The Free Dictionary Blog > Secrets of the Sauce: 8 condiment names explained

Secrets of the Sauce: 8 condiment names explained

Wordymology is a series in which the editors at The Free Dictionary explore the origins of the names of things.
You may have a lot of passionate preferences about which condiments you use—and don’t use. But do you know the ingredients of their etymologies?

Ketchup

Ketchup may seem like the quintessential American condiment, thanks to its close association with hot dogs and hamburgers, but it actually originated in China—where it was made from pickled fish. The name “ketchup” comes from the Hokkien Chinese word kê-chiap, in which means “pickled fish” and chiap means “juice” or ”sauce.” British explorers to Southeast Asia likely brought the name home with them in the 17th century and then started applying it to similar sauces of their own creation, leading to the birth of tomato ketchup in the early 19th century.

Mustard

Today, mustard is made from ground mustard seeds, vinegar or oil, and (sometimes) other spices, but do you know what other ingredient was initially considered a must? “Must”—the juice of grapes or other fruit before it is fermented and made into wine. “Must” comes from the Latin word mustum, meaning “new wine,” and is related to mustus—“newborn.”

Mayonnaise

There are victory dances and victory songs, but did you know there’s also a victory sauce? It’s true, though you mayo-may not be a fan of it. The word “mayonnaise” comes from the French word mahonnaise, which is thought to be related to the Spanish city of Mahón, a key air and naval base on the island of Minorca. During the Seven Years War, Louis François Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, was able to claim Mahón for France, and his chef allegedly created mayonnaise in honor of this victory.

Thousand Island Dressing and Russian Dressing

Thousand Island dressing, commonly used as a “secret sauce” in fast food, has some secrets of its own, starting with the origin of its name. It’s possible that the dressing did, in fact, originate in the Thousand Islands—a group of more than 1,800 islands between New York and Ontario. But others believe that the dressing’s bits of vegetables are the “thousand islands” that the name refers to.
Another grey area is the border between Thousand Island and Russian dressing. While both are made from mayonnaise and chili sauce or ketchup, they are not actually identical in composition. Russian dressing tends to be spicier, and also comes with its own naming uncertainty. It might have been created for use in Salad Olivier, a dish also conveniently known as “Russian salad,” or the name might refer to early versions’ use of caviar.

Caesar Dressing

Caesar salad and its accompanying dressing are named for a real person—and it’s not Julius Caesar. They’re actually named for their creator, Italian-Mexican chef Caesar Cardini. Cardini first made the salad at his eponymous restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1924, either out of necessity with the only ingredients left after Fourth of July festivities or for Hollywood starlets who visited Mexico during Prohibition. Cardini died in 1956, but his eponymous salad lives on as a restaurant staple.

Ranch Dressing

A “dude ranch” is a vacation resort modeled on a Western ranch and featuring outdoor activities like horseback riding and camping. (One of the meanings of “dude” is “city-dweller.”) It was in this setting that ranch dressing was first made—in the 1950s at the Hidden Valley Ranch near Santa Barbara, California. Guests loved the dressing so much that the owners began selling it as a packaged mix, and the rest is history.

Sriracha

If you think sriracha is the king of all condiments, evidence to support this is right there in its name. Srī Rāchā is the name of the Thai city where the chili sauce allegedly originated. In Sanskrit, Srī is a title of honor akin to “majesty,” while rājā means “king.”
Which condiment is your top topper?
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