Little Known Factoids:

  • Ketchup was sold in the 1830s as medicine.

  • When Heinz ketchup leaves the bottle, it travels at a rate of 25 miles per year.

Ketchup or catsup was created by the Chinese in the 1600s. When Western traders imported tomatoes to China, the Chinese looked at it, called it "strange eggplant" and promptly made a sauce out of it. Of course, their version contained fermented fish sauce.

Ketchup (or catsup) is a thixotropic fluid made from tomatoes. The property of thixotropy is familiar to all users of ketchup, and is caused by added starch. That is to say, it becomes less viscous when agitated. This phenomenon results in the familiar scenario of overpouring ketchup when the bottle is shaken to get the ketchup moving. This vexing problem was partially solved by the introduction of squeezable ketchup bottles. For mostly empty squeezable bottles, or glass ketchup bottles, the most effective ketchup pouring strategy is this:

  1. Ensure the lid is firmly on
  2. Shake the bottle vigorously in the axial direction
  3. Turn bottle upside down, and open over your plate

When mixed with water and heated, tomato ketchup magically becomes bad tasting tomato soup. My aunt and her roommate use to make this revolting dish when they were poor starving college students. I believe McDonald's Fancy Ketchup was the main ingredient.

There is no proper way to spell this. I happen to like the spelling catsup but ketchup and catchup are just as valid.

I first became interested in the origin and proper spelling of this common condiment when part of a discussion board where the question of how it is spelled came up. Trying to be helpful, I surfed the web in order to learn of its origin.

Taken from the Malay word for "taste", which was variously spelled kechap or ketsiap, the original form was made with pickled fish and brine and sometimes other handy ingredients. I suspect that it was much like old-world stews and modern day casseroles in that people would use whatever they needed to use before it went bad. But I could be mistaken.

It was through the importation of the tomato from South America to Europe that what Heinz has become famous for marketing as Ketchup was born. The modern ingredients (as taken from the back of the Heinz all natural Tomato Kechup bottle): tomato concentrate made from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, onion powder, spice, natural flavoring.

An alternative theory as to the origin of the word ketchup (or catsup, if that be your fancy) supports sensei's suggestion that the sauce was created by the Chinese.

The Cantonese word pronounced ke-tsiap pre-dates the 1600s, and the time when tomatoes were first brought to China. Ke-tsiap means "fish sauce".

As for the Malay connection referred to by Andara, it is thought possible that the word was borrowed from the Chinese, along with the recipe for fish sauce.

By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the word pronounced "ketchup" was used generically for any sauce containing vinegar. The word is first recorded in English in the year 1690 in the form catchup, in 1711 in the form ketchup, and in 1730 in the form catsup.

research source: American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition 1992

According to the Oxford English Dictionary ketchup is a "sauce made from the juice of mushrooms, walnuts, tomatoes, etc" which is "used as a condiment", although the word is generally used in conjunction with the qualification indicating its main ingredient as in tomato ketchup, mushroom ketchup, or indeed walnut ketchup.

Of course these days ketchup is, as Merriam-Webster puts it, "usually made from tomatoes", although tomato ketchup is a comparatively recent and American development. The first recipe for tomato ketchup didn't appear until 1792 and it wasn't until 1876 that Henry Heinz began producing the first mass-produced tomato based condiment. However in Victorian Britain mushroom ketchup, the "secret of success of many Victorian cooks", was by far the commonest type of ketchup (which remains available today, at least in the product manufactured by G. Costa & Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Associated British Foods, following the original recipe first introduced in 1830) whilst throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century there was a wide variety of ketchup recipes on offer based on other ingredients such as cucumbers, anchovies, lobster or even lemons.

The word ketchup is an apparent adaptation of 'kôechiap' or 'kê-tsiap' from the Amoy dialect of Chinese, a word which meant the "brine of pickled fish or shell-fish". It has also been claimed that original source was the Malay word 'kechap', which means much the same thing, and it appears most likely that the Malays borrowed the word from the Chinese, the Dutch borrowed it from the Malays, and the English borrowed it from the Dutch, as the word came to signify any strongly flavoured sauce. No doubt its popularity was based on its ability to disguise the flavour of food that was otherwise not quite at its freshest. It should also be noted that although some recent dictionaries have alleged that the word is derived from the Japanese 'kitjap', the Oxford English Dictionary notes that this "is an impossible form for that language", and believes that this is in fact simply a misprint for Javanese.

