Did you want fries with that?

What to make of a food product no one knows how to spell, and whose every pronunciation sounds like a sneeze? Ketchup! Catsup! Catchup! Kitchup!

Bless You!

Seemingly as American as hot dogs or apple pie, the slow, sweet, red sauce we grew up on reveals origins murky as mud.

British explorers first encountered ketchup in Southeast Asia in the seventeenth century. It is surmised that ketchup style sauces were similar to fermented fish sauces. Both ketchup and fish sauce contained salt and vinegar, which acted as preservatives, and disguised the flavor of less than fresh meat.

The first known English language recipe for “Katchop,” published in 1727, included anchovies, shallots, vinegar, white wine, and spices–mace, ginger, clove, pepper, nutmeg, lemon peel, and horseradish–but not a mention of tomatoes. Other eighteenth century British recipes contained various combinations of kidney beans, mushrooms, walnuts, and anchovies. Still no tomatoes.

Nineteenth century cooks experimented with ketchup’s primary ingredients. Lemons, cucumbers, oysters, cockles, or mussels all took center stage. Eventually the spotlight landed on tomatoes. Tomato ketchup’s popularity grew throughout the nineteenth century, but never replaced walnut and mushroom based sauces, which remained household staples. All ketchups played similar roles at the table, primarily adding color and zest to fish and meat.

Locally, H.J. Heinz began selling bottled products in 1869. Horseradish, Heinz’s first offering, was concocted according to his mom’s recipe. Pickles, sauerkraut, and vinegar followed. In 1876 Heinz tomato ketchup took its first bow, eventually joined by his non-tomato ketchups–walnut, curry, grape, and something called “tomato mustard.” By the 1890s, published recipes for ketchup peaked, signaling the rise of commercially produced sauces.

Among Del Monte, Heinz, and Hunt, the three major tomato ketchup manufacturers in the U.S., Heinz has led production since 1900. Ketchup remains the most famous Heinz product. The secret recipe has remained almost unchanged for one hundred years. Though the commercial formula is guarded, visitors to Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center may examine an 1883 recipe for “Tomato Catsup” written in H.J. Heinz’s florid script.

For further reading:

pureketchupPure Ketchup: A History of America’s National Condiment, with Recipes by Andrew F. Smith.







0f3ef793e48f80d5932733452774141414c3441The Good Provider: H. J. Heinz and His 57 Varieties by Robert C. Alberts





heinzH.J. Heinz Company by Debbie Foster and Jack Kennedy for the H.J. Heinz Company, “Images of America” series



ketchupcookbookThe Heinz Tomato Ketchup Cookbook by Paul Hartley





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