Heinz Ketchup as Platonic ideal

Food writer Jane Black tries to make her own ketchup and concludes that this may be one of the few cases in which homemade falls short of the industrial brand.  That is because Heinz Ketchup is the Platonic ideal (my word, not hers):

Ketchup, apparently, is an exception to the everything-is-better-if-you-make-it-yourself ethos. In a 2004 piece in the New Yorker magazine, journalist Malcolm Gladwell argued that although different people have different ideas of the perfect tomato sauce (chunky, spicy or smooth) or mustard (yellow or Dijon-style), everyone likes the same kind of ketchup. And that ketchup is Heinz, a condiment that offers a perfect balance of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory or umami. More than a decade earlier, Vogue’s Jeffrey Steingarten came to essentially the same conclusion when, in a characteristically extensive taste test, he grouped 35 ketchups, including two homemade versions, into the following categories: Worse Than Heinz, Heinz, Better Than Heinz and Not Really Ketchup. . . .

Heinz, Smith reports, began making tomato ketchup in the late 19th century. By 1905, the company had become the ketchup king, turning out more than 5 million bottles a year. Today,Heinz owns 59 percent of the market, according to data from Nielsen, with Hunts (15 percent) and Del Monte (2 percent) fighting for the leftovers.. . .

So what makes Heinz the standard by which all others are measured? Consumer tests identify four key characteristics: tang, sweetness, a concentrated tomato flavor and a thick, pourable consistency. Re-creating that blend with fresh or more-wholesome ingredients was my goal.. . .

via DIY not?.

She then tells about trying various recipes with various ingredients.  Her ketchup keeps coming out too sweet or the wrong consistency or good-tasting but just not like ketchup.  (Have any of you had better luck?)  At any rate, let us salute a good product.Heinz Ketchup

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Rev. F. Bischoff

    A few years back, when John Kerry was running for President, I refused to buy Heinz ketchup on principle. His wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry, would financially benefit from my purchase, and I refused to let that happen. Yes, I boycotted “big ketchup”. I bought Hunts and Del Monte and the generic store brands. But Heinz ketchup is like the cocain of the ketchup world. I couldn’t stay away from it. In a few short months I was back on the sauce bigtime (Heinz ketchup, that is). I put money in Mrs. Heinz Kerry’s pocket (or purse). I was ashamed, but I could not stop. It was so sweet, so tangy, so red, so good. And so today you will always find a “family size” bottle of Heinz ketchup in my refrigerator. And I slather my burger with it. And I am so weak. And I am so ashamed. But it is sooooo good.

  • Rev. F. Bischoff

    A few years back, when John Kerry was running for President, I refused to buy Heinz ketchup on principle. His wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry, would financially benefit from my purchase, and I refused to let that happen. Yes, I boycotted “big ketchup”. I bought Hunts and Del Monte and the generic store brands. But Heinz ketchup is like the cocain of the ketchup world. I couldn’t stay away from it. In a few short months I was back on the sauce bigtime (Heinz ketchup, that is). I put money in Mrs. Heinz Kerry’s pocket (or purse). I was ashamed, but I could not stop. It was so sweet, so tangy, so red, so good. And so today you will always find a “family size” bottle of Heinz ketchup in my refrigerator. And I slather my burger with it. And I am so weak. And I am so ashamed. But it is sooooo good.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I like Hunts better. It even comes in a more natural variation – no high fructose corn syrup.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I like Hunts better. It even comes in a more natural variation – no high fructose corn syrup.

  • Booklover

    I love to eat out. But whenever the restaurant uses a brand of ketchup that is not Heinz, it’s just not nearly as good.

  • Booklover

    I love to eat out. But whenever the restaurant uses a brand of ketchup that is not Heinz, it’s just not nearly as good.

  • LenS

    Just a note to ease the Rev. Bischoff’s mind, H. J. Heinz was an LCMS Lutheran who attended the First German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sharpsburg, Pa. (my Baptism certificate list the church this way, they have since dropped the word “German”). The H.J.Heinz name is listed on the stained glass windows as a one of its incorporators. The sad news is that this church closed its doors in 2009, after 146 years of worship.

