Ketchup – Pour It on

Ketchup, undoubtedly America’s favorite condiment, (followed closely by mayonnaise and salsa) is poured on virtually everything.. Who doesn’t know a ketchup addict who can’t get through one meal without ketchup on something. Or perhaps you are unabashedly one yourself.

A bottle of ketchup is found in approximately 97 percent of U.S. homes, but the present form we enjoy is relatively new, considering it has its roots in ancient China. The origin of the word ketchup is believed to be traced back to a Chinese word that can be loosely translated as ke-tep or kio-chiap. Or possibly from a Malay language sometimes referred to as kicap, kecap, ketjap. The precursor to our ketchup was actually a fermented fish sauce made from fish entrails, meat byproducts and soybeans, usually ground into a paste. This mixture not only added flavor to food, but was easy to store on long ocean voyages. As it spread along spice trade routes to Indonesia and the Philippines, British traders got hooked on the spicy, salty taste, and by he early 1700s. they took samples home to England and promptly modified the original recipe.

Even though tomato plants were introduced to England by way of South America during the 1500s, tomatoes were widely believed to be poisonous, along with other members of the nightshade family (eggplants and potatoes). The earliest usage in England was recorded in 1690 and spelled “catchup”; later the spelling of “ketchup” appeared around 1711, and the modified spelling “catsup” in 1730.

A famine in Italy during the late 1830’s led the starving superstitious folks to finally try tomatoes, and the population was pleasantly surprised when no one became poisoned,
leading to the popularity across Europe. The first Italian tomato sauce recipe appeared soon after the famine. Imagine Italian cooking without the tomato… unthinkable.

Tomato ketchup appeared in America in the early 1800’s. An enterprising Philadelphia native named James Mease incorporated the tomato into his recipe, setting off a revolution of tomato-based ketchup. By 1896, The New York Tribune estimated that tomato ketchup had become America’s national condiment and could be found “on every table in the land.” That might have been a bit of an exaggeration at the time, but certainly prophetic for the coming twentieth century, especially with the introduction of hot dogs at the two world fairs: Chicago and St Louis. Cooks and homemakers began scrambling for ketchup recipes to make at home along with the growing popularity of bottled versions. Many cookbooks featured recipes for ketchup made of oysters, mussels, mushrooms, walnuts, lemons and celery, but the Americans were the first to make the tomato its base for the prized condiment.

With many different versions of the condiment already in the U.S., a Pittsburgh businessman named Henry J. Heinz started producing ketchup in 1876 using tomatoes and vinegar as his chief ingredients, and he soon dominated the commercial market (and still does). By1905, the company had sold five million bottles of ketchup. The first recipes Heinz tried contained allspice, cloves, cayenne pepper, mace, and cinnamon. A second
included pepper, ginger, mustard seed, celery salt, horseradish, and brown sugar, along with the two primary ingredients, tomatoes and vinegar. Soon the country was hooked.

Americans currently purchase 10 billion ounces of ketchup annually, which comes out to approximately three bottles per person per year. That figure seems low, but keep in mind that Americans consume much of their ketchup outside the home, at restaurants and fast food locations.

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