Rachel Grate
September 06, 2014 1:50 pm

Perhaps one of the most challenging struggles of becoming a “real adult” is stocking your own kitchen. Every time I go to the grocery store is a struggle between what my college self wants (ice cream! chips!) and what my practical self knows I should get.

As my meals have evolved from microwave to stove top, I’ve learned to balance my kitchen with the ingredients that satisfy my stomach and those that fuel my health. Luckily, there are some kitchen basics that do both.

The key to any good meal, I’ve learned, lies in the condiment to compliment the flavors. Whether you’re relying on the condiment to cover up a cooking mishap or simply accent an already-wonderful meal, a condiment can serve as a food hack, instantly making your meal taste gourmet. There are seven condiments that every kitchen should have:

1. Quality Olive Oil

I studied abroad in Spain during college, and if I only learned one thing it is this: olive oil goes on anything. From bread to salad to fish, my host father poured olive oil over every item on his plate. After living in Andalusia (which produces the majority of the world’s olive oil), trust me – it’s worth the splurge to get a quality oil. (And it’s not a coincidence that the Mediterranean has some of the longest life expectancies – a diet heavy in olive oil is very healthy.)

The flavor of fresh olive oil is unbeatable. You can use it on everything from fresh pasta to simple salads. My personal favorite is a lemon olive oil I get at my local farmer’s market that pairs perfectly with salad. Splurging on a bottle of good olive oil may seem pricey at first, but a little goes a long way.

2. Balsamic Vinegar

Another kitchen basic, this vinegar is olive oil’s best friend. Whether on its own or paired, a little balsamic will take your salad, vegetable dish or fancy hors d’oeuvre up a notch. Also, it’s practically no calorie, so it’s a great way to add flavor without adding unhealthy fats.

3. Sriracha

Everyone needs to spice up their life from time to time, and Sriracha is the multipurpose sauce for all your kitchen needs. No matter what kind of food – Asian, Mexican, Indian, or plain old American –  Sriracha serves equally well for all. Be careful, though – while delicious, the stuff really is spicy, so don’t put too much on or you’ll be laying into a bowl of ice cream to sooth your taste buds. Trust me, I know from experience.

4. Honey Dijon Mustard

I’ve never understood the attraction to traditional yellow mustards when such a delicious alternative is available. This mustard is both great as an obvious topping for hot dogs or burgers and as a core ingredient to some great dishes. Every year for Thanksgiving, my mom and I make a deviled cauliflower dish with this mustard as the number one ingredient of the sauce, and it tastes much fancier that the minimal amount of effort that goes into making the dish. From vegetables to meats, this condiment is an essential for baking and topping.

5. Ketchup

My preference is for ketchup without high fructose corn syrup. I’ve been freaked out by how much corn we eat ever since I read the first chapter (and only the first chapter, or I would have ended up cutting all foods from my diet) of a Michael Pollan book. But regardless of variety, ketchup (or catsup, if you prefer) is a kitchen staple. I personally put the condiment both on my burger and on the side for dipping of the burger and fries, because it’s difficult to have too much. With tomato, sugar and vinegar, what could go wrong besides endless deliciousness?

6. Soy Sauce

If you enjoy Asian food of any kind, you need soy sauce in your fridge. It can transform the bland Safeway sushi you pick up on your way home from work into a delicious dinner. Not to mention, it’s also a core ingredient of any sort of stir fry or rice dish you can make on your own. My preference is the low sodium kind, because it tastes exactly the same but is way healthier.

7. Nutella

Some of you might be predisposed to peanut or almond butter, but let me tell you: Nutella is the reigning king of spreadable condiments. Whether it’s used on bread for a delicious sandwich or as a core ingredient in amazing desserts, Nutella can (and should!) be repurposed across every meal of the day.

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