  • LenS

    Just a note to ease the Rev. Bischoff’s mind, H. J. Heinz was an LCMS Lutheran who attended the First German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sharpsburg, Pa. (my Baptism certificate list the church this way, they have since dropped the word “German”). The H.J.Heinz name is listed on the stained glass windows as a one of its incorporators. The sad news is that this church closed its doors in 2009, after 146 years of worship.

  • Tom Hering

    Remember this stuff from 2004? It’s still around, the company is still politically active, and I’m still laughing.

  • Tom Hering

    Remember this stuff from 2004? It’s still around, the company is still politically active, and I’m still laughing.

  • Louis

    There is one commercial brand that outdoes Heinz by a fraction – but it’s only available (to my knowledge) in Southern Africa – All Gold. Of course, there it is called Tomato Sauce – btw, I could never figure out where the word ketchup comes from? Anyway you can view the product here – http://www.allgold.co.za/frmSauces.aspx.
    Interestingly enough, a 750ml bottle is guarenteed to have 36 tomatoes in – the other ingredients being cane sugar, vinegar and spices. By comparison, Heinz Ketchup contains tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, and natural flavors (btw, that last item does’t mean natural extracts, it only means flavours identical to those found in nature, by whatever process)

  • Louis

    There is one commercial brand that outdoes Heinz by a fraction – but it’s only available (to my knowledge) in Southern Africa – All Gold. Of course, there it is called Tomato Sauce – btw, I could never figure out where the word ketchup comes from? Anyway you can view the product here – http://www.allgold.co.za/frmSauces.aspx.
    Interestingly enough, a 750ml bottle is guarenteed to have 36 tomatoes in – the other ingredients being cane sugar, vinegar and spices. By comparison, Heinz Ketchup contains tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, and natural flavors (btw, that last item does’t mean natural extracts, it only means flavours identical to those found in nature, by whatever process)

  • Tom Hering

    Doc @ 2, have you tried Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback – currently in their third limited-edition release? They’re sweetened with cane sugar, the way all sodas were before the 1980s. When I tried some, I was surprised at how much my perception of sweetness had been changed by three decades of high-fructose corn syrup.

  • Tom Hering

    Doc @ 2, have you tried Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback – currently in their third limited-edition release? They’re sweetened with cane sugar, the way all sodas were before the 1980s. When I tried some, I was surprised at how much my perception of sweetness had been changed by three decades of high-fructose corn syrup.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Not a fan of Mountain Dew, but I have had Pepsi Natural though which I think is similar.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Not a fan of Mountain Dew, but I have had Pepsi Natural though which I think is similar.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m no Plato scholar, but wasn’t the point of the Platonic ideal that it didn’t exist materially, in our reality, but could only be aspired to here? More to the point, I can’t find either of the words “Platonic” or “ideal” in that article. Not sure what’s going on. Myself, I wish all ketchup were locked up in a cave somewhere, as I really don’t get the fascination with it — Heinz’s, at least, is too sweet. Fries go much better with mayo, or mustard, or buffalo sauce, or Sriracha, or Tabasco, or …

    Louis (@6), the OED says that “ketchup” comes to us from Chinese (the Amoy dialect) as “kôechiap” or “kê-tsiap”, which was a brine of pickled fish or shell-fish. The Malay word “kechap” (“ketjap” in Dutch), which some claim as the original source, may be from the Chinese.

    Interestingly, the OED also defines ketchup as “A sauce made from the juice of mushrooms, walnuts, tomatoes, etc.” Mushrooms? Walnuts? Well, the former would account for ketchup’s umami flavor, although that is almost certainly now provided by “natural flavors”.

    And though I really don’t have a leg to stand on since I’m not a ketchup fan, I can’t help but see this as a triumph of the fake over the real, the culinary equivalent, if you will, of Romans 1:22-23. Heinz has simply been making its ketchup for so long that no one remembers a time when it was the industrial interloper, the outlier from what people thought of as ketchup.

