Cooking

Spread, White & Blue

Eat your way through America's iconic regional condiments
American Regional Condiments
Illustration: Kim Graziano/Tasting Table

This July, Tasting Table celebrates the great state of American food and drink.

No matter where you're from, chances are there's a condiment you grew up with—a special sauce or seasoning that makes your local snacks shine. They all have a special place in our hearts and stomachs, so in honor of America! Month, we're paying homage to the country's more iconic toppings.

The East
"Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, so it's a good thing that spice merchant Gustav Brunn named his distinctive blend of red and black pepper, salt, celery seed and dry mustard "Old Bay®" back in 1940s Baltimore. And it's no longer just a Maryland thing—the company sold more than 50 million ounces of the stuff last year all over the country.

Just north, Pennsylvanians are more into their butters, specifically Pennsylvania Dutch apple butter. There, the Bauman family has been crushing fresh apples, pure apple cider and sugar since the early 1890s, and their molasses-colored, jammy-thick butter is the stuff of legend.

Vermont also skews sweet with its iconic condiment: maple syrup. Tapping started with the Eastern Woodland natives who roasted the sap over an open fire and traded the resulting liquid gold with French and English colonists.

There's a bit of controversy surrounding D.C.'s beloved mumbo/mambo sauce, which is actually trademarked as a barbecue sauce in Chicago. D.C. mumbo sauce, however, refers to the reddish, jellylike plum sauce normally found with Chinese takeout and repurposed for fried chicken and fries at D.C. wing joints.

As for the Big Apple, a war broke out over pickles in the 1930s, cementing barrel-cured half-sours as the city's claim to condiment fame.

The Midwest
Forget Chicago-style pizza. The next time you're in the Windy City, you should pick up a jar or two of giardiniere. The spicy jumble of pickled carrots, cauliflower and celery nestled in a bottle of oil is Italian beef's natural partner.

As for Minnesotans, the sauce of choice is Top the Tater, a lime green container of sour cream freckled with chives and onions (and a little MSG). Based in St. Paul, Kemps has been churning out dairy goods since 1914 but is best known for this baked potato essential.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, a debate just as heated as the Jeni's vs. Graeter's brews between Bertman's Ball Park Mustard and Stadium Mustard. They're both creamy Old World-style brown mustards, but hard-core fans praise Ball Park for its sweetness and Stadium for its heat.

RELATED   Chefs' Secret Weapons »

The South
Sauce reigns king in this part of the country. North Carolina cranks out a Louisiana-style hot sauce known as, strangely enough, Texas Pete. Legend has it that a marketing advisor suggested the Garner family name their secret hot sauce "Mexican Joe" back in the 1930s, but they wanted a more American angle, so they went with Texas (cowboys) and Pete (a Garner son's nickname) instead.

Over in actual Texas, Rudy's Bar-B-Q started off as a humble gas station back in the 1800s, then added barbecue, including its now-signature sauce, to its operation in 1989. The gravy-like, clove-speckled sauce is a Houston favorite.

But as far as barbecue goes in Alabama, white sauce is the sauce of choice. A puckery mix of mayo, vinegar, salt and coarsely ground pepper—no tomato here—it's used for marinating, basting and, of course, extra dipping.

Mississippi boasts of its own white sauce, but locals reserve their mayo- and chile-powered comeback sauce for salads and fried foods. Think of it as the South's answer to aioli.

And we can't forget South Carolina's crown jewel on its grocery aisles: Duke's Mayonnaise. The secret to Mrs. Eugenia Duke's 1917 recipe? More egg yolks and less sugar for a tangier finish.

The West
For California, it's a toss-up between two very recognizable sauces: Sriracha and ranch dressing. Surprisingly enough, both originate in Southern California: Sriracha in Los Angeles's Chinatown and ranch dressing from, yes, Hidden Valley Ranch, a dude ranch near Santa Barbara. The solution to this SoCal showdown? Make Sri-Rancha instead.

In Utah, the dip of choice is fry sauce, a simple concoction of one part ketchup and two parts mayo. State fast-food chain Arctic Circle cites itself as the inventor, but other regional joints like Hires Big H spread the sauce as well.

And though the world at large might not be ready for the glory of poi (aka pounded taro), we're pretty sure everyone can get behind Hawaii's versatile huli huli sauce. Hawaiian for "turn turn" since the sauce is basted on grilled chicken, the recipe includes pineapple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and a bit of Worcestershire sauce.

LET’S DISCUSS:

Get the Tasting Table newsletter for adventurous eaters everywhere
X Share on FB →

Around the Web