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What is a Cruet?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A cruet is a type of small flask which is used to hold liquids. The word “cruet” is used in two senses; first to describe a ritual flask used in religious ceremonies, and also in the sense of a container for condiments such as oil and vinegar. In the sense of a condiment container, cruets are readily available from many home supply stores, and they are sometimes sold along with containers of very high quality oil and vinegar, so that consumers can more easily serve these items at the table.

Traditionally, a cruet is made from glass, although wood or ceramic could be used as well. The advantage to glass is that it is non-reactive, so it will not influence the flavor of the materials stored inside. Glass will also not harbor flavors from condiments past, ensuring that when a fresh condiment is poured in, the flavor will remain untainted. Many people also, of course, find glass cruets aesthetically pleasing.

Historically, it is probable that cruets were first used in the ritual sense, although people undoubtedly used similar flasks for condiments at home. Things like holy water and oils used for anointing are often presented in cruets for rituals. By the 17th century, the use of cruets for culinary applications had expanded widely enough to become commonplace and generally accepted.

A typical cruet has a broad, flat bottom, and a narrow neck. The neck is closed with a stopper made from glass, cork, or another material, and it may be flared to make the liquid inside easier to pour. Some cruets have handles for grasping, while others do not, and the glass may be clear or colored and plain or decorated, depending on design and style.

On the table, a cruet can be a very stylish and simple way to present condiments. Presenting condiments in cruets also reduces wastage, as only a small amount of condiment has the potential to go bad at any given time. For people who like to experiment with flavored oils and vinegars, cruets can be quite convenient, allowing people to flavor a small amount of oil at once, and to present an array of flavor options to guests.

In addition to being used to serve things at the table, cruets can also be used for gifts. A small amount of high-quality oil or vinegar in a cruet can make an excellent present, especially if the giver decides to add a flavoring such as rosemary, chili, or lemon, among many others.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By starrynight — On Feb 04, 2012

I recently saw a set of plastic cruets at the store. I couldn't believe it! I'll take a glass cruet, or no cruet at all! I keep reading all sorts of stuff about how plastic isn't very healthy, and I think sometimes it looks downright cheap.

Yes, glass may be a bit more expensive than plastic. But it looks better and doesn't affect the flavor of whatever is in the cruet, like the article said.

By ceilingcat — On Feb 03, 2012

@SZapper - Thanks to your post I'm going to think twice before eating any oil and vinegar from cruet bottles when I go out to eat. Olive oil does last for quite awhile, but it can go rancid like any other oil. Taking a bite of salad covered in rancid olive oil doesn't sound too appetizing to me.

I actually have a set of cruets for my own use at home though. I normally only get them out when I have company though. Oil and vinegar out of the bottle is just fine for me!

By SZapper — On Feb 03, 2012

I used to work in a restaurant and we served olive oil and vinegar in cruet sets for people who wanted oil and vinegar on their salad. I always thought the cruet sets looked extra classy in the metal trays we kept them in.

However, people rarely ordered oil and vinegar with their salad, because the restaurant I worked at was basically one step up from fast food (think a diner kind of place.) I swear the oil and vinegar sat in those same cruets for months and months. Luckily olive oil doesn't go bad very quickly.

By lighth0se33 — On Feb 02, 2012

I had never heard of a cruet until my sister-in-law gave me a cruet set as a Christmas gift. I thought that they were just vases and wondered why they had plugs in the top.

She came over one day and saw that I had flowers in them, and she politely asked me if I knew what a cruet was. My mistake embarrassed me, and I washed them out so I could put salad dressing in them.

They came with a lovely black holder that suspends them a few inches above the table. They have pointy bottoms, so they cannot rest on their own. They are bright green and easily mistaken for vases, or so I tell myself.

By orangey03 — On Feb 02, 2012

@shell4life – It is safe to refrigerate glass cruets. I do it all the time, and I've never had so much as a crack.

I think that glass usually shatters with extreme temperature changes that occur rapidly, like if you put a 400 degree casserole dish into a sink of cold water. When you put a cruet in the fridge, it will cool off gradually.

My husband makes a delicious sauce to go on teriyaki chicken and rice, and we move it from the fridge to the dining room table with no issues. The sauce tastes even better cold, and it helps cool the hot food off enough to eat.

By shell4life — On Feb 01, 2012

Can you refrigerate glass cruets? I have heard that if glass either heats up or cools down too quickly, it can burst. So, I have been scared to put things in my cruets that need refrigeration.

I have a homemade sauce that I like to use on chicken and shrimp, and it is a pretty pink color. I would love to be able to serve and display this in cruets, but it absolutely has to be refrigerated, because it contains mayonnaise.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Feb 01, 2012

I have an antique cruet that is almost 200 years old. I can only imagine what it was filled with 200 years ago and whose table it sat on.

I picked it up at an antique store in North Carolina about a year ago. The dealer swore that it was that old and he was able to show me an imprint on the bottom that testified to its age. It was a good price so I figured why not? I actually use it in my own home. It is my dedicated salad dressing cruet. I figured I could put it on a shelf and let it collect dust or I could put it to use as it was originally intended.

By gravois — On Jan 31, 2012

I keep two cruets on my dining room table at all time. One is an olive oil cruet, the other contains a really good balsamic vinegar.

Having the oil and vinegar cruet side by side like this means that I can make fresh and health salad dressing any time I want. I can also make it the way I want it, sometimes with more oil, sometimes more vinegar. Once you've eaten salad this way you will never go back to the jars of salad dressing you buy at the store. Going fresh and natural is so much better.

By nextcorrea — On Jan 30, 2012

This year for Christmas I gave all of my friends and extended family members cruets filled with really high quality vanilla extract. The cruets were simple but elegant looking and the vanilla extract was without equal. You just wanted to take the top off of the cruet and smell it all day.

Buying that many cruets was kind of expensive but I think it was worth it. The people I gave them to can reuse them and I would rather spend money on things people can use than go cheap and buy them stuff that nobody wants. The gifts went over well and I have gotten several packages of delicious baked goods that incorporate the vanilla I gave out.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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