What Makes a Dip a Dip: A Guide

According to sources, this weekend is the Super Bowl, a time-honored tradition where men bang each other’s heads together, causing years of damage that eventually leads to death (and probable financial ruin before that), as the American public watches in glee while consuming mass quantities of unhealthy foods and alcohol. But let’s not focus on those unnecessary details. Let’s talk about one of those unhealthy foods: dip.


According to the Wikipedia page “dip (food),” many foods can be categorized as dips, including artichoke dip, spinach dip and hummus. But Wikipedia’s humble editors, I am sorry to tell you, are wrong: of these three example foods, one is not a dip. Which one is it?

If you guessed hummus, which—fun fact—makes up approximately 32 percent of my diet, you guessed right. If you guessed anything else, you guessed wrong. If your heart rate is starting to rise, fair warning: it’s only going to get rougher from here.

The first and best way to determine whether what you’re dealing with is a dip or not is through the everyday magic of the English language.

1. Is what you’re eating actually called a dip?

Let’s create a what-if scenario, based (*disclaimer*) in no way off my real life. Imagine your friend Andy invited you to his Super Bowl party. Now, you’re not dying to attend Andy’s Super Bowl party; he’ll probably invite his cousin Rob and we all know Rob gets pretty annoying when he gets into the drink. But Andy’s a good friend and you’re not going to go to Chloe’s house, which is the other option, because her fiancé is the fucking worst and he’ll invite all his banker bros.

So you’ve committed to Andy’s. When you ask Andy “What should I bring?” and he says “Oh, a dip would be good,” your response will not be “Okay, cool, I’ll bring guacamole/hummus/salsa/fondue/queso.” Your response will be, “Okay, cool, I’ll bring artichoke dip/bean dip/spinach dip,” because those have the word “dip” in them.

That’s not because you don’t like queso or “guac.” You do! But they have their own words to categorize them. They’re their own foods. Are they related to dip? For sure. They’re dip’s cousins. But dips are a holdover from the 1950s, which means they—like casseroles—are dips first and foremost, a thing unto themselves, full of mayo and sour cream and cheese but not solely any of those things. Would you call a lasagna a casserole? No. You’d call it a lasagna, and then fill your belly with it. Next question.


2. Can what you’re eating hypothetically stand on its own?

Here’s how to differentiate dips from sauces: consider the texture and the weight. Dips are inherently heavy; while some might consider things in the sauce category to be dips, they are not. A dip can stand by itself—if you were alone and disgusting the way I assume we all have been at some point in our lives, you could eat a dip with a spoon or fork or your finger. A sauce (cocktail sauce/ranch dressing) can be differentiated from a dip in that a sauce requires another food to be eaten, and usually goes on top of that food.


3. Is what you’re eating actually a condiment?

While things like ketchup or mustard might have food literally “dipped” into them (pigs in a blanket/chicken nuggets), they are not dips. They are condiments, liquid-y in nature, easily included on a burger. They are found in packets and pumped out of containers at rest stops. You could not in good faith eat them on their own and be considered part of polite society. If someone asked you to “pass the dip” and they meant “mayonnaise” or “aioli,” you could look at them with confusion and judgment and be justified.


4. What kind of motion do you use to eat it? Are you literally dipping?

What of spreads, you might counter next? What of spreads! Thicker than condiments, they are by definition “spread” onto things, a little smack of flavor on a crouton or a cracker (olive tapenade/paté), cause you’re fancy like that. They typically require other things too—cheese, a bit of fruit, a shrimp—to balance them out. A spread is an important part of many of the hors-d’oeuvres you’d be served by a waiter bearing a silver tray at a fancy party, which means they’re often “spread” by another person. But when you dip, you dip yourself (unless you’re fancy enough that you pay someone to dip for you).


If the answer to these questions is “yes, yes, no, yes” you’ve got a dip.

Sure, this might seem complicated and more then you want to handle. But this football season, it’s important to know what you’re consuming. The NFL might not care about your dissent, but don’t let the lobbyists behind Big Dip get you down.


Have a dip you’re not sure about? Let me, Kate Dries, self-appointed Dip Decider, be your guide in the comments.

Contact the author at dries@jezebel.com.

Art by Sam Woolley



I have a similar but non-dip related question about gameday food:

Is a hot dog a sandwich?