Let’s Talk Food: Ketchup — an important American condiment

  • Courtesy photo The label on a Heinz ketchup bottle is a tribute to Pennsylvania, or the Keystone State, which is the home state of Henry John Heinz, a Pittsburgh businessman who created Heinz ketchup.

When you think of THE American condiment, ketchup immediately comes to most peoples’ mind.

A couple of weeks ago, I credited the Portuguese for bringing chili peppers to so many countries and making them a very important component in everyday cooking to so many. Well, we need to credit the Chinese for the ketchup of today.


In ancient times, fermented fish and bean pastes were used to flavor their food. Naomichi Ishige, in “Fish Fermentation Technology,” stated that the relative cheapness of fermented bean products replaced fish fermentation in China altogether, and fish sauces disappeared for a while. Then in the 17th and 18th centuries, Chinese sea traders from Southeast Asia reintroduced fish sauce to China in the coastal province of Fujian. The name for the sauce was ke-tchup, koechiap ot ke-tsiap, depending on the dialect.

The Chinese traders brought the fish sauce to the Philippines and Indonesia. Today, the Filipino fish sauce is patis and the Indonesian is kecap.

The British explorers came across ke-tsiap, or fish sauce, at the turn of the 18th century. They attempted to recreate it with anchovies, mushrooms, walnuts and oysters.

In 1727, Eliza Smith’s wrote about a sauce called “katchup” in “The Compleat Housewife.” Her recipe called for white wine vinegar, shallots, anchovies, ginger, cloves, pepper, nutmeg and horseradish.

Then, nearly 200 years later in America, Henry John Heinz, a Pittsburgh businessman who was selling horseradish, sauerkraut and pickles, made ketchup with tomatoes, vinegar, salt and sugar. It was preservative-free, tasted good and by 1908, Heinz was the largest producer of tomato products.

Food Network Magazine wished the leader of ketchup today, Heinz, happy 150th birthday with these interesting facts:

• The 57 varieties came to Heinz’s head when he saw a billboard advertising “21 Styles of Shoes” while he was on a train. After counting his products, he realized he sold more than 60, but chose the slogan “57 varieties” because he liked to way the number looked.

• The ketchup label is a tribute to Heinz’s home state, Pennsylvania, the Keystone State.

• To stand out, Heinz changed the spelling of catsup to ketchup. Both spellings are acceptable.

• In the 1800s, most companies used green or brown bottles because clear bottles were more expensive. Heinz, however, invested in clear bottles to emphasize his pure ingredients.

• The top layer of ketchup turns brown from air exposure, so the neck of Heinz ketchup has a small label to hide the top.

• The pickle was Heinz’s company symbol for 114 years. In 2009, the tomato replaced the pickle.

• The glass bottle was replaced with plastic in 1971 with a 32-ounce “Keg of Ketchup” and became Heinz’s best-selling bottle. The inverted squeeze bottle was introduced in 2002.

• • •

We don’t use ketchup much as a condiment, but I always have a few bottles for barbecue sauces.

Here is a recipe for a homemade barbecue sauce.

Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Makes: 2 cups

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 onion, finely diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup ketchup

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons molasses

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon paprika

1/2 tablespoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Cook onion and garlic in a small saucepan on medium-low heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 20 minutes or until thickened.

Because barbecue sauces generally are sweetened with molasses and brown sugar, baste it on the ribs or chicken about 10-15 minutes before they are done, otherwise the sauce will burn.

Foodie bites

More about chili peppers:

Chili peppers are native to South and Central America, and besides the Portuguese sailors, birds were credited for the spread of chili plants. Birds lack the receptors to feel the “capsaicin burn.” They ate the ripe chilies, pooped out the seeds and spread them around. Early Indians saw these plants with the red peppers and used them in their cooking.

I remember when I was little, someone told me the reason cardinals are red was because they ate all of his chili peppers. I believed that to be true for many years.

Down Home Country BBQ:

Speaking of barbecue, sauce, the Rotary Club of Volcano is having its Down Home Country BBQ on Saturday, Aug. 31, at Cooper Center. Besides the great food by the BBQ Rotarian experts, there will be music by Gone Country. Tickets are available by contacting a member of the club. The club meets at 7:30 a.m. Thursday mornings at Volcano Art Center and is always looking for new members and volunteers.

Sixth annual Volcano Winery Harvest Festival:

The sixth annual Volcano Winery Harvest Festival is slated for 4-7 p.m. Sept. 8 and will benefit the Volcano School of Arts &Sciences. Tickets are $50 and include live music by Young Brothers, delicious food and drink from local restaurants, award-winning wines and teas from Volcano Winery, tours of the vineyards and a raffle.


Tickets are available online at www.volcanowinery.com or by calling 967-7772.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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