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I Call it Catsup. You Call it Ketchup
August 11, 2010 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Got a lot of tomatoes? Looking for some thing different to DIY? How about DIY ketchup? "Whether it's pickles or preserves, DIY food is all the rage. But when I told a group of food-loving friends that I was planning to make my own ketchup, their response was muted. First, there was an awkward pause. Then, one piped up with the question that everyone must have been thinking: Why? Ketchup, apparently, is an exception to the everything-is-better-if-you-make-it-yourself ethos. "
posted by Xurando (61 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why?

Well, Malcolm Gladwell's kind of a tosser, but HERE'S why you don't make your own ketchup.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:00 PM on August 11, 2010 [15 favorites]


i was coming in here to say that ^
posted by radiosilents at 6:04 PM on August 11, 2010


There are five known fundamental tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Umami is the proteiny, full-bodied taste of chicken soup, or cured meat, or fish stock, or aged cheese, or mother's milk, or soy sauce, or mushrooms, or seaweed, or cooked tomato. "Umami adds body," Gary Beauchamp, who heads the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, says. "If you add it to a soup, it makes the soup seem like it's thicker—it gives it sensory heft. It turns a soup from salt water into a food." When Heinz moved to ripe tomatoes and increased the percentage of tomato solids, he made ketchup, first and foremost, a potent source of umami. Then he dramatically increased the concentration of vinegar, so that his ketchup had twice the acidity of most other ketchups; now ketchup was sour, another of the fundamental tastes. The post-benzoate ketchups also doubled the concentration of sugar—so now ketchup was also sweet—and all along ketchup had been salty and bitter. These are not trivial issues. Give a baby soup, and then soup with MSG (an amino-acid salt that is pure umami), and the baby will go back for the MSG soup every time, the same way a baby will always prefer water with sugar to water alone. Salt and sugar and umami are primal signals about the food we are eating—about how dense it is in calories, for example, or, in the case of umami, about the presence of proteins and amino acids. What Heinz had done was come up with a condiment that pushed all five of these primal buttons. The taste of Heinz's ketchup began at the tip of the tongue, where our receptors for sweet and salty first appear, moved along the sides, where sour notes seem the strongest, then hit the back of the tongue, for umami and bitter, in one long crescendo. How many things in the supermarket run the sensory spectrum like this?
posted by leotrotsky at 6:04 PM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


The problem here is not that ketchup is hard to make or whatever (although it may be). The problem is that ketchup is a waste of good tomatoes. There are dozens of tomato products I would make before I would make ketchup. In fact, I might throw tomatoes away before making the vile stuff.
posted by DU at 6:07 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why stick with tomato?
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:08 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I feel like I read about the Craft/Artisan/Gourmet ketchup movement on Mefi years ago, but alas I can not find no trace save for that Gladwell FPP.

I did however discover Ketchup World, whilst googling.
posted by shoepal at 6:10 PM on August 11, 2010


We've been making our own ketchup for years. It's actually very good. Initially, we started making it for our kids and guests. Now, though, I eat it too, even though I don't like storebought ketchup at all.
posted by Leta at 6:11 PM on August 11, 2010


Cooking is called "DIY food" now? That's demented.

(We call it neither catsup or ketchup, but 'sauce', and I won't have it if it's not home made)
posted by pompomtom at 6:12 PM on August 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


I dunno....I am not so down with regular ketchup. Over-sugared bleah. There's a great little diner here in Toronto that makes their own ketchup and it is truly divine. I practically go through half a bottle in a visit, which is impressive considering said diner doesn't do fries and I'm just dipping my delectable breakfast sandwich.
posted by Go Banana at 6:14 PM on August 11, 2010


To echo most everything else here, ketchup is in my mind the canonical exception to the ethos, or at least the aesthetics, of homemade things.

