The Heinz Company ultimately got it right.
They created a sweet, tangy tomato-based product in the late-1870s that has become a companion to some of our most beloved American foods.
It’s called ketchup.
Or at least that is the name Heinz chose.
But there was another name they could have used. It was the original name: catsup.
And ketchup and catsup are closely intertwined.
Because ketchup contained tomatoes, and tomatoes are a vegetable (according to the USDA), the ketchup Heinz created was considered a daily serving of vegetables. As soon as the school system got its hands on that, the Heinz ketchup product took off in sales.
And as ketchup took off (it is officially a vegetable product, after all), catsup fell to the shoulder.
Both ketchup and catsup are made of a tomato base. Except ketchup is sweet and tangy and catsup is ordinarily more spicy.
Ketchup apparently occurs more frequently in the north and Europe, while catsup is a southern phenomenon.
Ketchup is still made by Heinz; catsup was made by Del Monte. However, Del Monte does now make a ketchup product.
Obviously, the two are pronounced differently and every person will have his own preference.
Like tomato and tom-ah-to…..
There are a few historical facts that separate modern day ketchup from its origins:
- The original ketchup was also a condiment, but did not contain tomatoes (tom-ah-toes) until it came to the Americas. Before that time, it was made with ingredients like mushrooms, anchovies, lemon peel, and shallots, to name only a few as detailed in the book The Compleat Housewife of 1727.
- The original ketchup was not ketchup at all, but started in China as ketjiap, a sweet, pickled fish sauce.
- The original ketchup was not created by Heinz; instead it traveled all over the Far East with the European traders…to Malaysia as ketchap and Indonesia as ketjap.
- The original ketchup was first mentioned in 1690, and then again in 1711, by Charles Lockyer. The first reference appeared in The Dictionary of the Canting Crew. The second reference appeared in Accounts of Trade in India:
“Soy comes in Tubbs from Jappan, and the best Ketchup from Tonquin; yet good of both sorts are made and sold very cheap in China.”
The bottom line is that as much as ketchup is almost as American as apple pie, hamburgers, and hot dogs, our most beloved condiment is not of our design, only our revisions and enhancements.
So, next time you dress you burger in that sweet tangy sauce, whether as ketchup or as catsup, remember that every word, and every product, has a history.
But, even with that history, we can still love it.
For further reading, check out these sites:
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