From a 17th-century fish sauce, ketchup advanced into a patent medicine, a carcinogenic health hazard, and eventually, a non-Newtonian fluid. Here’s how ketchup’s rich history is reflected in the design of a party of Heinz.

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What execute you think about when you see a glass bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup ~ above a table? If you’re like most people, you probably don’t pay very close attention to it. It is a means to a hot dog’s end, unremarkable other than for its capacity to spread a thick, sweet-and-sour tomato puree on some item the food. Otherwise, what is there to say? but even popular objects have actually been designed, and seemingly straightforward questions about the architecture of something as unremarkable together a bottle of ketchup deserve to have remarkable deep answers.

Editor’s Note

Happy (almost) new Year! We’re speak good-bye come 2013 by revisiting several of our favorite story of the year. Enjoy.

How deep, then, is a bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup, really? What is the definition behind the “57 Varieties” label wrapped around the bottle’s mouth, and also why is that there? Why is a bottle of Heinz Ketchup transparent, instead of opaque? and why does the party make together a allude of emphasizing the it is specifically full of tomato ketchup, as soon as ketchup is synonymous with tomatoes?

Why Tomato Ketchup?

Although we most carefully associate ketchup through tomatoes this days, ketchup was roughly for hundreds of years before anyone also dreamed that chucking a tomato in the bottle. In fact, that most American the condiments isn’t even American. It’s Asian.


The long history of ketchup in the Western people extends back to the beforehand 16th century, once British inhabitants in Fuji were presented to a sauce used by Chinese sailors dubbed ke-tchup. Local recipes for ke-tchup varied, but the very first recipe on document dates earlier to 544 A.D. And also instructs any prospective condiment machine to “take the intestine, stomach, and also bladder that the yellow fish, shark and also mullet, and also wash lock well. Mix them through a moderate quantity of salt and also place castle in a jar. Seal tightly and also incubate in the sun. It will be prepared in twenty work in summer, fifty work in feather or fall and also a hundred days in winter.”

By the time the British found ke-tchup, the recipe had been simplified right into a pungent, amber-colored liquid made out of salted and fermented anchovies. In a an extremely real way, the original ketchup wasn’t ketchup at all. It was fish sauce, nice much identical to the fish sauce you can buy by the bottle in any type of Asian supermarket. When British traders headed ago to England v a taste because that the sauce, lock attempted to re-create it, Anglicizing it v the enhancement of (what else?) beer. Eventually, anchovies were taken out of the sauce entirely and replaced with walnut ketchup (Jane Austen’s favorite kind) and mushroom ketchup (which tastes comparable to Worcestershire sauce).

In fact, even as they experimented v every other variety, the English appreciated ketchup because that close come 200 years prior to anyone thought of chucking a tomato in the mix. The resistance to tomato ketchup can largely be chalked as much as the widespread misconception amongst Europeans the tomatoes, i m sorry looked nearly identical to deadly nightshade berries, were poisonous. Tomatoes were largely taken into consideration an ornamental curiosity for gardens ever due to the fact that Cortez had brought them ago from the americas in the 1500s, however they weren’t intended to it is in eaten.

The English enjoyed ketchup for close come 200 years prior to anyone believed of chucking a tomato in the mix.

Despite its condition as a aboriginal fruit, americans inherited Europe’s aversion to tomatoes. There were, that course, tomato advocates. In 1820, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson the Salem, new Jersey, was standing on the actions of the local courthouse and also consumed whole basket of tomato to prove lock weren’t poisonous. By and large, though, that wasn’t till the 1830s that America gained hip to the fact that tomatoes might be delicious. In 1834, one Ohio physician named Dr. John cook Bennett declared tomatoes to be a global panacea that might be used to treat diarrhea, violent bilious attacks, and also indigestion. Quite soon, Bennett was publishing recipes because that tomato ketchup, which to be then focused into pill kind and marketed as a patent medicine across the country.

