A Hundred Years of Testimonies to Ketchup's Supremacy

In Depth

The recently announced merger of Heinz and Kraft has prompted some to declare ketchup “a comfort food for people who never aged past wearing disposable pants, using fat pencils and shoving their dirty fists in their mouths.” Jeb Lund, normally a quick-witted sage, has turned full-blown troll extraordinaire in this circumstance, writing for The Guardian that “this merger will destroy the last vestiges of taste in America.”

“It will make everything ketchup,” Lund continues, “and ketchup sucks.” Oh no.

Despite the fact that I know this piece has been purposefully crafted in order to rile me up, I won’t rise above it. I’ll prove, once and for all, that this condiment rules America. It always has, and it always should.

1893: An article on the state of goods in Germany reveals that it’s much better to be in the good old U S of A: in Germany, a bottle of ketchup costs between 2.50 to 2.75 marks, while in New York, it’s 20 cents. [Ed. Note: I have no idea what “marks” were worth in the late 1800s nor do I want to do the math about inflation but the implication here seems to be that that’s more than what ketchup cost in New York by a lot.]

1895: A brief blurb in the Philadelphia Times declares that appropriate way to spell ketchup is not “catsup” and rightfully classifies the condiment “a pick-me-up; a stirrer of digestive organs”:

Why catsup? Nearly every bottle which comes from a public manufacturer is emblazened with that spelling. Wrong. Ketchup is the word. It is a corruption of the Japanese word, kitjap, which is a condiment somewhat similar to soy. It is a pick-me-up; a stirrer of the digestive organs; a ketch-me-up; and hence its application to the mingling of tomatoes and spices whose name it should bear.

1909: The owner of a New York restaurant injures a patron by throwing a bottle of ketchup at him. The owner got what was coming to him: he was shot.

1937: A New York City couple cooking ketchup in their backyard is severely injured after a wartime shell under or near the flame explodes.

1950: Two U.S. soldiers are court-martialed and fined for refusing to pass the ketchup to a sergeant when he requested it: “Both of them used it and told the sergeant that if he wanted it to ‘come and get it himself.'”

1955: The government reveals that U.S. Navy has stockpiled over 800,000 gallons of ketchup, valued at over a million dollars.

1958: Dear Abby shuts down an annoying housewife who can’t STFU about her husband’s love of ketchup.

Dear Abby: I have been married only a year and believe me, I love my husband but he has one bad habit that infuriates me.
No matter what I fix for him, he drowns it in ketchup. Eggs, meat, fish, chicken; it doesn’t matter.
I work so hard to season things and it’s all a waste of time when he gets through pouring ketchup over it.
Can it harm him and am I wrong to nag him about this?
Dear Meredith: The ketchup won’t hurt half as much as the indigestion he might get from your nagging him about it.

1969: President Richard Nixon announces that he loves ketchup on cottage cheese, a recipe he got from his grandmother, who lived to be 93:

Nixon talked about his dish during an appearance at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health. He says he feels he should eat cottage cheese for health and diet reasons, but he doesn’t like the taste. So he covers it with ketchup, which he does like.
“The dairy industry wrote and told me I should like cottage cheese,” he said. “The ketchup industry wrote and told me to try it on cereal, and others wrote and said cottage cheese with ketchup had to be unhealthy.”

1977: A New York Times article with this lede is published:

What’s red, originated in the Far East and sometimes seems to be taking over the world?
Chinese Communism is, of course, the wrong answer.

1978: Caroline Nolte-Watts tests the hypothesis first put forth by 1960s Heinz tomato ketchup commercials that posited that Heinz, when compared to its competitors, was “too thick and rich” to flow from a bottle easily. She found that it was not slow off the bat, but did take the longest to empty, compared to Del Monte bottles.

1979: Other celebrities reported to love ketchup include Archie Bunker and some classy ladies:

Jackie Kennedy Onassis, it’s been said, riled the chefs when she lived in the White House by putting ketchup on many of their creations. Gymnast Olga Korbut discovered ketchup when she came to America for the Olympics and poured it on everything — including pancakes.

After the success of their 32-ounce “Keg of Ketchup,” Heinz introduces an even larger size of ketchup bottle available in grocery stores near you.

1985: An article entitled “There’s more to ketchup than anyone would know” outlines the huge ketchup boom of the years previously. Heinz still leads the pack, dominating 15 percent of the ketchup market and encouraging their competitors to get creative:

In the past five years, the company went from a 44 percent share of retail ketchup sales to about 40 percent, Johnson estimates.
And 85 percent of those sales are in sizes or varieties that did not exist 20 years ago, he says.
Ketchup is found in 95 percent of American homes, according to San Francisco-based Del Monte Corp., another ketchup maker.
Americans consume the equivalent of 840 million, 14-ounce bottles a year, Del Monte says. That translates to four bottles annually for each woman, man and child.
Consumers bought $491 million worth of ketchup in 1984, down 0.4 percent from $493 million a year earlier, but up 32.6 percent from $370.4 million in 1980, according to Selling Areas Marketing Inc., a grocery business information company.

1986: Decades after its creation and popularization, people are still discussing the best way to get ketchup out of the bottle.

1999: Seriously, it never ends.

2000: Heinz introduces green ketchup. We do not speak of this time. We move forward.

2015: Heinz introduces sriracha ketchup. Well, at least we have a solid past to look back on.

Image via Heinz

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