Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Another ketchup controversy

I like ketchup.  I don't use a lot ... and I'm certainly not one of those that leaves a big glob of it on my plate... but I do like ketchup.  Ah, wait.  Let me amend that.  I should say that I like tomato ketchup.

What's that, you say?  What other kinds of ketchup are there?  Well.. let me tell you, there are more kinds of ketchup out there than you can shake a stick at....  although I'm not sure why you'd want to shake a stick at ketchup.

Ketchup  (even if you spell it catsup) just means 'table sauce'.  There are a number of different stories as to when ketchup first appeared, and what the earliest ketchup was made of, but it's quite clear that the table sauce was around by the early 1800's.  Not only that, but the tomato variety didn't come into being into around 1900.  So what types of ketchup existed in that first 100 years?  Well let's see... the traditional varieties were mushroom, oyster, and walnut... and even today, mushroom ketchup is quite popular in Great Britain.  I've never tasted it, but my understanding is that it tastes like a cross between worcestershire sauce and soy sauce, with an underlying hint of mushroom.   Hmm, might be good on a roast beef sandwich I suppose, but not so good on fries. Oh yeah.. and don't forget banana ketchup.... although maybe you should forget banana ketchup.  And early varieties of ketchup included ingredients such as anchovies, and beer.

Believe it or not, this simple condiment has been the subject of a number of controversies.  My guess is that most of you recall the controversy in the early '80s, when schools were trying to count ketchup as a vegetable in the makeup of school lunches.  Interestingly enough, the proposed  -- and strongly opposed -- regulation never said that ketchup was a vegetable, it said that pickle relish could count as a vegetable.  But for some reason, opponents of the regulation thought it was more effective to refer to ketchup, rather than pickle relish.  And perhaps they were right, because the proposed regulation was withdrawn before it ever went into effect.

But long before the school vegetable issue, there was a controversy over the use of a specific preservative in ketchup.  Something called sodium benzoate was banned, and could no longer be used. In response, ketchup makers started using vinegar, and then of course they had to add sugar, and then they added other stuff... but at least you can rest easy that your ketchup doesn't have any sodium benzoate.  This changed the flavor, of course, but since all of that happened in the early 1900's, I'm pretty sure no one today remembers the taste of the original tomato ketchup.  

And then there was the introduction of EZ Squirt... which was colored ketchup.  The blue and pink and purple ketchups were merely regular ketchup with food coloring added... so it didn't change the flavor, but I guess it was supposed to make the ketchup more popular.  I don't know whose idea this was, but it was a bad one, and after a few years, the colored ketchup disappeared.

Today, ketchup -- or more specifically Heinz -- is in the news with yet another controversy. Notwithstanding the fact that a lot of ketchup - including Heinz ketchup - comes in oblong plastic containers, as well as containers that sit upside down so that the ketchup pours easily, Heinz is suing another ketchup company because they've put their ketchup in a clear glass bottle.  According to Heinz, this could lead to confusion, because people associate the clear glass bottle of ketchup with the Heinz trademark.

Really, Heinz?  Especially in this day of nutrition and health awareness, people are reading labels more carefully then ever.  Even those who aren't reading the nutritional information are still typically able to read the brand name on the front of the label.  Just what are you putting in your ketchup that has you thinking I'm going to confuse "Heinz Tomato Ketchup" with "Melinda's Habanero Ketchup"?  The whole foolish notion almost makes me want to give up tomato ketchup and shift to banana ketchup.


Instead, I'll have a cup of tea, and hope that the ketchup people come to their senses.

1 comment:

  1. What about in years gone by when all ketchup came in glass bottles?