By 1876, tomatoes had actually undergone a exceptional turnaround in the court of public opinion. Tomato ketchup was not just popular, but since of the teachings the an prominent quack promulgated by the patent medication trade, tomato ketchup was actually thought about to be a type of tonic, a condiment the was in reality healthier than common ketchup.


At the time, though, nothing could be additional from the truth.

Why Is The party Transparent?


“Filthy, decomposed and putrid.” These were the words that cookbook author Pierre Blot provided in 1866 to define the quality of advertising ketchups being marketed at the time. The course, prior to the Pure Food and also Drug plot of 1906 (and together Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle famously showed), the food manufacturing business as a whole might largely be described with these very same memorable adjectives. But ketchup was particularly bad. In fact, once you opened up a bottle, the contents could literally death you.


The reasons ketchup was such vile, potentially deadly slop room varied, however start through the shortness that the tomato season. Lasting native mid-August until mid-October, ketchup can only it is in made fresh for two months out of the year. However, through the so late 19th century, american were offered to expecting ketchup year around. A year’s worth of ketchup could not be made in two months, therefore manufacturers kept tomato pulp to fulfill yearly expectations. The wasn’t a negative strategy, except for the fact that they go so with the exact same carelessness, filthiness, and lack that quality regulate that to be endemic in the food manufacturing market at the time. Whole barrels the pulp to be stored so badly that, when open, castle were discovered to be filled through mold, yeast, spores, and also deadly bacteria.

At a time when no one else cared, Heinz was obsessed with making his products as pure together possible.

The result was that commercial ketchups in the 19th century were disgusting filth from the get-go, and also only got worse in processing. To avoid the ketchup from moldering further, ketchup devices filled their batches v harmful preservatives, including boric acid, formalin, salicylic acid, and benzoic acid. Then, due to the fact that ketchup v the pulp sieved the end is actually an ext yellowish 보다 anything else, charcoal tar was included to dye the ketchup red. To placed this certain additive in its suitable perspective, charcoal tar is flammable sufficient to fire boilers, is typically used come coat asphalt in parking lots, and also in concentrations above 5% is thought about a team 1 carcinogen. Quiet worse: many ketchups were cooked in copper tubs, causing a chemical reaction in between the copper and also ketchup that might actually make the concoction poisonous to consume. How bad were the ketchups that the time? In a examine of commercial ketchups conducted in 1896, 90% of all ketchups ~ above the industry were discovered to save on computer “injurious ingredients” that can lead come death.

This to be the sorry state that ketchup as soon as Henry J. Heinz released his an initial bottle in 1876. However Heinz to be a visionary, a morally strong man who believed that “heart strength is far better than equine power.” Under his leadership, the H.J. Heinz company was truly ahead that its time. The factories to be models that progressiveness. Not only were Heinz employee given totally free life insurance, fatality insurance, doctor and also dental services, yet also accessibility to onsite cafeterias, dining rooms, medical stations, swim pools, gymnasiums, and roof gardens. The employees were also encouraged to it is in meticulously clean. At a time when numerous factory employees didn’t also have running water in ~ home, Heinz noted fresh uniforms, a complimentary laundry service, and also even one in-house manicurist to help them store their pond immaculate. In fact, Heinz’s factories were together models the cleanliness and also happiness that 30,000 visitors were allowed to tour the factory every year. Heinz feel he had absolutely nothing to hide.

Heinz wasn’t just driven to make his employees happy and healthy, though. At a time as soon as no one else cared, Heinz was obsessed through making his commodities as pure together possible. It was a principle the had constantly guided Heinz in his organization dealings. In fact, when Heinz started his career marketing horseradish, he refuse to offer it in the brown opaque bottles common at the time. Instead, he offered transparent jars, so that buyers can see his horseradish’s purity for themselves before they provided him a penny.

That every party of Heinz is see-through is no accident. It’s a design statement: purity through transparency.