While I'm at it, if you call it "sauce", there's a pretty good chance we aren't even talking about the same kind of thing.
posted by brennen at 6:19 PM on August 11, 2010


Whether it would be still correct to call it ketchup is another thread, but we make our own tomato-chutney sauce, and it's interchangeable for the regular store-bought crap-in-a-bottle.

However, it has *real food* in it, and it tastes divine.

Think tomato-apple-clove-mustard seedy goodness.

Anyone from New Zealand on MeFi will know the commercial equivalent in NZ, Whitlocks. The product we make is as close to that as we can manage :)

Frankly anybody aiming to reproduce commercial ketchup (Heinz or otherwise) is wasting time, and tomatoes.
posted by Sportbilly at 6:32 PM on August 11, 2010


I used to be a Heinz-only kind of woman until I tried gourmet ketchup. I still get the (non-HFCS) kind from the supermarket, but I liked the gourmet well enough that I'd happily try homemade even though it's far beyond my meager cooking skills to make it.

Part of it is that even Heinz is too sweet for me now after a long time living on a relatively low-sugar diet. When I was a kid, Heinz was superior to Hunt's because Hunt's was too sweet; I shudder to think what it would taste like now. I also remember that English ketchup, even Heinz, was really too sweet for my palate when I lived there as a teenager in the 80s, but that may be my memory playing tricks on me.
posted by immlass at 6:33 PM on August 11, 2010


I prefer DIY mustard.
posted by griphus at 6:33 PM on August 11, 2010


Cooking is called "DIY food" now? That's demented.
Actually "DIY food" is an outdated term. "Food hack" is what the cool kids are saying these days.
posted by sanko at 6:50 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Force me to eat ketchup, Heinz or otherwise, and you'll soon be rewarded with a whole colorful spectrum, it's true.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:05 PM on August 11, 2010


I miss Turkish ketchup. Very similar to regular old Heinz but it has a certain...something. I can find South American ketchup around here, but not Turkish.
posted by JoanArkham at 7:23 PM on August 11, 2010


I made ketchup a few years back for a party. It tasted great, but its effort-to-results ratio put it firmly into the It's OK To Just Buy Some Things To Save Time camp.

(And I think this is something a lot of cooking shows and such gloss over when they preach making everything from scratch. I think you should make everything from scratch at least once if time and kitchen space allows. Then decide whether the time was worth it. A lot of times it won't be. And that's fine but you still might have learned how to doctor up the stuff in the jar and that'll put you a good few steps ahead of most home cooks.)

I made homemade mayo for the same party. Mayo is totally worth making.
posted by Cyrano at 7:29 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


There's the story, probably apocryphal, of how Heinz's old factories were not well controlled and the ketchup often burned over the wood burning stoves.

So they get modern, well monitored factory stoves and then find that their ketchup sales dropped dramatically. They finally figured out that their customers liked the ketchup to be a little burned. So they turned up the heat and their sales went back up.

I tried to find the source of this story, and could only come up with this link on how factory produced ketchup is made.

I'm sure the ketchup made now bears little resemblance to the ketchup of old.
posted by eye of newt at 7:31 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


My favorite Ketchup is "House Recipe". It has a very distinct flavor.

Also, Heinz doesn't use HFCS or CS anymore, I don't believe.
posted by Malice at 7:38 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is a place here that makes its own ketchup, and it costs a lot of money for not very much ketchup, but it is so delicious. It's got the sweetness you'd expect from ketchup, but also more depth, probably due to less salt? I do not know. If I had the vaguest idea how to recreate their ketchup, I would make it myself.
posted by jeather at 8:02 PM on August 11, 2010


"Also, Heinz doesn't use HFCS or CS anymore, I don't believe."

according to the ingredients on the back of my bottle of heinz, they use both, which is depressing considering how much ketchup i eat.
posted by fuzzypantalones at 8:08 PM on August 11, 2010


Ketchup's just failed salsa as far as I'm concerned. :)
posted by emjaybee at 8:09 PM on August 11, 2010


I dislike ketchup except on fries, but now I'm thinking of making some.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:28 PM on August 11, 2010


Frankly, I don't see why we shouldn't be ENCOURAGING people to make their own ketchup as well. The idea of being all food-snob about it just doesn't make sense to me. Why NOT encourage people to try making their own? It'll be better than the store-bought kind anyway!

