“Tomato Ketchup” Isn’t Redundant

Ketchup is the most widely used condiment in the United States.  It’s present in over 95% of households, matched only by staples such as salt, pepper, and sugar.  Pictured, right, is a label from Heinz’s ketchup.  It probably looks familiar, to say the least, with Heinz having over 50% market share in the enormous ketchup market.

But have you ever noticed that is says “Tomato Ketchup” and not just “Ketchup?”  Isn’t the “tomato” part redundant?

It turns out, it isn’t.

The word “ketchup”, most likely, is derived from the Chinese “ke-tsiap,” or “sauce.” Ketsiap first emerged in the late 17th century, but it certainly did not include tomatoes, which are native to the Western Hemisphere. Rather, the core ingredient? Picked fish, probably akin to anchovies.  Depending on what source you go by, ketsiap also contained mushrooms, walnuts, and beans as well.   An early Malay word, “kicap,” which means “fish sauce,” buttresses the claim that “ketchup” finds its origins in the Far East.

Ketchup made its way Stateside around the American Revolution, following roughly the same recipe of its Asian predecessors.  Jonathan Swift, famous for authoring Gulliver’s Travels andA Modest Proposal, referenced “catsup” in a 1730 essay, for example.  Yet the United States would celebrate a centennial before tomato ketchup emerged.  Henry J. Heinz came up with his tomato-based recipe in 1876.  Before then, Americans were most likely eating fish sauce.  And even nearly forty years later (1913), Webster’s Dictionary defined “ketchup” as a “table sauce made from mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, etc.,” inclusive of ingredients unheard of today.

In modern times, there is another variety of (non-tomato) ketchup prevalent elsewhere — banana ketchup.  Popular in the Philippines and in parts of the Caribbean, banana ketchup is similar to tomato ketchup, ingredients-wise — sugar, vinegar, various spices, and bananas where tomatoes would go.  Oh, and they add red food coloring, to make it familiar-looking to a world where “tomato ketchup” feels redundant.

Bonus fact: Centuries after European explorers landed in the New World, it was rare to find anyone of European descent cultivating tomatoes in America; some historians believe that early European settlers believed tomatoes to be poisonous.  In fact, one of the first American known to grow tomatoes was Thomas Jefferson — a statesman by fame, a horticulturist by hobby.

From the Archives: Gone Bananas: The surprising story of the world’s most popular fruit.

Related: Banana ketchup — five stars on four reviews, and about $6 for 14 ounces.

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