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What Surprising Ingredients Were Found in Ketchup’s Predecessors?

More than 500 years ago, the South China Sea was the hub of seafaring Imperial China. Chinese ships visited ports throughout Southeast Asia, including forays along the Mekong River. There they encountered Khmer and Vietnamese fishermen and a caramel-colored sauce concocted from salted and fermented anchovies. The Vietnamese called it nuoc mam, but the Chinese called it kê-tsiap or ke-tchup, which means “preserved fish sauce” in Hokkien, a dialect spoken in the southeastern province of Fujian. Ke-tchup was taken back to Europe by Dutch and English sailors in the 1600s, and over the years it was transformed with the addition of other ingredients, becoming an almost entirely different sauce. By the time Henry J. Heinz started producing ketchup in Pittsburgh in 1876, it was different still -- much more like the popular tomato-based condiment served today.

The evolution of a tangy sauce:

  • Of course, Hokkien isn’t written with the Latin alphabet. Ketchup, catsup, and katchup are just a few of the many romanized transcriptions of the original Hokkien word. That word no longer exists in modern Hokkien, but the syllable tchup -- pronounced zhi in Mandarin -- still means “sauce” in some Chinese dialects.

  • Fujianese settlers took ke-tchup with them to Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Today, in Bahasa Indonesia, the language of Indonesia, kecap just means “sauce.”

  • Most 18th-century British recipes for ketchup called for ingredients such as mushrooms, walnuts, oysters, and anchovies. These early Western ketchups were mostly thin and dark, and were often added to soups, sauces, meat, and fish.

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More Info: National Geographic

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