Ketchup – Americans have a love affair with the stuff. In fact, you can find ketchup in 97% of the kitchens in America, and the average person consumes about three bottles per year. It is usually thought of as THE condiment of choice for burgers (although I’ve seen California folks put mustard on burgers, which is just wrong). And, except for the few people who prefer vinegar on fries, most people would not think of eating fries without ketchup.
However, its use is hardly limited to burgers and fries. Richard Nixon ate ketchup on cottage cheese, and the Japanese eat it on rice. It’s eaten with steak, eggs, and on or in meatloaf. I had a friend who poured ketchup on pancakes, and if my friend Bill’s grandson had his way, he would eat ketchup on hot dog rolls for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One company even allegedly experimented with ketchup-flavored ice cream, and another sells ketchup-flavored potato chips.
A word about ketchup on hot dogs. Putting ketchup on hot dogs is OK for children, who might find the taste of mustard to be too sharp, or who may think that mustard looks unappealing (no further comment necessary). However, adults should know better.
While we are familiar with the most common brands of ketchup (e.g. Heinz, Del Monte), there are hundreds of brands and varieties of ketchup that are less well known. Ketchup World has a large selection of international ketchups, “hot n’ spicy” ketchups and ketchups that are described as “rich and luscious.” One that caught my attention was “Ass Kickin’ Ketchup,” which contains habanero peppers, which would surely add zip to a burger. Even Heinz (which sells 50% of the Ketchup in the United States) is not insensitive to innovation and, as such, it offers several varieties, including green ketchup for kids, and “organic ketchup,” (which is probably just ketchup made with dirty tomatoes and which, I’ll bet, tastes lousy).
Today’s ketchup lover would not recognize the stuff that started it all back in the 1600’s, when Dutch and British sailors, brought back from China a salty pickled fish sauce called “ketsiap.” Over time, others toyed with the recipe, including the British, who added mushrooms, anchovies, oysters and walnuts.
The first printed recipe for ketchup appeared in 1727 in a publication called “The Compleat Housewife.” The ingredients included anchovies, shallots, vinegar, white wine, sweet spices, pepper and lemon peel. Later, Americans began including tomatoes in their ketchup recipes.
Jonas Yerkes was the first person to sell ketchup nationwide in the U.S. He used what was left over from the tomato canning process (i.e. skins, cores and tomatoes too green to can) and turned it into ketchup, which he sold in quart and pint bottles. Ketchup hit the big time in 1872 when HJ Heinz included ketchup in his line of pickled products, using a formula that has not changed since.
I know that some of you are thinking, “Yo, Jimbo, this is all very interesting, but I still need to know where I can buy a ketchup costume, and why is that ketchup is sometimes called “catsup?” These are both good questions.
First, you can indeed buy yourself a ketchup costume here, although I do not recommend that you wear it to work, unless, of course, you work in a burger joint, or in certain parts of California or New York City, where it would go unnoticed. Second, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, the name of the condiment was first recorded in English in 1690 as “catchup.” Later, in 1711, it became “ketchup,” and later still, in 1730, the word “catsup” appeared.
“Ketchup” and “catsup” both survived into the twentieth century until 1981 when the Reagan administration drove many people nuts by classifying “ketchup” as a vegetable for purposes of federal food programs (presumably because 4 tablespoons of ketchup have the nutritional value of an entire ripe, medium tomato). Del Monte, fearing that it would not cash in on federal food dollars because its product was called “catsup,” changed the name to “ketchup.” However, by the time Del Monte changed the name, the Reagan administration had changed its policy. The result is that it is not often that one finds “catsup” in the supermarket.
So, the next time that you pour, spoon, shake, or squeeze the King of Condiments onto you burgers, fries, steak, cottage cheese, rice, eggs, or whatever, remember that it started out as a salty, smelly, fish sauce and that you learned all about it here.
Pass the ketchup, please.