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In cooking, a sauce is liquid or sometimes semi-solid food served on or used in preparing other foods. Sauces are not normally consumed by themselves; they add flavor, moisture, and visual appeal to another dish. Sauce is a French word taken from the Latin salsus, meaning salted. Sauces need a liquid component, but some sauces (for example, pico de gallo salsa or chutney) may contain more solid elements than liquid. Sauces are an essential element in cuisines all over the world.

Sauces may be ready made sauces, usually bought, such as soy sauce, or freshly prepared by the cook; such as Béchamel sauce, which is generally made just before serving. Sauces for salads are called salad dressing. Sauces made by deglazing a pan are called pan sauces. A cook who specializes in making sauces is a saucier.


Sauces in French cuisine

Sauce béarnaise or Béarnaise sauce made of clarified butter and egg yolks flavored with shallots, chervil and tarragon

Sauces in French cuisine date back to the Middle Ages. There were hundreds of sauces in the culinary repertoire. In 'classical' French cooking (19th and 20th century until nouvelle cuisine), sauces were a major defining characteristic of French cuisine.

In the 19th century, the chef Antonin Carême classified sauces into four families, each of which was based on a mother sauce (Also called grandes sauces). Carême's four mother sauces were:

  • Béchamel, based on milk, thickened with a white roux.
  • Espagnole, based on brown stock (usually veal), thickened with a brown roux.
  • Velouté, based on a white stock, thickened with a blonde roux.
  • Allemande, based on velouté sauce, is thickened with egg yolks and heavy cream.

In the early 20th century, the chef Auguste Escoffier updated the classification, adding sauces such as tomato sauce, butter sauces and emulsified sauces such as Mayonnaise and Hollandaise.

A sauce which is derived from one of the mother sauces is sometimes called a small sauce, or secondary sauce [1]. Most sauces commonly used in classical cuisine are small sauces, or derivatives of one of the above mentioned mother sauces. Mother sauces are not commonly served as they are; instead they are augmented with additional ingredients to make small (derivative) sauces. For example, Bechamel can be made into Mornay by the addition of Gruyère or any cheese one may like, and Espagnole becomes Bordelaise with the addition and reduction of red wine, shallots, and poached beef marrow.

Sauces in other cuisines

In the European traditions, sauces are often served in a sauce boat.

Sauces and condiments also play an important role in other cuisines:

  • British cooking: Gravy is a traditional sauce used on roast dinner, which (traditionally) comprises roast potatoes, roast meat, boiled vegetables and optional Yorkshire puddings. The sole survivor of the medieval bread-thickened sauces, bread sauce is one of the oldest sauces in British cooking, flavored with spices brought in during the first returns of the spice missions across the globe and thickened with dried bread. Apple sauce, mint sauce and horseradish sauce are also used on meat (pork, lamb and beef respectively). Salad cream is sometimes used on salads. Ketchup (also called red sauce in some parts of Britain) and brown sauce are used on more fast-food type dishes. Strong English mustard (as well as French or American mustard) are also used on various foods, as is Worcestershire sauce, the successor to the fermented and highly flavored ancient Roman fish sauce garum. Custard is a popular dessert sauce. Some of these sauce traditions have been exported to ex-colonies such as the USA.
  • Most popular Italian sauces are intended for pasta and there is a wide variety of them, because each one comes from a different region of Italy. The majority of them are red sauces such as siciliana from Sicily, pescatora, napoletana and pizzaiola from Naples, amatriciana and arrabbiata from Rome, ragù from Bologna; true pesto is a green sauce based on basil, traditional in Genoa. Many of them are based on olive oil and garlic. When Italians cook pasta al forno (baked pasta) often add besciamella (Béchamel sauce) to the basic sauce, ony to give mildeness to the recipe. In recent times white sauces, with cream, are growing in popularity: among them alfredo is not really Italian, but typical of Italo-Americans. In northern Italy are also popular sauces served with mixed boiled meat: salsa rossa a tomato sauce a little hot; salsa verde based on parsley; and mostarda, syruped fruits flavored with mustard.
  • Salsas ("sauces" in Spanish) such as pico de gallo (salsa tricolor), salsa cocida, salsa verde, and salsa roja are a crucial part of many Latino cuisines in the Americas and Europe. Typical ingredients include tomato, onion, and spices; thicker sauces often contain avocado. Mexican cuisine uses a sauce based on chocolate and chillies known as Mole. Argentine cooking uses more Italian-derived sauces, such as tomato sauce, cream sauce, or pink sauce (the two mixed).
  • Sauces used in traditional Japanese cuisine are usually based on shōyu (soy sauce), miso or dashi. Ponzu, citrus-flavored soy sauce, and yakitori no tare, sweetened rich soy sauce, are examples of shoyu-based sauces. Miso-based sauces include gomamiso, miso with ground sesame, and amamiso, sweetened miso. In modern Japanese cuisine, the word "sauce" often refers to Worcestershire sauce, introduced in the 19th century and modified to suit Japanese tastes. Tonkatsu, okonomiyaki, and yakisoba sauces are based on this sauce. Japanese horseradish or wasabi sauce is used on sushi and sashimi or mixed with soy sauce to make wasabi-joyu.
  • Chinese cuisine is known for prepared sauces based on fermented soy beans (soy sauce, doubanjiang, hoisin sauce, sweet bean sauce) as well as many others such as chili sauces and oyster sauce. One of the more distinctive (and popular) Chinese sauces is sweet and sour sauce.
  • Korean cuisine uses sauces such as doenjang, gochujang, samjang, and soy sauce.
  • Southeast Asian cuisines, such as Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, often use fish sauce, made from fermented fish.
  • Peruvian cuisine uses sauces based mostly in different varieties of ají combined with several ingredients most notably salsa huancaína based on fresh cheese and salsa de ocopa based on peanuts or nuts. It is said that each household in the country has its own secret salsa recipe.

Sauce variations

There are also many sauces based on tomato (such as tomato ketchup, tomato pancake sauce, and tomato sauce), other vegetables and various spices. Although the word 'ketchup' by itself usually refers to tomato ketchup, it may also be used to describe sauces from other vegetables or fruits.

Sauces can also be sweet, and used either hot or cold to accompany and garnish a dessert.

Another kind of sauce is made from stewed fruit, usually strained to remove skin and fibers and often sweetened. Such sauces, including apple sauce and cranberry sauce, are often eaten with specific other foods (apple sauce with pork, ham, or potato pancakes; cranberry sauce with poultry) or served as desserts.

Examples of sauces

Mushroom sauce

White sauces

Brown sauces

Béchamel family

Emulsified sauces

Butter sauces

Sweet sauces

Sauces made of chopped fresh ingredients

Hot sauces (Chile pepper-tinged sauces)

East Asian sauces

Southeast Asian sauces

Other sauces

See also


  • Peterson, James (1998). Sauces. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-29275-3. 
  • Sokolov, Raymond (1976). The Saucier's Apprentice. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-48920-9. 
  • McGee, Harold (1984). On Food and Cooking. Macmillan. ISBN 0-02-034621-2. 
  • McGee, Harold (1990). The Curious Cook. Macmillan. ISBN 0865474524. 


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