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
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

    £37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

    Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

    £25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

    £16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones