The Origins Of Your Favourite Condiments

By Trey Ho
29th Feb 2016

historical origins of condiments, history of breakfast spreads, history of sauces, history of marmite, marmite origins

Whether you’re a regular Good Will Hunting or you’re just looking for an edge for trivia night at the pub, it only helps to know a bit of background about the seasonings and sauces that take your favourite foods to the next level. We’ve done the research on all of them because we know that you would never do it. Now, go ahead and learn a little bit about your favourite condiment. 

Tartare sauce

Our old friend tartare sauce made its first cookbook appearance in the 19th century. Tarragon sourced from Tartary (sounds like a sour place to live) was used in one of the first-ever recorded preparations of tartare sauce.

Ranch dressing

Discovered first by a plumber in Alaska in the early 1950s, it gained popularity when the plumber and his wife opened a dude ranch near Santa Barbara, California and started serving it to guests. Oh, were they in for a treat!


Hoisin originates from the Guangdong province of China. Its literal translation is seafood sauce but it’s technically a plum sauce and contains no seafood. Don’t question it, just eat it.


The original sriracha sauce was created in Si Racha, Thailand (duh!) in the 1930s by a housewife. If you come across sriracha while in Thailand, expect it to be tangier in taste and runnier in texture compared to non-Thai versions. 


The story of mayonnaise started in the town of Mahon, Spain where it was known as salsa mahonesa. It became ‘mayonnaise’ when it was taken to France after the Battle of Minorca in 1756. The French may have won the battle but we all won in the end. 

Soy sauce

Said to have originated in China sometime between the 3rd and 5th century, it was first used as a way to extend the shelf-life of salt. In 1737, it made its way to Japan, then Indonesia, and then eventually to the West through the Netherlands.

Sweet chilli sauce

The birthplace of sweet chilli sauce is Zhongshan City located in the Guangdong province of China—the same province from which hoisin sauce originated. It made its way to Thailand where it gained global popularity and became the perfect accompaniment to wedges and sour cream.

Fish sauce

Although used widely throughout South-East Asia, fish sauce stakes its origins in Greece around 2000 years ago where fish innards and salt were used to create a flavouring liquid. It was quickly adopted by the Roman Empire through regional trade.


Mirin was born in Japan around the 16th century. Starting out as a form of sweet sake, mirin was a nourishing drink before it further developed into a seasoning.

Barbeque sauce

Barbeque sauce gets traced back to the Christopher Columbus days when he brought it back to Spain from the Caribbean. It wasn’t until 1909, however, that the sauce was commercialised in the United States by the Georgia Barbecue Sauce Company. There are always heated debates at The Urban List when it comes to putting BBQ sauce or tomato sauce on our sausage sangas.

Dijon mustard

In 1856, Jean Naigeon, the man responsible for creating Dijon mustard, decided to use the acidic juice of unripe grapes as a substitute for the vinegar used in traditional mustard. He was, of course, from Dijon, France.

Tomato sauce

The origin of tomato sauce dates back to the 17th century when the Chinese mixed together pickled fish and spices and called it ke-chiap. The word eventually evolved into the English word ‘ketchup’. Tomato sauce (or tomato ketchup) wasn’t created until 1801 when the recipe was printed in an American cookbook.


Used as an offering to the gods, the oldest mention of tahini as a sesame paste links back to a Babylonian document from 4000 years ago. In the 13th century, it was again mentioned as an ingredient for hummus in an Arabic cookbook.


Discovered by a farmer in a remote Japanese mountain village, the wasabi plant was presented to a warlord who then popularised it by declaring it to be a treasure of the Shizuoka region. Modern cultivation has spread to many other parts of the world although the wasabi plant is known to be tricky to grow, requiring pristine water with a very specific balance of minerals.


Demand for Harissa grew significantly during the mid-16th century spice trade in Morocco. It has become closely associated with Tunisia and is known to be the country’s national condiment.


Everyone’s favourite spicy sauce traces its roots back to the Tabasco state located in southern Mexico. This is where a local pepper sauce inspired Edmund McIlhenny to take it back home to the United States for production.


When British Marmite (a saltier version of the stuff we know and love) landed on our shores in the 1910s, it took a while to grow on us Kiwis—one horse-drawn cartload would keep the country going for a whole month! After imports came to a halt due to World War I, Sanitarium took matters into its own hands and gained the rights to sell the black gold. Using local ingredients, they crafted a spread to call their own and in the 1930s a Kiwi Marmite was born.

Want some cheese with your Marmite? Check out Auckland's 20 Cheesiest Dishes.

Image credit: Marmite


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