History of ketchup and how it became a pantry essential

Ketchup is a beloved condiment and ingredient in many cuisines around the world. Picture: Pexels/Rdne Stock Project

Ketchup is a beloved condiment and ingredient in many cuisines around the world. Picture: Pexels/Rdne Stock Project

Published Mar 6, 2024

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Have you ever wondered about the fascinating origins of ketchup (referred to as tomato sauce in SA).

From its humble beginnings to becoming a staple condiment on dining tables around the world, the history of ketchup is truly intriguing.

Ketchup is a beloved condiment and ingredient in many cuisines around the world. It is a versatile and flavourful staple that adds depth and richness to a wide variety of dishes.

Whether it is used as a base for pasta, a topping for pizza, or a key ingredient in soups and stews, it is a kitchen essential that brings a burst of vibrant flavour to any meal.

Ketchup is fully responsible for revolutionising the fast food industry in the United States of America. It is a trend that spread from the US as the epicentre to the rest of the world.

Most people think of ketchup as an American product that was invented in America, and then later, the idea travelled to the rest of the world.

But in fact, ketchup was invented in Southern China. Ketchup has been mentioned in Chinese texts from as far back as 300 BC. Initially, it was made from the fermented fish sauce that was enjoyed with different types of dishes - and at one point it was completely tomato-free.

Ketchup is a beloved condiment and ingredient in many cuisines around the world. Picture: Pexels/Roman Odintsov

According to “History”, ketchup has a storied past that dates back to imperial China, where it was made with fish entrails, meat by-products and soybeans, and it was not until 1812 that tomato-based ketchup was invented.

“History” reveals that the ancestor of modern ketchup was completely tomato-free, and though tomato plants were brought to England from South America in the 1500s, their fruits were not eaten for centuries since some people considered them poisonous.

The widespread popularity of the fish sauce happened because it was travel-friendly and had a long shelf life.

It was through trade and sea voyages that the concept of ketchup travelled to Britain in the 1700s. The Britishers liked the concept of making a sauce and modified the recipe in their own way.

“The 18th century was a golden age for ketchup. Cookbooks featured recipes for ketchup made of oysters, mussels, mushrooms, walnuts, lemons, celery and even fruits like plums and peaches.

“Usually, components were either boiled down into a syrup-like consistency or left to sit with salt for extended periods of time.

“Both these processes led to a highly concentrated end product: a salty, spicy flavour bomb that could last for a long time without going bad”, the website reveals.

Ketchup is a beloved condiment and ingredient in many cuisines around the world. Picture: Pexels/Alena Shekhovtcova

It was in 1812 that the concept of tomato ketchup was introduced to the world for the first time, and the rest is history.

The popularity of tomato ketchup has been on the rise ever since its introduction. Today it is widely consumed with sandwiches, burgers, French fries, and nachos. The world would be certainly less flavourful if it were not for tomato ketchup.

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