History of Ketchup

Ketchup or tomato sauce is America’s favorite condiment. You will find 97% of homes in the US with ketchup and barbecues. It will be a surprise for you to know that ketchup is a ubiquitous accompaniment to French fries that were not even born in the US. Ketchup has its origins in China. It was used as a sauce for marinated fish. The ketchup we know today had come through a few hundred years and several versions.

Ketchup comes from the Chinese word, Ke-tsiap, a sauce used for marinated fish. People believed that the traders used to bring fish sauce from Vietnam to south-eastern China. Later on, it traveled to Indonesia and Malaysia, where it was morphed into ketjap and kechap, respectively.

The History of Ketchup

Fishy Origin of Ketchup

From the red color of ketchup, you might assume it is originally made from tomatoes, but that wasn’t always the case. The first recorded recipe for ketchup comes from China. And for more than a thousand years, it was not even made with tomatoes. It was made with fish guts. Fish intestine, bladder, and stomach, all mixed with salt, then sealed and heated in the hot summer sun for 20 days. The original ketchup was a fermented fish paste dating back to 6th century China. 

It was popular throughout Southeast Asia – and British and Dutch settlers who arrived in the 1600s loved the stuff. Over time, they brought ketchup home to Europe and added their modifications. That included beer, mushrooms, walnuts, oysters, strawberries, and peaches. 

Mushroom Ketchup 

The ketchup mixes were originally and historically made with mushrooms in the UK. It was the main ingredient rather than tomatoes. The ketchup recipes began to appear in British, and later in the 18th century, they appeared in American books. In a London cookbook from 1742, a fish sauce was already a British flavor. It was with the addition of Mushrooms and Shallots. 

From 1750 to 1850, mushrooms were the main ingredient, and the word ketchup was used to represent several dark and thin sauces made from mushrooms or walnuts. In the United States, mushroom ketchup found its origins back in 1770. It was prepared by British settlers in the Thirteen Colonies. In the present time, you will find mushroom ketchup in the UK, although it is not as common as it was.

Tomato Ketchup 

In the mid-1700s, English ketchup was a mainstay on British dinner tables, and as colonists went west, it soon made its way across the pond. That’s where tomatoes came in. They are native to America. The ketchup passed through several variations, but the tomato-based version was permanent. It did not disappear in all these centuries. From 1817 till present, the recipe of Tomato Catsup includes anchovies and states:

  • Gather a gallon of fine, full ripe, red tomatoes and mash them with one pound of salt. 
  • Let the mashed paste rest for 3 days. During these 3 days, press the juice and add a quarter of a pound of anchovies, an ounce of ground black pepper, and two ounces of shallots. 
  • For half an hour, boil it up and strain through a sieve. Now put some spices like a quarter of an ounce of mace, half an ounce of nutmeg, half a drachm of cochineal, a quarter of an ounce of allspice and ginger, a drachm of coriander seed.
  • Balance all together and let them simmer for twenty minutes. Strain it into a bag. Bottle it when it is cold, and add a glass of brandy to each bottle. It helps to keep it for seven years.

In the mid-1850s, the anchovies were dropped from the recipe. In 1812, another recipe was published by James Mease. It was a ketchup recipe having tomatoes. It was written by Mary Randolph, cousin of Thomas Jefferson, in The Virginia Housewife. During the 19th century, American cooks were sweetening the ketchup. 

As the century progressed, tomato ketchup was popular among Americans. It was even popular long before fresh tomatoes were popular in the United States. Americans were less hesitant to eat highly processed products made with tomatoes, vinegar, and spices. Tomato ketchup was sold by farmers to local areas. The first person who sold tomato ketchup in a bottle was Jonas Yerkes. He was producing and distributing ketchup nationally by 1837. 

The Journey of the Fast-Food Hero

Fast food’s biggest hero comes in a surprisingly small package. About 300 BC, Chinese farmers mixed fermented fish and various spices to make the earliest known version of ketchup. In 1700, British sailors went to Southeast Asia and discovered ketchup. They took it back to Europe and added ingredients like beer, pickles, and tomatoes. And then a bunch of other unrelated stuff happened. In 1876, Henry J. Heinz started manufacturing Heinz ketchup in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, creating modern ketchup as we know it.

Shortly after, Hunt introduced their catsup, AKA the Garfunkel of ketchup world, and then a bunch of other unrelated happened. In 1921, White Castle, the first-ever fast-food restaurant, opened, featuring ketchup as the original fast-food sauce. 

In 1940, the world was at war, but like Switzerland, ketchup stayed neutral. In 1950, McDonald’s, Burger King, and In-N-Out opened. Due to this, fast food exploded in popularity, and ketchup exploded alongside it. This was when ketchup became synonymous with burgers, fries, drive-through, and a star base ingredient for the barbecue sauce, secret sauce, and more. 