    I’ve had non-industrial ketchup before (at a place that makes a very good burger), and I enjoyed it a lot more than anything from a bottle. Speaking of which, did you notice that one of Heinz’s “four key characteristics” was a “pourable consistency”? See, this is what I mean by our completely having forgotten that ketchup could not come in a bottle. You don’t care about how “pourable” it is when you’re spooning it out of a Mason jar.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m no Plato scholar, but wasn’t the point of the Platonic ideal that it didn’t exist materially, in our reality, but could only be aspired to here? More to the point, I can’t find either of the words “Platonic” or “ideal” in that article. Not sure what’s going on. Myself, I wish all ketchup were locked up in a cave somewhere, as I really don’t get the fascination with it — Heinz’s, at least, is too sweet. Fries go much better with mayo, or mustard, or buffalo sauce, or Sriracha, or Tabasco, or …

    Louis (@6), the OED says that “ketchup” comes to us from Chinese (the Amoy dialect) as “kôechiap” or “kê-tsiap”, which was a brine of pickled fish or shell-fish. The Malay word “kechap” (“ketjap” in Dutch), which some claim as the original source, may be from the Chinese.

    Interestingly, the OED also defines ketchup as “A sauce made from the juice of mushrooms, walnuts, tomatoes, etc.” Mushrooms? Walnuts? Well, the former would account for ketchup’s umami flavor, although that is almost certainly now provided by “natural flavors”.

    And though I really don’t have a leg to stand on since I’m not a ketchup fan, I can’t help but see this as a triumph of the fake over the real, the culinary equivalent, if you will, of Romans 1:22-23. Heinz has simply been making its ketchup for so long that no one remembers a time when it was the industrial interloper, the outlier from what people thought of as ketchup.

    I’ve had non-industrial ketchup before (at a place that makes a very good burger), and I enjoyed it a lot more than anything from a bottle. Speaking of which, did you notice that one of Heinz’s “four key characteristics” was a “pourable consistency”? See, this is what I mean by our completely having forgotten that ketchup could not come in a bottle. You don’t care about how “pourable” it is when you’re spooning it out of a Mason jar.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Also, has anyone here had “banana ketchup” (or “banana sauce”), commonly found in Filipino restaurants? According to Wikipedia, “Banana ketchup was made when there was a shortage of tomato ketchup during World War II, due to lack of tomatoes and a comparatively high production of bananas.”

    Anyhow, it’s dyed red to look like ketchup, and, to my non-ketchup-loving mouth, tastes bizarrely the same, in spite of the difference in main ingredients. To me, this speaks to the over-sweetness of Heinz’s ketchup.

    Also, when was the last time you saw anyone write “catsup”? When I was younger, I felt like you saw both spellings in roughly similar amounts. Today, it’s all “ketchup”. Another victim of industrial homogenization?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Also, has anyone here had “banana ketchup” (or “banana sauce”), commonly found in Filipino restaurants? According to Wikipedia, “Banana ketchup was made when there was a shortage of tomato ketchup during World War II, due to lack of tomatoes and a comparatively high production of bananas.”

    Anyhow, it’s dyed red to look like ketchup, and, to my non-ketchup-loving mouth, tastes bizarrely the same, in spite of the difference in main ingredients. To me, this speaks to the over-sweetness of Heinz’s ketchup.

    Also, when was the last time you saw anyone write “catsup”? When I was younger, I felt like you saw both spellings in roughly similar amounts. Today, it’s all “ketchup”. Another victim of industrial homogenization?

  • Louis

    Todd – in my experience, ever since I have been here in Canada, is that 90% of all processed/manufactured American foods (and food-like products ;) ) tastes far to sweet. The sad thing is that America has a real, non-indutrialised food heritage – witness Jamie Oliver’s recent publication (there is a TV series too, but I haven’t seen it), Jamie’s America. Unfortunately, as you say, memories are short. I’m remided of a seminarian (non-Lutheran) from the US who stayed, together with his wife and kids, with a farming family I know. Now, I’ve eaten there many times – the fare is simple – meat in some form, vegetables in another, bread, salad milk/water/coffee (they don’t drink) – but wholesome. Anyway, one night at dinner, the guy surveyed the table, got up, said – I can’t eat this – and then went and fetched a Pizza-pop which he and his family bought. There are so many things wrong with that picture, but I think the dissapearance of food culture is the one you are concerned with here.

