Catsup: The Classic American Condiment

Today’s post comes to us from Emily Rollman, summer intern in the Public and Media Communications Office.

No American cookout would be complete without ketchup. Millions of Americans douse their french fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, and other cookout favorites with the condiment every day. The tomato-based sauce is even a staple for military personnel and astronauts!

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Giant catsup bottle on Historic Route 66. National Archives Identifier 7719431

Catsup, now more commonly known as “ketchup,” was a British term designated for any “spiced” sauce. The British had access to a myriad of spices from their exploits across the world. Their ketchup was made of oysters, cloves, cayenne, cherries, walnuts, vinegars, mace, and more.

Americans were the first to create ketchup with tomatoes, a crop native to North America, and an 1896 issue of The New York Tribune even declared tomato ketchup to be America’s national condiment found “on every table in the land.” The most famous tomato ketchup is the Heinz 57 variety. Apparently, founder Henry Heinz purposely created his own spelling of “ketchup” to differentiate from his “catsup”-peddling competitors.

Early tomato ketchup was made from fermented skins and cores. But these fermenting tomato leftovers could explode and burst their containers! The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, finally made this dangerous condiment safe to consume–and keep in the cupboard.

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“Contaminated Ketchup,” National Archives Identifier 5710028  

The U.S. military has spent billions of dollars on ketchup since the late 19th century, from manufacturing the condiment to supplying all soldiers with packets of the sauce to spruce up their rations of mass-produced food. 

Astronauts even carry ketchup into outer space! NASA provides nonperishable, shelf-stable food, but crews like to amp up the products with their favorite condiments.

Wherever you are this Fourth of July, we hope you are enjoying this historic condiment on your favorite foods!

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The STS-79 and Mir 22 crews gather on the Atlantis’s middeck for a meal of barbecue served by the STS-79 crew. Mission commander William Readdy offers the Mir 22 crew a bottle of ketchup to use on their meal. National Archives Identifier 23025043

 

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