A few things you might not have know about ketchup before reading this fascinating history/etymology of the condiment:
- Ketchup originates from Fujian, China, which is odd because traditional Chinese cooking is typically devoid of tomatoes. Actually, that’s a bit of an overstatement as tomatoes play practically no part in China’s diet.
- Where did the tomato variety come from? It’s hard to pinpoint, actually, but evidence suggests tomatoes were first added to the recipe sometime around the early 1800s in America. Sugar, another common ingredient to modern ketchup, wasn’t added to the recipe until well after the Civil War.
- So what the hell is ketchup? From about 1750-1850, ketchup mainly meant a thin, dark sauce made of fermented walnuts or sometimes fermented mushrooms. It was popular in England and the walnut/mushroom ketchups were just an attempt to imitate the taste of a fermented fish sauce that arrived via Chinese immigrants.
- Fermentation was eliminated from the recipe in modern times, probably in the 20th Century when mass production of the condiment by Heinz became popular in America. The fermentation aspect of the recipe was phased out in favor of a vinegar and sugar combination to produce the same sweet and savory quality.
- As for how ketchup got its name? It turns out the fermented fish sauce that originated in the Southern Min dialect of the 18th century was called something like “ke-tchup”, “ge-tchup”, or “kue-chiap”, depending on the specific dialect.