Monday, September 19, 2011

Catching Up With Ketchup

I’ve hit the “57” more times than I could count.  My palm’s literally ached as I awaited the thick red condiment to flow from the glass bottle. As the summer comes to a close, I say goodbye to the heat, the sun, and the freedom. I also say goodbye to the weekly barbeques I’ve come to enjoy with my family. Barbeques are an integral part of the American family, as is Heinz ketchup.
So now, let’s catch up with the famous condiment. While there are many brands of ketchup, Heinz outshines the rest. Each year, the “57” labeled empire sells 650 million bottles of ketchup (Heinz).  While this number may astound you, the history of the condiment is far more surprising.
Originally named ketsiap, or “fish juice,” ketchup began circulating in seventeenth century China. However, this ketchup wasn’t the tomato ketchup we’ve all come to enjoy slathered on our cheeseburgers or squirted on our French fries. No, this “ketsiap” was a pungent spicy, pickled fish sauce made of anchovies, walnuts, mushrooms and kidney beans. In fact, the Chinese version of ketchup was actually more equivalent to a soy or Worcestershire sauce... And I’m sure we’d all love flavors like those drizzled on top of our hot dogs, used to dip our chicken nuggets into.
So, how did this unpleasant hodge-podge of ingredients turn into the King of the Condiments?  How did a sauce intended for fish wind up on 97% of the refrigerator shelves in American households?
Throughout the 1700s, the Western civilization yearned to recreate the Chinese sauce, whose sales were skyrocketing and dominating the country’s economic food market. Many ingredients were tried and tested, including blueberries and grapes. An anonymous American housewife added the tomato to the ketchup recipe after a hundred years, and it was then that Henry J. Heinz began mass-producing what would soon take the world of sauce and dressing by storm: Heinz Ketchup.
In 1876, Heinz Tomato Ketchup came along. The iconic “57” imprinted on the glass bottles, truly there to assist in the Ketchup-exiting process, which actually takes place at a speed of .028 miles per hour, stands for the variety, or the number of products, that the Heinz company had in production at the time of the slogan’s birth. Though the company actually produced over 60 varieties, Mr. Heinz felt that the chosen number was lucky.
Nowadays, Heinz Tomato Ketchup is often imitated, but never duplicated. Of course, there are many ketchup options at the supermarket, and even Heinz has taken many different forms. For example, I distinctly remember in 2003 the colored ketchup craze that took supermarkets by storm. Even though the green-colored condiment wasn’t what I was used to and certainly didn’t look appetizing on my potato tots, the taste was the familiar sweet-and-tangy balance I’d grown up on, so I was reassured. However, the green ketchup caused controversy, and its sales were disappointing, so the product was pulled from shelves. Another controversial moment for the Condiment King occurred in 1981, when Department of Food and Agriculture recommended ketchup be reclassified from a condiment to a vegetable when served as part of school meals. This would’ve allowed public schools to cut out a serving of cooked or fresh vegetable from the hot lunch program’s child-nutrition requirement. Indubitably, the proposal was met with wrath from nutritionists and concerned parents alike, who successfully rallied to ensure that the policy was never implemented.
Despite America’s brief squabble with the succulent scarlet condiment, Ketchup is, and will always be, an indispensible item at every summer barbeque and will remain in the fridge of every American until the end of time… Or at least until the extinction of tomatoes.

Kerrigan, Lynn. “No Matter How You Spell It, It’s America’s Favorite Condiment… Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ketchup (Catsup).” The Global Gourmet. Web.<>

Filippone, Peggy Trowbridge.  “Ketchup/Catsup History: Original Ketchup Contained No Tomatoes.” Web. <>

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