I wouldn't do it myself, though, but that's only because I'm not really a ketchup fan any more in the first place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:44 PM on August 11, 2010


Mock all you like, but the ketchup-from-scratch detailed in Martin Picard's "au Pied du cochon" cookbook is the condiment of the gods.
posted by docgonzo at 8:55 PM on August 11, 2010


according to the ingredients on the back of my bottle of heinz, they use both, which is depressing considering how much ketchup i eat.

That's unfortunate! The new ones down here proudly proclaim "NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP!" right on the neck.
posted by Malice at 9:04 PM on August 11, 2010


In Canada Heinz ketchup contains neither corn syrup nor HFCS, even so I find it very sweet. (I have heard, but cannot confirm, that it can be classified as jam in Australia.) I make tomato sauces but not this condiment kind. Old-fashioned cookbooks often have recipes (as shoepal noted) for non-tomato ketchups and I'm interested in that. Anchovies seem to be the salt/umami ingredient in many great condiment sauces. Tamarind is the difficult to find umami ingredient.
posted by CCBC at 9:07 PM on August 11, 2010


I like ketchup made from hot peppers.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:14 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


That Gladwell piece is great, but it's also the only (and rather prominent) link in the "ketchup" link.

I have heard ... it can be classified as jam in Australia
It is called "Heinz Big Red Tomato Sauce" here and has 23.3g of sugar per 100g (about half of what jam contains). It's also the only acceptable dressing for the national dish, the meat pie.
posted by GeckoDundee at 9:19 PM on August 11, 2010


Eh. Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's brands are pretty decent. I don't really need to make my own—not being able to grow food effectively means I never have surplus food, really.
posted by klangklangston at 9:20 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ooops. Just discovered they are different products. I'll have to go get some ketchup to test the difference.
posted by GeckoDundee at 9:21 PM on August 11, 2010


You shouldn't make your own because, like most condiments, it is disgusting.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:21 PM on August 11, 2010


I hope I'm not the only person who immediately thinks of Meet Me In Saint Louis when the topic of homemade ketchup is introduced.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:25 PM on August 11, 2010


Previously.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:30 PM on August 11, 2010


> (We call it neither catsup or ketchup, but 'sauce', and I won't have it if it's not home made)

pompomtom, I knew you were from Australia before I clicked on your profile...
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:55 PM on August 11, 2010


I recently discovered Melinda's Habanero Ketchup, and it's changed my whole world, condiment-wise. It's expensive, but it just plain tastes better. We have one bottle of Heinz left, and as long as we can keep finding Melinda's on shelves (a problem) that bottle of Heinz can be our last for all I care.

I have never tried making tomato ketchup. But I did manage to get my hands on green walnuts two years ago, and I made some walnut ketchup. Consensus? Interesting in certain dishes, but not worth the effort.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:00 PM on August 11, 2010


I'm mainly stopping in to note that I have nine varieties of mustard in my refrigerator. I would be embarrassed about this but it's all my wife's doing. We are never without a bottle of plain old yellow mustard though.

I have been served fresh made ketchup a few times at nicer restaurants and I have to admit my reaction has always been basically "that's sort of interesting but I really wish I could just have some damn ketchup."

