What You Don’t Know About Ketchup (It’s Not Just America’s Favorite Condiment)

Updated: Apr. 17, 2023

There's way more to ketchup than crushed tomatoes.

Bottle of ketchup squirting a serpentine line across a hotdog

With summer just around the corner, it’s time to unveil the barbecue, break out your favorite grilling recipes, and make sure you’ve got the condiments to match. If you’re like most Americans, though, you already have plenty of ketchup on hand. The sauce is a favorite for topping burgers, dogs and whatever else your heart desires.

But how much do we actually know about ketchup? Turns out there are plenty of secrets hidden in this sweet-and-savory sauce. Follow along as I shake out the craziest facts about ketchup.

1. The American staple was actually inspired by a Chinese condiment.

The Hokkien Chinese word kê-kê refers to a sauce made from fermented fish. It’s believed that the British found the condiment while in Southeast Asia and when they returned home, attempted to replicate the flavor. Initially, recipes included everything from mushrooms to oysters, anchovies and walnuts. Feeling inspired to create your own ketchup? Start with this Spicy Ketchup Recipe for a sauce that packs some heat.

2. The one thing missing from early recipes? Tomatoes.

In the 1700s, tomatoes were believed to be poisonous, and in fact were nicknamed “the poison apple.” The theory was eventually debunked when it was discovered that the pewter plates upper-class Europeans were eating tomatoes on were leaching lead. It wasn’t until 1812 that a scientist in Philadelphia published the first-known recipe for ketchup that incorporated tomatoes. Browse through our favorite recipes for fresh tomatoes, here.

3. Ketchup wasn’t always a condiment.

Initially, ketchup was strictly used as a flavoring agent for soups, meats, sauces and more. Thanks to the addition of tomatoes and the popularization of hamburgers and hot dogs, its primary purpose shifted. Now we’re just as likely to squirt it on a bun as we are to add flavor to a stovetop dinner. Take this Sweet Barbecued Pork Chop recipe, for example.

4. In the early days, you would have wanted to think twice before buying ketchup.

Since the tomato-growing season was so short, early ketchup producers had to overcompensate with preservatives to keep their stock fresh. This came at a highly unhealthy price. Unsafe levels of coal tar (among other things) were found in ketchup bottles. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that companies decided it was time for a change. H.J. Heinz was one of the biggest proponents of quality. The American company began developing seeds for higher-quality tomatoes and made it mandatory for produce to be processed the same day it was harvested. Learn how to get ketchup out of your clothes.

5. There’s a secret to Heinz’s “57” slogan.

Speaking of Heinz, have you ever noticed the slogan “57 varieties” printed on each bottle? That’s actually a marketing myth. When Heinz invented the slogan, the company was producing over 60 flavors of ketchup. The marketing master simply thought the number was catchy, so it stuck. Today, the company sells more than 5,700 products.

6. There’s an easy way to get your ketchup out of the bottle.

The trick to getting stuck-on sauce flowing from Heinz’s iconic glass bottle is hidden in plain sight. Tap the number “57” on the bottleneck a few times as you shake the ketchup out. Amazingly enough, the ketchup will start to pour out smoothly. We’ll definitely test this method during the upcoming grilling season.

7. Heinz invented the individual ketchup packets.

H.J. Heinz introduced individual ketchup packets to consumers in 1968. The foil wrapper is actually safer to use than its glass counterpart. Today, the packets are a staple at most fast-food restaurants—and in your refrigerator door.

Here’s how to open a ketchup packet the right way.

8. Ketchup is found in nearly 97 percent of American households.

With 125 million households in the U.S., that’s a lot of ketchup. In fact, if every household had a 14 oz. bottle of the stuff, the ketchup’s combined weight would measure up to a resounding 54,000 tons. That’s heavier than the Titanic.

9. The average American eats 71 pounds of ketchup each year.

Slathered on hot dogs, smashed between a sandwich, or drizzled on potato chips-we sure do love our sauce. But if that statistic makes your stomach churn, you’re not alone. For ketchup producers, it means big bucks. They produce about 12 million tons of ketchup every year, valued at more than $900 million. I’d call that a ketchup ka-ching!

10. The condiment could help you live longer.

OK, so that might be a slight overstatement. Ketchup contains the phytochemical lycopene, which has been linked to reducing the risk of cancer. There are other things you can consume, like tomato juice and tomato sauce, that will give you more lycopene with far less salt and sugar. But I say: Whatever floats your boat!

Well, there you have it, folks. Go forth and bestow all this tomatoe-y knowledge on your friends and family. Dish these ketchup facts out with one of our favorite grilled burger recipes at your next backyard barbecue or holiday cookout this summer.