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Condiment Containers 101

Condiment Containers 101

So many condiments, and so many condiment containers! Knowing which holder or dispenser is right for what food product can be tricky, especially with so many types of containers available. From basic ketchup and mustard to the not-so-basic array of yogurt or fajita toppings, condiments come in a variety of forms that their containers must account for and accommodate. So regardless of your menu, understanding what your options are for condiments storage at the table, on the counter, or in the kitchen is paramount to delicious dishes guests can tailor to their personal tastes.

Red bottle of ketchup being squeezed on top of a basket of french fries

Things to Consider When Purchasing a Condiment Container

  • What condiment do you need to contain?
  • What form (bulk, packets, etc.) is the condiment in?
  • Is the container for serving, storing, or both?
  • Where will the container be served and/or stored?
  • How many portions does it need to hold?

Condiment Container Basics

There are many different ways that you can think of condiment containers, from what specific condiment they're designed for to how much they hold. Remember that the needs of your kitchen and menu dictate how you should approach determining and selecting what condiment containers are right for you.

Let's first review the basic characteristics of containers before we examine the diverse selection available.

  • Size
    This quality is affected by how much of the condiment you want to store or serve at a time. Counter, table, or kitchen space is also an influential factor. Different containers accommodate different quantities of food, and the type of food is important. You'll be able to provide fewer servings of sliced lemon in a canister than you will teaspoons of sugar.

  • Cal-Mil 866 Acrylic Top Loading Condiment Packet Dispenser
  • Material
    Regardless of the condiment and what you want to do with it, you'll need to decide what you expect from the container's material. Some materials clean easier than others, and some are more durable than others. Determine the most important quality of the material you want. That information will help you to narrow down your options.

  • Versatility
    Some containers, like ramekins or jars, serve a variety of purposes. Others, such as butter dishes, serve a specific function - accommodating butter, in this case. The first allows you to reuse your investment(s) in countless ways, so if your needs change in the future, the piece will likely remain useful.

    On the other hand, the more specific a container is to a condiment or use, the more efficient it usually is. Take a salt mill, for example. Not only does it store salt, but it grinds and dispenses the seasoning for freshness and with ease. Instead of a mill, you could use a jar and provide a teaspoon, but not only will that method not yield freshly ground salt, but it's more of a hassle and mess to access.

  • Use
    Think of 'use' as referring not to the condiment, but to your operation. Condiment containers include two subcategories: holders and dispensers. Holders only provide storage. You or your guests must physically access the container and remove the condiment.

    In contrast, dispensers both store and serve. These are the shakers, squeeze bottles, and boats. Some feature of their design was engineered to make serving as easy as possible. Shakers dispense from perforations on the top; squeeze bottles dispense from their top spout when squeezed; boats serve gravy or sauce through their spout when tilted.

Condiment Holders for Packaged Food

Black three compartment coffee and condiment organizer with straws, creamer, and sugar packets

Condiment Organizer

  • A storage unit designed to display a variety of individually packaged condiments
  • Common Materials - Acrylic, Bamboo, Metal, Plastic, Wood
  • Usage - Countertops, Beverage Stations
  • Benefits - Accommodates a selection of condiments in an organized manner, space-efficient design, easy to refill and access

Empty black rectangular plastic condiment bin

Condiment Bin

  • An open, self-serve bin to store and display individually packaged condiments
  • Common Materials - Bamboo, Metal, Plastic
  • Usage - Countertops, Beverage Stations
  • Benefits - Its versatile design holds condiments or supplies like flatware and straws, easy to refill and access

Black metal condiment caddy with built-in merchandiser ring

Condiment Caddy

  • Often a basket-like unit with a central handle that accommodates one of several types of packaged or bottled condiments
  • Common Materials - Chrome Wire, Galvanized Metal, Metal, Polyethylene, Stainless Steel, Tin
  • Usage - Individual tables
  • Benefits - Organizes a selection for limited use, can hold a variety of packaged condiments, promotes variety, not quantity

Caramel-colored sugar packet / condiment caddy

Sugar Caddy

  • A small, open-designed container used for storing sugar packets
  • Common Materials - Bone China, Ceramic, China, Galvanized Metal, Glass, Metal, Plastic, Porcelain, SAN Plastic, Stainless Steel
  • Usage - Individual tables
  • Benefits - Perfect for offering a few different types of sweeteners, easy to refill and access, small in size and footprint

