I’ve always been amused by foodies who scorn ketchup and ridicule those who use it. Many of these same people seem to wax poetic over filetto di pomodoro, the Italian sauce made by people who are too lazy to cook down their tomatoes. I make my own tomato sauce, but also resort to filetto di pomodoro when I don’t feel like spending several hours in the kitchen.
From a nutritional standpoint, the real problem with commercial ketchup is its substantial dose of sugar—or, even worse, high-fructose corn syrup. Even so, it’s probably far less harmful than the fast food items most Americans consume along with it. Ketchup may not be a vegetable, as Ronald Reagan once suggested, but it’s clearly the victim of unfair food snobbery. If you don’t believe this, order ketchup in an upscale steak house and observe the reaction you get from your dining companions.
Ketchup became popular in America because of the 19th century belief that tomatoes were poisonous when eaten raw. Cooking them with vinegar, herbs and spices was considered to be the best way to render them safe. During this period, making your own ketchup was a labor-intensive, all-day affair, with 100 tomatoes usually yielding only five or six bottles. When commercial ketchup first appeared, it was a Godsend to farmers and housewives that allowed them to save valuable time.
Now things are coming full circle, and homemade ketchup is again all the rage. It’s still time-consuming to make, but somehow exempt from the popular prejudice against the condiment. Manufacturers of commercial ketchup are trying their best to change the image of their product—witness the balsamic ketchup introduced by Heinz several years ago, in which trendy balsamic vinegar replaces the white vinegar of the standard recipe. The folks at Hidden Valley have just released a thickened ranch dressing which they proclaim to be the “new ketchup,” perfect for use on burgers, fries and wings (many people have probably been doing this all along). Still, there are those among us with the backbone to resist peer group pressure and the courage to pour ketchup over anything we choose.