Condiments, according to the dictionaries, are something wed to enhance the flavor of food,” “a pungent seasoning.” Although condiments are used both in the preparation of food and as a tabletop additive for the patron’s choice, it is the tabletop use that gains attention in foodservice operations. Condiments, with the possible exception of salt and pepper or oil and vinegar, are frequently placed upon the table in the original manufacturer’s labeled container.
As a result, consumer advertising and acceptance for a product becomes “spills over” into foodservice condiments. Patrons tend to judge the quality of the condiments by their perceived quality of the manufacturer’s label.
Some Essential Definitions
Using the definition of tabletop condiments as “pungent seasonings to enhance the flavor of food” doesn’t cover several items that are traditionally considered condiments in foodservice. These include salt and pepper and oil and vinegar, and these are usually the exception to the rule that the product is placed upon the table in the manufacturer’s original container. Of course, many fast-food operations use dispenser bottles with ketchup and mustard, refilling them from No. 10 cans, jars, or bulk containers. But the vast most of foodservice operators either place the manufacturer’s original container on the table, or supply the condiments m portion packs. In portion packaging, as well, the product with a label that has built consumer acceptance is usually perceived as being of high quality.
Condiments include standards such as ketchup and mustard, horseradish, steak and Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and chili sauce, and barbecue sauce. In ethnic operations, chutney, soy sauce, plum (duck) sauce, and taco sauce are tabletop condiments.
A few years ago, there was only one form of salt that might appear on the restaurant table or counter: granulated, in a glass shaker. Today there is more choice. The operator has a choice of two types of granulated salt: plain and iodized. Particularly in inland areas, where the consumption of seafood is relatively small, iodized salt is recommended by health authorities to minimize the like hood of developing thyroid problems (goiter). Many operators choose to use salt containing small amounts of iodine wherever they are located. The amount is so small there are no side effects, even for persons with otherwise adequate intakes of the chemical.
In the past several years, two other salts have become popular with many operations. One of these is a coarse form con&” trace amounts of other chemicals, and called sea salt, from its origin as salt removed by evaporating sea water. The other, also a coarse salt, is the so-called kosher salt, which is roughly crushed with sharp edges.
Another growing category of salt in use in foodservice is seasoned salt. There is an increasing variety of seasoned salts, which contain flavorings added to the salt to provide a more zesty seasoning. Common additives are onion, garlic, celery, red pepper, herbs, and spices.
Pepper is the most popular condiment-after salt-on the table. It, like salt, is one of the few condiments that are seldom seen in the original manufacturer’s package.
- The most common form is ground black pepper, although more upscale operators are providing cracked (coarsely ground) pepper on their tables. And many operations flourish the pepper mill, which grinds whole black peppercorns over salads at the table. Pepper is available in all three forms, in bulk containers that include cans and drums. Ground black pepper is also available m fractional-ounce portion packs.
- Less common, but growing in popularity are green and pink peppercorns. Green peppercorns are soft, immature berries that are preserved in vinegar or salt brine. They’re used as a garnish for fish, poultry, and meat, especially steaks. They are also often added to vinaigrette salad dressings. Green peppercorns are especially popular with French chefs, but they have a growing role in California and modem American cuisines. Milder flavored than black pepper, they remind some of a spicier version of capers.
Pink peppercorns became the favorite of nouvelle cuisine, but while that trend has faded, the freeze-dried pink berry has kept its popularity. The pink peppercorn, despite its close resemblance to a black peppercorn in size and shape, has no relation to real pepper. The flavor is somewhat sweet, with more of an acid than a peppery sharpness.
With the increase in interest in the hot, spicy foods of Szechuan, the reddish brown peppercorns (also not real pepper) from that Chinese province have become popular for their pungent flavor and aroma. They are not much “hotter” than regular black peppercorns.
Ketchup, also called catsup and catchup, is the most popular tabletop condiment after salt and pepper. It is found-if not on the table-at a service stand or under counter at literally every foodservice operation serving American food, and in most ethnic restaurants that recognize the love cans have with it.
Tomato ketchup today is prepared from concentrated tomato pulp and juice, vinegar, sugar, salt, spices, and onions or garlic (or both). Formulas for composing ketchup vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, as does the degree of viscosity (thickness).
The second most popular tabletop condiment (again excepting salt and pepper) is prepared mustard.
There are two types of mustard seed, yellow (mild) and black (tangy). Most American mustard is made from the yellow seeds. European mustard, on the other hand, is generally made from the black seeds. English mustard is a blend of the two. Mustard formulas are secrets of the makers.