Condiment Holders for Unpackaged Food

Clear glass jar with air-tight clamp and metal latch on a tabletop

Jar

  • A versatile container, sometimes with a lid, that accommodates bulk ingredients
  • Common Materials - Acrylic, Glass, Melamine, Metal, Plastic, Porcelain, Stainless Steel, Wood
  • Usage - Kitchens, Bars, Buffets, Self-serve stations
  • Benefits - When used with a lid, it can store food overnight, great for display, decor, or aesthetic kitchen storage, holds a wide variety of bulk foods

Clear glass milk bottle on a table top

Milk Bottle

  • A jar shaped like a milk bottle without a lid that can serve anything from milk to salad dressing to syrup
  • Common Materials - Glass
  • Usage - Served to individual customers or tables, buffets
  • Benefits - Great for display or decor, adds style to serving, holds a variety of foods, can be used to serve beverages

San Jamar black four compartment two tier condiment holder with lids

Countertop Condiment Holder

  • A container with at least one compartment to house and display condiments for countertop self-serve use, such as sauces, relishes, and other dish toppings
  • Common Materials - Glass, Plastic, Stainless Steel, Wire, Wood
  • Usage - Countertops, Kitchens, Salad / Sandwich / Ice Cream Bars
  • Benefits - Efficiently uses counter space, holds a wide variety of foods, available with different numbers of compartments

White rounded porcelain sugar bowl with lid

Sugar Bowl

  • A closed container with a lid used to store and serve sugar, commonly accompanying a serving of tea or coffee
  • Common Materials - Porcelain, Stainless Steel
  • Usage - Individual tables, with tea orders, upscale events
  • Benefits - Allows you to buy economical, bulk sweeteners, stores food overnight, easy to refill and access, available in sets with a container for creamer for hot beverage purposes

Small white melamine butter dish with round shape and straight sides

Butter Dish

  • A container, sometimes with a lid, that holds butter in different forms, from several pats to an entire stick
  • Common Materials - Melamine, Porcelain
  • Usage - Individual tables
  • Benefits - Easily stores and serves butter, perfect for serving with bread, depending on the design, can hold an entire stick of butter or margarine, round dishes accommodate butter as well as other spreads

Condiment Dispensers

Aluminum shaker with handle and perforated lid

Shaker

  • Usually a cylindrical container with a perforated top through which the spice, sugar, cheese, salt, pepper, or other seasoning is dispensed
  • Common Materials - Aluminum, Glass, Plastic, Stainless Steel
  • Usage - Kitchens, Individual tables, salad / sandwich / ice cream bars
  • Benefits - Perfect to use when adding a limited amount of ingredient to a dish, such as a garnish of cheese or spices; easy to use; allows you to economically buy in bulk

Stainless steel condiment pump dispenser with four white pumps

Pump Dispenser

  • A closed container with a pump to dispense liquids or sauces
  • Common Materials - Plastic, Stainless Steel
  • Usage - Countertops, salad / sandwich / ice cream bars, buffets, kitchens
  • Benefits - Easy to use; low-mess; comes with a variety of compartments to offer condiment variety; quick service

Glass beehive pourer with stainless steel side flap lid

Pourer

  • Usually a cylindrical container with a pouring spout that can close when not in use; used to store and dispense sugar
  • Common Materials - Glass, Plastic
  • Usage - Kitchens, individual tables, beverage stations
  • Benefits - Allows you to economically buy in bulk; pours a lot or a little

Clear plastic wide mouth squeeze bottle

Squeeze Bottle

  • A pliable, cylindrical container that dispenses liquids, such as sauces and dips, from the top spout when squeezed
  • Common Materials - Plastic, Polyethylene
  • Usage - Kitchens, countertops, individual tables, buffets, food trucks, salad / sandwich / ice cream bar
  • Benefits - Easy to use; won't spill; accommodates a variety of liquid foods

Stainless steel gravy boat with oval shape and handle

Boat

  • An easy-to-pour open container, usually with a handle on one end, designed to serve and pour sauces and gravies
  • Common Materials - Bone China, China, Glass, Porcelain, Stainless Steel
  • Usage - Individual tables, buffets
  • Benefits - Easy to fill and use; accommodates multiple different foods; holds several servings of sauce, gravy, dressing, or other topping

Glass olive oil cruet with rounded base and stainless steel pourer

Cruet

  • An often tall container used to store and serve oil or different types of vinegar; if not used with a lid, used with a pourer
  • Common Materials - Glass, Stainless Steel
  • Usage - Individual tables, buffets, salad / sandwich / ice cream bars, kitchens
  • Benefits - Small spout makes pouring easy; adds decorative touch to commonly used ingredients; used for vinegar and oil

