Mambo is Much More Than McDonald's Newest Sauce

Mambo sauce from McDonald's

Condiments are a very personal thing. Just ask any Chicagoan their thoughts on ketchup versus mustard or any Louisianian how they feel about hot sauce. And don't even get us started on the various BBQ sauces that spark debates at the dinner table—Kansas City, Carolina, Alabama and St. Louis, just to name a few.

But have you ever heard of mambo sauce? If you haven't, you're seriously missing out. The sweet and tangy staple is beloved in our nation's capital and in Chicago and McDonald's has recently been slipping these sauce packs into your bags of McNuggets. The sauce is at McDonald's for a limited time, but the history of the condiment is a true American story. Here's what you need to know about this magic sauce.

What is Mambo Sauce?

The bright red, tomato-based sauce is sweet and tangy, with a bit of a kick. Often used as a condiment on chicken wings and French fries, mambo sauce has been, until now, found mostly in Washington, D.C. (and a few places outside of our nation's capital, but more on this later).

Kyle Deckelbaum, the domestic media relations manager at Destination D.C. says that while each restaurant that makes mambo sauce has its own secret recipe, the basics include ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, hot sauce, tomato sauce and sugar.

The McDonald's version is made with ketchup, onion powder, vinegar, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and soy sauce, so not too far from the original ingredients.

Mambo sauce has been a longtime favorite in Washington, D.C., according to the folks at Capital City, a family-owned Maryland-based company that makes the popular sweet and sticky sauce. And while Capital City sells its mambo Sauce at various locations in the Washington, D.C. area, it’s also used at several restaurant locations as their “house” wing sauce.

Mambo sauce<p>Courtesy of Jessica Wrubel</p>
Mambo sauce

Courtesy of Jessica Wrubel

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Where Did Mambo Sauce Originate?

Some say that the sauce originated in the late 1960’s at Wing-n-Things, a D.C. chicken wing restaurant. There, people say, mambo sauce was created as an original condiment to be served with their fried chicken wings. The sweet sauce became so popular that Asian restaurants across the D.C. metropolitan area adopted the sauce and created various other versions of their own.

Elliott L. Ferguson II, president and CEO of Destination D.C. says that mambo sauce is a true staple of D.C. culture.

“No matter how you spell it, make it or use it, there’s one thing I know: mambo sauce is not only incredible, it’s a staple of the real D.C." he says.

However, some people say that the sauce was invented in the Windy City by Argia B. Collins, Sr., the owner of Argia B's Bar-B-Q on the South Side at Forrestville and 47th St. It's said that he introduced the sauce in 1950 as a signature barbecue sauce for the rib houses that he owned. In 1957, he trademarked the sauce and opened bottling facilities and in 1970, he launched a national campaign in LIFE magazine to promote it.

Argia's daughter, Allison, says the sauce played a significant role in the struggle for human rights, supporting causes in the 1960's such as Operation Breadbasket, which was founded with the support of local businessmen, including Collins. Its primary goal was to secure fair hiring practices as well as access to business opportunities for Black food producers whose brands were typically denied placement on the shelves of major retailers.

Allison Collins still has the trademark for her father's sauce (spelled 'Mumbo' on its bottles) under her company, Select Foods, based out of Chicago.

"The origin of Mumbo sauce as Chicago's own hometown brand and our 73-year legacy in Black History, culture, and economic empowerment within the communities that we've served is indisputable," she says. "Attempts by others, including some major restaurant chains, to 'introduce' an inspired version of Mumbo is flattering. However, there is only one Mumbo sauce...ours."

McDonald's is giving love to both cities, even though they say their recipe is based on the D.C. version. In a press release last month, the fast food restaurant says that the sauce has "woven itself into the hearts of many in the Washington D.C. and Chicago communities" saying it's not just a regular old condiment, but a "symbol of culinary pride, a testament to entrepreneurial spirit, and a source of inspiration for small business owners and food lovers alike."

They even released a documentary titled "The Love of Mambo" on their YouTube channel. The video features stories of some of the people keeping the rich heritage and culture of mambo sauce alive.

What Does Mambo Sauce Taste Like?

Intrigued, I headed to McDonald's to try their version of mambo sauce. One order of fries and nuggets later and I was sold. As I dipped my fries into it instead of ketchup, I wondered where this magical sauce had been all my life. It's sweet and spicy and tangy, kind of like mixing your ketchup with your barbecue sauce and is reminiscent of sweet and sour sauce. And while Washingtonians say the only real way to eat it is having your food smothered in it, we won't tell if you'd rather dip like I did. It's delicious and I was really hoping there were extra packs in my bag so I could experiment with it at home (there were).

Dipping nuggets into Mambo sauce<p>Courtesy of Jessica Wrubel</p>
Dipping nuggets into Mambo sauce

Courtesy of Jessica Wrubel

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Where Can You Find Mambo Sauce?

Mambo sauce is available at all participating U.S. locations of McDonald's now through November 12. Beyond November, check out the popular D.C. version on Capital City's website or the Chicago version on Argia B's Mumbo Sauce site if you can't make it to either city in person. The sauces can also be purchased at various D.C. and Chicago-area grocery stores and restaurants.

Next: McDonald's Customers Are Rolling Out the Red Carpet for the Return of a Beloved Item