The taste test: tomato ketchup

It’s the first rule of nutrition that small children will turn their noses up at all green foods and happily devour anything red or orange. If you’ve ever been charged with feeding a toddler you’ll know that fish fingers and tomato ketchup is the hautest of haute cuisine for them, a three-star Michelin snack. The tomato sauce itself is not only the perfect colour but also very sweet, another feral predilection of the young. For the older and more discerning, there’s now a range of adult ketchups to sit alongside the ubiquitous Heinz. We tried them.

Before the actual blind tasting, and drawing on the immense resources of the FT, we carried out an exclusive survey. We asked Britain: with which dish do you most like to enjoy tomato ketchup? Top came fish pie, with 37.5 per cent. Second-equal were bacon sarnies and bangers, both with 25 per cent. Kedgeree followed, with 12.5 per cent. To demonstrate the reliability of a survey, one must reveal the size of the sample. Ours comprised a magnificent four respondents, our tasters on the day: the Digital Native (DN), the Carnivorous Undergraduate (CU), the Discerning Litigator (DL) and the Gluttonous Pig (GP).

Eight swanky ketchups were rustled up by the FT Weekend Magazine politburo, but we also included the ordinary Heinz as a point of comparison. I should make it clear that they were all acceptable products deserving of a space at the side of your plate. But there were some material differences, about which we had strong opinions. The Gluttonous Pig wrote this about one: “Stale notes – onion or garlic powder? A mistake”. This was revealed to be Stokes Real Tomato Ketchup from Suffolk, and its ingredients list indeed revealed both those constituents. We have warned about this before – dried onion and garlic may add a savoury note but need to be used sparingly, if at all, because of the slightly dead thwack they can give a product. Daylesford Organic’s Organic Tomato Ketchup (I wonder if it’s organic?) had gone for chilli to give their sauce a kick, but they overdid it and it dominated the other ingredients: “Chilli killer” (CU). Unless, of course, you love hot food – in which case this is the one for you. Heinz has also had a go at an upmarket version, which is called Tomato Ketchup Blended with Balsamic Vinegar. It came a creditable fourth-equal, but they went slightly overboard with their cloves: “Is this mulled wine?” (GP).

What pleased the panel most was a well-balanced emulsion – not too sweet and not too acidic, not too spicy and not too bland, not too smooth and not too chunky. While not perfect, we had two runners-up that satisfied us. Third was that standard Heinz product, Tomato Ketchup, with its simple list of ingredients and “everyman” flavour: “Cheap but satisfying” (DN); “Heinz?” (DL). Second was Wilkin & Sons Tiptree Tomato Ketchup from Essex: “good texture, complex bouquet” (CU); “tomato pulp feel, ideal for pork and apple bangers” (GP).

But our ketchup of ketchups was Tracklements Tomato Ketchup from Wiltshire. Its slightly exotic ingredients were skilfully blended: tomatoes, onions, Bramley apples, raw cane sugar, spiced vinegar, sea salt, chilli, black pepper. We should warn you that it’s a bit sloppier than some and thus emerges volcanically fast from the bottle: “savoury, comforting” (GP); “chunky texture” (DL); “toothsome and smooth” (DN); “nice texture, naturally sweet” (CU). A worthy winner.

I used to be rather smug about a snippet of trivia I knew – that “amok” was the only word in the English language with a Malayan derivation. But, if Wikipedia is to be believed (caveat lector), ketchup is also of Malayan/Chinese origin. Perhaps someone can verify?

The winner

Tracklements Tomato Ketchup

£2.90 (230ml)

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