Gastronomista reported recently about the existence of something called Sir Kensignton’s Gourmet Scooping Ketchup , whose materials look like a bad parody of a McSweeney’s condiment-marketing initiative. (The ketchup’s old-timey figurehead has a top hat, monocle, mustache and plenty of antiquated Anglophonic excess.)
Brand aesthetics aside, there is perhaps no American pantry category less wanting for new competition than ketchup. Malcolm Gladwell wrote several years ago about the flavor science behind the tyranny of Heinz, which he said was expanding market share despite the emergence of new artisanal and gourmet rivals. The reason, Gladwell concluded, was that the Pittsburghers had concocted a mixture of salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami that would prove irresistible to unformed young palates. “What Heinz had done was come up with a condiment that pushed all five of these primal buttons,” he wrote.
Perhaps the definitive case for Heinz was made by the Philadelphia chef Shola Olunloyo as one of the amusingly trenchant Bill Maher-style “New Rules” he writes on his blog. The anti-commercial impulse to unseat the category-killer disregards the unique place that Heinz has in American taste memory, Olunloyo writes: “Just serve Heinz and put your energy into the potatoes.”
Yet the forces for artisanal ketchup won’t give up. The New York Times Magazine recently included a ketchup recipe, adapted from a cookbook called Forgotten Skills of Cooking. The instructions recommend stirring the mixture of tomato, apple, onion, vinegar, sugar and spices “until it has the consistency of ketchup.” It’s hard to imagine how, to any home cook, this could mean anything other than: stir until it looks like Heinz.