Make Your Own Ketchup

Welcome back to Marla’s Test Kitchens. As mentioned in my previous post about homemade mayonnaise, I am experimenting with making my own condiments. In this post I tell you about my adventures, and misadventures, in ketchup-making.

A recent news items about the H.J. Heinz Company modifying its ketchup recipe to reduce sodium levels spurred my interest in make-my-own-ketchup. Since it is my favorite brand of ketchup, and the recipe is changing, I thought I should have a back-up plan if we did not like the new recipe.

My criteria for make-it-yourself-stuff:

  • Is the product I make better?
  • Is it cheaper?
  • Is it (relatively) fast?

For this project, I consulted with my friend, Lloyd, who used to make his own ketchup. Unfortunately, over the years, his recipe was lost, but we were able to find one he thought seemed similar. Featured were ripe tomatoes, green peppers, onions and habaneros peppers. We had a slight disagreement over the number of peppers. Lloyd “snacks” on habaneros peppers. I, on the other hand, would die if I pulled a stunt like that. As it happened, I could not find (really!) habaneros on my shopping excursion and substituted jalapenos.

As you might have guessed, this recipe involved a lot of chopping and dicing. It also required me to slip the skins off of the tomatoes after dipping them in boiling water. At this point, noticing that they were very mealy, I had to admit that making fresh ketchup in May was probably not good planning. Texture was also a problem for me. Even with the blender setting on “annihilate,” I could not get the ketchup smooth enough.

We tested this version of ketchup with hamburgers and French fries on the same day that I made it. How was it? Well, I have not included the recipe, if that gives you a hint. With stronger spices, we decided it could have made a decent barbeque sauce. Lloyd will probably tell me it is because I didn’t use habaneros, and he may be right. It was also not cheap, after purchasing all of that fresh produce.

Not willing to be labeled a quitter, I took to the Internet again. There seemed to be a bit of buzz about a particular recipe that looked really easy. It is, and it is included here with the permission of Susanne at Hillbilly Housewife. The beauty of it is that it uses tomato PASTE. That’s right, no chopping or dicing. It is a great, easy recipe:

We tested it twice and then my husband, a big vinegar-lover, made some tweaks to suit his preferences. Here is the “Vinegar-Lover’s” version:

1 6-ounce can tomato paste
¼ cup tap water
4 tablespoons white vinegar
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pinch cloves
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon corn syrup

The results:

1. Is it better? My taste-test teams liked the tomato-paste versions, but were not unanimous. My daughter thought the homemade version would be better as a dipping sauce for foods like shrimp. However, the rest of us, hungry boyfriend included, liked it.

2. Is it cheaper? This depends on where you live. Susanne’s version cost her only fifty cents for twelve ounces. However, the cheapest can of tomato paste I could find was seventy-nine cents. That made my twelve-ounce batch cost more like a dollar. I would still consider this to be economical to make, especially if I could find a sale on tomato paste.

3. Is it fast? It took twenty minutes. It was very easy to put together.

Would I recommend you make your own? Sure, particularly if you are interested in controlling your ingredients. Susanne, the creator of the recipe, points out that you can easily change the sugar or sodium content, which is a very healthy way to go.

Do I need to take a break from eating French fries? Definitely.

Next post: Mustard!

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Guest's picture

corn syrup (glucose-fructose) is one of THE worst food products out there. You should be using real sugar. Using corn syrup is very bad for you.

Marla Walters's picture

Thanks for the comment, Guest. I am a big believer in "everything in moderation." I usually use sugar, myself, but the corn syrup definitely gave it a smoother texture. I might try honey or molasses, next batch.

Guest's picture

I always look forward to the posting of a new Marla Walters' article. Not only are they informative, but they are also hugely entertaining!

Marla Walters's picture

Hey, thanks, Guest! :-)

Guest's picture
Kevin Eldridge

I read one recipe that called for using corn syrup and was a bit dismayed. That site had user comments and suggestions. They suggested using the equivalent amount of honey or molasses as corn syrup as the substitute. I can attest that there was not a noticeable difference in the taste. However, I felt much better about eating that recipe.

Although, growing up as a child, my Mom gave us corn syrup by the 4-letter brand that starts with a K for our pancakes and/or waffles. I think I turned out OK. I think :)

P.S. I enjoy going to buy honey from the local flea market from local vendors. You know the benefits for eating local honey, so I will not go on and on.

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, Kevin, and thanks for your comment.

Y'know, when I considered using the corn syrup, I also had misgivings. I ended up doing a little reading about it, and felt better after I read this post on the Mayo Clinic's website:

Plus, it was only a tablespoon.

I am totally with you on the local honey.

Thanks again for commenting!

Guest's picture

Great posts and I really enjoyed the brewing posts too. Looking forward to the mustard post, I've been interested in trying it for some time but can't find dry mustard for a reasonable cost. Thanks for the posts.

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, Guest, and thanks for the nice comments. I hear you on the dry mustard. Going to Costco tomorow, but I don't really need a barrel of it . . . the hunt continues.

Guest's picture

I was just pouring some ketchup yesterday and thinking "I could make something like this" so may well give your recipe a whirl.

I think honey will be my corn syrup substitute and if it's any good I will report back.

Marla Walters's picture

Please do report back, Forest! Curious to hear about how the honey works.

Guest's picture

How long does the homemade mayo and ketchup keep? When I buy these, they last forever. Is that true for the homemade versions too or is it only safe to use for days?

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, guest. Good questions. First, the mayo. The recipe only makes a pint (a little short of that, actually). I have to confess that because it was so good, we ate it really fast. So, I never had it past 2 or 3 days, tops. Since it has raw egg in it, I wouldn't want it around for any longer than that, just because I'm sort of a worrier about raw eggs. It's so good, freshly made.

As for the ketchup, the story is the same. While testing the recipe, I never found a barn-burner sale on tomato paste, so I didn't make a big quantity. The last batch I tested, I think we had for about 2 weeks (kept in the refrigerator). I suppose if I hit a big sale on tomato paste and wanted to make a large quantity, I'd can the sauce. I'd even refrigerate that after opening, too, though. I live in a tropical, humid climate, so I probably refrigerate more stuff than other people. I have no qualms with the cheap stuff that lasts forever -- I buy that, too. Making-your-own is great for when you want something a little fancier, or want to control what goes into it.