Condiments are having a moment, and their popularity is expected to continue skyrocketing — with good reason.
We’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill ketchup and mayo here. International condiments are hitting the mainstream as our palates wake up to new worlds of flavor. Everyone is on the hunt for the next sriracha.
But not all sauces can be superstars. The importance of healthy eating continues to be on the minds of many Americans, and part of transforming healthy cuisine into tasty cuisine is understanding how to add flavor to food without loading up on oil, salt, sugar or MSG. Condiments can make or break a meal — and your healthy eating goals.
Looking to transform your meals from bland to flavorful without piling on the calories? Stock your fridge with these five healthy condiments and be ahead of the culinary curve.
Country of Origin: Serbia
What’s in it: This roasted eggplant and bell pepper spread also contains olive oil, vinegar and garlic. Some versions include roasted tomatoes.
Flavor profile: The roasted vegetables give this dip a rich umami flavor — the rich, savory, mouth-watering “fifth taste” after sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Not sure if you’ve experienced umami? Think juicy steak, sautéed mushrooms or a good Caesar salad. Add this flavor to ajvar’s vinegar and garlic and it’s enough to make your mouth water.
How to use it: Try ajvar as a dip for crackers or bread, as a spread on wraps and sandwiches or as a condiment for meat, fish or even scrambled eggs.
Health benefits: What could be healthier than getting more vegetables into your day? This eggplant-based dip is rich in antioxidants such as chlorogenic acid, which may help fight cancer and lower LDL cholesterol levels.
(1 tablespoon, depending on brand)
Carbohydrates: 2 g
Sugar: 1 g
Fat: 2 g
Sodium: 264 mg
Where to find it: The international aisles of supermarkets often carry ajvar. You can also pick it up at Eastern European delis. Ambar, a Balkan restaurant on Capitol Hill, offers it as an appetizer.
Country of origin: Morocco
What’s in it: It’s like a more exciting marmalade. Tanzeya is made from slow-cooked dried fruit such as figs, apricots, raisins and prunes boiled down with spices like cardamom, cinnamon and allspice.
Flavor profile: Sweet and savory, like a spiced mango chutney or holiday dessert.
How to use it: Tanzeya is delicious anywhere you’d use jam or chutney. Try serving it with cheeses, or use it to make a grown-up grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwich. Enjoy it with chicken or lamb or stirred into couscous for a taste of the Middle East.
Health benefits: Tanzeya is fiber-rich thanks to all of the dried fruit, so it could help promote a healthy digestive system. Dried fruit does contain plenty of sugar, so it’s best to enjoy it in smaller amounts. Nutrients in dried fruit include iron and potassium, which are needed for healthy red blood cells and to regulate blood pressure. Dried fruit is also rich in antioxidants that promote a healthy immune system.
Look for tanzeya that’s made with little if any added sugar. Check out the ingredient list; you want any added sugar or syrup to be near the end of the ingredients, not at the beginning. The reason? Ingredients are listed by weight.
Carbohydrates: 8 g
Sugar: 5 g
Fat: 0 g
Sodium: 5 mg
Where to find it: Try Middle Eastern or gourmet grocery stores, or order online from specialty food websites such as Food52.
Country of origin: Indonesia
What’s in it: This mouth-watering chili paste is made from red cayenne chilis with a bit of vinegar, salt and sugar. It sounds simple, but the layered flavor is anything but.
Flavor profile: As you might have guessed from the short ingredient list, this paste is unadulterated chili taste and heat.
How to use it: Add a tablespoon to stir fries, soups, marinades, roasted vegetables, omelettes, pastas and fried rice. It’s also delicious when you balance out the heat with cheese, nut butter and banana sandwiches or potato or lentil salads.
Health benefits: Cayenne peppers have been used as a Native American medicine for over 9,000 years. In Ayurveda and in traditional Chinese medicine, cayenne is used to improve circulation. Chili peppers get their heat from capsaicin, a compound that also has pain-relieving and metabolism-boosting properties.
Sodium: 300 mg
Where to find it: Sambal oelek has long been sitting in the international aisles of your grocery store. You just didn’t notice it before! You can also get it at Asian markets.
Country of Origin: Ethiopia
What’s in it: This mustard dip is made from ground black mustard seeds, garlic, vinegar, oil and salt.
Flavor profile: Yellow American mustard is made from white seeds, which have a mild flavor. The Ethiopian version’s black mustard, on the other hand, are hot and spicy. The other ingredients give this sauce a bit of tartness.
How to use it: Senafich is a fabulous marinade for fish, pork and vegetables. Mix with extra virgin olive oil for a delicious salad dressing.
Health benefits: Did you know that mustard is closely related to kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts? And along with that family connection comes similar health benefits. Just like its green leafy cousins, mustard is rich in glucosinolates, phytonutrients that are converted into isothiocyanates when the food is crushed or chewed. Isothiocyanates may help prevent cancer and impede cancer cell growth, especially in the digestive tract.
Fat: 1 g
Sodium: 120 mg
Where to find it: Senafich is sold in African markets and gourmet food stores. You can also order senafich and other Ethiopian fare at Mereb, the Ethiopian equivalent to Amazon, or Virginia-based Authentic Ethiopian Cuisine .
Country of origin: Spain, Italy, Japan
What’s in it: The only ingredient should be squid ink. Most squid ink is actually from cuttlefish, larger and even more bizarre-looking relatives of squid. Who knew that one creature’s defense system could be another’s delicacy?
Flavor profile: Squid ink is rich in natural glutamates that give foods like parmesan cheese their savory or umami flavor. Using umami ingredients such as squid ink can help you cut down on salt in your cooking without compromising on taste.
How to use it: Squid ink is really more of a cooking sauce than a condiment, to be added to food before eating. It’s a key ingredient in classic dishes such as Spain’s squid ink paella and arroz negro (black rice), Italy’s squid ink risotto and fettuccine al nero di seppia, and Japan’s ikasumi jiu or cuttlefish ink soup. It adds a delicious flavor and intriguing color to fish, seafood, rice and pasta dishes and is wonderful in braises and stews. You can also find gourmet black pastas that are made with squid ink.
Health benefits: Squid ink is surprisingly nutritious, considering it is meant to be used as a weapon in the wild. It’s rich in antioxidants that may help boost the immune system and fight cancer by stimulating the production of natural killer cells. Studies suggest it also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects.
Carbohydrates: 0.5 g
Sugar: 0 g
Fat: 2 g
Sodium: 15 mg
Where to find it: Whole Foods carries squid ink and squid ink pasta, as do Mediterranean and Japanese markets, gourmet food stores and specialty food websites.