10 Condiments That Make Life Better

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So something really, truly bad happens. The grid has been down for a month or a deadly pandemic has us sequestered in our homes. Or you’re simply out of work for months and the savings are gone.

You are living on your food storage.

Hey, it’s all good! You’ve got staples like grains,beans and rice. You’ve got a wide range of canned, freeze dried, dehydrated and home-canned foods. There’s a well stocked root cellar. You’ve even got waxed cheese and waterglassed eggs.

Guess what else you’ve got?

Scared people. And you’re one of them. One of the reasons for prepping is to provide a sense of continuity (not normalcy – things aren’t currently normal: river…Egypt…). Continuity is a tether to how things were and holds the hope of a return to that state or something like it.

No matter how well you’ve prepped, sooner or later you’re going to be eating a lot more basic staples than you’re used to. So imagine this: you’ve grilled up some bean-based veggie burgers or you’ve mixed up some mashed potato flakes and…then what?

Let’s lay aside spices, sauces and ingredients like honey for another day and confine ourselves to ready-made condiments. And really, even if things are perfectly normal, these are still great to have in the house.

The 10 Condiments that will save your sanity

1) Ketchup

Why? Because it’s ketchup, that’s why! Ketchup is the duct tape of the kitchen. Unrivaled for versatility on the table, it’s also indispensable on the stove and in the oven. It can make almost anything edible.

BTW,there’s more to ketchup than just tomatoes. Ketchups made from blackberries, lobster shells, onions, and more used to be produced at home and commercially. There are parts of England where mushroom ketchup is still commonplace. If you’d like to try your hand at these heritage flavors, you’ll have to resort to out-of-print cookbooks like an old Joy of Cooking. Or there’s this.

2) Mayonnaise

Sure, you’ll be making a lot of tuna and chicken salad with all that canned meat. But there’s also creamy salad dressing, pasta salad and the basis for tartar sauce. Mayo is an ingredient in a wide range of recipes.

This brings us back to Continuity. Try telling a 6 year old who’s life has already been upended that there’ll be no birthday cake this year. There are a lot of food storage chocolate cake recipes out there. Most taste odd or have  weird ingredients/procedures. Burrowing holes? Puréed beans?  No.

My mother used to make a good and simple one, but this recipe is even better. Top it with powdered sugar or soft-whip some canned cream.

3) Soy / Worcestershire Sauce

There’s a lot of overlap between them because they both have high Umami. That’s a Japanese concept that boils down to a savory, meaty flavor where (typically) no meat is present. It’s caused by naturally occurring amino acids called glutamates, which are the source of concentrated laboratory MSG.

Ketchup has a lot too, but soy sauce and Worcestershire don’t have the high sugar and fruitiness, so it’s a very different flavor profile. Either one is a great way to perk up sad stew.

WARNING: Glutamate-rich foods like salami, mushrooms, red wine,aged cheese and walnuts are often migraine triggers.


Mustard has a staggering number of other uses besides the “barbie,” especially in pan sauces and casseroles. You can’t make civilized baked beans without it. Sneak a touch into Alfredo sauce, turkey tetrazzini, and mac ‘n cheese. There’s also plain old honey mustard on almost anything. Combine with onions, rosemary and peach or apricot jam for an epic meat glaze!

5) Jam

You’re gonna make some bread with all that wheat,right? Also use on pilot bread or crackers, and in innumerable recipes, like the technique above. It can be stirred into plain muffin or coffee cake mix to make any flavor you choose, or thin it down and substitute for pancake syrup. Try sweetening herb tea with it and save the honey and sugar for other things.

6) Salsa

Tortillas have an impressive shelf life. Fry some up and crack open a jar of salsa as a treat when nerves get frayed. It can also be tossed with rice or pasta for a quick one-skillet meal or added to soups and casseroles. If you bottle it at home you must use a pressure canner!

7) BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauce makes the list in part because it covereth a multitude of sins. It also covereth game meats your family isn’t used to yet.

I grew up in suburban Rhode Island but was once in a rural conversation where hunters were discussing the pros and cons of various game meats. The subject of squirrel was broached. I remarked, “I’ve never had squirrel.” Someone at whose house I’d eaten many times wryly informed me:  “Oh yes you have…”

8)Something Hot

Tabasco, sriracha , whatever your family likes. Even if you don’t use any, store a couple bottles for barter or the inevitable guests you’ll be taking in. It can also be used medicinally in soup to clear a badly stuffy head.

9) Gravy ( or the stuff and knowledge to make it)

Okay, not exactly a condiment, but for our discussion it functions like one. Think of all that rice, pasta , potatoes, canned/ freeze dried meats, and game. All just crying out for gravy.

Sure, you can make it from ingredients, but it’ll help to have some ready to roll, and it’s shockingly cheap around the holidays. It’s also another cheap thing that becomes a valuable barter item.

10) That Thing You Love

The condiment your family can’t live without, whatever it may be. If your family can’t go a week without Thai peanut sauce or Branston Pickle, you’d better store some – especially if That Thing is laborious to make or contains lots of arcane ingredients!

What’s Left Out?

I’ve left off things that aren’t used as often (plum sauce) or are easily and quickly made from common ingredients (tartar sauce and teriyaki). As for salad dressing, see my article here.

Hey, where’s the peanut butter?

(Warning: Heresy Alert!) I have several problems with PB.

