Cocktail Sauce: A Classic Shellfish Condiment

Cocktail sauce is the sauce component of the seafood cocktail dish, which showed up in the early 20th century. This dish would become famous and trendy in the middle part of the century with shrimp as the seafood of choice but most likely began with oysters.

While sauces have been used on seafood (including shellfish) for centuries, legend has it that the first person to use cocktail sauce was a San Francisco prospector. Supposedly, he ordered a plate of oysters in a restaurant and covered them with various condiments, including Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, and ketchup. Those three ingredients, along with lemon juice and Tabasco sauce, make up the present-day version of cocktail sauce that you find in Canada and the United States.

The concoction would become famous and would spread to other restaurants in the country. Eventually, it would make its way to Las Vegas and become a significant part of the food offered by casinos.

Part of its newfound popularity involved its use expanding from oysters to other shellfish, like shrimp. It became such a major part of the American food culture that it eventually made its way to the home kitchen, where home cooks would offer shrimp cocktails to dinner party guests.

Despite the sauce’s apparent American origin story, many people associate it and shrimp cocktail with post-war Britain as it became very popular there as the prawn cocktail. One story has it being invented in a chain of British restaurants called Berni Inns.

Modern British cocktail sauce consists of five main ingredients: Ketchup, mayonnaise, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne pepper.

Only the first two ingredients are essential. The last four are most likely from American cocktail sauce and are optional. The classic British version consisted of ketchup and mayonnaise only and is commonly called Marie Rose sauce.

The cocktail part of the name comes from the fact that the dish was initially served in cocktail glasses designed for alcoholic drinks. Shrimp cocktail was at its trendiest during the prohibition era in early 20th century America.

Cocktail sauce flavor profile

The taste of cocktail sauce differs depending on whether you are using the US variant or the UK one. The US variety is sweet with mild-to-moderate heat from the horseradish and hot sauce. The UK version is creamy with a slight sweetness and moderate acidity.

Health benefits of cocktail sauce

The nutritional profile of cocktail sauce differs from brand to brand. Many brands lack any significant nutrient content, while others contain small amounts of important compounds. Study cocktail sauce labels to learn what each contains. Some cocktail sauces provide:

  • Vitamins: Some brands may provide small amounts of vitamins C and A.
  • Minerals: Cocktail sauce may also contain a couple of important minerals like iron and calcium. Like the vitamins, these will be present in relatively small amounts.

Cocktail sauce in your diet may be effective for treating or preventing certain serious health problems like:

  • Cancer: The sinigrin in horseradish is known to have powerful antioxidant effects that can help to prevent cancer. Also, the lycopene in tomatoes is known to be a powerful cancer-fighter.
  • Obesity: Cocktail sauce can provide a lot of flavor without causing excessive weight gain. While cocktail sauce can contain a moderate amount of sugar, it is not significant given the typical serving size. It is low in fat and relatively low in calories.

Common uses

The primary use of cocktail sauce is as a condiment for shellfish, primarily shrimp.


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