I do sometimes think about a brief (something like 3 week) period when I experimented with trying to eat nothing with added sugar - no corn syrup, HF or otherwise, no sucrose, the works, and I also avoided foods with high natural sugar contents like fruit juices. It's quite hard to do this unless you make virtually all your own food. The first day I quit it I ate a hamburger with ketchup and it tasted like I'd poured syrup all over it.
posted by nanojath at 10:16 PM on August 11, 2010


I believe it may come down in part to my other sensory issues, but I have always been very averse to Heinz ketchup, or ketchup in general, as a part of nearly everything. It's too sharp. Too... everything. Which, going through and reading the Gladwell article, seems to start to make sense. It also raises the interesting possibility that I *could* try making my own ketchup and come up with one which is considerably more pleasing for me personally, and this would make me happy. I always feel like I'm missing something on my french fries.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:18 PM on August 11, 2010


I keep being told that "ketchup" is a derivative from Cantonese. True, in Cantonese "keh jup" ("fan keh" = tomatoe, "jup" = juice) suggests a connection but does anyone have a reliable source that North American ketchup is originally American-Chinese derived, cuisinically?

Could totally see it; scrambled eggs and tomatoes -> tomato "sauce" on eggs -> popular generic tomato sauce -> corporately marketed popular condiment.
posted by porpoise at 10:36 PM on August 11, 2010


My guess (which isn't worth much given that I didn't even notice Australia had both ketchup and sauce) is that ketchup is derived from Kecap Manis (aka Ketjap Manis). It's like soy sauce but thickened with palm sugar and flavoured with cloves, star anise etc. It isn't difficult to imagine the Dutch bringing it home from the East Indies and then out to the New World.
posted by GeckoDundee at 11:03 PM on August 11, 2010


"In the 1690s the Chinese mixed together a concoction of pickled fish and spices and called it ke-tsiap.

By the early 1700s, the table sauce had made it to the Malay states (present day Malaysia), where it was discovered by British explorers, and by 1740, it had become an English staple. Although today's ketchup is tomato based, it did not appear until about a century after other types. By 1801, a recipe for tomato ketchup was created by Sandy Addison and was later printed in an American cookbook, the Sugar House Book.[5] "

posted by klangklangston at 11:06 PM on August 11, 2010


I'm going to go with the food linguist's take: So ketchup, written 鲑汁, is an archaic word for "fish sauce" in the Zhangzhou region of the Hokkien dialect of Southern Min Chinese.
posted by cali at 11:20 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


On a side note, I think I just discovered my new favorite website. Food! Words! History!
posted by cali at 11:22 PM on August 11, 2010


Too bad it hasn't been updated for a while. :(
posted by archagon at 12:58 AM on August 12, 2010


Why NOT encourage people to try making their own? It'll be better than the store-bought kind anyway.

Look, I'm a certified foodie. I bake my own bread, I make my own yoghurt (plain and Greek) and I roast my own coffee. I make mayonnaise from scratchy with egg yolk, blah blah blah. And it's good. Really very good.

But a lot of people in this world are time poor. I am unusually able to be a home gourmet because I have the luxury of a well paid 40 hour p/week job and no kids at home I and I work less than half an hour's bike ride away. Most working people don't. In my ideal, more social democratic world, there would be plenty of adult free time for cooking from scratch without grinding unemployment, but that's not the case in this world.

Also, frankly, many people don't like cooking or don't cook well or both, for reasons we could argue about all day.

This is why for most people the calculus of ketchup dictates store-bought. Available time, risk of screw-up, poor basic kitchen skills = Heinz bottle. Encouraging people to make their own is just loading them up with some sort of guilt about their lack of resources. People don't buy ketchup in a bottle just from want of motivation to make their own.

I'd be focussing* on providing every citizen with universal basic income first. Then people who like to cook will have time to cook.**

*Actually, as a member of the New Zealand Labour party, I DO focus on that.
**Do feel free to imagine ponies for everyone who likes ponies in my social democratic paradise as well as leisured home ketchup cooks.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:23 AM on August 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


Cumin in ketchup is to die for. Try it and see.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:53 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, joe's_spleen, I sympathize with your desire for all people to have sufficient leisure time to do the things that interest them. On the other hand, if someone feels guilty because they don't make their own ketchup, that's their problem, not the problem of the person who suggested that it's an interesting and potentially rewarding project.

