You’ve gotta be one
ballsy ass motherfuckering tough guy to try and enter the ketchup market. To enter a trade knowing that there is such a dominating, goliath-type figure that cannot be touched can’t be encouraging. But to persist, and indeed, sell a viable product that keeps your business afloat and profiteering is pretty intense all things considered: Heinz ketchup, according to wiki, holds 80% of Europe’s market share and 60% of America’s. You kinda expect it when you’re eating out, accompanying a burger and fries or a battered fish. And it’s not like mustard where you want to have variety like between American Yellow or Grey Poupon or deli or wholegrain. If you went to a restaurant and they didn’t have specifically Heinz ketchup for a condiment you’d deduct points. It’s practically part of the furniture. A formality that is expected. Mark Kurlanksy or Lizzie Collingham ought to write their next books on the stuff!
Laugh all you want, but the CEO and board of Heinz has probably got a better pension than most of us. They ain’t foolin’ around. So unanimous is its usage and popularity that “Heinz” has become synonymous with “ketchup”. “I’ll have my chips smothered in synecdoche sauce, please!” we’ll end up saying. A testament to the company’s ubiquity and endearing appeal. And again from
the suspiciously hagiographic tone of the wiki, they have the highest customer satisfaction results of any food or drink company. The label design; it’s got a nice classic, traditional font and feel, like an old Edwardian insignia hanging outside a shop. With it’s black typing on white background and that makes the red inside stand out. Simple, but not basic. And let me give you a tip, you know when you have a glass bottle and you hit the base of it and nothing comes out? Or it doesn’t come out for ages and when it does it tsunami’s your plate? Well, you’re supposed to hit the “57” on the side, preferably at a 45 degree angle. It comes out far smoother and gentler then. And admittedly, it is a dam good sauce. A lot of that flavouring is a balance between vinegar and sweeteners. Kicking ass on both sides of the Ph scale.
” . . This is fantastic stuff that I can’t really do justice. But I will end this zeal with my opinion that this ought to be selling out in major supermarkets. . . “
But let’s take a step back a minute. Traditionally, ketchup can be made from “egg whites, mushrooms, oysters, grapes, mussels or walnuts, amongst other ingredients.” So, while waxing lyrical about this iconic, pop art condiment, it must be admitted; when does one ever actually try anything else? Heinz is such a colossal figure in the sauce industry that rarely does anyone sample the competition. To counter this, today we’re reviewing alternatives to Heinz Ketchup. Because why not? You Only Sauce Once, darlings.
Kicking this off, we have Geo Watkins Mushroom Ketchup (£4.99) Mushroom was the original ketchup – or catsup – flavour before tomatoes starting coming more in vogue, so playing to that old school-ness; the design is very old fashioned. Stark, medieval black fonts. The back of the label says “this rich cooking ingredient was the secret of success for many Victorian cooks”. Their website, however, is quite modernized and “with it”. A bit of a contrast to the Ye Old Fashioned typing. They seem quite self aware that they are an alternative, with their main page announcing in large writing: Assured. Distinctive. Adventurous. Plus, they have lots of recipes for their products for their target audience of “the adventurers, the challengers and life’s raconteurs.“
And much to my surprise, it’s a liquid. I was assuming all these ketchups would be the same as Heinz; thick and gloopy textures. It tastes a hella lot like Lea and Perrins. And a little bit like soy and liquid smoke. That rich, “dark” flavouring. A touch bitter, too. It tastes heavy in iron, like black pudding. It’s made from concentrated mushroom juice so of course that’s where the main flavouring comes from. Umami laden mushrooms. But there’s a salty, sodium rich aftertaste that does build up though. It’s not really a condiment like a dip. It works so much better as a cooking sauce. It would be a perfect secret ingredient in a French Onion soup, or a bolognaise, or a gravy. As for glazing it over a soo-sage for a hot dog, it has interesting results. It’s right in savoury territory of taste. The label recommends it for “Pies, puddings and sauces &c.” And yes, over the course of a few weeks I did end up throwing it into a bolognaise and a soup. It does work wonders on those heavy sauces with beef dishes. The pictured hot dog is pork, with grilled cheese and mixed herbs. Then I caramelised onions and used the mushroom ketchup as a deglaze flavouring. The smell hits you a lot stronger too as it cooks. It really kicked up the flavouring and carried the taste so much more successfully. Perhaps it’s just me not being used to it, but you really don’t need a lot of it. Drizzles and teaspoons rather than cups and marinades. It also works quite well on chips, that brine content compliments fries really well. If you happened to be out of salt and needed a pinch of something else to kick up a recipe.