    Maybe yon patriotic conservatives could start conserving something for a change? (I’m dead serious)

  • Louis

    Todd – in my experience, ever since I have been here in Canada, is that 90% of all processed/manufactured American foods (and food-like products ;) ) tastes far to sweet. The sad thing is that America has a real, non-indutrialised food heritage – witness Jamie Oliver’s recent publication (there is a TV series too, but I haven’t seen it), Jamie’s America. Unfortunately, as you say, memories are short. I’m remided of a seminarian (non-Lutheran) from the US who stayed, together with his wife and kids, with a farming family I know. Now, I’ve eaten there many times – the fare is simple – meat in some form, vegetables in another, bread, salad milk/water/coffee (they don’t drink) – but wholesome. Anyway, one night at dinner, the guy surveyed the table, got up, said – I can’t eat this – and then went and fetched a Pizza-pop which he and his family bought. There are so many things wrong with that picture, but I think the dissapearance of food culture is the one you are concerned with here.

    Maybe yon patriotic conservatives could start conserving something for a change? (I’m dead serious)

  • JoeS

    I tried to copy Heinz, but gave up after the 56th time.

  • JoeS

    I tried to copy Heinz, but gave up after the 56th time.

  • Porcell

    Todd, at 9, Veith is correct to view Heinz Ketchup as a Platonic ideal. Anything on the temporal plane that is ideal, whether a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman or Heinz ketchup, has a certain material substance along with its ideal form.

    Your view that the Platonic ideal must be some sort of abstraction is one of the interpretations of Plato’s form, though for from dispositive.

  • Porcell

    Todd, at 9, Veith is correct to view Heinz Ketchup as a Platonic ideal. Anything on the temporal plane that is ideal, whether a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman or Heinz ketchup, has a certain material substance along with its ideal form.

    Your view that the Platonic ideal must be some sort of abstraction is one of the interpretations of Plato’s form, though for from dispositive.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    That’s odd. All this time, I thought Veith had written “(her word, not mine)”. Ignore any comments made above that take this incorrect reading into account.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    That’s odd. All this time, I thought Veith had written “(her word, not mine)”. Ignore any comments made above that take this incorrect reading into account.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Louis (@11), I don’t know how long you’ve lived there, but surely Canada also gets included in your statement that “all processed/manufactured American foods (and food-like products) tastes far to sweet”. And, I don’t know, maybe you were using that broader sense of “American” that we Americans (the ones chanting “USA! USA!”) never use. And, as I’ve experienced things, it’s not just North America (yes, Mexico seems given to abundant sweetness as well), but spreading throughout the Western world as well. The USA is just leading the way, perhaps. Follow the waistlines.

    Salon.com had an article earlier this year on Domino’s reformulated pizza sauce, and how they made it sweeter, I guess to make it more appealing (had to stop myself from typing “apalling” there).

    Sorry to hear about the rude seminarian. But as an apparent compatriot of the fellow, I’d like to think we can’t learn too much from a person rude enough to act like that in the first place, no matter what he got up to eat. (Also, I had to look up what a Pizza-Pop was, as they’re only available in Canada. That name is horrid.)

    And there certainly is a class of conservatives in America that value growing their own food, or supporting small, local farms, and making their own food largely from scratch, and may support such things on a political level as well. For what it’s worth, most of the people I know that do homebrew are conservatives (and Lutherans, so perhaps that explains everything). But this attitude doesn’t seem too prevalent among Republican “conservatives”, which generally are far too supportive of big corporations (including corporate agriculture).

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Louis (@11), I don’t know how long you’ve lived there, but surely Canada also gets included in your statement that “all processed/manufactured American foods (and food-like products) tastes far to sweet”. And, I don’t know, maybe you were using that broader sense of “American” that we Americans (the ones chanting “USA! USA!”) never use. And, as I’ve experienced things, it’s not just North America (yes, Mexico seems given to abundant sweetness as well), but spreading throughout the Western world as well. The USA is just leading the way, perhaps. Follow the waistlines.

    Salon.com had an article earlier this year on Domino’s reformulated pizza sauce, and how they made it sweeter, I guess to make it more appealing (had to stop myself from typing “apalling” there).

    Sorry to hear about the rude seminarian. But as an apparent compatriot of the fellow, I’d like to think we can’t learn too much from a person rude enough to act like that in the first place, no matter what he got up to eat. (Also, I had to look up what a Pizza-Pop was, as they’re only available in Canada. That name is horrid.)

