Sometimes, it seems eating healthy means forgoing flavor and chowing down on nothing but steamed veggies and plain grilled chicken. Boring! We’re fans of making meals that are wholesome and delicious. One of the best ways to add some flavor while keeping calories and fat content in check is to stock up on lighter condiments, sauces, marinades, and dressings that make any meal more exciting for the taste buds. Here are a few classic condiments (and ways to use them) that will boost the flavor of any healthy meal.
This savory sauce made of ground sesame seeds (roasted or raw) is a staple in many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Tahini paste is an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern favorites like hummus, baba ghanoush, and halva. When combined with other ingredients (usually some combination of water, garlic, lemon juice, and spices) tahini makes a great base for salad dressings, marinades, and dipping sauces.
The French fry’s BFF is actually fairly healthy — the popular sauce is made of vinegar, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and spices. But most mass-produced versions are loaded with sugar (in the form of high-fructose corn syrup), a boatload of salt, and tons of chemicals and preservatives. Ketchup’s uses are nearly infinite, from being slathered on burgers and hot dogs, used as an ingredient for barbeque sauce, or drizzled atop a plate of eggs and hash browns.
This mellow-yellow sauce is pretty healthy. Mustard plant seeds are loaded with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and essential minerals like selenium. Less-processed varieties with fewer preservatives have the most nutritional benefits. Pay attention to salt — many brands pack a powerful punch in the sodium department. Slap some of this spicy stuff on a sandwich, use it as a dip for pretzels or vegetables, or add it to salad dressings, marinades, and sauces for extra flavor.
This Korean staple has become super popular in the U.S. over the past few years, and for good reason. Made from fermented cabbage and veggies, kimchi is a great, healthy way to add flavor to just about any savory dish. A good batch should be somewhere between crunchy and soft and a good balance of sour (it is technically a pickle, after all), salty, and spicy flavors.
Need more spice in your life? Harissa is a bright red paste made of hot peppers, spices, garlic, and olive oil. In Northern Africa, it’s as ubiquitous as ketchup, often flavoring soups and stews and being used as a dipping sauce or sandwich spread. Many recipes are flavored with mint, coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds, and some brands contain tomatoes.
It isn’t a cookout without a hunk of juicy meat (or tofu!) slathered in sweet, spicy barbecue sauce. Unfortunately, many brands are loaded with sugar, sodium, and tons of wacky ingredients and preservatives. These healthier versions are a bit lighter but just as tasty. Use BBQ sauce on burgers, hot dogs, ribs, fish, brisket, grilled chicken, potatoes tofu, pizza, or vegetables.
This aromatic green sauce gets its name from how it used to be prepared with a mortar and pestle — the Italian word for “pounding” or “crushing” is pestare. These days, we’re more likely to buy the garlicky sauce in a store or whip up a batch in a food processor. Pesto is fairly high in fat due to its olive oil, parmesan cheese, and pine nut base, but they’re primarily healthy fats. It gets its signature hue and flavor from handfuls of basil and garlic. Pesto can also be made with other greens and nuts —kale and walnuts or parsley and almonds, for example — but the original combination is by far the most popular.. Pesto is perfect for jazzing up sandwiches, pasta dishes, seafood, eggs, meat, or just spread on toast.
Soy Sauce or Tamari
These Asian sauces are quite similar, but different in one crucial area. Soy sauce is made of a combination of fermented soybeans and wheat, while tamari sauce includes just soybeans. As a result, tamari is smoother, less salty, and more viscous than traditional soy sauce (plus, it’s gluten-free). Both are great for dipping, marinating, stir-frying, and making more complicated sauces and soups.
Hoisin is basically the Chinese version of barbecue sauce. Like Japanese teriyaki sauce, it’s thicker than soy sauce and combines sweet, salty, and sour flavors. Hoisin is most commonly used in Peking duck and Moo Shu dishes, but it’s also great in stir-fries, soups, and as a marinade for fish and meat. Many popular hoisin sauce brands are available at Asian markets or in the Asian food aisle of most large chain grocery stores.
Sofrito is a pungent, aromatic sauce used as a base in Spanish, Portuguese, Caribbean, and Latin American cuisine. Sofrito is an important component of soups, stews, rice and beans, and more complicated sauces in these cultures. It’s usually made by sautéing garlic, onion, peppers, and tomatoes in olive oil.
It’s time to think outside of the taco. This Tex-Mex staple is awesome on everything from eggs to wraps to burgers (and obviously Mexican staples like rice and beans, burritos, tacos, and enchiladas). Choose a variety with few preservatives and lots of veggies that’s also low in sodium.
This sauce is common in Southeast Asian cooking, especially Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian cuisines. Made with peanuts, soy sauce, garlic, and spices, it’s almost freakishly tasty and perfect as a dip for grilled meats or to smother noodles with .
The creamy white spread gets a bad rap, but not all mayo deserves it. If cholesterol or fat consumption is an issue for your individual diet.Use mayo on sandwiches, deviled eggs, in salads (potato, chicken, tuna, etc.), and blended with herbs and spices to make flavorful dipping sauces.
This condiment is exactly what it sounds like — a pungent, salty, and above all fishy sauce made from fermented fish (usually anchovies) and various spices. Fish sauce is very high in sodium, but because it’s such a strong flavor it’s usually used quite sparingly (as in, a few drops of sauce per pot of soup). Overall, fish sauce is on the healthier end of the condiment spectrum, with very few calories and zero fat. Most American markets carry only one or two popular brands; try an Asian specialty supermarket for more variety. Fish sauce is perfect for soups, stews, marinades, dipping sauces, and for stir-fries.