The Condiment Aisle: Ketchup

This is the first image that comes up when you Google ‘ketchup’.

Malcolm Gladwell, the Canadian intellectual, author and journalist, wrote at length about ketchup for the The New Yorker,and the article appears in his collection of essays, What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures. In the essay, The Ketchup Conundrum” Gladwell argues the reasons why the public welcomes a variety of tastes when it comes to mustard, and tomato sauces, but is staunchly resilient to any ketchup that strays too far from the taste of good old Heinz.

Who knew that a condiment as seemingly innocuous as ketchup could inspire such impassioned journalistic investigation, and weigh-in as a metaphor for cultural conditioning?

Malcolm Gladwell is brilliant and Canadian. Yay!

When it comes to ketchup, it seems, we know what we want, and we know what we don’t want, thank you very much.

Fair enough. But look at the third ingredient listed on a bottle of Heinz ketchup: sugar, in Canada, and high fructose corn syrup in the U.S. Is it any wonder kids are addicted to the stuff, and many of us are reluctant to part with this sweet, familiar taste? Maybe you can make a living making your own awesome mustard, or pickles, or relish, but don’t mess with the flavour profile of ketchup.

That being said, if you don’t feel like buying a name brand and want to have a go at making your own delicious ketchup but- darn it– you’re saving the sugar for Kool-aid and you’re all out of high fructose corn syrup, there are some good recipes to be found where neither, or at least less, is needed. This is a totally sugar free recipe from the Spoonful of Sugar Free blog.

Be aware, making homemade ketchup can be a messy undertaking, as evidenced by this photo from Tall Clover Farm, check out their great post on making a blue ribbon winning batch. Another great recipe can be found here, on the Canadian House and Home website.

In an article for Bon Appetit, food writer and cook Ian Knaeur gives his recipe for homemade ketchup, one of the tastiest around, and one that doesn’t stray too far what we expect in a good, serviceable ketchup. Note that Ian does call for ½ cup of brown sugar. Well, you can reduce that to your liking. Trot this out at your next barbeque, and who knows; maybe you can prove Malcolm Gladwell wrong.

Ian Knauer’s Homemade Ketchup

Makes about 1 quart

This recipe is just the sort of inspired D.I.Y. project that promotes a good home cook to a legendary home cook. One caution: The ketchup splatters a bit as it boils and reduces, but, as you’ll see, the outcome is well worth the mess and the time involved. This ketchup is one you can feel really good about eating. It is wholesome, substantial, and (most important) delicious.


1 tsp. coriander seed

1 tsp. cumin seed

1 tsp. mustard seed

1 bay leaf, broken into pieces

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

5 lb. ripe sauce tomatoes; such as Roma or San Marzano

1 cup red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 head of garlic, roasted

1/4 cup capers with brine

1/4 cup hot sauce

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. allspice

2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper


  • Toast the coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until they are several shades darker and very fragrant. Finely grind the seeds with the bay leaf in a spice mill.
  • Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook until well browned; this will take about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, including the ground, toasted spices. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have broken down. This will take about 45 minutes.
  • Puree the ketchup in a blender or food processor, then return it to the pot. Return ketchup to a simmer and continue to cook until it reaches a pastelike consistency. This will take approximately two hours. Toward the end of cooking, stir the ketchup more frequently to prevent scorching. Season the ketchup with salt to taste.
  • Place ketchup in sterilized canning jars while still hot, then cap jars and process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Let the jars cool at room temperature until they seal.

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