Search This Blog

Monday, October 8, 2018

Pass the Ketchup, Please

With a need to eat more wisely as I age, I spend a lot of time in the grocery store reading labels. While I have eliminated some foods from my shopping list that used to be standards, one staple I still insist on having is ketchup. However, when I realized how much sugar and salt go into my favorite condiment, I wondered if I could make it at home. And because I love history—and the history of the American west in particular--the next thought was ‘where was ketchup created’ and did they have it in the old west?

The origins of ketchup are thought to be in a Chinese pickled fish sauce or brine made in the late 1600s. The British brought the table sauce back from their explorations of Malay states—present day Malaysia and Singapore—and by 1740 it was a staple in their cuisine. The Malay word for the sauce was kÄ•chap, which evolved into “ketchup” and became “catchup” and “catsup” in America.

Original versions of “ketchup” were made from lots of different savory items. One very popular one in America was mushrooms. Check out the picture of “Mushroom Ketchup.”  The 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary defines catchup as “a table sauce made from mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, etc.”

Tomatoes weren’t used in making the sauce until the early 1800s. A recipe published in 1801 seems
to be the first making what you and I would recognize as ketchup—although I doubt it would taste the same. Cooks didn’t begin adding sugar to the mixture until later in the century.

Most families made their own ketchup. In 1837, a man named Jonas Yerks is credited with making tomato ketchup a national food by producing and distributing his product across the U.S. It wasn’t long before other companies joined the rush, including H.J. Heinz, who launched their brand of ketchup in 1869.

Early versions were thin and watery, more like the fish sauce than the thick tomato product we’re accustomed to, but had less vinegar than the modern recipe. In fact, I doubt we’d recognize the jar of ketchup served by a Harvey Girl in a Harvey House Restaurant in the 1880s as the same product Americans have come to love--but it’s fun to know it was there.


Check out the six novels that make up "Under a Western Sky" today!


  1. Isn't history interesting? While not a huge fan of ketchup, I do love the history of food. Thank you for adding to the knowledge. Doris

  2. Tracy,

    For me, ketchup is its own food group. *wink* Remember when ketchup went through that weird phase of being green or purple? It tasted the same as red ketchup, but it was sure hard for me to eat it.

    1. Kaye, I do remember those. Yuck! I have a hard time with the neon green pickle relish they put on a Chicago Dog. Who wants purple on a hamburger?!

  3. Like Doris, I don't use much ketchup because I don't care for sweet on meat (same with BBQ sauce). But that mushroom ketchup sounds good. Might try making some. Speaking of which, my parents made ketchup once--the only ketchup I actually liked. But that was a one time deal because it took four bushels of tomatoes and two days to make about half a dozen bottles. LOL. So that was the end of their ketchup making.

    1. Jacquie, I wanted to start making my own to cut out the chemicals. I gave up the project for that very reason--four bushels of tomatoes costs a lot more than 6 bottles of Hunt's. lol

  4. Ohmygosh, "Mushroom Ketchup"? Really? A shiver just went down my spine. Ick!

    Just about every summer when the garden came in we always had an abundance of tomatoes and, once again, parents would work on their ketchup recipe. Actually, they made some mighty exquisite renditions. They didn't write their recipes apparently, because it was different every year. Pop didn't like store ketchup, but I was addicted to the store bought type. Looking back, I didn't realize how lucky I was. I would really appreciate their efforts now.

    This was such an interesting blog, Tracy. I had no idea of the varied ingredients that were once included in ketchup. Walnuts? I just wouldn't have imagined that. It is such a shame that they include chemicals, sugar, and salt in so many foods we eat these days.

    All the best to you, Tracy.