    And there certainly is a class of conservatives in America that value growing their own food, or supporting small, local farms, and making their own food largely from scratch, and may support such things on a political level as well. For what it’s worth, most of the people I know that do homebrew are conservatives (and Lutherans, so perhaps that explains everything). But this attitude doesn’t seem too prevalent among Republican “conservatives”, which generally are far too supportive of big corporations (including corporate agriculture).

  • Joe

    The corporate ag. issue is a tough one. Personally, I prefer local, organic foods. I even tilled up 1/3 of my postage-sized backyard and started growing my own veggies. We buy raw milk when we can and we keep the processed foods out of the house as much as possible. We do this for health and taste reasons. As the head of the family, I have issued a decree renaming high fructose corn syrup as death syrup (okay, there is no formal decree but that’s what I call it).

    That said, the modern American ag/food production model has pretty much eradicated starvation as a cause of death in the US. So, it does have its virtue. I think the trick is reforming it in ways to alter the food chain to include healthier foods without losing too much of cost savings. I have noticed that this is already happening with bread. By my estimation, there are 2 or 3 times as many whole grain options on the supermarket shelf today then even 10 years ago. I used to read the label to find out if the bread was whole grain bread, now I am reading the labels to see whether the whole grain bread has death syrup in it. My hope is that this kind of change will continue but it has to be done in a cost sensitive way so that poorer people are not priced out of the food market.

    My free market, free trade philosophy melds pretty well with my desires for a healthier or more natural food chain. One of the main reasons that we use so much death syrup is because it is cheap. But it is artificially cheap. We impose a high tariff on imported sugar in order to subsidized us corn growers (and the ten guys in Minnesota still growing sugar beets). If we removed the tariff, the price of sugar would drop and real sugar would make a come back.

  • Joe

    The corporate ag. issue is a tough one. Personally, I prefer local, organic foods. I even tilled up 1/3 of my postage-sized backyard and started growing my own veggies. We buy raw milk when we can and we keep the processed foods out of the house as much as possible. We do this for health and taste reasons. As the head of the family, I have issued a decree renaming high fructose corn syrup as death syrup (okay, there is no formal decree but that’s what I call it).

    That said, the modern American ag/food production model has pretty much eradicated starvation as a cause of death in the US. So, it does have its virtue. I think the trick is reforming it in ways to alter the food chain to include healthier foods without losing too much of cost savings. I have noticed that this is already happening with bread. By my estimation, there are 2 or 3 times as many whole grain options on the supermarket shelf today then even 10 years ago. I used to read the label to find out if the bread was whole grain bread, now I am reading the labels to see whether the whole grain bread has death syrup in it. My hope is that this kind of change will continue but it has to be done in a cost sensitive way so that poorer people are not priced out of the food market.

    My free market, free trade philosophy melds pretty well with my desires for a healthier or more natural food chain. One of the main reasons that we use so much death syrup is because it is cheap. But it is artificially cheap. We impose a high tariff on imported sugar in order to subsidized us corn growers (and the ten guys in Minnesota still growing sugar beets). If we removed the tariff, the price of sugar would drop and real sugar would make a come back.

  • Louis

    Todd, I’m not sure – my colleagues that have done extensive cross border travelling, with extended stays in the US, tells me that chocolate for instance gets very noticeably sweeter once you cross the 49th. Thing is, US commercial “culture” is very domineering, with advertising power and (this is not to be understimated) the alluring picture Hollywood paints, so that many outside, from first world Eropean countries to third world African countries, want to be like that – which includes junk food very much.

    Joe – absolutely. Tarrifs, subsidies and all kinds of anti-free market measures have created the monstrosities that are the Agribusiness and Food sectors in the US. There are plenty of books / studies on the matter.

  • Louis

    Todd, I’m not sure – my colleagues that have done extensive cross border travelling, with extended stays in the US, tells me that chocolate for instance gets very noticeably sweeter once you cross the 49th. Thing is, US commercial “culture” is very domineering, with advertising power and (this is not to be understimated) the alluring picture Hollywood paints, so that many outside, from first world Eropean countries to third world African countries, want to be like that – which includes junk food very much.

    Joe – absolutely. Tarrifs, subsidies and all kinds of anti-free market measures have created the monstrosities that are the Agribusiness and Food sectors in the US. There are plenty of books / studies on the matter.

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