My gf and I make a lot of things that most people buy, like jelly and cookies and bread. The truth of the matter is that none of it really takes a lot of time. Two weekend days (maybe about six hours of rather leisurely work) of fruit-picking and canning give us enough jelly to eat for half a year, and to give away as well. I suspect that ketchup is similar: one batch will last a heck of a long time.

If no one talked about interesting projects that took a bit of time, because someone somewhere might feel guilty because they didn't want to devote the time to doing it, then we'd have nothing to talk about except celebrity gossip.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:13 AM on August 12, 2010


Now that the UK is awake we can enter the HP Sauce zone.
posted by i_cola at 2:57 AM on August 12, 2010


This is why for most people the calculus of ketchup dictates store-bought. Available time, risk of screw-up, poor basic kitchen skills = Heinz bottle. Encouraging people to make their own is just loading them up with some sort of guilt about their lack of resources. People don't buy ketchup in a bottle just from want of motivation to make their own.

Oh, I totally agree with you. I wasn't clear.

I gathered that the original point of this article is about, "It's funny -- I had the time and inclination to make my own ketchup from scratch. And all the food snobs around me who were all gung-ho about me learning to make my own pickles from scratch and mustard from scratch were all, 'ew, why would you make your own ketchup from scratch?' and that's just strange that they feel that way." My point was that I, too, think it's strange to feel that way.

If you've got time to make your own ketchup, super. If not, cool. If your time is limited and you want to perfect your own mustard and still get store-bought, great. What I DON'T understand is why anyone would find the idea of home-made ketchup to be a waste of one's time, was my point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:56 AM on August 12, 2010


"Real tomato ketchup Eddie?"
posted by IvoShandor at 4:14 AM on August 12, 2010


from The Man Who Ate Everything, wherein Jeffrey Steingarten and his wife systematically eat over 100 types of ketchup:

Our solution was to assign each ketchup to one of four general categories: Worse Than Heinz, Heinz, Better Than Heinz, and Not Really Ketchup. Both Alexander Hunter's Tomata Sauce (1804), properly reduced, and our very own Olde-Tyme Homemade Ketchup (1992) usually but not always found themselves in the Better Than Heinz category.

I'm going to go ahead and reproduce the 1804 recipe from Culina Famulatrix Medicinae (yes, really!) - you'll have to get Steingarten's book for his. You can probably substitute a long simmering reduction for "let stand for a few days", but be careful it doesn't burn. I'd also sweeten it at the end with a sugar of your choosing, but it may not be necessary depending on the tomatoes you used.

Alexander Hunter's Tomata Sauce

Take tomatas when ripe, and bake them in an oven, till they become perfectly soft, then scoop them out with a teaspoon, and rub the pulp through a sieve. To The pulp, put as much Chili vinegar as will bring it to proper thickness, with salt to the taste. Add to each quart, half and ounce of garlic and one ounce of shalot, both sliced very thin. Boil during the space of a quarter of an hour, taking care to skim the mixture very well. Then strain, and take out the garlic and shalot, and let it stand for a few days before it is corked up.

posted by mek at 4:38 AM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've always made my own tomato sauce, just like my mother and grandmother, using the recipe on the back of the Ezy-Sauce label. I even called the number on the back of the bottle and got their recipe book sent out for free. I make relish and chutneys with it as well. It is probably the greatest fucking stuff ever made, IMHO. I even made a rhubarb chutney a little while ago, which is good on lamb or on scotch eggs...
posted by chrisgregory at 5:10 AM on August 12, 2010


chrisgregory, that's the way I learned to make dead horse as well, with a bottle of ezy-sauce.

