Making your own ketchup has always been the third rail of home cooking. It is one of those things that seemed out of reach, made by a big complicated piece of industrial machinery. Even I’ve found myself guilty of admonishing fellow cooks for even bothering to try.
“Don’t bother, it won’t turn out right.”
“People just expect Heinz and it will be different.”
“It’s not worth the time, just buy it.”
Oh, but we try anyhow. Surely enough, it is a disaster in every way a recipe can be. Too sweet, not enough spice, wrong texture, and on and on. And so we just come to regard our experience as a cautionary tale and join the chorus of home cooks telling everyone not to bother.
I think the “Heinz Factor” is the biggest problem, and it goes outside pure bliss point food formulation. For some deep psychological reason people imprint on Heinz ketchup early in life and forever associate that as “ketchup”.
It’s the only brand name processed food I can think of where this happens. People move on from Hershey bars to appreciate other chocolate. We may have started eating Kraft Mac-and-Cheese, but learn to love other brands and even homemade. For some reason, Heinz infects minds and digs in deep.
Despite all this, I decided to try again when I went keto and started this website. I don’t love my low carb ketchup choices. In my opinion, the best of these is (surprise, surprise) Heinz’s sucralose-sweetened reduced sugar ketchup, which is what I use in making my Texas Keto BBQ Sauce. I wished I had a better erythritol/stevia sweetened ketchup option to use as an ingredient in my BBQ Sauce, to say nothing of my burgers and bratwurst.
I did start this round of Battle Ketchup with a leg up that I didn’t have before — experience with xanthan gum. I was very confident that its gel-forming qualities would let me achieve the texture I wanted as I did in my Fudgsicle and Pumpkin Spice Pops posts.
I also started with a theory that was shaped by some of the experience I have gotten in understanding the economics of food over the past few years. Most of the recipes I ran across in my research use a LOT of different spices to layer flavors and achieve the seemingly complex flavor of Heinz. I felt like the number was probably a lot smaller, as each ingredient would reduce the profitability of the ketchup — something Heinz would be unlikely to do. Could it be that the key was not lots of ingredients, but a mere handful of really complex ones?
What I learned was that ketchup is built around allspice. It was even enough to get the color to where I needed it, making my original intention of adding a little molasses unnecessary. I ended up with cinnamon and cloves as very minor side players, and it is really very debatable whether I needed them at all. Simplicity wins again.