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Speaking of ketchup, do you think it's really "perfect"?

Recent posts about ketchup got me thinking about the condiment, which I hadn't done in awhile. Outside of the ususal suspects (hot dogs, hamburgers) and as an occasional recipe component, I don't use ketchup much. However, as a kid I was crazy for the stuff, using it to top everything from baked potatoes to buttered noodles to rice. Anyway, a trip to Wikipedia led me to the following article: http://www.gladwell.com/2004/2004_09_...

The article theorizes that Heinz ketchup and its ilk basically strike a perfect balance amongst all 5 primary flavor componenets (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami). As a result, the article says, we'll never experience a Grey Poupon movmement with ketchup--the plain old version we all know will always dominate the market because any attempt to improve upon ketchup inevitably leads to throwing the flavor profile out of balance.

Well, the article made me feel better about my childhood fondness for ketchup--I wasn't simply being unadventurous, I was showing appreciation for a perfectly balanced food! That being said, I don't know if I completely buy the article's argument. For one thing, it seems a little U.S.-centric. Heinz, Hunt's, etc. may be synonymous with ketchup to those of us in the United States, but that's not the case with the entire world. I read once that Russians are wild about ketchup, and there it comes in many different variations and is sometimes used as a sauce rather than a codiment. Plus, if you take a look at the Ketchup World web site, http://www.ketchupworld.com/ketchupne... , you'll find all different kinds of ketchup from around the globe.

So, what do you think? Is ketchup as we know it in the U.S. a condiment that cannot be improved upon? Do we know something the rest of the world doesn't? Or do they know something we don't? Or maybe ketchup is just appreciated differently in different places?

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  1. I posted a similar query on mayonnaise -- I asked whether there was something out there better than Hellman's. Someone suggested the Southern brand "Duke's," I now buy it in large quantities.
    I would like to try "Brook's" ketchup b/c people on the board have been talking about it and I find Heinz's a touch too sweet. So, yes I think it can be improved upon. My guess is that only slight variations would be acceptable to our palates, but who knows, Heinz or something similar is all that's sold in supermarkets. I would love to try the European brands as well.

    1. Brook's Ketchup was always my mom's favorite. I whined for Hunt's. What did I know, I was a kid. Brook's is somehow more strongly flavored, with a pronouced tomato-y vinegar-y TANG.

      3 Replies
      1. re: LisaAZ

        I can't go back to other catsups after Brooks. It is much more complex that Heinz or Hunts. If I had to I'd order it on line and gladly pay the shipping. It is worth it.

      2. I have often said food as we know it can be looked at as nothing more than a delivery system for ketchup or peanut butter. I can't think of a food that can't be improved by adding one of them (in some form) to the bowl.

        I should point out, though, I have never mixed PB with ketchup. I fear the universe might just implode.

        1. I also like Brook's. But I think one of the factors here in the US market is that Heinz has been so pervasive that they have defined for most of the population what ketchup is "supposed" to taste like.

          1. I used to eat ketchup with white rice; thought it was divine.

            Not anymore.

            Still love ketchup, however.

            Goes great with plain toast, hash browns, scrambled eggs, sausages ... basically the full panoply of goodies that comes with a Denny's Grand Slam breakfast (yes, even the pancakes).

            1. I suspect some of the grey poupon phenomenon, as to mustard or marinara sauces is rooted through a veil of exoticism and quest for authenticity, as well as taste. If ketchup had originated in Bombay or Bavaria, or even the deep south (how many indy barbeque and hot sauces are available?) would the story be different?

              1. I've never been a big ketchup fan. Mustard on the burgers, vinegar on the fries. But a number of years ago (okay, decades!) I figured I must be missing something. Tomatoes are good; spices are good. Maybe it's not that I don't like ketchup, maybe it's just that I don't like Heinz (didn't know then that there was any other kind).

                So I did some research and found a few different recipes in my grandmother's The Settlement Cook Book. One of the recipes starts "Cut up a peck of ripe tomatoes." (Step number one: Find out how much "a peck" is.) Anyway, you cook until soft, then strain, then boil for 5 hours. Lemme tell ya. I was washing tomato off my ceiling for years. And it tasted sorta like Heinz. Maybe it was because I couldn't find the cassia buds the recipe called for. Anyone know what cassia buds are?

                I still don't care much for ketchup, but now I no longer care that I don't care.

                1 Reply
                1. re: JoanN

                  Well, cassia is a variety of cinnamon, so I suspect that buds from the same plant might have a subtle cinnamon flavor.

                2. Would anyone care to name some of the stores that carry Brook's ketchup?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: fara

                    In Bloomington, IN. O'Malia's and Marsh stores carry it. kroger used to but lost their minds (not uncommon for them anyway) and discontinued it. I just Googled it and you can order it from www.ketchupworld.com look under Rich and Luscious

                    1. re: Candy

                      I looked for it at Marsh this morning and couldn't find it with the other ketchups. Is it someplace special? (Of course, Marsh was in the process of moving every item in the store to a new location! Why do supermarkets do this? It drives me crazy and will double the time I spend shopping.)

                  2. The history of ketchup shows that what is passed off as modern ketchup can be considered over-sweet (cloying), lacking complexity, and not something that could support the claim of a perfectly balanced condiment that could not be improved upon.

                    An excellent book by Mark Kurlansky called Salt: A World History outlines the history of ketchup. Original versions contained no tomato but were rather pungent fermented fish sauces that better capture the five flavour components the original poster mentioned than any American commerical ketchup.