Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ketchup or Catsup

I thought I’d take the opportunity to crack open an egg of knowledge

Ever wonder why there are a ton of varieties of mustard, an entire mustard section in the condiment isle, but only one kind of ketchup with only one acceptable brand, Heinz?





The short answer, Heinz ketchup is a near perfect food. It hits on all five fundamental tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. (umami is the proteiny, full-bodied taste of chicken soup, it’s what gives chicken soup its heft).

It all started in the early 1900s with a concern over the safety of a preservative called benzoate. A Pittsburg entrepreneur named named Henry J.  Heinz led the charge in using food science to create a benzoate free catsup. Ketchups at the time were made from unripe tomatoes and were thin and watery. Heinz began making ketchup with ripe tomatoes increasing the percentage of tomato solids, and in turn created a potent source of umami.  He also dramatically increased the concentration of vinegar, so that his catsup had twice the acidity of most other ketchups; now ketchup was sour.  He also doubled the concentration of sugar, so now catsup was also sweet. And all along ketchup had been salty and bitter. In an attempt to solve the benzoate problem, Heinz created a nearly perfect, inexpensive condiment that can be put on anything. I know were all guilty of putting catsup on things we know we’re not supposed to.

Of course I didn’t come up with all this by myself, I’m lightly plagiarizing a Malcolm Gladwell article from 2004, I know that’s pretty old, but the catsup industry hasn’t changed that much in 6 years. Although this new packet looks pretty cool 

The article also includes an interesting account of the rise of Grey Pupon and how the wide variety of spaghetti sauce we take for granted came to be.

On a side note this was the top song from this week in 2004, has nothing to do with food, I just like this jam.

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