Just this week, McDonald’s released two new limited-time dipping sauces, Sweet & Spicy Jam and Mambo Sauce, and both are interesting for different reasons. The Sweet & Spicy Jam has tingly Szechuan pepper in it, while the Mambo Sauce is a shoutout to a Washington D.C. staple condiment of the same name. But what really matters, of course, is how they taste.
The idea of limited-time dipping sauces might not seem particularly groundbreaking on its face, but the fact that McDonald’s is putting them out is noteworthy. That’s because McDonald’s has historically been the reliable fast food option, but not the fun one—when you go visit the Golden Arches, you go for your usual burger order, McNuggets, or a quick breakfast. You rarely head to McDonald’s to try something new, and when you do, it’s almost never something quirky or cheeky, a la Taco Bell. Even McDonald’s headline-grabbing celebrity meals usually consist of new combinations of old menu items.
This isn’t the first time McDonald’s has released new sauces, of course. In 2021, the BTS Meal included two condiments never before released in the United States, Sweet Chili and Cajun dipping sauces. Then there was the time earlier this year that Big Mac sauce was released in little tubs so it could be added to any order, but that hardly feels like it counts. By contrast, the new Sweet & Spicy Jam and Mambo Sauce feel pretty novel.
You can order both of these new sauces with your order of McNuggets, or a la carte for $0.25 each. I started by trying both of them with the classic tempura-battered McNuggets.
I’m not entirely sure why I was so surprised by this, but the Sweet & Spicy Jam is actually jam. Like, the regular old jiggly jam you struggle to knife out of the jar onto your peanut butter sandwich. That means it struggles to cling to the McNuggets a bit, which makes it sort of a curious choice for dipping.
And just like regular jam, this stuff is quite sweet, and a little bit spicy—but the element I was looking forward to so much, the tingle from the Szechuan pepper, is barely perceptible. Szechuan pepper usually has a citrusy profile, but if it’s present at all here, it gets folded into the tart sweetness of the sauce as a whole, so you can’t really taste that either. I wasn’t entirely sold on Sweet & Spicy Jam, but McDonald’s did mention it was breakfast-inspired, so I earmarked it for another go the next morning.
Mambo Sauce is a condiment popular around the Washington D.C. area, and it tastes sort of like a combination of sweet & sour and barbecue sauce. While it hasn’t quite taken off across the country, you can still get bottles of it in many supermarkets (it’s usually by the barbecue sauce) from brands such as Capital City. It’s really good on fried chicken. A fast food version has a lot to live up to.
I’ve got to say, I’m pretty pleased with McDonald’s take on it. First of all, it’s got a bold, creeping spice to it, which I’m a big fan of, and it actually gets spicier the more you dip into it. Beyond that, it just feels like a big grand mashup of all the classic chicken nugget dips: sweet & sour, barbecue sauce, ketchup, and hot sauce. It livens things up for sure.
Having been left underwhelmed by the new Sweet & Spicy Jam, I asked McDonald’s about about the best ways to use it. A representative told The Takeout that it pairs well with the Sausage McMuffin with Egg; the Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit; and the Hash Browns. So the next morning I spiked the hell out of my Sausage McMuffin with the stuff. Jackpot.
I already love a Sausage McMuffin on its own, but this was the sweet and savory bump I never knew I was looking for. The “spicy” element never quite kicks in, but that’s okay, because the overall package is great. Seasoned and flecked with various peppers, this condiment just makes the sandwich feel a lot more grown up.
As it turns out, I wasn’t nearly as big of a fan of the jam on the Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit; it just worked better with the sausage patty than the bacon. Beyond that, I’ve always found McDonald’s biscuits too dry and salty when paired with the folded egg, so I wasn’t enough of a fan of this sandwich to consider it saved by the new condiment. I’m mostly including the above photo so you can enjoy the beautiful morning sunlight bathing my sandwich.
I’m pleased to say that you can’t go wrong with either of these new McDonald’s dipping sauces. But the secret to enjoying each one as much as possible isn’t about which one you choose—it’s about the time of day that you choose it.