Brown wooden salt / pepper mill with tall, thin shape and rounded top

Mill

  • Often a cylindrical container that houses salt and/or pepper, and then when twisted, dispenses it
  • Common Materials - Acrylic, Stainless Steel, Wood
  • Usage - Individual tables, served at the table, kitchens
  • Benefits - Easily twists to grind salt or pepper and dispense; small footprint; decorative; allows you to serve freshly ground salt or pepper

Glass syrup dispenser with chrome plated alloy lid and handle

Syrup Dispenser

  • A round or cylindrical container with a handle and spout that slowly dispenses syrup when a lever is pressed to open the spout
  • Common Materials - Glass, Polycarbonate, Polyethylene
  • Usage - Kitchens, individual tables
  • Benefits - Efficient way to dispense slow-moving syrup; easy to refill and use

Navy blue round fluted melamine ramekin

Ramekin & Sauce Cup

  • A small, open bowl designed for immediate service
  • Common Materials - China, Cast Aluminum, Glass, Plastic, Melamine, Stainless Steel
  • Usage - Individual tables, kitchens, condiment stations
  • Benefits - Very versatile; easy to fill and access; perfect for dipping; holds single serving; decorative

When buying condiment containers, pay attention to the material. For instance, glass may be stylish, but it breaks easily, and breakage can dramatically increase cost over time. When selecting a material, consider not just appearance, but durability, longevity, and cleanability. Look through the chart below to learn about a few common material options available.
Acrylic
Pros
  • Shatterproof
  • Economical
  • Mimics appearance of glass
  • BPA-Free
Cons
  • Tends to crack, which can lead to leakage
  • Tends to spot and chip
  • Not dishwasher or microwave safe
Bamboo
Pros
  • Trendy
  • Environmentally-friendly
  • Economical
  • Lightweight
  • Resistant to heat, stains, and water
Cons
  • Excessive moisture can lead to molding
  • Prone to scratches
  • Not recommended for use in dishwasher
Cast Aluminum
Pros
  • Resistant to Corrosion
  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Attractive, sleek appearance
Cons
  • Not recommended for use in dishwasher
  • Tends to stain
Ceramic
Pros
  • Stain and odor resistant
  • Leak-proof
  • Tends to retain color
  • Handles cold and heat well
Cons
  • Fragile
  • May not be dishwasher or microwave safe
China
Pros
  • Elegant
  • Leak-proof
  • Wide variety of colors and patterns available
Cons
  • Fragile
  • May not be dishwasher or microwave safe
Galvanized Metal
Pros
  • Durable
  • Leak-proof
  • Trendy, rustic appearance
Cons
  • Difficult to clean
Glass
Pros
  • Elegant or Casual
  • Provides excellent food visibility
Cons
  • Fragile
  • Breakage creates sharp, dangerous fragments
Melamine
Pros
  • Similar to china or porcelain in appearance
  • Break- and shatter-resistant
  • Durable
Cons
  • Not microwave safe
  • When heated, can leach toxins into food
Plastic*

*This is a common, unspecific material name. Usually it refers to "polyethylene," which is how it's used here. Take note, however, that it can refer to SAN plastic, HDPE, and polycarbonate, among other plastics. Find a few of these other plastics described separately in the table, as they may be directly identified as a container's material.

Pros
  • Durable
  • Economical
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • Not always microwave and dishwasher safe
  • White plastic can discolor
  • Brittle when cold
  • Not commonly perceived as stylish
Polycarbonate
Pros
  • Durable
  • Economical
  • Mimics appearance of glass
Cons
  • Low scratch resistance
  • Contains BPA
  • May not be dishwasher or microwave safe
Porcelain
Pros
  • Elegant
  • More durable than china or bone china
Cons
  • Tends to chip and break
  • Not recommended for use in dishwasher or microwave
SAN Plastic
Pros
  • Durable
  • Break-resistant
  • BPA-Free
  • Economical
  • Resistant to boiling water
Cons
  • May wear with regular use in dishwasher
  • Not recommended for extended use in microwave
Stainless Steel
Pros
  • Durable
  • Corrosion-resistant
  • Long-lasting
  • Sleek, trendy appearance
Cons
  • Tends to scratch
Tin
Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Trendy, rustic appearance
  • Corrosion-resistant to common chemicals
Cons
  • Can corrode aluminum and other bare metals
  • Poor corrosion-resistance to certain paints
  • Tends to stain and tarnish
  • Difficult to clean
Wood
Pros
  • Trendy
  • Environmentally-friendly
Cons
  • Difficult to clean
  • Not NSF approved

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