Imagine a hamburger without ketchup. How about French Fries?
Ketchup is loved around the world. 97% of Americans own a bottle of ketchup. 11 billion single-serve packets of Heinz ketchup are used worldwide each year – almost two packets for every person on the planet.
Where did one of America’s most iconic foods come from?
Think 2300 years ago. According to History “as far back as 300 BC texts began documenting the use of fermented pastes made from fish entrails, meat byproducts, and soybeans.” It was called ke-tsiap in the Chinese Hokkien dialect; koe-cheup in the Min dialect.
Ke-tsiap was traded along The Silk Road. It arrived in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. There it was transformed into a thick sauce with tamarind, spices, and other flavorings, closer to what we eat today.
By the 1600s, Dutch and British sea merchants, looking for exotic Eastern spices and goods, discovered arrack – an early version of rum. The salty, tangy flavor of Ke-tsiap went well with arrack. The sea merchants traded both around the world.
Ke-tsiap arrived in the UK and the name was anglicized to ketchup or catsup. The Brits altered the recipe and included ingredients like oysters, mussels, mushrooms, walnuts, lemons, celery, and sometimes plums and peaches.
How did ketchup go from salty, brown, mushroom-and-fish sauce to bright red tomato?
Tomato plants were brought to England from South America in the 1500s. People liked the plants but didn’t eat the fruit (tomatoes) because they thought they were poisonous. In 1812, the earliest known recipe for tomato ketchup was published by American James Mease, a prominent doctor and scientist from Philadelphia. A few years later, Mary Randolph, a distant cousin of Thomas Jefferson, and American cookbook author, published a recipe that included sugar but not fish.
Until then, mostly local farmers sold ketchup. Commercial ketchup was loaded with contaminants, bacteria, spores, yeast, and mold. Pierre Blot, a leading French chef, wrote that commercial ketchup was “filthy, decomposed, and putrid.”
You wouldn’t want it on your food.
Things changed when Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley entered the fray. Wiley is considered the “father” of the FDA, best known for his fight for pure foods. He was Chief Chemist in the United States Department of Agriculture; experimented with food additives to determine whether they were harmful; wrote books about the subject; and was the force behind the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act.
Early commercial ketchup contained unsafe levels of preservatives like coal tar and sodium benzoate. Wiley maintained that harmful preservatives in ketchup wasn’t necessary when high quality ingredients were used. In 1876 a Pittsburgh food entrepreneur agreed. He had co-founded a small horseradish company that went bankrupt and was ready for another venture.
The new, “pure” recipe used red, ripe tomatoes, vinegar, and sugar.
The entrepreneur’s name was Henry J. Heinz.
Heinz launched the F&J Heinz Company with his brother and cousin. One of their first products was preservative-free ketchup. He bought out his partners in 1888 and reorganized as AJ Heinz Company. Heinz pioneered both “pure” ketchup and the benevolent treatment of employees. He was respected around the world.
By 1905 Heinz had sold five million bottles of ketchup (originally catsup).
Today, The Kraft-Heinz Company is the fifth largest food and beverage company in the world earning over $8.2 billion dollars a year. Tomato ketchup is used as a condiment, recipe ingredient, movie “blood”, and in over 2,000 books on Amazon.
All of this leads to intriguing non-ketchup outcomes like National Ketchup Day and The Heinz History Center (the “Smithsonian’s Home in Pittsburgh”).
In 1972 Carly Simon’s hit song, “Anticipation” became known as “The Ketchup Song” after it was used in an award-winning commercial. In 1990 NASA announced that Heinz was the official ketchup on the International Space Station.
Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has a tattoo of a Heinz ketchup logo on his arm (among many tattoos on his body) and Hector Osorno is the expert known as the man who guards America’s ketchup.
Visit the world’s largest catsup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois (70 feet tall sitting on a 100-foot tower) or attend the annual “World’s Largest Catsup Bottle Festival” complete with a Little Princess & Sir Catsup Contest.
Whether ke-tsiap or Heinz, bottle, tub, or packet, is it on your plate?