Ketchup—-or catsup, if you will—-has been the subject of much discussion in the City Paper offices over the last week. Though fancy, house-made ketchups are popping up all over the city, it’s clear that anything other than Heinz is unnecessary. Still, it took some digging to find out why. Young & Hungry‘s Chris Shott is on the case:
Nowadays, virtually every pseudo-gastropub in town is making its own ketchup. The prevailing ethos of our times simply demands it. Today’s culinary religion treats ingredient selection as a moral issue as well as a gustatory one. With a D.I.Y. ethic pervading D.C.-area kitchens, cooks are doing all sorts of things in-house—from pickling their own vegetables to, in some cases, keeping bees for honey.
The intense focus on craftsmanship has undoubtedly helped to elevate the overall quality of many foods. Diners now have access to better cheese, better bacon, better bread.
And much, much, much worse ketchup.
There is scientific evidence to explain why the heavily processed, mass-produced bottled brand—-laden with the high fructose corn syrup—-is superior to sauces made locally from scratch. Heinz, it seems, hits every fundamental flavor that registers on your tongue: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. As a lengthy examination of sensory-analysis studies in the New Yorker back in 2004 showed, it’s a degree of complexity that would be quite difficult to replicate consistently outside factory controls.
Yet chefs persist! Especially in establishments where the food is already delicious, and energy could be spent making other, more tasty things. If they want to be fancy, they could just offer up mayo as an auxiliary fry-dipping condiment (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it).
So why waste time on watery, tangy condiments that are an insult to both fry and man?
You’ll just have to read the rest of Chris’s column to find out.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery