What’s Cooking Wednesday–Exploding Ketchup!

Contaminated Ketchup, 1909 (ARC 5710028)

These records are featured in our new “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” exhibit which opens this Friday! To celebrate the opening, the Foundation for the National Archives is giving away a free copy of the exhibit catalog. Leave a comment below telling us what food you like to put ketchup on, and the Foundation will randomly choose a winner next Wednesday!

Long before the 1981 congressional debate over whether ketchup was a vegetable or before my grandfather was using it to help make his WWII military rations palatable, ketchup was dangerous.

Ketchup could explode.

Early ketchup was made from fermented skins and cores. These fermenting tomato leftovers could explode and burst their containers, so benzoate of soda was added a preservative.

However, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, meant that ketchup—and its rotting, explosive tomato ingredients—was now regulated. In the image above 1909, the company making “Squire Tomato Catsup” was prosecuted and fined $50 for making ketchup from “Decomposed Material.”

In another case (image below), “Elk Pride Tomato Catsup” was found to have yeasts, bacteria, and mold filaments in samples of its products when tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The shipment was condemned for destruction when it was found to be “adulturated in violation of the Food and Drugs Act . . . because it consisted in whole or in part of a filthy, putrid, or decomposed vegetable substance.”

Benzoate of soda is no longer added to ketchup. Henry Heinz created a clean factory where he was able to make ketchup with ripe tomatoes instead of fermenting (and explosive) tomatoes, eliminating the need for benzoate of sod.

Contaminated Ketchup (ARC 5710028)


35 thoughts on “What’s Cooking Wednesday–Exploding Ketchup!

  1. My son has a shirt that says, “I put ketchup on my ketchup!”

    Ketchup with macaroni and cheese is delicious!

  2. In fact I must be a real European, I never use ketchup ! but my kids love it on almost everything and over all on grilled ham and cheese sandwich.
    As a foodstylist I would love to attend your exhibition! Unfortunately Washington is too far from Brussels,Belgium!

  3. Interesting! I found a recipe for ketchup from a 1860’s diary and tried making it with last year’s bounty of tomatoes. It was pretty awful to begin, but got better with time.
    I like (modern) ketchup on hash browns.

  4. Ketchup on anything with burger — burgers (natch), meatloaf, meat balls, etc. Looking forward to the exhibit AND America Eats Tavern!

  5. At Wendy’s I like to dip one end of a fry in ketchup and the other end in my frosty – its dinner and dessert in one!

  6. I usually put ketchup on things that are good for me, but taste bad if they are unadorned (like broccoli or brussels sprouts).

  7. Ketchup on burgers and hotdogs, and just the right amount for my turkey meatloaf recipe.

  8. Even though I now love mustard and relish toppings for hot dogs, when I was a kid it was ketchup all the way. Also on burgers and meatloaf.

  9. Ketchup + Emily = Love Forever. I eat french fries just so I can have an excuse for the ketchup!

  10. I’m was raised in Chicago, a no-ketchup hot dog city. I learned to eschew ketchup on everything as a result. My burger? Mayo, maybe even a little mustard, please!

  11. I have never liked tartar sauce, so I always use ketchup on my fried fish. Grosses my wife and daughter out!!! Love it!!

  12. Ketchup can be very dangerous – for my diet, the carpet stains, the dribble down the chin onto the shirt – But what’s a good all-American hamburger and fries without a little danger??

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