Continuing on with the umami trend, we now have Hawkshead Relish’s Black Garlic Ketchup. (£4.99) The longer and slower you cook onions and garlic, the sweeter and more caramelised they become. To this effect, Hawkshead cook “whole garlic bulbs [. . . ] on a low heat for up to 45 days becoming black, sticky and naturally sweet. We then blend in the other ingredients, onions, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, herbs and spices to create a rich, savoury ketchup with a sweetness that is perfect to serve with meat.” And in real life, the sauce is inky jet black. The smell is as gloriously pungent as you could imagine. If you loaded a super soaker up with this stuff you’d have the perfect weapon against a vampire.
Their site recommends using it for chicken, burgers and chips. What a great excuse to cheat a diet. So: the scent is very strong, and a little bitter. I was anticipating something akin to a pickle taste, simply through the smell and appearance. But actually, in the right dose, this ketchup is incredible! The taste is far softer and has umami for days. Really woke up flavours in this fully stacked burger. Just like the mushroom ketchup, this is clearly suited for helping in the cooking purposes, but unlike the ‘shroom ‘sup, it is far, far less acrid. That long cook off time for the garlic really brings flavour that you just can’t believe, obviously it’s strongly garlic but it’s not just pungent. This is complex and deep; it’s got a lovely sweet taste too, that endears you to have more and more of it. It really helps lift the flavourings, that umami going right through each mouthful. This is basically caramelisation sauce, making it perfect for savoury dishes. Can’t wait to throw this into a Chinese style lamb stir fry, or pork ribs marinade or as a drizzle on top of a grilled lemon chicken. Naturally, it would be folly to recommend this to someone who didn’t love garlic, but the taste isn’t completely overwhelming as it sounds. And don’t let the smell put you off, honestly I can’t wait to start throwing this into chilli con carnes or a spicy bean burger. This is fantastic stuff that I can’t really do justice. But I will end this zeal with my opinion that this ought to be selling out in major supermarkets.
Next we have Foraging Fox Beetroot Ketchup. (£4.49) As a company, Foraging Fox are in the same vein as Ecover or Higgidy Pies. Wholesome, light-spirited business that successfully blew up. And they wanna look after you and the environment. Renunciations of artificial flavourings and a “it’s good for ya!” vibe abound. I can’t fault it. Lovely colourful design, too. Comforting to see this to be honest. Maybe I’m just a sucker for family enterprises or a cat’s paw for wholesome advertising. They also sell a hot and a smoked paprika version and I really want to try that. It comes out of the bottle thick, and with not as much of a smell. For now I just had a cayenne-paprika spiced bowl of fries to temper the original sauce with. It works. Its got a nice summery sort of feel to it, like you could definitely use it to compliment a BBQ.
Not going to lie. This was delightful. As a straight up substitute for tomato, this absolutely trumps the other four. It’s the most conventional one. It’s similar enough to Heinz tomato ketchup to scratch that saucy itch. But different enough that it changes the profile of the things you add to it. It’s a lot “lighter”, and it tastes less sugary too. Giving those beets some room in the mouth for that flavour to come to the forefront. It even says on the label: good with everything. And I likes that kindsa fighting talk. On chips, it’s a lovely sauce, smoothing out the crispness of the skins and cuts through the starch. On a hot dog it really works well for the pork, and meshes as a texture with the soft innards. Seeing as it goes well with pork and chips so well I’d be very curious to know if someone could make a currywurst sauce with it? Or part of a marinade on some ribs perhaps? I wouldn’t say there’s much depth to it, it’s a beetroot sauce. That is its character. But that’s not a complaint. It makes me wonder what else would taste nice pureed as a dipping sauce. Ended up making a chicken burger with it smothered on the inner top bun with the beetroot ketchup and it worked a treat. It seems to be a perfect fit for those light, summery meals.
