Where Was Tartar Sauce Invented? The Full Guide

Tartar sauce is a beloved condiment that has been a staple on seafood platters for generations. But have you ever wondered where this tangy sauce originated?

The answer may surprise you.

While it is commonly believed to have French origins, the true history of tartar sauce is a bit more complex. In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating history of tartar sauce and its possible origins in Central Asia and the Middle East.

So sit back, grab a seafood dish, and let’s dive into the history of this delicious condiment.

Where Was Tartar Sauce Invented?

The exact origin of tartar sauce is shrouded in mystery, but historians believe that it may have originated in Central Asia or the Middle East. The name “tartar” is believed to have come from the Tatar horsemen of Central Asia, who had a reputation for consuming raw horse meat. However, this story is likely a myth and historians now believe that it arose from a misunderstanding by early European travelers of the Mongols’ use of horse meat as a treatment for saddle sores.

The Mongols did eat chopped raw horsemeat, and news of this was brought back to Europe by German sailors. This information is believed to have resulted in the eventual invention of hamburgers in Germany and the raw beef dish known as beef or steak tartare. Beef tartare was a French invention that showed up on menus at the start of the 20th century. Tartar sauce was first mentioned as an accompaniment for beef tartare and the dish is said to have received its name from the sauce, not the other way around.

The early incarnation of tartar sauce consisted of an egg yolk puree along with oil, vinegar, and chives. Some versions of the beef tartare dish were served with a raw egg yolk on top. Most versions of tartare that you find on menus today will include the egg yolk but omit the tartar sauce.

The Origins Of Tartar Sauce: A Complex History

Despite the name “tartar” being associated with Central Asia, the origins of tartar sauce are believed to be French. The sauce was first mentioned in French cookbooks in the 19th century as an accompaniment to beef tartare. Historians believe that the word “tartar” has an etymological origin with the Tatars, a group of people from Western Russia and Turkey. Legend has it, they ate roughly shredded meat in order to make the tough protein more palatable. This treatment of meat could be the origins of the more refined French classic.

The name “tartar sauce” also bears a resemblance to tarator sauce, a nut or tahini-based sauce that is popular in many Middle Eastern cuisines and is also used to dress fish and other meats. This similarity in name suggests that there may have been some influence from Middle Eastern cuisine on the development of tartar sauce.

The modern version of tartar sauce that we know today evolved from the original French sauce tartare and became commercially available in the 1920s once Hellman’s introduced their jarred version to shelves. Today, tartar sauce is a mainstay of the condiment aisle and is most often served with seafood dishes such as fish and chips, fish sandwiches, fish fingers, fried oysters, and calamari.

Tartar Sauce Around The World: Variations And Adaptations

As tartar sauce made its way around the world, it underwent various adaptations and variations to suit different culinary traditions. In Western Europe, tartar sauce became a popular condiment for fried seafood dishes. Commercially sold in jars, it became a staple in many households.

In Japan, tartar sauce has a distinct flavor and texture due to the use of Japanese mayonnaise. Japanese mayo is made with egg yolks only, resulting in a smoother and slightly less dense consistency, with an eggy flavor that borders on umami. Rice vinegar is also added to give it a unique tanginess. Japanese tartar sauce is often served with deep-fried dishes such as tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and ebi fry (breaded shrimp).

In the Middle East, a similar condiment known as tarator is used as a dip for fried seafood. Tarator is typically made with tahini (ground sesame seeds), lemon juice, garlic, and water. It has a nutty flavor and is often served with falafel or grilled fish.

In South America, tartar sauce is often spiced up with chili peppers or paprika to give it a bit of heat. It is commonly served with grilled or fried fish dishes.

The French Connection: Debunking The Myth Of French Invention

Despite the French origin of the name “sauce tartare,” historians now believe that tartar sauce did not actually originate in France. Instead, it is believed that the sauce may have its roots in Central Asia or the Middle East, with the name “tartar” possibly coming from the Tatar horsemen of Central Asia.

While it is true that tartar sauce was first mentioned in French cookbooks as an accompaniment to beef tartare, this does not necessarily mean that the French were the inventors of the sauce. In fact, the early versions of tartar sauce consisted of a simple egg yolk puree with oil, vinegar, and chives, which bears little resemblance to the modern version of the sauce.

It is also worth noting that French cuisine is known for a number of food inventions, but tartar sauce is not one of them. While it is possible that French chefs may have popularized the use of tartar sauce with seafood dishes, it is unlikely that they were the first to create it.

Central Asian And Middle Eastern Influences: Tracing The Roots Of Tartar Sauce

While the exact origins of tartar sauce remain unclear, there are some indications that Central Asian and Middle Eastern influences may have played a role in its development. One such influence is the condiment known as tarator, which is popular in Turkey and the Levant. This sauce is traditionally made with tahini or nuts, garlic, and yogurt or water, and is often used as a dip for fried seafood.

The similarities between tarator and tartar sauce are striking, and it is possible that French chefs were inspired by this Middle Eastern condiment when creating their own version of the sauce. Additionally, the name “tartar” may have been derived from the Tatar people of Central Asia, who were known for their consumption of raw meat.

It is worth noting, however, that the connection between tartar sauce and these Central Asian and Middle Eastern influences is largely speculative. The French origins of the sauce are well-documented, and it is possible that any similarities to other condiments are simply coincidental.

Regardless of its origins, tartar sauce has become a beloved accompaniment to seafood dishes around the world. Its tangy flavor and creamy texture add depth to fried fish or shrimp, making it a staple on many restaurant menus. And while its exact history may be shrouded in mystery, there is no doubt that tartar sauce will continue to be a favorite condiment for years to come.

Tartar Sauce Today: Popular Uses And Recipes

Tartar sauce has come a long way since its early days as a simple accompaniment for beef tartare. Today, it is most commonly associated with seafood, particularly fried fish and shellfish. Tartar sauce is a creamy and tangy condiment that pairs well with the delicate flavors of fish and seafood.

One of the most popular uses for tartar sauce is as a dipping sauce for fish and chips. In fact, it is difficult to imagine enjoying this classic dish without a side of tartar sauce. The creamy texture and tangy flavor of the sauce perfectly complement the crispy fried fish and salty fries.

Tartar sauce can also be used as a spread for sandwiches, particularly those made with fish or seafood. It adds a burst of flavor and moisture to the sandwich, making it more enjoyable to eat. Some people even use tartar sauce as a salad dressing, particularly for salads that include seafood.

There are many variations of tartar sauce recipes available today, each with its own unique twist on the classic condiment. Traditional tartar sauce is made with mayonnaise, pickles, capers, and herbs such as parsley and dill. Some recipes also include hard-boiled eggs or lemon juice for added flavor.

For those who want to try something different, there are many creative variations of tartar sauce available. For example, some recipes call for the addition of spicy ingredients such as jalapenos or hot sauce. Others use non-traditional ingredients such as avocado or mango to create unique flavor profiles.

When making tartar sauce at home, it is important to experiment with different ingredients to find the perfect balance of flavors. Whether you prefer a classic recipe or something more adventurous, tartar sauce is a versatile condiment that can be enjoyed in many different ways.