For this week’s comparison, I tackled that most basic of condiments – ketchup! I am not one of those people who eat ketchup on anything and everything. In fact, I basically limit my ketchup consumption to topping hamburgers and the occasional french fry dipping, but I seem to be one of the few people who is not crazy about ketchup. My daughter will eat just about anything if I let her dip it in ketchup, including steamed veggies and carrot sticks. I wanted to see if I could make a homemade ketchup that was more natural than the bottled kind with no corn syrup or preservatives.
My inspiration for the homemade ketchup recipe below was a cookbook called Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it by Karen Solomon. This book is packed full of fun recipes for things that most people don’t normally make at home including bacon, cheese, candies and condiments. I highly recommend this cookbook. Not only are the photographs gorgeous and the recipes fun, but the instructions are all broken down into easy-to-follow steps that make each “project” very doable. I didn’t follow Solomon’s ketchup recipe exactly, but I did use her technique of tying herbs up in a cheesecloth bundle to simmer in the tomatoes, giving the ketchup a wonderful blend of flavors. But could this homemade ketchup satisfy hardcore ketchup lovers? See what we thought below the recipe:
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes
1 large sweet onion, quartered
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
5 whole cloves
10 black peppercorns
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked Paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1. Using a food processor or blender, puree the whole tomatoes with the onion until the mixture is smooth. This may have to be done in two batches if using a blender or smaller food processor. Heat the tomato and onion puree in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat until bubbling. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken.
2. Meanwhile, tie the cinnamon, bay leaf, cloves and peppercorns up in a small square of cheesecloth or empty tea bag paper. Once sauce has begun to thicken, turn the heat down to low and stir in the brown sugar, vinegar and thyme until well combined. Add the herb bundle to the pot making sure to submerge it in the sauce. Continue to simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes or until sauce has reduced and thickened to the desired consistency (the precise thickness of the ketchup depends on individual tastes). Stir occasionally to prevent sauce on the bottom from burning.
3. Once the ketchup has reached the desired thickness, remove the pan from the heat and fish out the herb bundle with tongs or a slotted spoon. Discard the herb bundle. Stir in the paprika and add extra salt, if needed. Pour the ketchup into an airtight jar and, for best results, let it sit overnight before serving so the flavors have time to mellow and blend. Keeps up to 2 months, refrigerated in an airtight container.
We tested this ketchup on a hearty burger and homemade french fries meal, eating it both on the burgers and as a dip with the french fries, with classic Heinz tomato ketchup as the comparison. The results of this taste test were decidedly mixed. Although most of the 7 testers preferred the Heinz ketchup for dipping fries in (because of the smoother, thicker consistency), several people actually liked the homemade ketchup better on burgers. Just two of us preferred the homemade ketchup on both fries and hamburgers. Heinz ketchup was also the clear winner with the two children among us, who showed a definite preference for it’s sweeter flavor and smooth texture.
The store bought ketchup obviously wins the time component for this comparison. The homemade ketchup requires an hour of hands-on preparation and a whole day of sitting for the flavors to blend well. Heinz ketchup also wins out on price, costing a whole dollar less than the same amount of homemade ketchup.
Bottom Line: Homemade ketchup has a more complex flavor than the store bought variety, but it is more expensive than store bought and quite labor intensive to prepare. Also, store bought ketchup has a thicker, smoother texture that makes it a better choice for dipping fries or other treats. However, if you are looking for a new cooking project, homemade ketchup is quite fun to make and tastes wonderful on a homemade burger!