The most common American mustard is a smooth, fine paste with a bright yellow color, often referred to as “salad” mustard. It is mild mustard made of yellow mustard seeds, vinegar, and spices, with turmeric added to give the bright yellow color. Sugar is often used. It may also be prepared with a white wine as the liquid used to mix the ingredients. It is also mild mustard made from yellow seeds, but without turmeric or sugar.
In France, Dijon has traditionally been the center for fine mustard is making, with a dozen or more manufacturers each producing their own formulas. The name Dijon, therefore, does not actually represent a brand of mustard, but rather a type. It can be prepared either as a smooth paste or as coarsely ground. It may also be prepared with a white wine as the liquid used to mix the ingredients.
Dijon mustard is increasingly found as a table condiment in white-tablecloth restaurants and hotels.
Each prepared mustard manufacturer has its own distinctive style of packaging, but with the exception of “pourable” mustard, which is provided in a tall-necked bottle or small glass jars, from two to five ounces, are common.
English and Chinese mustard are also available dry, for mixing with water or vinegar before using. These mustards produce straw colored, “hot” mustard with a pungent flavor. They are generally served in small dishes to accompany the meal. They are packaged in various bulk tins, jars, cartons, or dums, depending upon the manufacturer. Portion packs of pre-mixed Chinese mustard are also available.
Oil and Vinegar
Olive oil was once found only on the tables of French, Italian, and Greek ethnic operations. No more. Today, with oil and vinegar one of the most popular dressings, olive oil-in company with wine vinegar-is found in most upscale restaurants and hotel dining rooms.
Most common is the'”” olive oil, which simply means that the oil has been cold pressed from the whole olive, and that there are no additives. There are several grades of virgin oil.
The top grade is called extra virgin, which has a thicker body, a greenish color, and is more highly flavored. Extra virgin oil is also the lowest in acid at about 1 percent. Just plain virgin” oil is about 2-2.5 percent acid, is a golden color, and, while thinner, is still more viscous than vegetable oil. Not seen very frequently in distributor stocks is “lamp ante virgin” oil, which has about 3-3.5 percent acid.
The label “pure olive oil” without a virgin designation means the oil has been extracted with solvent from skins, pulp, and pits. It is a lighter yellow color, thinner in viscosity, and tastes less like olive oil. Its bland taste is more similar to vegetable oil. Many non-ethnic operators prefer this grade for salad dressings or as a table condiment.
“Blended” oil is usually about 10 percent olive oil, usually virgin, plus 90 percent bland vegetable oil. While it has a hint of olive oil’s distinctive flavor, it has a consistency and handling characteristics that are more like a straight vegetable oil. While it is used primarily for cooking, some operators use it as a table condiment, because of its blandness and because it is substantially less expensive than 100 percent olive oil.
Vinegar is basically diluted acetic acid. The name comes from the French words for “sour wine.” While they can be made from any fermented (alcoholic) beverage made from fruit, vegetables, or grain, the most common vinegars are white (grain), cider (apples), wine (either white or red), and malt (grain).
American-made wine vinegars are generally 5 percent acidity, although there are some wine vinegars produced in the U.S. that attempt to meet the higher acid levels of imported wine vinegars. Imported wine vinegars range from 5 to 7 percent, and above.
Wine vinegars are available with various herbs, including garlic, tarragon, and dill.
For tabletop use, most operators decant bulk containers of vinegar into condiment containers, usually long-necked bottles.
The more common of the ethnic condiments are soy sauce (Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian), plum or duck sauce (Chinese), taco sauce (Mexican), and chutney (Indian). While there are a number of other ethnic sauces used by operators in this country, they are generally limited in movement, and in demand, to certain regions where large ethnic populations support restaurants serving foreign dishes.
Chutney is another of those condiments that are based upon “secret” formulas, and vary widely from one manufacturer to another. In addition, there are various types of chutneys, including nut chutneys, melon chutneys, etc. Chutney is a staple of Indian operations, and is served by almost any operator that has curry on the menu.
Chutney is packed in various sized jars, in tall, wide-mouth bottles, and in single-service packs.
The key to selling condiments is to check the tables and service areas to determine what types are being used. Look at the menu to determine if the operator is overlooking condiments.
- Bring samples. There’s no better way of showing off the quality of a condiment than to let the prospect taste it, particularly in comparison with the current product.
- Sell image. Make sure the operator is aware of the impression of quality a patron receives when the condiment is perceived as the quality leader.
Make sure that stocks of condiments never fall below reorder points. Many operators won’t remember them unless reminded.