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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 storing condiments at the table, on the counter, or in the kitchen is paramount to delicious dishes guests can tailor to their personal tastes.

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 less servings of sliced lemon in a canister than 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


Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
A storage unit designed to display a variety of individually packaged condiments

Acrylic

Bamboo

Metal

Plastic

Wood

Countertops

Beverage stations

Accommodates a selection of condiments in an organized manner

Space-efficient design

Easy to refill and access

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
An open, self-serve bin to store and display individually packaged condiments
Bamboo

Metal

Plastic
Countertops

Beverage stations
Its versatile design holds condiments or supplies like flatware and straws

Easy to refill and access

Accessories*:


*Accommodate more than one bin in a space-efficient footprint

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
Often a basket-like unit with a central handle that accommodates one of several types of packaged or bottled condiments
Chrome wire

Galvanized metal

Metal

Polyethylene

Stainless steel

Tin
Individual tables
Organizes a selection for limited use

Can hold a variety of packaged condiments

Promotes variety, not quantity

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
A small, open-designed container used for storing sugar packets
Bone china

Ceramic

China

Galvanized metal

Glass

Metal

Plastic

Porcelain

SAN plastic

Stainless steel
Individual tables
Perfect for offering a few different types of sweeteners

Easy to refill and access

Small in size and footprint

Condiment Holders for Unpackaged Food


Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
A versatile container, sometimes with a lid, that accommodates bulk ingredients

Acrylic

Glass

Melamine

Metal

Plastic

Porcelain

Stainless steel

Wood
Kitchens

Bars

Buffets

Self-serve stations
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

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
A jar shaped like a milk bottle without a lid that can serve anything from milk to salad dressing to syrup
Glass
Served to individual customers or tables

Buffets
Great for display or decor

Adds style to serving

Holds a variety of foods

Can be used to serve beverages

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
A container with a lid that accommodates bulk ingredients, such as relish, sugar, and sauces, for food prep or self-serve purposes
China

Glass

Metal

Porcelain

Stainless steel
Countertops

Buffets

Kitchens
Accommodates a variety of bulk foods

Can be used to store food overnight

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
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
Glass

Plastic

Stainless steel

Wire

Wood
Countertops

Kitchens

Salad / sandwich / ice cream bars
Efficiently uses counter space

Holds a wide variety of foods

Available with different numbers of compartments

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
A closed container with a lid used to store and serve sugar, commonly accompanying a serving of tea or coffee
Porcelain

Stainless steel
Individual tables

With tea orders

Upscale events
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

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
A container, sometimes with a lid, that holds butter in different forms, from several pats to an entire stick
Melamine

Porcelain
Individual tables
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


Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
Usually a cylindrical container with a perforated top through which the spice, sugar, cheese, salt, pepper, or other seasoning is dispensed

Aluminum

Glass

Plastic

Stainless steel
Kitchens

Individual tables

Salad / sandwich / ice cream bars
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

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
A closed container with a pump to dispense liquids or sauces
Plastic

Stainless steel
Countertops

Salad / sandwich / ice cream bars

Buffets

Kitchens
Easy to use

Low-mess

Comes with a variety of compartments to offer condiment variety

Quick service

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
Usually a cylindrical container with a pouring spout that can close when not in use; used to store and dispense sugar
Glass

Plastic
Kitchens

Individual tables

Beverage stations
Allows you to economically buy in bulk

Pours a lot or a little

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
A pliable, cylindrical container that dispenses liquids, such as sauces and dips, from the top spout when squeezed
Plastic

Polyethylene
Kitchens

Countertops

Individual tables

Buffets

Food trucks

Salad / Sandwich / Ice cream bar
Easy to use

Won't spill

Accommodates a variety of liquid foods

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
An easy-to-pour open container, usually with a handle on one end, designed to serve and pour sauces and gravies
Bone china

China

Glass

Porcelain

Stainless steel
Individual tables

Buffets
Easy to fill and use

Accommodates multiple different foods

Holds several servings of sauce, gravy, dressing, or other topping

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
An often tall container used to store and serve oil or vinegar; if not used with a lid, used with a pourer
Glass

