Condiments to the chef

They're the kitchen-cupboard classics, hiding at the back of the larder waiting for their chance. Here's how they got there. Photographs by Adrian Burke

Have you ever wondered how the household sauces and condiments that form the horizon of the modern larder came into being? To a large extent you will have to continue to wonder, as detailed recipes of the following are all closely guarded secrets. Whatever the contents, these six are now well-established store-cupboard favourites.

Colman's Mustard The inimitable nasal bite from even the merest smear of Colman's Mustard is like no other mustard experience. Small wonder then that a loyal contingent of Brits carry a tin of the powdered stuff wherever they go, leaving it daubed at the side of their plates like a national calling card. Jeremiah Colman was originally a flour miller in Norwich, and his successful company created the concept of contract farming. To this day it has all its seeds - a combination of brown mustard (Brassica juncea) and white mustard (Sinapis alba) - grown to its specification, according to a well-guarded formula. Its natural yellow colour is rendered even more fierce by the addition of tumeric. And its pungency, it claims, is enhanced by the absence of any heat-treatment to the mustard seeds.

While true British eccentrics will smear the stuff over everything they eat, juicy pork sausages and cold honey roast ham don't so much cry as scream out for it.

Marmite Hot on the heels of the discovery by French scientist Louis Pasteur that yeast cells are living plants, a German chemist realised that yeast could be made into a concentrated product resembling meat extract in both smell and colour. But it wasn't until 1902 that the Marmite Food Company was formed, and even then it turned out that the British extract of brewer's yeast behaved in a markedly different fashion to the French. It was a long slow road to the success it currently enjoys - the British palate acquired the taste over time, its popularity increasing with the discovery of its vitamin content in 1912, which instantly turned it into the darling of hospitals and war-torn countries. Today it is enjoying a second vogue and if the manufacturer's recommendations are to be heeded, all pregnant women should eat at least four pieces of toast and Marmite daily to keep up their intake of folic acid.

A truly singular condiment whose sole metier is the finest film on hot buttered toast. For some reason it tastes even better on soldiers.

Geo Watkins Mushroom Ketchup The secret of many a Victorian cook, this tastes halfway between Worcestershire Sauce and soy sauce with subtle undertones of mushroom. The original ketchups were carefully brewed condiments, but are now all but superseded by convenient modern equivalents like Bisto. Originally, mushrooms were packed - caps, stalks and all - into earthenware jars, salted and placed on the back of the stove until they flowed with dark liquid. Next, the jars were set in the oven and boiled, the sauce strained through muslin, and finally spiced with the likes of black pepper, nutmeg and mace. George Watkins, established in 1830, is the most common brand around, although disappointingly, despite the "ye olde" label design and claim to having been "prepared from an original recipe", is made with mushroom powder. But it's still got to be better than Bisto if you want to highlight the flavour of beef and game.

This particular condiment is also great for pepping up the gravy of a steak and kidney pudding.

Heinz Tomato Ketchup It wasn't until 1946 that Heinz Tomato Ketchup was manufactured in this country, by which time it had been fully naturalised as one of our national condiments, even though its creators, Mrs Schultheis and Mrs Bingham, were pillars of Pennsylvanian society. They first brewed it up in whiskey barrels back in 1869, which was by no means unique - there were, at the turn of the century, an estimated 9,000 ketchups being marketed. It's so ubiquitous that today meat and two veg in the States refers to burgers, chips and ketchup, and in 1981 the Reagan administration tried to classify it as a vegetable to save money on the federal school- lunch programme. Heinz emerged as the pre-eminent brand largely on the strength of its preservative-free pure food policy at the beginning of the 1900s. Tomato ketchup had a fairly murky start in life as a by-product of the canning industry. The rotten and misshapen bits were scooped up from the gutter, fermented in barrels and then boiled up in kettles over wood fires which regularly scorched the mixture. Added to which it suffered from "black neck", the darkening of the sauce at the opening of the bottle when ferric compounds oxidise. Heinz doesn't suffer from any of this as we know, but how do they achieve that poppy red?

Only a food snob would claim their fish pie was too good for tomato ketchup. As for cottage and shepherd's pie, add ketchup and frozen peas and we're talking gastronomy.

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce If you are in any doubt as to the strength of this fiery and complex sauce, note that one organic West Country farmer, Mr Oliver Dowding, kicks life into apparently stillborn calves with a squirt of Lea & Perrins up their nostrils. Animal welfare aside, just what does it contain? In order to protect the secrecy of the formula, in the past the ingredients have been officially referred to by code names: Bulimay, Buggy, Bugbear, Bugler, Bulldog, Buglehorn and Bullcalf to name but a few. You could guess long and hard and still fail to come up with the alleged blend of malt and spirit vinegar, molasses, garlic, shallots, tamarind and anchovies that are matured and filtered before being spiced with other ingredients. How did anyone dream up this outlandish combination in the first place?

Lea & Perrins has settled on the story of Marcus Lord Sandys, who on returning from India, commissioned Worcester pharmacists, John Lea and William Perrins, to make up his secret recipe. When they came to taste it however, it was so disgusting they shoved it to one side and forgot about it. It was years later that they rediscovered it, and lo, the fiery liquor we are accustomed to dripping over our beef stews was born.

Employed in spicing up Bloody Marys, which would be nothing without their adder's tongue, it's also one of the secrets of success for Welsh rarebit.

Patum Peperium The 19th-century gentry's favourite, the name is a play on the word paste or pate, while peperium derives from the Greek for pepper. Quite why this should be so is still a mystery - it isn't in the least bit peppery, a buff-grey paste that tastes intensely salty and fishy with undertones of iodine. Created in France in 1828 by an Englishman called John Osborn, Patum Peperium is a blend of anchovies, butter, herbs and spices, which typically remains top secret, with no single employee ever knowing the entire process. The recipe was handed down verbally from one generation to another until, in 1971, with no obvious successors the secret was passed on to Elsenham Ltd when Harold Osborn revealed one part of the process and his brother the other. Another truly singular condiment whose finest hour is teatime. Patum peperium has long been aspirational, the stuff of officers and gentlemen although, now you can get it in Sainsbury's, all that has changed

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

    Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

    salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower