Exploring British Condiments

Updated on October 15, 2019
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

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Let's Take a Look Inside

Several weeks ago a dear friend who once lived in the United Kingdom asked me if I had “copycat” recipes for Branston pickle and piccalilli relish. Well, of course, I did, but her question got me to thinking about British foods, specifically British condiments. I’ll be the first to admit that the typical British pantry is filled with jars of foodstuffs unlike any you’ve ever used before.

So let’s have a little fun; we’ll crack open the English pantry door and see what’s hiding inside.

Branston Pickle
Branston Pickle | Source

Branston Pickle

This isn’t a brined cucumber in a jar; Branston pickle is a chutney that originated in a village of the same name in 1922. This sweet/sour sticky brown condiment is a mix of diced vegetables (carrots, onions, cauliflower, and rutabaga) with vinegar, tomato, apple, tamarind, and spices.

Karen Solomon is an accomplished and acclaimed cook, blogger, contributor to numerous cooking magazines, the author of several cookbooks and a radio/television personality. Her roots are Eastern European, but work and wanderlust have taken her around the globe, and she has learned at every stopping point along the way. Her recipe for Branston pickle is even better than the stuff in the jar.

Colman's Mustard

My American friends will not understand this one at all. This is not the Day-Glo yellow stuff that you swipe across a ballpark hotdog. Colman’s is a combination of brown and white mustard seeds that, quite frankly, is hotter than hell. The brand has the distinction of being one of the oldest in existence, originating in 1814 in Norfolk. There is no substitute or copycat recipe. In fact, it is still served in the Queen’s royal kitchen; by decree of Queen Victoria it is “The Queen’s Mustard.”

Horseradish Sauce
Horseradish Sauce | Source

Horseradish Sauce

Horseradish cream is a traditional accompaniment with a prime rib dinner; horseradish sauce is a different condiment. It is freshly-grated horseradish root combined with vinegar, using primarily as a condiment with roast beef or in salads or sandwiches.

HP Sauce

Guess what the “HP” stands for? Believe it or not, HP was named after the House of Parliament in London. This brown sauce is as common on the British table as is catsup in the American home. Like catsup, it is tomato-based, seasoned with vinegar and sugar, but also contains molasses, dates, and tamarind, so has more of a spicy-tangy kick. The original sauce was invented by Frederick Gibson Garton in 1895 Nottingham. If you wish to make your own HP sauce, it takes about 30 minutes of active time in the kitchen and a list of 17 ingredients.

Maldon Salt

Salt is an enigma. Although chemically all salt is nothing more than sodium chloride (and a few trace minerals here and there), there is a reason that some salts cost less than $1.00 and others fetch a steep price of $10, $20, or more. It’s not just snobbery on the part of the cook—when cooking there really is a difference from salt to salt to salt.

I’ll give you a quick explanation: Table salt (the cheap stuff) is good for baking, marinating, and brining because it has small grains that melt almost instantly and are reliably the same size, thus making its measurement always true and accurate. Kosher salt has large, flat pebbles that are easy to pinch and sprinkle atop foods that you are seasoning. Kosher salts are also pure salt (no iodine added) and have a true salty flavor. However, not all koshers are the same. The two most well- known (Morton and Diamond) result in very different measurements.

At American's Test Kitchen, they've found that different types of kosher salt also have varying levels of saltiness. One teaspoon of table salt is equal to 1.5 teaspoons of Morton's kosher salt and two teaspoons of Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

And then there is Maldon salt, made from evaporated ocean water. The crystals are pyramid-shaped, crunchy, and 10 times the cost of regular table salt. This is not the salt to toss into pasta water. It is the crowning touch to a dish just out of the oven or a salad. And it is beloved by Brits because it is hand-gathered on England’s Essex coast.

Marmite

This bread/toast spread was invented by German scientist Justus von Liebig in the late 19th century. It was Liebig who discovered that brewer’s yeast, a byproduct of beer production, was a rich source of Vitamin B and was edible (although some might argue that edible and desirable are two entirely different matters). Several years later, in 1912, the vitamin-deficiency disease beriberi was common among British troops battling in World War I, and so marmite was added to their rations.