Stainless steel
Individual tables

Buffets

Salad / sandwich / ice cream bars

Kitchens
Small spout makes pouring easy

Adds decorative touch to commonly used ingredients

Used for vinegar and oil

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
Often a cylindrical container that houses salt and/or pepper, and then when twisted, dispenses it
Acrylic

Stainless steel

Wood
Individual tables

Served at the table

Kitchens
Easily twists to grind salt or pepper and dispense

Small footprint

Decorative

Allows you to serve freshly ground salt or pepper

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
A round or cylindrical container with a handle and spout that slowly dispenses syrup when a lever is pressed to open the spout
Glass

Polycarbonate

Polyethylene
Kitchens

Individual tables
Efficient way to dispense slow-moving syrup

Easy to refill and use

Description
Common Materials
Usage
Benefits
A small, open bowl designed for immediate service
China

Cast aluminum

Glass

Plastic

Melamine

Stainless steel
Individual tables

Kitchens

Condiment stations
Very versatile

Easy to fill and access

Perfect for dipping

Holds single serving

Decorative

Common Container Materials

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 swatch
Acrylic
Pros
Cons
Shatterproof

Economical

Mimics appearance of glass

BPA-Free
Tends to crack, which can lead to leakage

Tends to spot and chip

Not dishwasher or microwave safe

bamboo swatch
Bamboo
Pros
Cons
Trendy

Environmentally-friendly

Economical

Lightweight

Resistant to heat, stains, and water
Excessive moisture can lead to molding

Prone to scratches

Not recommended for use in dishwasher

cast aluminum swatch
Cast Aluminum
Pros
Cons
Resistant to Corrosion

Lightweight

Durable

Attractive, sleek appearance
Not recommended for use in dishwasher

Tends to stain

ceramic swatch
Ceramic
Pros
Cons
Stain and odor resistant

Leak-proof

Tends to retain color

Handles cold and heat well
Fragile

May not be dishwasher or microwave safe

china swatch
China
Pros
Cons
Elegant

Leak-proof

Wide variety of colors and patterns available
Fragile

May not be dishwasher or microwave safe

galvanized metal swatch
Galvanized Metal
Pros
Cons
Durable

Leak-proof

Trendy, rustic appearance
Difficult to clean

glass swatch
Glass
Pros
Cons
Elegant or Casual

Provides excellent food visibility
Fragile

Breakage creates sharp, dangerous fragments

melamine swatch
Melamine
Pros
Cons
Similar to china or porcelain in appearance

Break- and shatter-resistant

Durable
Not microwave safe

When heated, can leach toxins into food

plastic swatch
Plastic*
Pros
Cons
Durable

Economical

Inexpensive
Not always microwave and dishwasher safe

White plastic can discolor

Brittle when cold

Not commonly perceived as stylish

polycarbonate swatch
Polycarbonate
Pros
Cons
Durable

Economical

Mimics appearance of glass
Low scratch resistance

Contains BPA

May not be dishwasher or microwave safe

porcelain swatch
Porcelain
Pros
Cons
Elegant

More durable than china or bone china
Tends to chip and break

Not recommended for use in dishwasher or microwave

SAN plastic swatch
SAN Plastic
Pros
Cons
Durable

Break-resistant

BPA-Free

Economical

Resistant to boiling water
May wear with regular use in dishwasher

Not recommended for extended use in microwave

stainless steel swatch
Stainless Steel
Pros
Cons
Durable

Corrosion-resistant

Long-lasting

Sleek, trendy appearance
Tends to scratch

tin swatch
Tin
Pros
Cons
Lightweight

Durable

Trendy, rustic appearance

Corrosion-resistant to common chemicals
Can corrode aluminum and other bare metals

Poor corrosion-resistance to certain paints

Tends to stain and tarnish

Difficult to clean

wood swatch
Wood
Pros
Cons
Trendy

Environmentally-friendly
Difficult to clean

Not NSF approved

    *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.

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