  1. Classic PB is full of hydrogenated oil. Don’t be fooled by ” interesterified” oil, it’s even worse than just sounding like a made-up word from Calvin and Hobbs. It also contains a ton of sugar and varying amounts of salt. “Natural” PB has to be stirred and is often hard and rips up the bread or breaks the crackers.doit
  2. People use far more of it per serving than they think they do.
  3. Even if it’s all-natural and you only use a tablespoon, it’s a tremendous amount of fat for the protein you get.

In my search for the right wrap-up to this post , I let my family read it. When it was suggested to me that my beef with PB just might be sour grapes because I’ve become allergic and can’t have it anymore, my brother channeled Darth Vader: ” Search your feelings, Beth. You know it to be true…”

( Defiant huff…)  Fine. Be that way.

11) Peanut Butter

Being a pastry chef, I think of PB more as a baking ingredient than actual food; it’s baking and confectionary applications are almost endless. Then there are the obvious uses on bread, crackers, apples, jicama, celery. The “Fam” suggested the aforementioned Thai peanut sauce, fried PB sandwiches, curry, and more…

…if you’re into that sort of thing.

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Beth Johnson

Beth Johnson is a lifelong gardener and Certified Master Gardener in the Northeast. She is a former Pastry Chef and restaurant cook.

12 thoughts on “10 Condiments That Make Life Better”

  1. Loved your description here of the “sense of continuity” that prepping creates in the midst of crisis. Spot on. I don’t currently stock BBQ sauce, hot sauce or gravy in my food storage, but I’m definitely going to add gravy. (Trying not to think about the fact that I may have eaten “disguised squirrel” sometime….Eeek!)

  2. Peanut allergies can be caused be the mold(yes mold) in commercially prepared peanut butter. Also I recently read an article that links food allergies to a lack of bacteria in the stomach and intestines. I need more mayonnaise, I use a lot when I make certain things. Mustard lasts for a very long time, way longer then the use by date.

  3. Squirrel, does it taste like chicken?? Ha ha. Seriously though, I’m adding a few of these items to my storage list right now.

  4. Having spent a few months eating from our stores, you’ve made a good point that most people don’t consider. It’s all well and good to have rice, pasta, and potatoes on hand, but do you really want to eat plain old carbs day in and day out? We doctored our pancake batter with spices and then served them with jams or apple butter instead of the syrup we didn’t have. Homemade biscuits with peanut butter make a quick meal or snack. Gravy with TVP can be poured over biscuits, with a side of rehydrated vegetables. Whatever your plans are for meals in an emergency situation, you’re going to get tired of the same old fare. In addition to the condiments listed above, buy an assortment of pre-mixed herbs and spices. The day may come when you really appreciate being able to change the flavor of your instant mashed potatoes (which is pretty good mixed with ranch powder, cheese powder, and bacon TVP).

  5. When are “they” going to make dehydrated almond butter??? I love Trader Joe’s artichoke antipasto on toast!!! About syrup, some brown sugar, butter and less water than you think boils up to a good syrup. It is a good use for that crusty old brown sugar, too. add maple flavoring if you have it, or a pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon. Let it cool a bit as it thickens some. Enjoy!

  6. I buy maple sugar. It travels well and is easier to store than liquid. Then I simply boil it up with water. I often adulterate with brown sugar to stretch it out. For my family hot sauce is a must. And even plain old mustard and ketchup comes in a wide variety of flavors and textures. I keep a lot of raspberry, German deli, and grey poupon mustard on on hand as well as the traditional deli. Don’t forget horseradish, kimchee, and wasabi. Mine is a multicultural family so I am planning my preps with a wide variety of tastes in mind.

  7. An easy way to carry condiments in your bags or to even keep in your stores, is to get a few packets of each one when you visit a convenience store (mine is Wawa.) Whenever I buy a custom made food item, I grab a few packets of each. It’s surprising how quickly they will build up. I get a couple of each. Some stores even have honey and lemon juice packets. I don’t condone stealing, but they are put out for the customer’s convenience. Just be sure to rotate your stock, because the will eventually spoil.

  8. That’s right Blades
    I have a vast collection of packets including an Altoids tin with a few always in my car emergency kit. Last time I stayed in a hotel, the Continental Breakfast had condiment packets including peanut butter. The steward actually reminded me ” make sure and take one of them and an extra jam and ketchup for your glove box”. Okay!

  9. To Jan: Use almond meal (by hand) or dried almonds (with electricity), a bit of (almond) oil and salt and/or honey to taste. Will take a fair bit of smacking it about to make a butter by hand (it’ll be crude but good), or just a few minutes in the food processor.
    In the case of mustards: Instead of stashing jars and jars of varieties, keep a tin or two of mustard seeds and mustard powders with sugar (or other sweetener), water and vinegar. That way you can make your own and modify it to the meal. Forage/grow raspberries or cranberries, juice them and add to taste. No needing refrigeration to help hold quality either, as you can mix up only what you need. And if you get your mustard seeds from the gardening nurseries, you will also have the option of growing mustard greens for food (I hear they are super easy to grow, hmm gardening trial for this new year). The seeds have a long shelf life, 4+ years before they start losing flavor. The powder, only a year or two shelf life, but much faster to use. Usually still edible past that, just less potent. Finally, do be careful though if you choose to mix your own, you could injure someone if it’s done improperly.

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