condiment referees

Condiment or Not? The Official Rules for Identifying Condiments

Eric Murphy Uncategorized 5 Comments

Many of you are shocked it’s taken me so long to get around to this controversial topic. I assure you it’s been on the docket for weeks, but I wanted to make sure I had a comprehensive, compelling case to bring before you.

What exactly is a condiment anyway? Very few, if any, know how to answer this question properly and, unfortunately, the Internet doesn’t provide much help.

As a company devoted to condiments, I think it’s only fair Condiment Connection takes on this responsibility and draws some lines in the sand.

The Evolution of Condiments

Let me start by saying this: Until I started talking openly about my affinity for condiments (“Mom, Dad, we need to talk…”), I had no idea how many people were clueless about what constitutes a condiment.

Are old people at fault here? When I talk to parents and grandparents (Generation X to Precambrian Era), they tend to think that condiments are limited to the standard, static group of tableside items you might have found at a diner back in the ‘60s: table salt, black pepper, yellow mustard and ketchup. (Can anyone else back this up? I realize now that I’m pulling from a relatively small sample size… 5 people, to be exact.)

Why is it that Gen Y (Millennials) and Gen Z seem to get it, though? For whatever reason, these younger folks almost always understand that condiments are not confined to the substances found in heaps of packets at dirty fast food restaurants.

condiment definition

The only logical explanation is this: the meaning of “condiment” has evolved over time, causing general misunderstandings between age groups and generations.

Wikipedia agrees: A condiment is a spice, sauce, or other food preparation that is added to food to impart a particular flavor, to enhance its flavor, or in some cultures, to complement the dish. The term originally described pickled or preserved foods, but has shifted meaning over time.

Okay, that’s a decent start, but it stills leaves too much gray area. And worse, it doesn’t provide straight-forward rules for classifying condiments on an individual basis.

So, without further ado, I bring you the official ground rules for identifying condiments.

The Ground Rules for Identifying Condiments

The rules are simple. There are only three, and if you follow them to a T, you’ll never have any doubts as to what is or isn’t a condiment in the future. Sound good? Here we go.

  1. Is it used to improve or augment the flavor of another food?

You must answer YES to this question to continue its consideration as a condiment. If you did, then it’s likely a condiment, but there are still some items that fall into this category that aren’t. Take, for example, vegetables. Veggies like basil leaves and carrots are often used in their naturally-occurring forms to enhance the flavor of a dish, but they’re definitely not condiments. So, let’s move onto the next rule.

  1. Is it “prepared” in some way?

Almost all condiments are prepared in one way or another. This means mixed, diced, chopped, blended, stirred, etc. – you get the picture. If you answered YES to this question, move on to the third and final question to know once and for all if you’ve got yourself a condiment.

  1. Is it typically eaten as a complementary element, rather than the primary element, of a dish?

A condiment, by nature, is supplemental and therefore is typically only eaten with other food. If you answered YES to this question (along with the previous two), then congratulations, it’s a condiment!

And there you have it: the three simple ground rules for identifying condiments.


The ground rules above will effectively allow you to identify condiments 99% of the time, but condiments are highly sophisticated, so naturally there will be a few exceptions.

Take, for example, a jalapeno. Let’s say you place a single, whole jalapeno on top of a burger. Is it being used to augment the flavor of another food? Yes. Is it being eaten as a complementary element of a dish? Yes. But it is prepared in any way? NO. By the rules listed above, this is technically not a condiment. However, in this particular case, it’s being used as though it were.

This brings us to the gray area of condiment use cases.

The Importance of Use Cases

Because of diverse use cases stemming from variance in personal preferences around the world, there are a handful of foods that are sometimes condiments and sometimes not. In scenarios like these, its official status as a “condiment or not” depends on the particular use case.

Chili is a perfect example. Chili is “prepared” in that it’s an amalgamation of different food elements combined to impart a particular flavor. But, it’s only sometimes used to enhance the flavor of another food, and it’s only sometimes used as a complement to a primary element. Eating a bowl of chili at a tailgate? Not a condiment. Putting chili on your hot dog at that same tailgate five minutes later? Condiment.

Condiments can be complicated, but establishing these ground rules is an important first step to a mutual, cross-generational understanding on a contemporary issue practically as polarizing as Donald Trump. Either one could set off the unraveling of Western civilization if not recognized for the magnitude of destruction it could impose on the world.

Can you think of anything else that’s stuck in that condiment gray area? I’m curious to see what you can come up with.

Photo credit: Keith Allison

Comments 5

  1. Pat Slatt

    Can’t tell you how many times I’ve argued about whether peanut butter is a condiment or food all its own. I’ve always come down on the condiment side, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

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  2. Michael

    Great article Eric! I am curious however where dips would fall into this discussion. Salsa is of course the one that comes to mind first as something either condiment or dip. But then there are peanut butter and jelly to discuss as well. I guess I just have so many questions. Definitely looking forward to more posts!

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      Eric Murphy

      Thanks Michael!

      Dips are definitely condiments, but it’s easy to see where some people get tripped up. It’s a common misconception that condiments must be “added onto” something else, but there are plenty of condiments that are instead “dipped into.” Here are a few basic examples:

      – Pretzels in peanut butter
      – Chicken nuggets in bbq sauce
      – Pita chips in hummus
      – Fries in ketchup
      – Chips in salsa
      – Veggies in ranch
      – Anything in honey mustard 😉

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