There’s more to ketchup than the all-American tomato version we have all come to love.
In fact, ketchup isn’t American in its origin at all. Instead, think Asian. And fish.
The creation of ketchup dates back to 16th century China. The South China Sea was an international shipping hub, bringing a variety of European vessels to the area. It’s here where Dutch and British sailors were introduced to a pungent sauce made with fermented fish. Anchovies were often used, creating a highly salted, amber-colored liquid.
This original fish-based ketchup is similar to the Vietnamese sauce we now know as nouc mam or nam pla in Thai. Chinese sailors called the sauce ke-tsiap.
European merchants brought the sauce to their homeland. There it was transformed in to a variety of local renditions. Though fish was often used as an ingredient, vegetables and fruit were frequently added to create new ketchup versions. Vinegar, sugar, salt and spices were added to the mixture that was then cooked down to a thick sauce consistency and pureed.
Henry John Heinz, a Philadelphia native, created the tabletop version we have come to know and love. Heinz insisted on clear containers which he felt showed the product’s purity. Today, various brands of ketchup can be found in over 97 percent of American households.
Although the tomato-based product is still the most well-known version of the condiment, chefs across the country are creating their own versions of artisan ketchups. Spices like curry and smoked paprika as well as fruits like peaches and blueberries are being added to create new flavor profiles. These new ketchup versions are used to enhance everything from grilled fish and pork tacos to dipping sauces for french fries and roasted sweet potato wedges.
Here is a great ketchup recipe that uses blueberries instead of tomatoes. Chipotle peppers are added along with lime for some extra spice and flavor. Use this terrific ketchup on everything from sweet potato fries to grilled chicken and salmon.
Blueberry Chipotle Lime Ketchup
Makes 2 cups
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
3 ½ cups fresh blueberries
3 tablespoons chopped canned chipotle chilies in adobe sauce (about 2 chilies)
Zest and juice from one lime
1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
Heat the olive oil in a 2-quart dutch oven or heavy saucepot. Add the onion and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add all of the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 35 to 40 minutes or until the mixture is reduced by one third.
Let mixture cool slightly. Puree the ketchup mixture in a food processor. Store in a container and refrigerate for up to three weeks or place in sterilized jars and process for canning.