In 1968, Heinz introduced the ketchup packet. It was the seminal moment of a generation, besides Woodstock and Moon Landing. In 1978, Jimmy Buffet famously declared that he likes his burger “with lettuce and tomato, “Heinz 57, and French-fried potatoes”, reintroducing ketchup to a new generation of soft rock fans. In 1981, Ronald Reagan was sworn into office and immediately declared ketchup a vegetable. 

In 2000, Heinz introduced EZ Squirt-colored ketchup, setting the condiment industry back literal decades. In 2008, the rise in hipster culture led to a big uptick in annoying artisanal ketchup. In 2020, Heinz alone sold 11 billion ketchup packets per year, and despite hundreds of fast-food sauces available, the original standard remains the most popular condiment in America. 

Heinz Tomato Ketchup 

In 1876, F. & J. Heinz launched their tomato ketchup. The advertisement of Heinz Tomato Ketchup had a slogan that explained the lengthy process of making different types of tomato ketchup at home. It was a relief for mothers and other women at home who used to make tomato ketchup on their own. With time, for better preservation, sugar was increased in ketchup. It was the step of making sweet and sour formula.

Sugar was not added to the tomato sauce in Australia until the late 19th century. Today, it contains more American ketchup but in different proportions of salt, tomatoes, and vinegar. 

Later Innovations

Ketchup is dispensed in small tubs or sachets in fast food outlets. When using a sachet of ketchup, you tear the side or top of the sachet and squeeze the ketchup out on French fries, burgers, sandwiches, etc. Heinz offered a new measured-portion package, Dip and Squeeze packet, in 2011. It gives you both options and can be open in both ways. 

Some fast-food outlets are dispensing ketchup from hand-operated pumps, and you can have ketchup in paper cups. This method was introduced in the first decade of the 21st century. It was done for environmental and cost concerns because of increase in individual plastic ketchup tubs was considered. 

Ketchup We Know Today

Unripe tomatoes were used in making ketchup. It had a preservative called sodium benzoate. It helped to preserve the flavor and spoilage. In the early 1900s, the Food and Drug Administration banned the usage of this preservative. Later, Heinz started using ripe tomatoes to make ketchup. 

Using ripe tomatoes for ketchup has a natural preservative known as pectin. Also, sugar and vinegar were added to the recipe for rich flavor and preservation. The natural preservative pectin made ketchup thicker than the previous watery version. You will find it in a bottle, sachet or small packets, pump, etc. 

The U.S. is the biggest exporter of ketchup along with other tomato sauces. In 2016, the US exported $379 million worth of ketchup. It was 21 percent of the trade product category. Out of 21 percent, 1.9 percent was exported to Europe of $7.3 million worth. Also, it was exported to Canada for worth $228 million. 

Process to Make Ketchup 

Once the ripe potatoes are sorted, they are washed and chopped in large steel vats for precooking and preservation. Then a tomato juice and pulp are separated by screening, and they are filtered. Once tomatoes are separated, they are processed into ketchup. After filtration, additional ingredients are added for rich taste and flavor. The temperature is maintained at certain degrees throughout the process to ensure that all the ingredients are mixed well.

The process includes additional screening, cooking, filtering. Then it comes into the packaging process, where it is filled in bottles or packed in packets. In this process, it goes from air removal to preventing oxidation. Air removal maintains the color of the ketchup and inhibits the growth of any bacteria. Before being packaged, the ketchup is heated to 88 degrees that prevent contamination. 

Once the bottles or packets are filled with ketchup, they are sealed immediately and stored in a cool place. It maintains the freshness of the ketchup and improves the shelf life.

Nutrition Of Ketchup 

A serving of 100g ketchup has the following nutrient content:

Nutrient  Value 
Energy  150 kJ
Water 89.7 g
Protein 1.50 g
Fats  0.20 g
Carbohydrates 7.00 g
Sodium 430 mg
Vitamin C  4 mg

Terminology of Ketchup 

The term used for tomato sauce in America is ketchup. It is a dominant term in American and Canadian English. Some of the southern US states and Mexico call it catsup. Tomato sauce term is used in common English-speaking countries. To your surprise, tomato sauce is not a synonym for ketchup in US and Canada. Tomato sauce refers to a sauce made from tomatoes, commonly used for pasta. 

In Scottish English, Welsh English, Ulster English, the term red sauce is used for ketchup. In South London and Black Country, the term brown sauce is used for ketchup. 

History of Ketchup – A Sauce Made from Tomatoes

97% of people in America claim to have ketchup in their kitchens. It is used with French fries, burgers, pizza, sandwiches, etc. You won’t be able to enjoy your meal without ketchup. The evolution of ketchup production has evolved for decades. Now it is available in bottles, packets, and small sachets that you can carry in your pockets.

Ketchup’s influence on the fast-food world cannot be understated. It won’t be wrong if we call it the mother of all types of condiments. Thank you, ketchup, for all you are and all you do for us.