But the cooking recipes to make his ketchup as pure as his horseradish eluded Heinz for almost two decades. It wasn’t till 1904 the Heinz’s cook food scientist, G.F. Mason, to be able to uncover a great preservative-free recipe for ketchup. Before then, Heinz used numerous of the exact same preservatives as his competitors, even coal tar to dye his ketchup red. By 1906, though, the nut had actually been cracked, and also Heinz was producing five million bottles of preservative-free ketchup every year.

If there to be one principle that Henry J. Heinz valued an ext than any other, it was purity and also transparency. “It is always safe to buy the assets of an facility that keeps the doors open,” Heinz when famously wrote. That every party of Heinz Tomato Ketchup sold is see-through is no accident. It’s a architecture statement: purity with transparency.

57 Varieties

Each bottle of Heinz ketchup somewhat mysteriously brags around the company’s “57 Varieties” in a little label wrapped around the neck. The there are actually 57 arrays of Heinz assets has literally never been true. Inspired by an advertisement he observed on a train because that a agency that do “21 varieties” of shoes, Heinz linked his favourite number, 5, v his wife’s number, 7, come brag around his company’s very own breadth the products. When he very first began to put the “57 Varieties” label on his ketchup bottles, the H.J. Heinz company already produced over 60 various products.


So “57 Varieties” has actually literally constantly been happy nonsense. But the tiny label that circles the mouth the every party of Heinz ketchup sold? No nonsense there. It’s completely functional.

One exciting fact about ketchup that everyone should know is the it’s a non-Newtonian fluid. Naturally, ketchup is rather thin and also watery, since the tomato pulp that offers it consistency is sieved out. Together a result, advertising ketchup makers add a tiny amount the xanthan gum to their ketchup recipes to thicken it. But this ingredient has another side effect: It turns ketchup into a shear thinning fluid. In other words, how conveniently ketchup flows counts upon the tension that is being put upon it.

The placing of the Heinz’s “57 Varieties” brand is deliberate: It’s a target.

That ketchup is non-Newtonian is the key reason why acquiring it the end of a glass party is for this reason slow. Permitted to circulation naturally, ketchup just travels in ~ a speed of 147 feet per hour. The only method to speed it increase is to use force, which v the principle of shear thinning to reduce the ketchup’s viscosity, and also thus boosts its flow rate. This is why you need to thump a bottle of ketchup to gain it flow from the bottle. The concussive pressure makes it flow faster.

But despite typical opinion, the bottom the a bottle of Heinz Ketchup isn’t in reality the best place to thump it. If you apply force come the bottom the a party of Heinz, the ketchup closestly to whereby you smacked will absorb many of the force of impact. The will flow freely, but the ketchup the is viscously clogging the neck and mouth the the party won’t, leaving you no far better off 보다 you were before. The systems is to cause the shear thinning result at the top the the bottle, no the bottom. That unclogs the mouth and lets the ketchup below to freely flow.

So while the substance of Heinz’s “57 Varieties” label might be simply a fanciful whim top top the component of the company’s creator, its positioning is deliberate. It’s a target. By just tapping the label v two fingers, you create the optimal conditions for shear thinning, transforming non-Newtonian ketchup right into a free-flowing liquid. Physics!


Of course, these days, most ketchup is sold in to express bottles. Also Heinz’s competitors have determined how to make ketchup the they aren’t ashamed to market in transparent containers. Tomatoes room synonymous with ketchup, and you’d it is in hard-pressed to find even the most grotesque, insane quack recommending ketchup as a cure-all.


None of that matters, though. A party of Heinz isn’t just a container that ketchup. It’s a style classic because of whatever besides the ketchup it manages to party up: not just the history of a condiment or an item lesson in non-Newtonian physics however the guiding ethics of a great man who believed, much more than anything else, that good design was transparent. And also, perhaps, tasted pretty good on a key of fries.

Note: This short article is heavily indebted come sources stated in this terrific Metafilter thread about ketchup’s history.

About the author

John Brownlee is a style writer who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. You can email him at john.brownlee+fastco

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