“and,  for our home-bred British cheer, Botargo, catsup and caveer.”   Jonathan Swift, A Panegyrick on the Dean, 1755

In the 17th century, a sauce made from pickled fish and spices was called, in the Chinese  Amoy dialect, ke-stiap.  By the time British sailors discovered the condiment it had migrated to Southeast Asia, where it was called, in Indonesian, kechap.  The word entered the English language in the late 17th century in Britain first as catchup and, later, as ketchup.

The Chinese and Indonesian originals bear little resemblance to the condiment found  in 97% of American kitchens today.  The Chinese sauce was similar to soy or Worcestershire;  the Indonesian was a fermented, savory sauce that now comes in three versions, one salty (kechap asin), another sweet (kechap manis), and the third (kechap ikan) more like a fish sauce.

Cooks in the West created many kinds of ketchup in the years that followed, but tomato ketchup did not appear for another century.  In 1801, Sandy Addison published a recipe for tomato ketchup in an American cookbook titled The Sugar House Book:

  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 2 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.
  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 good for two or three years.

The tomato was not widely accepted by Americans in the 1800s.  People believed, incorrectly, that the tomato, like its deadly cousin the nightshade, was poisonous.  Processed tomatoes, combined in ketchup with vinegar and spices and preserved with salt, gained public acceptance before fresh tomatoes did.  (Early ketchups, including the recipe above, were extremely salty because of the amount of salt needed to preserve them.)  F.& J. Heinz launched their tomato ketchup in 1876, advertizing their product as “blessed relief for Mother and the other women in the household!”  By the end of the 19th century, tomato ketchup was the primary kind of ketchup in the United States, and ‘tomato’ gradually disappeared from its name.

In the early 20th century the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of sodium benzoate as a preservative, and modern ketchup was born.  Entrepreneurs like Henry J. Heinz developed alternative recipes that pickled ripe, rather than unripe, tomatoes.  Ripe tomatoes allowed the elimination of benzoate without spoilage or loss of flavor.  The increased pectin in ripe tomatoes created a thick tomato ketchup that was not watery and thin like its predecessor.

But the thickness, and viscosity, of American tomato ketchup created its own problem; how do you get it out of the bottle?  Many invert the bottle and shake it, or pound it’s bottom with the heel of their hand.  Caterers have a special technique; invert the bottle and tap its upper neck forcefully with two fingers (your index and middle fingers together).  In the case of a bottle of Heinz ketchup, that spot is the seal on the bottle neck.

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