Catching Up on Ketchup

By: Michael Engle

Have you ever wondered why ketchup labels itself as "tomato ketchup," even though "other" ketchup is almost impossible to find? This is because ketchup has a long, rich, and interesting history. Tomatoes have only served as the standard ketchup base for a little more than 200 years. Surprisingly, if not for a since-proven misconception about tomatoes, ketchup may not have become so firmly entrenched with tomatoes.

Ketchup can be construed to be a descendant of fish sauce (ke-chiap), which is an Asian condiment made of pickled fish and spices. After ke-chiap was invented in China, in the 1690's, it soon became incorporated into Malay culture. In the 1740's, British explorers discovered ke-chiap in Malaysia, and imported it to England. Eventually, the product name evolved to the anglicized "ketchup." In British cuisine, the most popular ketchup was neither a tomato variety nor the original fish version; instead, the Brits invented a mushroom ketchup to accompany their Victorian meat pies, puddings, and roasts.

The first recorded tomato ketchup recipe, as created by Sandy Addison, appeared in the 1801 publishing of The Sugar House Book. Even though the recipe would be too salty for most modern palettes, this represents the first culinary use of tomatoes in American cuisine. At that time, it was still unclear whether or not raw tomatoes were poisonous. Thanks to liberal uses of vinegar, preservatives, and, eventually, sugar, ketchup overcame all suspicions over tomatoes to become a popular condiment in the United States. Starting in 1837, ketchup was distributed nationally; in 1876, the H.J. Heinz Company was established, and would eventually establish its ketchup as a flagship product.

Even though tomato ketchup is the most common form of ketchup, mushroom ketchup is not the only alternative. Filipino cuisine famously uses banana ketchup as a signature ingredient. Tomato ketchup was widely available in the Philippines before World War II, but due to a low tomato supply in the region, ketchup manufacturers switched to bananas. As a result of its overwhelming popularity, banana ketchup continues to be made and sold as a special niche product. This special sauce is commonly served with fried meat, and is also an ingredient in Filipino spaghetti. Because banana ketchup is, naturally, an unappetizing shade of brown, it is often colored red, so that it looks like the rest of the world's ketchup.

While tomato ketchup is generally considered to be the national condiment, it might have to have a challenger soon. The Wall Street Journal's Sarah Nassauer reports that Hidden Valley is aiming to re-market its famous Ranch sauce, from a salad dressing to "the new ketchup." On the other hand, if you don't care for Ranch dressing (or just prefer ketchup), yet are bored of traditional ketchup, there are plenty of resources!

Whether you are ready to pull out all the stops with Food Republic's Homemade Ketchup recipe, or whether you just want an easy way to make your ketchup a little more exciting (to do this, my method is ridiculously simple--I just stir some Tabasco into my ketchup), we have you covered! We can't do your laundry or pay for your dry cleaning, though, so have your napkins ready!

Check out this recipe for a Sweet & Spicy Peach Ketchup...

Makes 3 cups

Ingredients: 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 2 medium yellow onions, sliced 6 peaches, peeled and pitted (two 10-ounce bags of thawed frozen peaches can be substituted) 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon paprika 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 1/2 tablespoon sugar 1/2 cup cider vinegar 1 teaspoon salt


  1. In a deep saute pan over medium, heat the oil. Add the onions, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn golden brown and caramelized, about 15 minutes. If they start to darken too much, add 1 tablespoon of water.
  2. Add the peaches, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, paprika, white and brown sugar, vinegar and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes, or until thick.
  3. Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and puree. Adjust the seasoning with additional sugar, salt or vinegar. Transfer the mixture to a clean jar and refrigerate. Keeps for up to 3 weeks.

Photo:Scout Seventeen

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