I always thought that the making of tomato ketchup is a tedious task and always wondered whether it would get the same taste as the store bought one until my elder cousin sister shared the recipe with me. Since then it has been a habit in our family to make batches of ketchup and store it in bottles for months. As you all know, being a food driven crazy family, those days evening tea were also a grand affair. Snacks like cutlets and potato bonda were regulars on our table. This homemade ketchup used to be hogged in bouts during these sessions. So you see the importance of making ketchup at home, as in those times buying this was a luxury, not to mention the count of members at home :))
This simple sauce has always fascinated me. My thoughts have always wandered about its history and the way it was made until I came across the recipe. To my surprise, this was nothing but a bunch of tomatoes, some spices and vinegar which goes into the making of this wonder sauce. Hero of the American condiments, ketchup is the most widely used sauce not only in America, but around the world. I still remember the ads being played in Indian channels of tomato ketchup, which used to be the most viewed ones.
Is ketchup America’s favorite condiment? Maybe so, considering it’s found in 97 percent of U.S. homes and slathered on innumerable French fries each day. But there’s more to this sauce than hamburgers and hot dogs. In fact, ketchup has a storied past that dates back to imperial China—something to think about next time you coax the perfect dollop out of a reluctant bottle.
How did a simple sauce come to be so loved by America and rest of the world? It turns out ketchup’s origins are anything but American.
Believe it or not, the ancestor of modern ketchup was completely tomato-free. Though tomato plants were brought to England from South American in the 1500s, their fruits weren’t eaten for centuries since people considered them poisonous. Instead, the precursor to our ketchup was a fermented fish sauce from southern China. As far back as 300 B.C., texts began documenting the use of fermented pastes made from fish entrails, meat byproducts and soybeans. The fish sauce, called “ge-thcup” or “koe-cheup” by speakers of the Southern Min dialect, was easy to store on long ocean voyages. It spread along trade routes to Indonesia and the Philippines, where British traders developed a taste for the salty condiment by the early 1700s. They took samples home and promptly corrupted the original recipe.
The 19th century was a golden age for ketchup. Cookbooks featured recipes for ketchups made of oysters, mussels, mushrooms, walnuts, lemons, celery and even fruits like plums and peaches. Usually, components were either boiled down into a syrup-like consistency or left to sit with salt for extended periods of time. Both these processes led to a highly concentrated end product: a salty, spicy flavor bomb. One oyster ketchup recipe called for 100 oysters, three pints of white wine and lemon peels spiked with mace and cloves. The commemorative “Prince of Wales” ketchup, meanwhile, was made from elderberries and anchovies. Mushrooms, nuts, oysters, tomatoes—what exactly do all these foods share? The common denominator is umami, the savory fifth taste only recently acknowledged by Western scientists. That delicious meatiness you savor when eating a perfectly ripe tomato occurs naturally in mushrooms, nuts and fermented or aged products like fish, cheeses and meats. Umami also happens to be a pleasant, all-natural substitute—or, some might say, euphemism—for the much-maligned food additive MSG. Just as some Chinese restaurants add a white powder to food to intensify taste, our foremothers were creating natural flavor boosts in the form of ultra-condensed ketchups.
The first known published tomato ketchup recipe appeared in 1812, written by scientist and horticulturalist, James Mease, who referred to tomatoes as “love apples.” His recipe contained tomato pulp, spices, and brandy but lacked vinegar and sugar. Ketchup’s success was due in part because it could be kept for up to a year. Still, preservation of tomato ketchups proved challenging. Since tomato-growing season was short, makers of ketchup had to solve the problem of preserving tomato pulp year round. Some producers handled and stored the product so poorly that the resulting sauce contained contaminants like bacteria, spores, yeast, and mold. Early investigations into commercial ketchup found that it contained potentially unsafe levels of preservatives, namely coal tar, which was sometimes added to achieve the a red color, and sodium benzoate, an additive that retarded spoilage. By the end of the 19th Century, benzoates were seen as particularly harmful to health. At the forefront of the war against them was one Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who maintained that the use of these harmful preservatives was unnecessary if high quality ingredients were used and handled properly.
To put an end to this, Wiley partnered with a Pittsburgh man named Henry J. Heinz who had started producing ketchup in 1876. Heinz was also convinced American consumers did not want chemicals in their ketchup. In answer to the benzoate controversy, Heinz developed a recipe that used ripe, red tomatoes—which have more of the natural preservative called pectin than the scraps other manufacturers used—and dramatically increased the amount of vinegar and to reduce risk of spoilage. Heinz began producing preservative-free ketchup, and soon dominated the market. In 1905, the company had sold five million bottles of ketchup.
With the rise of commercial ketchup, the recipe of home made ketchup slowly vanished from cookbooks. Home cooks found that homemade ketchup just didn’t taste “right.” This is not surprising. Americans now purchase 10 billion ounces of ketchup annually, which translates to roughly three bottles per person per year. If you can buy something delicious off the shelf, why on Earth would you attempt to make it? This exactly is the reason why I shunned the thought of making ketchup. After a long siesta, I ventured out to make these wonderful dip once again, the reason, its tomato season, there are loads of plumb red lovely tomatoes in the market which I keep buying each time I see these beauties.
I have made some variations in the recipe which is followed in our family. I felt the tinge of cloves and cinnamon a more in the family recipe so I reduced the measurements of it which literally gave the taste of store bought ketchup. I passed a bottle of ketchup for my two little nieces who are crazy about this sauce and I got a feedback that its like the store bought ones. I soaked the tomatoes in vinegar for half an hour and rinsed it under cold running water several times, drained it in extra clean sieve. Cleanliness is the most important aspect which you have to take care of, as no preservatives are added in this recipe. Use only sterilized vessels, pans, spatula and bottles for making this. The preservatives used for this are just vinegar, salt and sugar.
Always use fresh red ripe plumb tomatoes as that is what which gives the color to the ketchup mainly other than the chilli paste. Don’t over blend the cooked tomato mixture since the cloves and cinnamon will impart their pungent flavor. You can tie the spices in a muslin cloth and drop in the tomatoes too. But that did not bring in the desired flavors for me. So I add directly to the tomatoes and took caution of not over blending it. Sterlize the bottles for storing the ketchup in advance.
Experience that ketchup history in your kitchen with this recipe. Let your kids enjoy as much as they want with this pure fresh ketchup recipe since its free from all additives. Enjoy your fries, snacks, meals with this delicious tangy and sweet sauce !!!!!!
Wash and drain the tomatoes. Cut into large chunks.
Deseed the red chillies and make a paste using three tablespoon vinegar. Set aside.
Make a paste of ginger and garlic separately using vinegar.
In a large pot, add the tomatoes along with the vinegar, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Cover and cook till tomatoes are well done. Cool it till the temperature comes down a bit.
Blend in a blender and sieve it to the pot you are going to make ketchup. This should be heated and no water should be there.
Add the pastes along with sugar. Combine everything and allow it to boil.
Adjust the salt and sugar when it starts to boil.
Keep on medium flame and let it simmer till reduced to 3/4th or until you get a ketchup consistency. Keep stirring and scarping down from the sides at regular intervals.
Allow it to cool down completely before transferring it to bottles and containers.
This should last for months in fridge if made in large batches. I got around 1500 ml of ketchup as end product.
(History input courtesy: http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/ketchup-a-saucy-history)