Is Tomato Catsup the Same as Tomato Ketchup?

By: Mitch Ryan  | 
Have you been dipping your fries in ketchup or catsup? tomch / Getty Images

In short, yes. Tomato-based catsup and ketchup are more or less the same condiment. There may be slight recipe variations on the traditional tomato-based version, but the main difference between ketchup and catsup is the alternative spelling of the same word.

There may also be regional preferences for using the word "ketchup" or "catsup," but those biases are based on the sauce's history, as it has traveled worldwide to land on any counter serving burgers and french fries.


A Brief History of a Famous Pickled Fish Sauce

Although ketchup may seem like one of those classic American condiments, its origins actually lie in the Far East.

Seventeenth-century European traders sailed extensive routes to venture into an exciting world of new-to-them foods, spices and condiments. In this quest for fresh flavors, they encountered a delectable pickled fish sauce that went by many names.


Foodie historians still debate the exact location where this match made in heaven occurred, but the dominant word ke-tsiap hails from South China, and the Malay word, similarly spelled kecap (or kicap) was recorded in Indonesia.

Either way, most agree it was originally a Chinese word from the Cantonese dialect.

Once adopted in the West, various Chinese words for the sauce were altered to fit the English language. Often nicknamed "High East India Sauce," the first mention of the condiment spelled "catsup" appears in a 1730 Jonathan Swift poem when he wrote:

"And for home-bred British cheer, Botargo [a fish roe based relish], catsup, and career [caviar]."

By the 19th century, the sauce evolved to more closely resemble modern ketchup with a sweet tomato sauce base. The word took on another spelling change, with "ketchup" becoming the most popular American English name for the condiment.


What Are the Basic Ingredients of Traditional Ketchup?

Early recipes in the 18th century did not have the same tomato flavor many love today. Instead, many classic variations called for several different ingredients, including anchovies, shallots, vinegar, white wine, cloves, ginger, mushrooms, nutmeg, pepper and lemon peel.

It wasn’t until almost a century later that tomatoes found their way into the sauce.


Walnut catsup was another non-tomato ketchup popular in the 19th century. This recipe used unripe black walnuts mixed with salt, garlic and other ingredients and spices to produce a savory steak sauce taste closer to Worcestershire sauce than the sweet, tangy kick of pure ketchup today.

Heinz Tomato Catsup

If there were at least one company responsible for the widespread popularity of the famous condiment, it would be Heinz. In 1869, Henry J. Heinz founded a company that locally sold pickles and horseradish vinegar.

In 1876, Heinz introduced its now-famous, sugar-sweet tomato ketchup in a trademarked glass bottle. Demand increased rapidly, and other brands like Del Monte worked quickly to produce their own recipe to compete at a national scale. However, Heinz still remains the name brand that everyone remembers.