supermarket chains were fine with that, you underestimate the power of Marmite. Grocery giant Tesco refused to accept the price hike, and a standoff — and some chaos — ensued. The crisis was resolved, but it just goes to show: don't mess with the Marmite.

Datu Puti is an irreplaceable condiment in the Philippines

When Shiela Mcaleer left Manila and made her way to Sydney, she went from struggling to find work to support her family to running a successful catering and import business. When she spoke to Food & Drink about the most important ingredients in any Filipino kitchen, one of her staples was the spicy white vinegar, Datu Puti. 

It wasn't just a staple, it was "the most important for Filipinos," according to her. It's not just white vinegar, either, it's jazzed up with chili, garlic, and ginger. It's super tart and super hot, and it's a total necessity. 

According to Epicurious, Mcaleer's spiced white vinegar is just one of many types of vinegar typically used not only as condiments, but as an ingredient — and sometimes as cold medicine. Datu Puti is one of the most popular brands, and after showing up on the market in 1975, they won the hearts — and loyalty — of a lot of people with their "sour face" advertising campaign (via Yahoo!). And when a product is versatile, delicious, and it can make you laugh, it's no wonder so many people love it.

Harissa is North Africa's favorite condiment

NPR calls it "North Africa's Favorite Hot Sauce," because when their Morning Edition crew drove 2,000 miles across Africa, they found it was served everywhere along the way. It's most popular as a condiment in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya, and it's a must-try for anyone who loves some serious spice in their meals. 

There are a ton of different recipes for harissa, but the most basic components are hot peppers, salt, garlic, and olive oil. Then, there's usually a pile of various spices added to finish off creating a condiment that's as versatile as it is hot, spicy, and flavorful. It's definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you love an extra kick to your meals, it's definitely worth giving this one a try. And there are a ton of ways you can do just that. 

Harissa is used on pretty much everything, served alongside snacks and even just with bread, and it's also used as a base for stews and other dishes. Dean & Deluca say it can come as anything from a thin liquid, to a thick paste, to a puree, and suggest that the darker the chilies and chili powder, the better the harissa.

Tahini is a popular condiment in the Middle East — and around the world

What is tahini? The Nosher describes it as a kitchen staple "that we used on everything — from breakfast to dinner there's always an opportunity to use it."

Still vague? Tahini is essentially a paste made from sesame seeds, and it's believed to have been invented in the area around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, at about the same time sesame seeds were regularly grown and turned into sesame seed oil. All this was happening around 3,500 years ago, and it was made by separating the sections of the sesame seed and grinding the bran part of into a smooth, creamy paste. It's the same tahini that you can still buy today, although you can also make it at home by using the whole seed and a blender. 

You don't need to go through all that work, though — you can pick it up at Trader Joe's (or really, and large grocery store). Once you get it, what should you do with it? Use a dollop in your homemade hummus, drizzle it on your salad, or use it to give your pita sandwiches an entirely new and nutty flavor. And according to chef Ashley Christensen (via HuffPost), you can also add sea salt, garlic, and some lemon juice to it before running it through a food processor and turning it into a creamy whipped spread. Win!

Currywurst sauce is a staple condiment in Berlin, Germany

Food historian Ken Albala says (via The Conversation) that ketchup is pretty much at the top of the list when it comes to popular condiments in a number of countries, and that's true of Germany, too… sort of. Berlin's condiment of choice is a little different, and it's actually called currywurst sauce. 

Germany's love for their sausages is legendary, and if you happen to be in Berlin you'll find a special sort of wurst: the currywurst. According to Matador, currywurst was dreamed up by a street food vendor working the crowds during the Cold War. There were a ton of soldiers there, and so she combined three incredible things into something even better. She used curry powder — a longtime favorite of the British — to spice up her ketchup, and slathered it over German sausages. Currywurst was born and today, it's estimated there's somewhere between 800 and 850 million portions of the dish are eaten every year. 

According to The Local, many currywurst vendors have their own recipe for their currywurst sauce — and they take it very seriously. It's almost always a mix of ketchup, curry powder, and other spices, and yes, you can absolutely whip that up in your own kitchen. You're welcome!

Fish sauce is a much-loved condiment in parts of Asia

If you've ever had Asian cuisine, you're probably not surprised to learn that fish sauce is one of the most popular ingredients and condiments in a number of countries across Asia, but let's talk specifics. 

According to Culinary Lore, Thailand's fish sauce of choice is nam pla, or "fish water." It's made from briny ocean fish (so it uses less salt than Vietnam's traditional fish sauce, nuoc-mom), but most recipes still call for three parts fish to one part salt. It — like other fish sauces — is left to ferment for months, until it breaks down into a liquid that's shockingly delicious even after you know how it's made. Because, let's face it, the process is enough to turn your stomach

Other countries and regions have their own varieties — like Myanmar, who calls their ngan bya yay, says Legal Nomads. It's impossible to stress just how important it is to Asian cuisine, used by an estimated 95 percent of homes in Vietnam alone. Just take the lawsuit that pitted two fish sauce manufacturers against each other in 2014. According to the LA Times, when the two companies went to court over their logos (both featured red fishing vessels), Red Boat's Cuong Pham had this to say about their fish sauce: "This is more than just a condiment. It's so good, it's like gold."

Aioli is a widely popular condiment in France and the Mediteranean)

You've probably heard of aioli, but it's one of those condiments that you tend to hear a lot about without really knowing what it's all about. According to Food & Wine, it's a popular and versatile sauce that comes from the Mediterranean, and while it's typically made from a base of garlic and olive oil, there are enough variations that it can be used on anything from tater tots, fingerling potatoes, and fries to salads, burgers, and roasted vegetables.

It's been around for a long time, too, and it's still incredibly popular throughout the south of France. According to Perfectly Provence, aioli is the centerpiece of a traditional meal called Le Grand Aioli, which basically features a meal of seasonal fish and vegetables that's served with a complimenting aioli. It's still a common sight on restaurant menus, particularly on Friday nights, because of the long-standing religious traditions of only eating fish on Friday.

So, what is it… exactly? According to Food Republic, aioli starts with grinding garlic to a paste with a mortar and pestle. Then, it's combined with egg yolk, mustard, lemon juice, and — this is important — oil that has to be olive oil.  It might not be healthy, but it certainly is an authentic French favorite.

American favorite condiment isn't so clear-cut

What about the good ol' US of A? We have a ton of condiments that we like to call our own, but the country's favorite? It's actually a little tricky to say. 

According to food historian Ken Albala (via The Conversation) it's ketchup that takes the cake. Around 97 percent of homes have a bottle of ketchup somewhere, and that's largely thanks to Heinz, who started selling their ketchup — not "catsup", as other companies were spelling it — in 1876. There's also the fact that it's got a reputation as being ultra-American. Not only is it used on the most American of casual foods — hamburgers and hot dogs — it's also a vital ingredient in other very American things, like meatloaf and BBQ sauce. 

But that's not always the case, and the market can be a fickle thing. In 2014, Gothamist reported mayonnaise actually snuck out in front with a shocking $2 billion in sales. (That year, ketchup did less than half that with $800 million.) And in 2016, Business Insider reported that sales of Sriracha had risen 165 percent since 2000, putting it firmly at the top as a real contender. 

They also looked at strangely popular condiments by state, and there are some surprises there. You'll find a ton of wasabi in Tennessee, apparently, and those in Missouri certainly love their nacho cheese. New Yorkers seem to put MSG on everything, while Minnesotans love their guacamole and, in neighboring South Dakota, it's salsa all the way.