Skip to main content

Ketchup

Related image



If you don’t see a bottle of ketchup on your table at an American restaurant, odds are that all you have to do is ask.  Ketchup is the most commonly used condiment in the United States, and due in no small part to the prevalence of fast food to other countries, its popularity is growing worldwide.  So how did America come up with this popular culinary and cultural export?

They didn’t.  The origins of ketchup are actually Chinese.  Specifically the earliest ketchup started in Taiwan, in the 17th century.  In the Amoy dialect of Chinese, spoken in parts of Taiwan, the word was kê-chiap, and it described a sauce made from pickled fish and spices.  Over the next century, the sauce became popular all over the region, served as a popular condiment on tables as far away as Singapore and Indonesia.  In fact, it was in Indonesia where Europeans picked up the habit, as well as the word.  The English word ketchup (or catsup) comes directly from the Indonesian word kecap (pronounced |ˌke ʧɑp|, or KAY-chap).


It might seem unlikely that the Chinese would invent a tomato-based condiment, since tomatoes were indigenous to the New World, and in the 17th century, it was still widely believed by Europeans that tomatoes were poisonous.  It’s not likely that the Chinese would have an opinion on tomatoes at all, since the Chinese weren’t the ones exploring the New World, much less trading with it.  So of course, the original ketchup recipe didn’t have any tomatoes in it at all.  The word ketchup implied fish, and while the early recipes usually used fish, fish was never essential.

When the idea was brought to England, the recipe changed drastically.  Fish were seldom, if ever used in the new recipes.  English ketchup was predominantly a mushroom-based sauce with onions or shallots included, plus salt and other spices.  Even a variety of walnut ketchup got traction in England.  Ketchup could, in the 18th century, mean any number of thin, dark sauces that are used as a condiment.

Tomato ketchup made its debut in the American colonies in 1801.  (At least, that’s when the first known recipe for tomato ketchup appeared, in a popular cookbook called The Sugar House Book.)  This recipe was quite a departure from the sauce’s origins, abandoning fish altogether.  If you’re curious, give it a try and make your own batch.

1. Get [the tomatoes] quite ripe on a dry day, squeeze them with your hands till reduced to a pulp, then put half a pound of fine salt to one hundred tomatoes, and boil them for two hours.
2. Stir them to prevent burning.
3. While hot press them through a fine sieve, with a silver spoon till nought but the skin remains, then add a little mace, 3 nutmegs, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and pepper to taste.good for two or three years.
4 .Boil over a slow fire till quite thick, stir all the time.
5. Bottle when cold.
6. One hundred tomatoes will make four or five bottles and keep

Other early recipes for tomato ketchup persisted in using fish, but gradually, fish fell away, with sugar and vinegar taking over as the main performers in the condiment (after tomatoes, of course).  Commercially-produced mushroom ketchup and tomato ketchup shared shelf space in American stores for much of the 19th century, but eventually, tomato ketchup got the upper hand.  H. J. Heinz introduced their celebrated tomato ketchup in 1876.  Heinz had incredible success with it; it’s currently their best-known product.  Heinz dominates ketchup sales, controlling over 80% of the American ketchup market, and about 60% of the British market.  

Image result for mushroom ketchup
Mushroom ketchup: not currently one of Heinz's 57 varieties.

Most people don’t think of varieties of ketchup today; it almost seems redundant for a bottle to read “tomato ketchup”, since that seems redundant.  But while tomatoes might dominate the modern version of the sauce, its domination is not total.  Mushroom ketchup is still available in stores, if you know where to look (though you’d probably have slightly better luck in England than in America).  And in the Philippines, banana ketchup is fairly popular, and you can find it most anywhere there’s a significant Filipino expat population.  Banana ketchup was invented during World War II, originally to fill the void left by a tomato shortage in the Philippines, but when the tomato shortage was over, banana ketchup remained popular.

Related image
From China to Indonesia to England to America to the Philippines: banana ketchup is yet another original take on the famous table sauce.

There’s no reason that ketchup couldn’t be made from other things, either.  It might possibly already be done; I’d be most interested to learn about them.  And if you’re feeling inventive, why not brainstorm in your own kitchen and see what you can come up with?  There are no rules for what constitutes ketchup.  Arguably, there never really have been!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Betty Crocker: A Brief Biography

Long have our supermarket shelves borne products with the name Betty Crocker.  This name has long since lodged in our heads an essential part of americana.  It seems to evoke the past.  It seems to always have evoked the past, a past when life was simpler and Mother and Grandmother cooked at home, using time tested recipes and only the purest ingredients.  We can’t go back to that simpler, wholesome past, but we can give ourselves a Proustian shot of nostalgia by tasting the past we remember, or the past we only wish we could remember, but know must be so good.  That is the Betty Crocker brand.  You might have seen drawings of her, but have you ever actually seen the legend herself?  Here’s an image of Miss Crocker from a 1953 television ad:


The full "Betty Crocker" TV commercial.

Okay, that’s actually actress Adelaide Hawley, who played Betty Crocker in a number of commercials for the brand from 1949 to 1964.  Betty Crocker was born in 1921, so this representation looks to be…

The Star-Spangled Banner: The Original Lyrics

If you’re an American (and quite possibly even if you’re not), you’ve certainly heard the tune called “To Anacreon in Heaven” numerous times.  It’s a stirring melody, and can often sound very proud, and if someone asked you to hum a few bars, you probably could do a creditable job of it, even if you have no musical ability at all.  The tune is that familiar.  Of course, it has another name that you probably know better: “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

But the song’s first name was “To Anacreon in Heaven”.  The song asserts that Anacreon is in heaven, right from the first line.  Whether Anacreon actually is in heaven, I’ll take no position on, but he most certainly is dead.  Anacreon was a Greek poet who lived from circa 582 BCE to 485 BCE, which is a remarkably advanced age for the times.  Anacreon was celebrated for his songs about drinking and love and having a good time.  Maybe not the weightiest of literature, but even the most serious poets and thinkers need to take a break now and …

At, Hashtag, And Per Se

Since the invention of the typewriter in the 1860s, there has been little change to the keyboard used in English.  The position of the letters has remained the same, and the numbers and punctuation have as well. The advent of the personal computer has required additional keys, most of which have found their own standard spots on the keyboard, but for the most part, there haven’t been many changes to the original design.

If you look at the above keyboard, you can see there have been some changes. Keys for fractions don’t really exist anymore; nor does a key to write the ¢ symbol. But the ¢ key on this 1900 model typewriter also includes the @ symbol, which has been common on keyboards since the dawn of typewriters. It’s older than that, even. But of course it is: how else would anyone write an email address? Except… who are you going to email in 1900? No one was emailing anyone before 1972. That’s when programmer Ray Tomlinson invented email. He figured that if you’re going to …