The Life Cycle of Condiments

“Why do we have so many condiments?” I ask as I push the refrigerator door and hear the plastic bottle thud. Turning, I see barbecue sauce splayed across the floor and streaking the bottom of the refrigerator. About three tablespoons of sauce coats enough floor and refrigerator space to make a sticky mess worthy of wet dish towels, paper towels, and a mop. Luckily there is no broken glass, just bits and pieces of a plastic screw-top lid.

I see a full bottle of BBQ sauce still sealed in the refrigerator door. I really had two containers of barbeque sauce? I assess the contents of my refrigerator: Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, cocktail sauce, tartar sauce, Dijon mustard, jalapeno mustard, brown mustard, yellow mustard, Mexican hot sauce, Louisiana hot sauce, lime salsa, salsa verde, relish, sweet pickles, dill pickles, kalamata olives, stuffed green olives, 8 bottles of salad dressing, 4 containers of jam, chocolate sauce, salted caramel, mayonnaise, tahini …

Each item has a story. For example,

  • Worcestershire sauce: one teaspoon required for a new recipe from my sister;
  • Cocktail sauce: a necessity for the shrimp we ate on New Years’ Eve;
  • Sweet pickles: traditionally served on the Thanksgiving dinner relish tray;
  • Stuffed green olives: the adults tried martinis a few months ago;
  • Thousand island salad dressing: reuben sandwiches on St. Patty’ s Day;
  • Salted caramel: a gift sent from France;
  • Tahini: the secret ingredient in hummus;
  • Four containers of jam?

Variety is the spice of life, but I wonder if my condiment stash is excessive. I haven’t even peeked at the vinegars, oils, honey, or spice bottles stowed in my pantry. I look for the tiny expiration dates printed on each container. One lonely jar of salad dressing expired six months ago. I discard it.

Do other people in the world regularly review the condiments in their refrigerators? When do you throw away a condiment? Are condiment containers meant to be emptied?

After initiating emails and awkward small talk with my co-workers, family, and friends, I discover condiments hold a special place in many refrigerators for months and even years. (Yes, years … people tell me hot sauce lasts up to five years!)

However, like the variety in my refrigerator, I hear a mixture of responses. Some discard condiments on a regular basis, while others won’t purchase a product they will not completely use. Yet, common condiment etiquette seems to be:

  1. Purchase or concoct a unique flavor.
  2. Pour, squeeze, or drizzle on the food of your choice.
  3. Save the leftovers.
  4. Retrieve, look, smell, and discard.
  5. Repeat.

Condiment Cycle

Everyone has a list of favorite flavors. I have emptied ketchup bottles, mayonnaise containers, and jam jars in my lifetime. However, I’ve never seen the bottom of a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, a jar of tahini, or a squeeze bottle of jalapeno mustard. In the end, I rely on my senses: if a condiment looks discolored or smells rank, I discard it.

What do you do?

Do you have a stash of condiments?