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Sauces: how to use them best to flavor your dishes

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  November 5, 2022

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In cooking, a sauce is liquid, cream or semi-solid food served on or used in preparing other foods. Sauces are not normally consumed by themselves.

What are the 4 purposes of a sauce?

Sauces are used to improve a dish in 4 ways: they add flavor, moisture, texture, and visual appeal to another dish. They also add fragrance to the dish which helps with the tastebuds as well.

What are sauces

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I looked at the searches for sauces in America, and the most popular sauces in the last 5 years are:

  1. Mustard
  2. Salsa
  3. Hot sauce
  4. Ketchup
  5. Soy sauce

American searches for sauces in the past 5 years

Mustard is the most searched-for condiment across the United States. But every year starting from April and ending in August at its peak, salsa sees a great boost in popularity, even surpassing that of mustard almost every year without fail.

Sauce popularity by state

There are a few regional differences too.

Mustard is even more popular in States like Montana, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia.

Salsa is much more popular in Utah, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and especially New Mexico.

Hot sauce is most popular in West-Virginia and Delaware.

What is sauce exactly?

Sauce is a French word taken from the Latin salsa, meaning salted. Possibly the oldest sauce recorded is garum, the fish sauce used by the Ancient Greeks.

Sauces need a liquid component, but some sauces (for example, pico de gallo salsa or chutney) may contain more solid components than liquid.

Sauces are an essential element in cuisines all over the world. Sauces may be used for savory dishes or for desserts.

They can be:

  • prepared and served cold, like mayonnaise,
  • prepared cold but served lukewarm like pesto,
  • or can be cooked like bechamel and served warm
  • or again cooked and served cold like apple sauce.

Some sauces are industrial inventions like Worcestershire sauce, HP Sauce, or nowadays mostly bought ready-made like soy sauce or ketchup, others still are freshly prepared by the cook.

Sauces for salad are called salad dressing. Sauces made by deglazing a pan are called pan sauces. A cook who specializes in making sauces is called a saucier.

They were often used to cover up the flavor of less-than-perfect food, like meat or seafood. This is why in Japan, there is far less use of sauces, with an emphasis on the quality of the base ingredient.

Three elements of any sauce

Any sauce will be made up of 3 basic things:

  1. Liquid: This is the body of the sauce and where a lot of the deep flavor comes from. It can be a stock (meat and bones simmered in water), milk, or any type of fat from pork or beef.
  2. Thickening agent: To make it a sauce, it has to be thicker than liquid. Otherwise, it would be a drink. You can use several ingredients to accomplish a thicker sauce, like roux, starch (from potato for example), liaison (cream, egg yolks), or vegetable puree.
  3. Seasoning: To add to the flavor of the base liquid, several seasonings can be used. These often include herbs and spices, sugar, salt, and now even artificial flavorings.

How should you use sauces?

When it comes to cooking, there are a few things you just can’t do without. A good knife, a cutting board, and of course, sauce. But what is the best way to use sauce? Here are a few tips:

-If you are using a jarred sauce, heat it up before you add it to your dish. This will help the flavors meld together and make your dish taste even better.

-When adding sauce to a dish, start with a little bit and then add more if needed. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away once it’s there.

-If you are making your own sauce, don’t be afraid to experiment with different flavors. Try adding a new spice or herb to see how it changes the flavor.

-Finally, don’t be afraid to use sauces in new and creative ways. Use them as a marinade for meats, as a dipping sauce, or even as a topping for desserts. The possibilities are endless!

Four sauce uses

There are many different types of sauces, and each one can be used in a different way. Here are some of the most popular sauce types:

  • dipping sauce: this is sauce, most often cold, you use to dip food into
  • marinade: this is a sauce you use to flavor meats or other foods before cooking. A marinade is mostly used to flavor a single ingredient
  • cooking sauce: this is a sauce you use while cooking to add flavor or moisture to a dish
  • finishing sauce: this is a sauce you add at the end of cooking, just before serving. A finishing sauce is often used to give a dish a shiny or glazed appearance

The 7 mother sauces

What are the 7 types of mother sauce?

There are 7 basic types of sauces which a lot of other sauces a derived from. These are tomato, veloute, béchamel, mayonnaise, brown or “Espagnole”, demi-glace, and Hollandaise sauce.

What is a daughter sauce?

A daughter sauce is derived from one of the 7 mother sauces. By adding extra flavor and seasoning to one of the basic sauces you get a derived sauce or daughter sauce, the “offspring” of the basic sauce.

It’s called a mother sauce because it’s one of the sauces all other sauces are made from. It’s like the mother that gave birth to a new sauce when something extra was added, but you can still trace back the heritage to that first sauce because of the likeness.

Are there 5 or 7 mother sauces? This is confusing…

There are 5 French mother sauces, tomato, veloute, béchamel, espagnole, and Hollandaise sauce. But looking outside of just French cuisine, some have added to more mother sauces to the list: mayonnaise and demi-glace.

Tomato sauce

A sauce is considered a tomato sauce if made primarily from tomatoes, either by extracting the juice or pureeing. It’s usually only considered a tomato sauce if it’s served as part of the dish, rather than as a condiment.

They are often used for meat and vegetables and can serve as the mother sauce for Mexican salsas and Italian pasta sauce.

Veloute

Veloute means velvet in French and is the term for light stock with a blond roux of flour and butter, combined to make a savory sauce. Any sauce made with butter or cream is a daughter sauce of veloute.

Bechamel

Bechamel is traditionally made from a white roux and milk, with a little seasoning. Because of its light flavor it takes on the flavors of the seasoning very well, like salt and nutmeg. The result is a silky and creamy sauce you can use on its own or as the base for other sauces.

Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is a sauce is made from oil, egg yolks, a souring agent like lemon juice or vinegar, and spices. This results in a thick, creamy sauce used cold for sandwiches, salads, and French fries.

It’s also used to make other sauces, tartar and remoulade to name a few, which is why some call it a mother sauce as well.

Espagnole

Espagnole is a dark brown sauce with strong bacon and tomato flavor, much too strong to use directly on food. That’s why it’s often used as the base of cooking sauce. It’s made from a brown stock with mirepoix, tomatoes, and roux.

Demi-glace

Demi-glace is a brown glazing sauce traditionally made by combining one part espagnole sauce and one part brown stock. It’s now often also made by reducing beef, chicken or vegetable broth until thick. It’s often used a a base for other sauces, which is why some call it a mother sauce.

It has a rich, meaty flavor with a bit of sweetness from the caramelization of the sauce while reducing it.

Hollandaise

Hollandaise is made by mixing egg yolk, melted butter, lemon juice, and white or cayenne pepper. This results in a rich, buttery sauce. It’s also known as Dutch sauce (Holland means The Netherlands where they speak Dutch), but it’s thought to have originated as Sauce Isigny, named after the small Normandy town known for its butter.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.