“. . .It has the pleasing aroma of a sick dog’s morning breath. . . “
Perhaps most exotic of all, we next have Baron’s Banana Ketchup. (£4.99.) A staple in Caribbean, originating from St. Lucia. The label says it was imported straight from. . .Leyton. Apparently, tomatoes were in short supply to American soldiers stationed there, and they fancied some ketchup so they improvised. Another example of nessicity being the mother of invention. They don’t seem to have a site, but their amazon page says it’s sweet, versatile and goes well with chicken. It would be amazing to try this in a plantain curry like Nature’s Natural Vegan Eats accomplish, but I wanted the flavour to stay in the forefront instead of being part of a pulse. Cracking the bottle open, it’s got a strong smell, which initially put me off. Vinegary. But the taste is extremely different to the smell, it’s got that banana sweetness, yes. But it’s been softened, mellowed. Grown pungent, matured. It works as a drizzling for a deep fried and breadcrumb’d chicken breast with a bunch of herbs and spices, almost like a Caribbean style schnitzel.
After reading a few recipes I marinated pork steaks in mustard, Worchester sauce, sprinkles of paprika and pink Himalayan salt and with lots banana ketchup. That made it delicious too, heated up; all that flavour became even more softer and fragrant. It really works for white meats, it’s strong enough that those delicate loins and breasts (oo-er) take to it. But it doesn’t overwhelm it either. However, I can’t help but not adore it. It’s interesting and would love to try more with it. But like Foraging Fox’s beetroot ketchup, it’s got one basic dynamic. And again, that isn’t a criticism, but can’t help but feel that banana ketchup doesn’t have too much to play against. Perhaps that’s why it’s a versatile sauce. It’s a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Still, it’s dam fine for what it does, and I do reckon it’ll grow on me.
Now last, and with some trepidation, we have Sauce Shop Brussels Sprout Ketchup. (£3.00.)
Aaaaaah poor, misaligned, misunderstood Brussel sprouts. One day the world will wake up to your glory. For now we are stuck in a miserable existence where sprouts are boiled. This is wrong. Objectively wrong. It turns the poor little buggers bitter. However, cook them right, like this or like that? Incredible stuff. I hope someone opens a restaurant specifically for sprouts like Avobar does for Avocados so we can all be one day illuminated to their brilliance.
Sauce Shop seem to be rapidly giving Heinz a run for their money, having started in 2014, they have a wide range that seems to fill up about half the sauce aisles in supermarkets. Not that I’m complaining. They’re running some sort of crusade against diluting of condiments. “In 2014 we came to the realisation that the sauces we were buying in the supermarkets weren’t doing our food justice.” Their site boasts. “They often contained water as one of the main ingredients and usually some sort of thickener. Sauces should be about flavour and the big brand stuff just didn’t cut it.” To that end they have a full fleshed out variety of sauces that promises something for everyone. And I suppose that means they can afford to take a punt on something risky like BRUSSEL SPROUT KETCHUP.
But truth be told, this was marketed more as a Christmas novelty than an honest innovation in culinary arts.
Opening up the bottle, the smell, it hits you. It has the pleasing aroma of a sick dog’s morning breath. It’s sour too. Vinegary, and “green”. But not in a bad way. But I’m not going to lie, it just about holds on! Not really sure I’d add it to my kitchen staples the same way salt or packets of pasta are, but it’s not the offensive thing you’d believe it to be. They recommend serving this in a sandwich with leftovers from Christmas dinner. Suppose some store bought wafers of turkey will suffice for a taste test.
It’s got musk, but it tastes murky. In the bottle it seems thick but comes out spread thin. It has this mysterious “green” taste that is hard to pin point. The ingredient list details sprouts, brown sugar, white grape vinegar, onion, sea salt, garlic and spices. I can taste the vinegar and the garlic, but it certainly needs a little more sweet to balance. Considering I had this with Mexicana cheese, the spice works on it. It’d be interesting to see a version of this with chilli flakes or some other spice to lift that murky taste up a bit. This sauce has potential, but it’s a little lacklustre other than the novelty factor.
There isn’t much more to say. It’s a musky sauce with a vinegary, garlicy, sour undercurrent. Alas, the sprout revolution needs to find a new jumping off point.
Have to admit, this has been a lot of fun, changing things up a bit every once in a while. But what’s quite enjoyable is that five different ketchups don’t really scratch the surface. Each of these companies had plenty of other sauces I could have gotten. Perhaps this is another trend that we’ll see coming up in a few years time. “The Anti-Heinz Brigade”, when it becomes hipster to drizzle brussels sprout sauce on your smashed avo on toast. Or banana ketchup on your hotdogs are going to become the next best condiment. I’d thoroughly recommend Hawkshead’s black garlic and Foraging Fox’s beetroot ketchup. Why not find out for yourself?
. . . back to the homepage.