There is of course, some discussion as to whether the word should properly be rendered as 'ketchup' or 'catsup', although as it turns out the word was first recorded in the year 1690 as 'catchup', in which form it appears in the work, A new dictionary of the terms ancient and modern of the canting crew where it was defined as "a high East-India Sauce". The form of ketchup first appeared in Charles Lockyer's An account of the trade in India (1711) which noted that the best was "from Tonquin", whilst catsup was first mentioned by Jonathan Swift in his A Panegyric on the Dean in the Person of a Lady in the North from 1730 where "our home-bred British cheer" was said to be induced by the provision of "Botargo, catsup, and caviare".

Although ketchup is now the accepted standard in British English, in North America catsup also has its adherents.


  • The Oxford English Dictionary,
  • Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary 2008,
  • Michael Quinion, Words from Malay,
  • Roger M. Grace, Ketchup: a Condiment Evolved From Fish-Based Sauce
  • G. Costa and Co Ltd,

See also;

  • Carstaairs Douglas, Chinese-English Dictionary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Amoy. With the Principal Variations of the Chang-chew and Chin-chew Dialects. (1899)
  • Charles Payson Gurley Scott, The Malayan Words in English, (American Oriental Society, 1897)

Chunky Refrigerator Catsup

Throw in blender:
1 28 oz. can plum tomatoes (or 2 1/2 pounds fresh)
1 carrot (cut into chunks)
1 outside rib of celery, ditto (leaves also)
1 small onion (between golf and tennis ball size)
6 large parsley sprigs

Blend until smushed. Pour into small, heavy saucepan. Simmer gently until almost thick, stirring now and then.This will take about two hours.

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish sauce
Boil furiously for 5 minutes, stirring all the while, then add:
2 teaspoons wine or cider vinegar
the same of brown sugar or honey.
(Another go-round in the blender will make this more like bottle variety, and not-so chunky.)

Store in small condiment cups in the freezer: molds and bacteria love this sauce as much as we do, and it will go bad in 3-4 days, otherwise. Makes about 2 cups. Great with Funky Burgers.

This is my attempt to wrest America back from (overrated) salsa, and the toils of high-fructose corn syrup by making catsup creative again. Sharp-eyed cooks will see the possibilities here: why not a touch of mustard seed? or basil? or even (gasp) cilantro? garlic? Wasabi? Anchovy? En diable with a touch of hot pepper? Unlike most catsup recipes, it's ready instantaneously, not needing a prolonged aging and mellowing process, like Sauce John Cage (a preparation of seasoned mushrooms, ideally aged a year) nor any Unobtanium (unripe walnuts anyone?).

Makes a great gift, and will impress your kids' friends, and their moms too!

Thank you, Warren Buffett and Alex Behring. Thinking it through this P.M., your proposal to merge Heinz and Kraft Food Group must have been months in letting the scene develop appropriately.

Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway reduced its position in KFT (2013) in part due to concern over the ridiculous spin-off of the exaggerated-margin snack foods component, including the recently acquired UK's Cadbury, to a new corporation Mendelez. Nonetheless, BRK owned 193,000 shares of KRFT on its most recent SEC filing. I sold my shares of KFT in September, 2012, because I didn't understand the proposed spin-off.

Several years ago, Berkshire Hathaway had paired up with a Brazilian private equity group called 3G Capital via its New York managing partner, A. Behring, to buy the struggling Heinz ketchup producer and make it a privately-held corporation. Warren Buffett is a genius at this sort of figuring -- he had ways of deriving very accurate value estimates for every Heinz building, its trucking fleet, ad infinitum. So I imagine that the $23 billion was a lowballed offer, which nevertheless seemed appealing to the Heinz heirs and was accepted.

After they'd identified KRFT as a potential target, Buffett and Behring quietly developed their valuational analysis and waited. Perhaps they had realized it was run by folks who, as it has turned out, don't know what they're doing (not uncommon these days).

March 25th, following a several-month slide in KRFT share value (which I again owned for the 2.9% dividend), despite horrible last-qtr. earnings along with last week's blemishing recall of Macaroni and Cheese boxes which possibly contain metal bits, Behring and Berkshire Hathaway (via the Heinz entity) announced their proposal to merge Heinz and Kraft Food Group. I would receive a special dividend of $16.50/sh. when the deal goes through later this year, which essentially would compensate KRFT shareholders for their shares being diluted by half. So Wednesday morning, pre-market trading pegged KRFT up an amazing 35%! Apparently, Heinz has some international marketing arrangements in place which KRFT lacks.

Tuesday at market close I was down $726 on the KRFT position. Wednesday I sold it (not for as much as I wanted, but enough) regaining my January investment plus over $3000 profit, thanks to the momentum generated by Warren Buffett and Alex Behring's proposed merger. The money is in my IRA account imminently, rather than waiting for the maybe special dividend. New car -- I don't think so. Thanks, guys.

Ketch"up (?), n.

A sauce. See Catchup.


© Webster 1913.

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