Lay it  on thick

Lay it on thick

Britain’s Love Affair with  Modern-Day Condiments

Sriracha. This seemingly inconspicuous  red sauce recently started to appear at restaurants and on dinner tables across the UK. A Vietnamese staple for a century, sriracha is a sharp, vinegary, slightly sweet affair offering a healthy dose of hotness to the spice lover, while staying on the diverting side of daring for those who usually keep things mild. Although sriracha-dousing has been a common occurrence in North America for decades, in Britain the practice was only adopted in earnest a few years back.

‘Sriracha has become so popular because people have realised it’s easy to make,’ says David Tran, the Californian founder of Rooster, the most-travelled sriracha brand  in the world. ‘All you need is a few fresh ingredients and a little hard work. And if you ask why my sriracha has become so popular, it’s because it tastes so good!’

But it’s not only this Eastern-looking condiment that has awakened the urge to travel via our taste buds. An increasing interest in American foods – burgers, chicken wings, ribs – has brought with it a new knowledge of tangy barbecue sauces, potent marinades and rich cheesy dips. You name it, Americans have dunked their food in it, and now British diners are following suit. The BBQ Shack at the World’s End pub in Brighton has an addictive in-house sauce that’s the best thing this side of Kansas City, and Red’s True Barbecue in Leeds, Nottingham and Manchester has made famous its own delicious dips. Meanwhile, Cotswold-based Daylesford Farm’s smoky organic barbecue sauce offers a perfect balance of health and indulgence for at-home grilling.

Bacon Jam has been a rousing success story on the modern-day condiment scene.  A bacon-based ‘relish’ with endless uses, Eat 17’s version ‘tries to fulfil every bacon-lover’s dream,’ says co-founder James Brundle. ‘People aren’t satisfied with the usual ketchups and mustards any more,’  he continues. ‘They want new tastes, something different. That’s where Bacon Jam comes in.’ As its increasing popularity attests, there  are enough Suidae fans out there ready to  try something new.

Plenty of chefs in the UK look far afield for culinary inspiration. James Lowe, whose Lyle’s restaurant in London was nominated for the Evening Standard’s Best New Restaurant award, uses a world of flavours –including spicy homemade XO sauce, a condiment that originated in Hong Kong –and throws them into the mix with his British-based fare. ‘I find inspiration in other food cultures,’ he says. ‘At Lyle’s we make a grilled tomato sauce, which I learnt about in Mexico. They put whole tomatoes on the grill, along with chillies and onions and cook them until completely black. The resulting sauce is absolutely beautiful.

There are also plenty of well-loved condiments that have been given a facelift of late, in line with consumer concerns about the origin of ingredients and the effects of additives. Cheshire-based Adam and Marinha’s Delicious Sauce is a gluten-free, vegan piri piri-inspired recipe that reached the UK’s shores via Portugal and Zimbabwe, while another health-aware concoction comes in the form of Beetroot Ketchup, from Hertfordshire-based The Foraging Fox. This purple peculiarity is all natural, allergen-free and taps into our culinary curiosity: ‘You can use this ketchup in so many more ways than the traditional stuff – our customers really get creative with it,’ say founders Frankie Fox and Desiree Parker.

Another grassroots enterprise, Mr Singh’s, is a family-run brand in east London that has reinvigorated the chilli-sauce scene, and is now available everywhere from local pizzeria Voodoo Ray’s to retailers across the country. ‘People want real chilli,’  says CEO Kuldip Singh Sahota. ‘They want healthy, British-made products that are easy to use. And with the flavours of the world available here, supported by some of the best local produce, people’s tastes have developed to be more experimental than ever.’  Here’s to keeping the condiments freely flowing – pass the sauce.

Worth their salt

‘Salt sommelier’ sounds as probable  a job as ‘ice-cream mixologist’ – but both well and truly exist. Two of the world’s leading locations for those with the gift of granular gastronomy are the Anantara resort in Abu Dhabi, and its equivalent in Phuket. At the UAE getaway, ‘salt guru’ Dams Dato-On offers dozens of different variations on the dinner-table staple. From the famous and slightly oily French sel gris, to the more unusual Durango hickory smoked salt, he matches each dish with a new selection. Dato-On’s compadre at the Thai resort’s  Sea.Fire.Salt restaurant, Sommai Wooniem, pairs salts including tom yum-flavoured and green tea-infused, keeping in mind each diner’s personal taste. Meanwhile, the saline sharp at La Pergola, the three-star Michelin restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria in Rome, has upwards of 20 savoury granule mixes from around the world on his list. Might salt sommeliers be coming soon to a fish ’n’ chip stand near you? Perhaps at the one next to that experimental ice cream parlour.

Turn Up The Heat

Scorchers that cut the mustard: you’ll have to have these hot sauces to hand

Rooster Sriracha
The original New-World version of the Vietnamese classic. A must-have for soups, sandwiches (and almost anything else, too).

Mr Singh’s Hot Punjabi Chilli Sauce
The debut offering from this family-run company, this is  a potent little bottle filled with heat  and flavour.

Reggae Reggae Sauce 
Early to the sauce scene, Levi Roots launched this winner after he secured funding on  Dragon’s Den.

EAT17 Chilli Bacon Jam
A spiced-up version of the original sticky relish with a real kick to it. Smother it on burgers, scallops and in sandwiches.

Wholly Gochujang
More a paste than a condiment, it is nonetheless a key ingredient in Korean cuisine, and a sweetly spicy addition to the table.

  • Words: Ananda Pellerin

  • Photography: Courtesy of Eat 17, Lyle’s, Mr Singh’s, The Foraging Fox, Per-Anders Jorgensen, Tom Crocker,Tiffany Lamb