How Ketchup Works


Ketchup Around the Globe
A product labelled 'American ketchup' sits next to two local condiments in a fast food restaurant in Thailand. Peter Ptschelinzew/Lonely Planet/Getty Images
A product labelled 'American ketchup' sits next to two local condiments in a fast food restaurant in Thailand. Peter Ptschelinzew/Lonely Planet/Getty Images

Although today's ketchup certainly isn't the Worcestershire sauce-like ke-tchup of yesteryear, that doesn't mean the recipe is the same around the globe. Many American companies, including ketchup manufacturers, have international subsidiaries that produce their products overseas. Sometimes these subsidiaries tinker with a product's recipe to fit local taste buds. Ketchup fans in England and Venezuela, for example, are sold a sweeter ketchup than Americans, who favor a spicier tang. And Filipinos love their sweet banana ketchup, which doesn't taste like bananas.

While Americans devour tomato ketchup, they're not its No. 1 fans. That would be the Canadians and Finns. With tastes varying around the globe, it's also not too surprising that people use ketchup in different ways. People in Sweden squeeze it over pasta, for example. Thais use it as a dip for potato chips. And Eastern Europeans favor it on pizza [source: Scoble].

In some countries — quelle horreur! — ketchup isn't even in people's stream of consciousness. The biggest condiment in China, for instance, is fermented bean curd. Residents of Belize go crazy for habanero pepper sauce, while Serbians opt for ajvar, a smoky red pepper-and-eggplant relish. Even in the U.K., where ketchup is popular, brown sauce wins out. A staple in most British homes, it's made with malt vinegar, molasses and dates, and used on top of just about everything [source: Parmar].

Of course, as immigration changes the ethnic mix of a country, its taste buds change as well. In the U.S., Latino immigrants helped push salsa to the top of the condiment rankings in the 1990s, leaving ketchup behind [source: Heitz-Wald]. And thanks to both Latino and Asian immigrants, hot sauce — while still far below ketchup in popularity— is on the rise. Between 2000 and 2013, hot sauce sales soared 150 percent — more than the sales of barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise combined [source: Ferdman and King].

Speaking of mayo, mayonnaise is actually the chief condiment in the U.S. In 2013, the mayo market was worth $2 billion versus $800 million for ketchup [source: Ferdman and King]. (Salsa is now the second-most popular condiment). However, both ketchup and mayonnaise had flat or declining growth in 2016, while chili sauces like sriracha experienced strong growth. Millennial consumers prefer spicier and more flavorful products than their parents did [source: Euromonitor]. This explains why you can buy sriracha ketchup in the grocery stories.

Perhaps ketchup is headed the way of ke-tchup. If so, it's been one spicy-sweet ride.