History of Ketchup, Catsup, or Maybe Kê-chiap

Ketchup is not American. Nor is it British. It’s not from anywhere where they speak English. It’s from China. And way back thousands of years ago, they called it kê-chiap, OR kôe-chiap. That explains that word for ketchup. But you’re probably still wondering about catsup. Not yet, give me a minute! Ok. So, we know that ancient Chinese ketchup was called kê-chiap, but what was it made of? I mean, China didn’t have tomatoes, did it? Well, I don’t know about any Chinese tomatoes, but I do know that isn’t what kê-chiap was made of. Kê-chiap  was made of… brine of pickled fish. *BLECH!*. I apologize for spoiling your lunch, it had to be said. Moving on. So pretty much here’s how it gets one step closer to us.: Imagine a ship, full of British people sailing to China. I’m imagining this in cartoon form, be cause that’s more fun. Anyway, the British people arrive in China and find ketchup. And decide it’s good. Or something. Not quite sure. Anyway, the British bring kê-chiap, or catsup as they call it, back to Britain. Lots of different kinds of ketchup formulas were created, but the tomato version didn’t pop up till much later, as in about a century. In 1801, Sandy Addison wrote the following recipe which was later printed in the American cookbook, the Sugar House Cookbook.

  1. Get [the tomatoes] quite ripe on a dry day, squeeze them with your hands till reduced to a pulp, then put half a pound of fine salt to one hundred tomatoes, and boil them for two hours.
  2. Stir them to prevent burning.
  3. While hot press them through a fine sieve, with a silver spoon till nought but the skin remains, then add a little mace, 3 nutmegsallspiceclovescinnamonginger, and pepper to taste.
  4. Boil over a slow fire till quite thick, stir all the time.
  5. Bottle when cold.
  6. One hundred tomatoes will make four or five bottles and keep good for two or three years.      

And this recipe is bit peculiar* because… Americans didn’t eat many tomatoes because they resembled* their cousin, nightshade.

*Big Words!


1812: James Mease publishes another recipe for tomato ketchup.

1824: A recipe for tomato ketchup is published in The Virginia Housewife (a 19th century cookbook written by Mary Randolph, Thomas Jefferson’s cousin.).


Fun Facts that happen to be part of the report:

American cooks started sweetening up ketchup in the 19th century.                             Yay!

As the century passes on, ketchup becomes more popular.                                                 Yay!

HOWEVER. Ketchup rose to popularity long before tomatoes.

That’s because they were just plain unsure whether or not they could eat raw tomatoes…. whereas they didn’t hesitate to eat processed tomatoes. I prefer the raw ones, personally.  Which do you prefer? Leave your answer in the comments below. Back to our subject.


Sorry. Caps-lock seemed necessary.

{A guy named Jonas Yerks [or Yerkes] is maybe the first person to make ketchup go national. As in become a national phenomenon. By 1837, he had made and sold the condiment nationally.}

 A Little Bit of Heinz History:

  • 1876: F. and J. Heinz launch their tomato ketchup. “Blessed relief for Mother and the other women in the household!” was their advertisement.

The Webster’s Dictionary of 1913 defined ‘catchup’ as “table sauce made from mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, etc.”

Modern ketchup came out in the early nineteen hundreds, from a debate about the use of sodium benzoate as a preservative in condiments.

The “father” of the Food and Drug Administration, Harvey W. Wiley, cHaLlEnGeD the safety of the benzoate, and it was BANNED in the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. So then Heinz and other entrepreneurs decided to use a different recipe that didn’t involve the sodium benzoate. Before Heinz (and his fellow ketchup-makers), commercial ketchup was thin, watery stuff,  partly because of the unripe tomatoes that were low in pectin. They also didn’t have as much vinegar as today’s ketchups. By pickling ripe tomatoes, the problem was solved. Wikipedia says: “But the changes driven by the desire to eliminate benzoate also produced changes that some experts (such as Andrew F. Smith) believe were key to the establishment of tomato ketchup as the dominant American condiment.”, but I’m having trouble making sense of that.

So, that’s ketchup’s history!

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3 thoughts on “History of Ketchup, Catsup, or Maybe Kê-chiap

  1. Pingback: National Ketchup Day | Eat My Words

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