Now I agree that White Crow is probably better on a meat pie, but my dead horse cannot be beaten on scrambled eggs.
posted by wilful at 5:40 AM on August 12, 2010


I make a lot of my own stuff...chutneys, tomato sauce, pesto, biscotti, bread, etc. But, I've yet to taste a DIY ketchup that came anywhere close to the better* store ketchups. Most DIY ketchups I've had were little better than chunky tomato sauce with some interesting spices. But definitely I'd not reach for first to dip my home fries into.

* - And, by "better" I mean anything other than Hunts. Nasty stuff, that. We lean toward Brooks in our house.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:08 AM on August 12, 2010


Why NOT encourage people to try making their own? It'll be better than the store-bought kind anyway!

Let's not be ridiculous here. I'd say the odds are 50-50 at best, when you account for all the one-offs, lack of cooking skills and mediocre recipes. Plus Heinz is fucking delicious. Not so much on fries though, that's what mayonaise is for.
posted by electroboy at 7:26 AM on August 12, 2010


I hope I'm not the only person who immediately thinks of Meet Me In Saint Louis when the topic of homemade ketchup is introduced.

You are not.

"Meeeeet me aaaaat the faaaaaair!"
posted by cereselle at 9:08 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


This post by desuetude, combined with my first ever crop of tomatoes and cayenne peppers, inspired me to go make pepper-tomato jam. I fiddled and futzed and fucked around and when I was done, I tasted it and went, "huh, I made ketchup."
As a rabid Heinz fan, I was disappointed. I'm definitely on Team Ketchup Has Been Perfected By Heinz And It's Not Worth Trying Other Brands Or Making My Own.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:04 AM on August 12, 2010


"The taste of Heinz's ketchup began at the tip of the tongue, where our receptors for sweet and salty first appear, moved along the sides, where sour notes seem the strongest, then hit the back of the tongue, for umami and bitter, in one long crescendo. How many things in the supermarket run the sensory spectrum like this?"

posted by Leotrotsky

The idea that different parts of the tongue are receptive to sweet/sour/salt etc was a topic on QI. Stephen Fry said that there are taste receptors of all kinds spread all over the tongue.*

*May not be true, I only have Mr Fry's word on this.
posted by marienbad at 1:35 PM on August 12, 2010


I don't know if anyone reads the comments down here, but...

Here's a photo of Heinz ketchup on the left and Heinz Big Red sauce on the right.

The ketchup is less viscous and is a brighter red. The sauce is thicker and more of an orange red. The sauce is both more tart and more sweet, but the ketchup has more mouth feel and more umami.

The ketchup has slightly less sugar (22.9g / 100ml as opposed to 23.3g / 100ml) and a little more sodium (1250g / 100ml versus 1030g / 100ml). The ketchup also contains more tomato (205g / 100ml versus 168g / 100ml).

"Spice" appears on the ingredients for the ketchup, but not the sauce. The ketchup has white wheat vinegar listed before salt (and therefore in greater quantity). The sauce has salt first and then acetic acid (which is the main constituent of vinegar anyway).

I think I prefer the taste of the ketchup but I like the texture of the sauce more. Having said that, this is just because the sauce is easier to control (it comes out of the plastic bottle like mustard whereas the ketchup is like a water pistol). In terms of taste and mouth feel, the ketchup seems thicker even though it's not.

These details are for the organic version of the ketchup, but they seem to be the same as the ordinary one.

Oh yeah, the old way of teaching taste was to present the tongue as having distinct areas where the various receptors were. The modern way is to point out that they are more concentrated in these areas but spread all over the tongue. There tends also to be more mention of the fact that different people can vary enormously in where these receptors are concentrated and how many "taste buds" each individual has. I don't know if this is a result of better science or just better teaching / science reporting. I suspect the latter.
posted by GeckoDundee at 2:22 AM on August 13, 2010


People don't buy ketchup in a bottle just from want of motivation to make their own.

Er, actually...
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:05 PM on August 13, 2010


I fondly remember the episode of Taste with David Rosengarten where he made ketchup.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:06 AM on August 17, 2010


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