Ketchup's Unsavory Secret History

Piper Weiss, Shine Staff
Shine FoodMay 4, 2012

Ketchup. We love it. But do we really know it?

A Gizmodo blogger did a little digging into the condiment's history and found an original ingredient that thankfully got the cut.

But first, a few facts. An estimated 97 percent of American households have a bottle in their fridge right now. Most people like Heinz' original recipe, which consists of tomatoes, vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder and some other "natural flavorings" the company isn't required to list. This week, Heinz re-introduced its limited edition ketchup with balsamic vinegar in time for burger season for all you fancy types. But before Heinz, ketchup, or even catsup, there was katchop. The Chinese condiment, from which the burger topping originated, was nothing more than shellfish brine.

Taste test: the best ketchup isn't the one you think

A mixture of sea creatures, soaked for days in pickling vinegar and spices, was the basis for the french fry dip we know and love. When British explorers caught wind of it in Singapore in the 1700s, they brought it back to their own Western European kitchens. The result was the first ketchup recipe: a mixture of vinegar, shallots, spices, horseradish, and get this, ANCHOVIES.

Ketchup packets get a makeover

Gizmodo's Rachel Swaby dug up the first English recipe on record published in the 1727 cookbook, Compleat Housewife, which called for 12 to 14 anchovies and zero tomatoes.

"Way back it was more like a fish sauce than our condiment today… and maybe really gross," writes Swaby. "But apparently people didn't think so, because cookbook authors were reprinting the above recipe well into the 19th century."

Ketchup made from pickled oyster juice was another popular dipping sauce. It wasn't until the 1820s that tomatoes got involved in the mix, and slowly muscled out sea creatures. Thank Heinz, which brought the bottled version to homes in the 1870s.

Video: France bids adieu to ketchup

Not that the brand has had a perfect record. Remember not to long ago, when Heinz introduced 'funky purple' and 'blastin' green' EZ Squirts ketchup? I'll take ground anchovies over Blue No. 1 and Red No. 3 any day.

More condiment talk please
7 weird facts about ketchup
10 condiments every pantry should have
Has your mayo and ketchup expired? Think about it.

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