Twenty years later mill workers in India were found to be suffering from anemia; once again marmite came to the rescue, providing much-needed folic acid. And again, in 1934 marmite was given to workers in Sri Lanka who were suffering from malnutrition during a malaria epidemic. Is it any wonder that marmite is as common on the morning toast or crumpet as is butter or margarine in the United States?

You might be wondering if you can make marmite at home. Sadly the exact ingredients and proportions are a trade secret that even I am not privy to.

Fresh Mint Leaves
Fresh Mint Leaves | Source

Mint Sauce

My Manchester cousins tell me that it is against the law to consume roast lamb in England without mint sauce. I think they were joking, but just in case, you might want to keep a batch of this in your refrigerator.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons white (granulated) sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon Diamond kosher salt ¼ tsp
  • 1/2 cup water ½ cup
  • 1/2 cup white (distilled) vinegar

Instructions

  1. Combine mint, sugar, salt, and water in a small saucepan. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar and salt are dissolved.
  2. Remove from heat; add vinegar.
  3. Pour into jar with a lid or sealable container. Let stand at least 1 hour to allow flavors to meld.

Picalilli
Picalilli | Source

Piccalilli

Piccalili (also known as Indian pickle) has many of the same components of Branston pickle but is more puckery. The yellow color, of course, is from turmeric. Most food historians feel it is one of the many foods that originated in India when it was under the rule of the British crown.

Salad Cream

On the topic of salad cream, the people of the United Kingdom have been rocked to their very core. For more than 100 years the Heinz Company has been manufacturing this creamy emulsion of oil, vinegar, and egg yolks. (If that sounds like the recipe for mayonnaise, you are correct, but salad cream has a higher percentage of vinegar. Think of it as mayo's tangy/tart cousin.)

What is the source of the English angst, you ask? Heinz is considering changing the name from "salad sauce" to "sandwich sauce" because that clearly is how the condiment is now most commonly used.

Only 14% of buyers actually use the sauce on salads, the old name no longer reflects its modern purpose. As a market-leading business, Kraft Heinz continues to audit its portfolio in order to meet the needs of consumers. There are consumers now who haven’t grown up with the brand in the household and just don’t know about the iconic zingy flavour or what to eat it with. The research suggested it was more regularly used with sandwich fillings and as such, ‘Sandwich Cream’ would make more sense.

Worcestershire Sauce

If you have ever made the American snack “Chex Mix” you might have a bottle of this in your pantry. However, if that is the only time you use Worcestershire sauce, your cooking is missing out on a huge umami bomb of flavor. This dark brown liquid was invented in 1837 by two pharmacists, and of course, their names were Mr. Lee and Mr. Perrins; and the reasoning behind the strange name? They lived in the shire (town) of Worcester.

The ingredients are a fermented combination of salty, sweet, tart, and umami:

  • Malt vinegar
  • Molasses
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Anchovies
  • Tamarind
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Cloves
  • Soy sauce
  • Lemon
  • Anchovies

I’ve developed a vegetarian/vegan substitute which isn’t 100 percent, but pretty darn close to the taste of the original.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves

In case your tongue always stumbles over the correct pronunciation of the name, say WHOO-star-shure.

Sources

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Linda Lum

    Comments

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      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        7 days ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Linda

        I can eat Chillies to my hearts content, but Colmans? Just a smidgeon on the end of a teaspoon is enough!

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        7 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Lawrence, somehow I just knew that you would enjoy this one and I had fun putting it together. Thank you for mentioning the crest.

        I'm well aware of vegemite--similar but from a different food stuff,

        Colman = Rocket fuel? Amen to that!!!

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        7 days ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Linda

        These are all in our pantry, but the HP sauce is the one the wife buys specially for me!

        By the way, you can tell the originals in all of these by the bottles, no matter where you but them in the World they all carry a small crest with the words "By appointment to her Majesty the Queen" which as you guessed it means they're all found in the pantry at Buckingham Palace.

        Marmite does have a good 'knockoff' in that the Aussies have a goid equivalent called 'Vegemite' that people might be able to get hold of.

        And Colmans, thats rocket fuel!

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Rochelle what a sweet memory.

