Ketchup or catsup? Two seemingly identical products, two different names. But which is better, even though they are virtually the same? Foodiggity punches the numbers and gets to the bottom of the condiment debate.
A quick history
Ketchup appears to be the original term. Derived from the Chinese condiment ke-tsiap, a pickled fish sauce — a version in Malaysia then became kechap and ketjap in Indonesia.
The word ketchup was first mentioned in Charles Lockyer’s book of 1711, An Account of the Trade in India:
“Soy comes in Tubbs from Jappan, and the best Ketchup from Tonquin; yet good of both sorts are made and sold very cheap in China”.
Influenced by these Asian condiments, the modern version of ketchup would see many iterations before tomatoes finally became a main ingredient in the late 1700’s.
Why ketchup is the preferred term
Heinz brought the preferred term to the forefront with what is clearly the most successful version of the condiment. Heinz even pays homage to early versions of ketchup by specifying that they produce a tomato version — hence ‘Heinz Tomato Ketchup.’
Heinz has had such a stronghold on the ketchup market that they were once bold enough to offer our beloved ketchup in various colors, including purple.
A quick history
The term catsup first appeared in a quote by Jonathan Swift in 1730:
“And, for our home-bred British cheer, Botargo, catsup, and caveer”.
The term has since been used by major manufacturers, but most would eventually change over to ‘ketchup.’ Why the conformity? Well, not unlike day-glo and terrible music, it was an unfortunate result of the 1980’s.
Why catsup is the inferior term
It was a glorious time of hairbands and Reaganomics; and a mix of tomatoes, vinegar and spices was about to be declared a vegetable by the US Government.
That is correct. A condiment—whose main ingredient is actually a fruit—would be equivalent to a serving of vegetables, and could therefore stand in for an actual vegetable in school lunches.
Regardless of the insanity, the movement was gaining steam. But what did this mean for catsup? Well, it specified that ‘ketchup’ would become a vegetable, not ‘catsup.’
Those still using the now secondary term—including Del Monte—would conform or miss out on all the spoils that came from being a veggie, i.e., the money to be made by being included in Jimmy’s lunchbox.
So there you have it. With a little help from being firsties and pressure from the feds, ketchup clearly reigns supreme.
Even though it was never officially declared a vegetable, ketchup was later found to contain Lycopene, an antioxidant associated with decreased cancer risk—while catsup has been known to cause cancer.*
*That last part may or may not be true.