In Defense of Ketchup

Editors Note: I’m quick to talk shit. I freely admit that. But I’m also willing to change my mind. Our friend Nick over at Macheesmo is on a mission to clear the name of my least favorite condiment, ketchup. ES fans agree: 54% of you voted mustard over ketchup.

Let Nick plead his case.

Let me start this defense by being very honest:  I hate ketchup.  I would rather not have fries then be forced to eat fries with ketchup.  If I ever owned a restaurant, I don’t think I would even offer it as a condiment.   Strangely though, in the comments on the ES post The Anti-Ketchup Brigade, I found myself defending the stuff.

The reason why I was defending it is because ketchup never gets a fair chance.  People compare Heinz to gourmet mustards which is like a Little Leaguer at bat against Johan Santana.  It’s not going to be pretty.  And for some reason, gourmet ketchups have never really caught on (Fancy ketchup is not fancy and is barely ketchup).  People have grown accustomed to the HFCS-laced stuff and now that has become the only ketchup people know.

If you are going to judge ketchup though, you should at least try the real stuff.  The homemade stuff.  It is totally different: lots of vinegar, spices, chiles, and just a bit of sweetness.  I made this batch in about 90 minutes.

The recipe is pretty straightforward, but you will need some equipment:  cheesecloth, a medium-sized sauce pan, a food processor or submersion blender, a wire mesh, and a storage vessel.  As long as you are using the ketchup in the next few weeks (you will), no need to can it or do anything crazy.  It will keep fine if your jar is sealed nicely.

Recipe and alternative recipes post jump

Homemade Ketchup (adapted from Kim O’Donnel’s version in the Washington Post)

– 1 bay leaf
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 4 whole cloves
– 1/4 Teaspoon whole allspice
– 1/4 Teaspoon red pepper flakes
– 1/4 Teaspoon celery salt (Kim used celery seeds, but the salt worked for me and I had it on hand.)
– 1 1/2 Teaspoons salt

Other stuff
– 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (If you want to use fresh you need about 2 pounds)
– 1/2 Cup white wine vinegar or white vinegar
– 5 Tablespoons brown sugar
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1 poblano chile, chopped
– 1 clove garlic, chopped

Put your spices (minus the salt and celery salt, they will just fall through) on a section of cheesecloth and tie it up.


Throw that in your pot with all your other ingredients.


This needs to simmer for 40 minutes.  Stir it every 10 minutes or so.  All of your veggies should be very tender.  Take out your spice package and toss it.  Then you need to puree all of the tomatoes and veggies.  I only have a small little processor so I had to work in batches.  No big deal though.


Then you need to push all of this through a metal mesh.  Most of it will go through if you work it with a spatula, but you’ll be left with about 10% leftover gunk.  This gunk is very tasty actually, so you could eat it, but it’s also fine to just toss it.


You’ll end up with this, ketchup-like liquid!


Put that back on the heat and simmer for about 20-30 minutes until it starts to thicken.  At this point you can season to your liking.  It might need a bit more vinegar, or sugar, or salt.  Then transfer it to your jar and let it cool.  You can store it in the fridge in a sealed container for a few weeks without a problem.

It’s awesome with things like potatoes.


Too much work. If any of you ketchup haters are saying that this is just too much work, that’s alright.  Even if you just have the store bought stuff, there are some easy ways I’ve learned to jazz it up to make it palatable for me.


I added a few Tablespoons of normal, blah ketchup with the following things to make it pretty decent.

Mint and honey.  It’s sweet obviously, but very tasty on fries.  Tasty for ketchup anyway.
Sriracha.  A few dashes of this stuff and it barely even tastes like ketchup.  The tomato actually helps calm down the heat in the chili sauce.
Sun-dried Tomatoes. Tomato with tomato.  Can’t go wrong.
Horseradish sauce. Cocktail sauce.  Seriously, that’s all cocktail sauce is.  Tastes exactly like the expensive stuff.
Old Bay.  You could use any sort of seasoned salt.
Chipotle. I used dried stuff, but the Adobo variety is equally tasty.

So there you have it. My defense of ketchup.  If you have a free hour or two, the homemade stuff is definitely worth trying.  Even as a ketchup loather, I ate some and was pretty happy with it.

If not the homemade stuff, use the store bought stuff as a base.

In my opinion, mustard is and always will be king of condiments, but these things at least give ketchup a fighting shot.

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