The rich history of popular condiments

Leo Moskowitz, Staff Writer



In our society, the usefulness and uniqueness of sauce cannot go understated. Popular sauces today have a deep history and originate from a variety of cultures. Sauce use can be traced all the way back to Ancient Rome, where farmers would mix herbs, oils and spices among other ingredients. People have enjoyed sauces for centuries and the different formulas are vast in number. Whether it be barbeque sauce from colonial America or hot sauce from central America, they all have interesting journeys.

Becoming available in a bottle in 1983, ranch is rather young compared to other salad dressings. A retired plumber named Steve Henson was its creator. At first it was primitive, only available in mixable ingredient packs. But demand for the product quickly skyrocketed and Henson’s company Hidden Valley Ranch became a huge success. Their formula changed several times over the next few decades, making improvements like adding buttermilk flavoring and introducing new bottled versions. The ranch snack flavor first appeared in 1987 with Cool Ranch Doritos, and in 1992 ranch became the most popular salad dressing in the United States.

Barbecue sauce was first documented to exist in the French West Indies. It has different variations but the main ingredients are vinegar, tomato paste, spices, sweeteners and/or liquid smoke. In colonial times, some of the enslaved African Americans in colonies such as North and South Carolina made and used the condiment, becoming pioneers of many recipes used today. They picked up the knowledge from past experiences with enslaved Native Americans in the West Indies. The sauce rose in popularity through the course of the 20th century as big companies like Heinz and Kraft started selling their own.

Wherever there’s been Chili peppers, humans have made hot sauce. The first humans with this privilege lived over six thousand years ago in South and Central America. There, it was used for punishments (mainly on children) and to flavor food. Sometimes for severe infractions, the perpetrator would be held over burning, smoking chilis. In the early 1800s, the bottled version (made from genetically altered chilis at this point) entered the American market and soon became widespread. Tabasco was started in 1868 and is the oldest hot sauce brand still on the market.

Tomato ketchup is a bit more modern with the first recipe showing up in 1812 made by James Mease. Over the next couple of centuries it rose in popularity, especially when Heinz released their first recipe 64 years later. With increased sugar and vinegar content to prevent spoilage, it became the baseline for modern ketchup. Now, 97% of all Americans have ketchup in their household.

Sauces will be prevalent in cultures and societies for as long as humans exist. Your favorite one likely has a rich backstory as they all have evolved over time. Throughout history and across the globe, sauce has positively impacted many lives.