Ketchup-like sauces originated in eastern Asia as a spicy fish sauce called Ké Tsiap . English and Dutch sailors brought the sauce to Europe, where many flavorings, such as mushrooms, anchovies, and nuts, were added to the basic fish sauce. A recipe in Eliza Smith's The Compleat Housewife, published in 1727, called for anchovies, shallots, vinegar, white wine, sweet spices (cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg), pepper, and lemon peel.
By 1801 a recipe for tomato ketchup was printed in an American cookbook, the Sugar House Book. James Mease published another recipe in 1812. In 1824 a ketchup recipe appeared in The Virginia Housewife, an influential 19th-century cookbook written by Mary Randolph, Thomas Jefferson's cousin.
As the century progressed, tomato ketchup began its ascent in popularity in the United States, influenced by the American enthusiasm for tomatoes. Tomato ketchup was sold locally by farmers. A man named Jonas Yerks (or Yerkes) is believed to have been the first man to make tomato ketchup a national phenomenon. By 1837 he had produced and distributed the condiment nationally. Shortly thereafter, other companies followed suit. F. & J. Heinz launched their tomato ketchup in 1876. Heinz tomato ketchup was advertised: "Blessed relief for Mother and the other women in the household!"
The Webster's Dictionary of 1913 defined "catchup" as a "table sauce made from mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts."
Modern ketchup emerged in the early years of the 20th century, out of a debate over the use of sodium benzoate as a preservative in condiments. Harvey W. Wiley, the "father" of the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S., challenged the safety of benzoate. In response, entrepreneurs, particularly Henry J. Heinz, pursued an alternative recipe that eliminated the need for that preservative.
Prior to Heinz (and his fellow innovators), commercial tomato ketchups of that time were watery and thin, in part due to the use of unripe tomatoes, which were low in pectin. They were also less vinegary than modern ketchups; by pickling ripe tomatoes, the need for benzoate was eliminated without spoilage or degradation in flavor. But the changes driven by the desire to eliminate benzoate also produced changes that some experts (such as Andrew F. Smith) believe were key to the establishment of tomato ketchup as the dominant American condiment.
Until Heinz, most commercial ketchups appealed to two of the basic tastes: bitterness and saltiness. But the switch to ripe tomatoes and more tomato solids added a stronger "umami" taste (popularly referred to as savoriness, umami is a Japanese word meaning one of the five basic tastes together with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. As well, the major increase in the concentration of vinegar added sourness and pungency to the range of sensations experienced during its consumption. And because the elimination of benzoate was accompanied by a doubling of ketchup's sweetness, a balanced stimulation of all five types of taste sensations resulted.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has prohibited the use of the word "ketchup" on product labels unless the product conforms to a set of strict guidelines. All products marketed as ketchup in the United States must be thickened only with tomato solids, and the viscosity of the sauce must be within a very narrow range. The nutrient content of the sauce is also tightly regulated.
In the past, ketchup was produced from fresh tomatoes after harvesting. Vacuum evaporation made it possible to turn tomatoes into a very thick tomato paste that is easy to store at room temperature. This enables a factory to produce ketchup throughout the year.
The pseudoplastic properties of ketchup make it difficult to pour from a glass bottle unless it has previously been shaken vigorously. In the late 1970s, Heinz tackled public perceptions of this annoyance with an advertising campaign that used Carly Simon's hit "Anticipation". The introduction of PET squeeze bottles in the 1980 made it easier to get the ketchup out.
In October, 2000, Heinz introduced colored ketchup products, which eventually included green, purple, pink, orange, teal, and blue. These products were made by adding food coloring to the traditional ketchup. As of January 2006 these products have been discontinued.