No More Shame! This Foodie's Case for Ketchup
"Sweet, tangy, tomato-based sauce - tomatoes, vinegar, corn syrup, onions, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, garlic, and celery."
Any guesses? Getting hungry? You may be surprised to learn the above is actually a recipe for ketchup. With a history reaching back over one hundred years, this condiment may very well be the most iconically American flavor there is - so why the bad reputation?
I couldn't believe the reaction it garnered on a Chowhound condiment discussion board I started few weeks ago.
"ICK!" "Not in my house!" "Gross!"
While the virtues of mudfish paste and coriander chutney were shared, ketchup was received a lashing. People were offended at the very idea of my describing it as an American "basic":
Me: "What I'm wondering is what essential condiments you think the general populace - people that aren't foodies - is missing out on. Everyone has ketchup. Everyone has mustard. Everyone has mayonnaise, and BBQ sauce, and salsa, sriracha, and Frank's Red Hot. But what ESSENTIALS are they missing?"
Person: "Not everyone has ketchup. We rarely ever have it. And we rarely ever have commercial mayo, I just make it when I need it."
Me: "Okay, yeah. Not everyone has ketchup, or eats bread, or has a TV, or thinks Elvis is dead, but my point is that ketchup is considered a condiment basic. It's so basic, McDonald's charges for BBQ but gives ketchup away for free! They would never dream of asking customers to pay for it. It's so basic, we consider ketchup a right.
Person: "What people consider "basic" and "essential" is directly related to what foods they consider "normal" and what their personal needs are. Of course, I don't eat bread, or have a tv or eat McDonalds (I'm pretty sure Elvis is dead since that's why my inlaws used his name as my better half's middle name- kinda in memory of... really,) so what do I know?"
It's difficult for me to understand what seems like a blanketed resistance to Americana, but this sort of normalcy-aversion (ironically) isn't all that unusual. As New York Times writer Julia Moskin points out, "American foodies and chefs generally dismiss ketchup, deeming it fit only for children and burgers." and while new American sauces like sriracha see sales shooting up, ketchup sales are dipping every year. "Consumers are looking for something new!" explain the newspapers, but "Why?" I ask. Is ketchup really an inferior condiment or have we simply lost appreciation of the bottle in front of us? If you happened to find a group of people unaware of ketchup and let them try it, would they taste foodie shame or a sweet, tangy, spiced tomato sauce?
I mean, I'm a condiment lady and an adventurous eater. I like variety when I eat and I wouldn't say ketchup is my favorite condiment. But while I'll stray with sriracha, BBQ, balsamic, and sambal, ketchup is the true love of my fries and fried foods. It's a flavor I think of when I think "burger." It's home. It's comfort food. Said chef Jose Andres, Everyone else in the world still thinks of American food as ketchup, But why is that such a bad thing? Are Koreans ashamed of kim chi? Are Italians ashamed of marinara?
Some have suggested it's the monopoly of Heinz and Hunts that has hurt us and Ms. Moskin, in her article, points to upstart gourmet ketchup brand Sir Kensington's as a possible solution. But even Scott Norton, co founder of the brand admits " Theres something absurd in the whole notion of gourmet ketchup...All-natural, farm-fresh, local all that stuff is great, but it doesnt speak to us about ketchup."
Today, while French schools have banned ketchup fearing an Americanization of their culture, it's served along samosas in India, flavors street noodles in Malaysia, and it's enjoyed on tacos and spaghetti inside "American" restaurants in Japan. It's featured with garlic in the much-loved hybrid Chinese-Indian machurian dishes and paired with Indian spices on German currywurst. There's got to be a reason it appeals to so many, became so popular in the first place, and has stuck around so long, hasn't there?
Ketchup - and I'm not talking just about the "special" fair-trade, organic, crushed-in-the-full-moon-by-choir-boy-feet sort - has a lot going on. Umami tomatoes, vinegar tang, sweetness, and blend of spices... why should it be considered any less special than the lesser-known condiments many foodies hold up?
What do you think? Where does ketchup shame come from? Are you a ketchup fan? Any unusual usage suggestions? Are there other foods being likewise snubbed? I'd love to hear from you!
Cooking With Ketchup
RasaMalaysia: Mee Goreng
"I cooked mee goreng last night using your recipe to resounding applause. I put fried shallots on top and included green beans, excluded squid because I was cooking for a vegetarian. I remembered that at Chinta Blues they included fresh tomato. I find that the key ingredient (not always listed in recipes) is ketchup."
Akarma: Manchurian Style Cauliflower
"...this is the only dish Ive tried umpteen times to get a satisfactory sign from my husband.Ive followed many recipes,tried adding different ingredients and finally came out with a recipe that suits our taste.Try this absolutely delicious recipe!"
Food Republic: Roy Choi Ketchup Fried Rice
"For many Korean-Americans and Southern Californians alike, Roy Choi is a hero. Ever eaten a Korean short rib taco, an appealing mashup of Asian and Mexican culinary common sense? Choi invented that. Here's a quick fried rice recipe from the chef'sgreat new memoir L.A. Son."