Upgrade your midday meal by stocking your desk-drawer with these essentials.
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Credit: Photo: Greg Dupree

When it comes to desk lunches, there is nothing quite as sad as a plain turkey sandwich, soggy romaine salad, or dry piece of chicken. When you put forth the effort to actually pack a lunch instead of resorting to the emergency frozen meal you’ve had stashed in the back of the employee freezer for 3 months, you deserve to enjoy something delicious. Something that will ignite your taste buds and make you actually excited to break for. Here, we present the top ten condiments that will take your midday meal from sad and tasteless to bold and crave-worthy.

Toasted Sesame Oil:

With a more concentrated flavor than regular (untoasted) sesame oil, a few drops of this fragrant oil are enough to impart any dish with intensely toasty flavor. Just a dash can add complexity to soup, stir-fries, or cold noodle salads. Learn all of the ways to use it up here.

Smoked Salt:

Basically the condiment version of crumbled bacon; a light sprinkle can impart a unique, flame-grilled touch to the simplest of dishes. Use this artisan salt to elevate tomato salad, eggs, or peanut butter toast.


Perhaps one of the most versatile and ubiquitous ingredients in any kitchen (err, desk-drawer), vinegars punch up everything from lentil salads to sushi. If you only have space for one, red wine vinegar can stand up to other strong flavors and is perfect for on-the-fly vinaigrettes. Rice vinegar is irreplaceable in Asian dishes and balsamic is a great finisher for salads.

Quality Extra-Virgin Olive Oil:

There are two kinds of olive oil: cooking oil and finishing oil. Finishing oil should be full-bodied with a mild bitterness and delicate floral finish—these are the oils you want to apply liberally to your salads, grain bowls, and soups.

Credit: Photo: Iain Bagwell

Coconut Aminos:

Popular among gluten-avoiders, this coconut-based condiment has a deep, savory flavor that's similar to soy sauce, but with a touch of sweetness and less sodium. With no discernable coconut taste, it’s extremely versatile and delicious stirred into fried rice, drizzled over roasted vegetables, or served with sushi.

Nutritional Yeast (aka Nature’s Cheeto Dust):

Rich in B-vitamins and plant protein, this inactive form of yeast boosts savory, umami flavor for no added sodium. Sprinkle it over anything from salads and roasted veggies to grains and popcorn.

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Hot Sauce:

Some like it hot. And when you need an excuse to spice up your run-of-the-mill sandwich or taco, a dash of Sriracha or Cholula can be the answer. Or make your own at home! Embrace the burn. There are actually many benefits to it.

Pepper Grinder:

Sometimes those leftover packets of pepper dust from the local sandwich shop just don’t cut it. Pepper grinders are inexpensive and last forever, so why not invest in this calorie-free flavor enhancer?


This kicky Japanese condiment is a spicy-savory blend of ground chiles plus varying ingredients including citrus peel, sesame seeds, garlic, and ginger. Sprinkle this versatile condiment over grilled meats, noodles, rice, vegetables, or avocado toast for a peppery kick.

Nut Butter:

While it's totally acceptable to eat nut butter right out of the jar with a spoon when hunger calls, this versatile pantry staple can also be whipped into delicious sauces and dressings on the fly. Look for nut butters without added sugar or palm oil; the only two ingredients should be nuts and salt.

Credit: Photo: Jamie Vespa