(Originally printed in our July 2017 newsletter, which makes America now 242 years old.)

With the recent celebration of America’s 241st birthday, it’s likely you consumed one of the great American condiments at your neighborhood parties and gatherings:

Ketchup is an American staple, agreed?  According to a poll by National Geographic, in an unstated year, 97% of Americans reported to having a bottle of ketchup in their refrigerator or pantry.  Have you every thought about ketchup?  I mean really thought about how it’s an ingredient AND a condiment?  How it’s like an ’invisibility cloak’ for foods kids don’t like but if a kid drowns offensive food in ketchup they can eat it?  It’s magical and delicious.

Back in the day, say 300BC,  southern Chinese people developed a fermented fish sauce called ke-tsiap.  It was dark in color, thin in texture and richly flavored.  It was commonly added to broths, soups and sauces.  It is believed that this concoction is the ancestor of our modern day ketchup.

Now let’s fast forward to about the 1600s when the British were likely introduced to a similar styled Asian sauce when colonizing India.  To this day, British recipes incorporate ingredients such as mushrooms, walnuts, oysters, or anchovies in an attempt to recreate the flavor discovered in Asia.  But where are the  tomatoes?  At that time, tomatoes were thought to be poisonous, as part of the nightshade family, and that the wealthy, dining from pewter plates, were dying…after they ate tomatoes!  But it wasn’t the tomato, it was the high lead count in the pewter plates.  The tomato was dubbed a “poison apple” and would have to wait  a bit (around 200 years) for its unending stardom in the world of food.

If this were an opus on ketchup, we’d go into tomato history…but I think that’s TMI for now.  The lowly tomato won the hearts of many, was dispelled of poisonous properties by foodie scientists of the time and would go forward being known as a ‘love apple’ as translated, believe it or not, from the Bible.  The tomato became a star in its own right and people started cooking with it.  After trial and error creating canned tomatoes and developing tomato products, a familiar name enters the arena.

Henry J Heinz brings us the ketchup we know and love today.  In the late 1870s, he began working with others to develop better, preservative free products.  He found that a fleshy tomato contained a lot of pectin, which is a natural preservative.  Paired with vinegar and spices, the Heinz recipe could provide a hearty shelf life to America’s beloved condiment, ketchup.