H. J. Heinz company produce around 650 million bottles of Heinz Ketchup each year to supply 140 (or 200 depending on the source,) countries. In America, of the 97 percent of kitchens that have a bottle of ketchup in the cabinet, and they produce 11 billion sachets of ketchup each year.
The famous 57 Varieties is a little modest as today Heinz sells more than 5,700 products in 200 countries. But it’s their market leading product Tomato Ketchup that propelled them to world scale. So what is it about ketchup that makes it the condiment of preference for so many people.
Perhaps it’s because it has health benefits; tomatoes as well as being anti-oxidants, contain Lycopene that is known to reduce the risk of cancer. Lycopene is the pigment that makes tomatoes red and is not easily digested but in its fermented state does carry health benefits. An average teaspoon (17g) contains just 20 calories – 0% fat, 0% protein, 5g carbs, 2% carbohydrates, 8% sodium and it contains no cholesterol, fibre, vitamins or minerals. Additionally you’ll find no artificial colours, flavours, preservatives or thickeners.
In the UK, Australia and other English speaking and Commonwealth countries, ketchup is better referred to as Tomato Sauce. A myriad of websites help to explain the difference between ketchup and sauce, but we well know the difference between a condiment and a pasta sauce; it’s just the way the condiment has become lovingly known. Although the Heinz label with the words Heinz Ketchup is one of the most recognisable in the world, up there alongside Coca-Cola and Nestle etc. most people will refer to it as Tomato Sauce.
To supply the the demand Heinz has to produce their own high quality GMO free tomatoes in California and Spain, and buys in 2 million tons every year. This is the single factor that distinguishes it from the many store brands that all seem to taste similar but are more runny in consistency. Similarly like HP brown ‘sauce’ can be rather difficult to tap out of the bottle, hence the popularity of Daddies sauce being the runnier and more vinegary moot alternative. Heinz Ketchup leaves the bottle at exactly 0.028 (0.0450km/hour) miles per hour, that’s the same speed as a snail.
Interestingly tomatoes where not the main ingredient when ‘catsup’ as it was called then, was introduced. Heinz began selling their sauces in 1860 in Pittsburgh. In 1876 the founder used his mother’s recipe to make the horseradish condiment. Tomatoes in the nineteenth century were thought to be a cousin to the potentially deadly poisonous nightshade plant. The emphasis on taste, was in being salty with a bitter taste, being loosely based on the Asian ke-tsiap, which was a fish sauce made of fermented intestines and other appetising offal. The fermentation process is crucial in developing its flavour. Ketchup’s high content mix of sugar and salt being a traditional side to Asian cuisine.
Catsup recipes predate Heinz sauces by many decades, one known recipe using it dates to 1810. Perhaps Heinz realised there was a limit to sales for his horseradish sauce and saw tomato based catsup as the next evolutionary model for his flagship fermented sauce. When Heinz moved to tomatoes they were already masters of the fermentation process and experimenting with combinations of sweet and sour, salty and acidic. The main ingredient became the star of the show in using ripe sun drenched tomatoes that were originally dyed with coal tar to give it an appealing red color.
Heinz kept the salty and bitter experience, increased acidity by concentrating the vinegar and increased the sweetness by using benzoate preservatives. In using the best possible quality tomatoes, it defined the consistency of the final product and a by product of such rich tomatoes was a high content of umami which was unintentionally arrived at. Umami is similar to MSG in what it does to the taste sensation, indeed they both use glutamate to activate taste receptors.
Although fermentation increased the shelf life to years, Heinz were still experimenting at the turn of the twentieth century with stabilisers to stop the bottles popping. There were more than a few incidents in the newspapers of exploding bottles in restaurants and factories and this is the reason why preservatives are added to bottled fermented products. Also the fermentation process turned the tomatoes sour which was being controlled at the restaurant end by adding additional sweetness.
Not the government nor Heinz could solve the exploding bottle problem and it was the cooks who in adding extra sweetness and acidity to disguise the sourness caused by fermentation, had actually solved the issue in demonstrating that high sugar, salt and vinegar actually arrests the fermentation process while being heated.
Heinz therefore remove all preservatives from his ketchup and almost doubled saltiness, sweetness and acidity during the heating stage and boiled carefully until thickened. Bottles of Heinz Tomato Ketchup could now be kept on the shelf quite safely, which helped Heinz to become the largest ketchup producer in the world. Thereafter Heinz concentrated on improving their recipe.