      • Rochelle Frank profile image

        Rochelle Frank 

        4 weeks ago from California Gold Country

        My husband's German aunt fell in love with "mirAWKel Vip" when she visited us years ago. I'll always remember how she pronounced it.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Shauna, there's a funny thing about Miracle Whip; you either love it or you hate it. There's no in-between and I believe that the love/hate relationship is 100 percent nurture, not nature.

        There is no objective reason why you should love it and I should loathe it, but that's the way it is and always will be. One of us is right {{wink}}.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 weeks ago from Central Florida

        Linda, salad cream sounds a lot like Miracle Whip. That's all my mom used when we were growing up. The liked the tartness of it better than mayo.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Denise, I was happy to include that for you. Like I said, it's not 100 percent, but close enough that those who sampled my Chex Mix didn't notice the difference.

        I have a philosophy about canning. It skips generations. I had to "endure" canning in my mom's kitchen and, based on that grueling experience, I have NEVER canned in my kitchen. I am loathe to do so. However, my younger daughter is all abuzz at the thought of making apple butter, jamming berries, and doing all sorts of canning in her kitchen. As a loving mother I will be supportive and help where I can (or where I'm asked to help).

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Dora, I think just a little touch of Marmite can deliver a lot of flavor (it delivers quite a pop). Go ahead and buy a jar; it will last you a long time, and make you quite happy.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image

        Denise McGill 

        5 weeks ago from Fresno CA

        Wow, Linda. You've included a vegan version of Worcestershire sauce. I gave up even looking for or cooking with it. Thanks. What a treat. By the way, my grandmother was a canning fiend. She canned fruits and vegetables all summer long every year. She also had a piccalilli that most of us kids hated for its tart flavor but now I wish I had paid more attention. She even made pickled peaches, which were not my favorite then but now I can still remember the flavor and miss it.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        5 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        This sounds interesting. I had almost forgotten about Marmite. It was one of the more expensive food items in our kitchen when I was growing up. I can see there's much more to try.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Well Bill, now the secret is out. Yes, you share the center of the universe with my cat.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Pamela, it makes me happy when my writing helps someone. I'm glad you found this helpful. I appreciate your kind words.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Hi Jennifer. I hate to break it to you, but fish sauce is a fermented liquid condiment made from fish or krill. Oyster sauce is made of oyster extracts, brine, and seasonings. Important to know if anyone has seafood allergies.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        5 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        Well ain't that just fascinating? I love me all things British, so I'm quite certain you wrote this for me because, well, it's always about me,right? lol Happy Tuesday my friend.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        5 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        The condiments we use in the U.S. is certainly differently but I learned a lot ib this article. The salt sounded like best idea. My stomach bot tolerate spicy or hot food.

        This is a very good article, Linda.

      • Jennifer Jorgenson profile image

        Jennifer Jorgenson 

        5 weeks ago

        It's always been my understanding that Asian fish sauces don't actually contain any fish ingredients, but rather are the sauce commonly used in fish dishes. Same with oyster sauce.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Rochelle thanks for the positive feedback. (I can hardly wait to see what billybuc has to say LOL). Yes, worcestershire is excellent for browning and only the original as you say.

        Using anchovies is pretty common in the chef kitchen. They melt right in and don't taste "fishy." (I worry though about people with a seafood allergy).

      • Rochelle Frank profile image

        Rochelle Frank 

        5 weeks ago from California Gold Country

        This was very interesting and a great incentive to 'tang' up some recipes. Some people think British food is bland and dull--- they have been hanging out in the wrong kitchens.

        I ALWays have "WHOO-star-shure" sauce in my pantry-- great for browning meats, and it has to be the original brand. The imitators do not measure up. ... and anchovies do wonderful things in many recipes.

        Some of these I have not heard of before but would like to try.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Flourish, I don't understand the criticism of anchovy in Worcestershire (unless, of course, you are vegetarian or vegan). Think about the Asian condiments (fish sauce, oyster sauce, bonito flakes, etc.).

        Hmmm, maybe I should do Asian condiments next?

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 weeks ago from USA

        This is probably one reason why British cooking and American fare have such different reviews— we like very different things. I still cannot get over the anchovies in Worcestershire sauce. I tell people and they are often either disgusted or in disbelief—except my father, a food scientist who said he did know but wasn’t saying.

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