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The Origins of Ketchup (It is not American, and it is not red!)

Do you know the origin of ketchup? It is not an American invention, but was invented in the Far Asiatic East. Yes, ketchup is an oriental sauce, and the name probably derives from the Malysian term kecap o kicha or from the Cantonese word ketsiap (tomato sauce). Both were sweet and sour with the addition of soy sauce or fish sauce, but there was no tomato in it.

When this sauce arrived in Europe in the seventeenth century via Dutch sailors from China, the chefs personalized this red sauce with a lot of variations, adding oysters, lemon juice, nuts, mushroom, and even fruits like peaches and plums. Every cook in Europe had a different recipe, but the tomato was missing.

Finally the first tomato ketchup appeared in 1812 in a recipe by the American, James Mease, from Philadelphia. It was only in 1872 that Henry J. Heinz developed the recipe for the ketchup we all know today.

Heinz increased the quantity of vinegar and sugar and added onion and a mix of spices. This combination of flavors is famous worldwide. In Piemonte, in Northern Italy, a similar variation of ketchup is called bagnèt ross (red dip), and it is usually served with other sauces like salsa verde, mayonnaise, and mostarda (a delicious and unique sauce with tangy and spicy candied fruits) with bollito, which is a traditional dish made of various cuts of beef in their broth.

It is very easy to make ketchup, and the result is beyond better than any you could buy in the supermarket—sorry, Mr. Heinz. Here is wonderful recipe for homemade ketchup that I found in a old Italian cookbook:

Homemade Ketchup


1 large red onion, minced

1 clove of garlic, minced Apprx. 17 oz. (500 g) of canned tomatoes 7 oz (200 ml) red wine vinegar

3 oz (70 g) soft brown sugar


Olive oil

A pinch of cinnamon

A pinch of pepper

Sauté the onion in oil until translucent, and then add the garlic.

Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices and cook for 10 minutes to reduce and thicken. Whiz in a blender or with a hand blender until smooth.

Now let's move on to a perfect recipe for your homemade ketchup...

The Mc.Douglas Super Burger!

The ingredients are key. In Italy, the best cut of meat for the burger will always be Chianina, from the cows in the valleys near the Arno River. I always make the sauces from scratch: mayonnaise and ketchup, and I use the best aged Fontina cheese, which is very stinky (I adore stinky cheese) from Northern Italy. The secret ingredient is caramelized onions, and I always serve the burger with potatoes fried in extra virgin olive oil and rosemary. When I can, I make the dough for the bun, but any good burger bun from a bakery will do if you don't have time.

Mc.Douglas Super Burger

(This recipe is for one burger)

7 oz (200 g) Chianina minced fillet made into a patty

1 burger bun with sesame seeds

A handful of arugula or freshly picked salad

1 ripe tomato

2 dill pickles

½ red onion

A pinch of sugar

1 Tbs of white vinegar

2 Tbs of handmade ketchup (see recipe above)

Salt & pepper

1 Tbs of handmade curry mayonnaise:

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

1 Tbsp of white wine vinegar

1 Tbs of lemon juice

1 tsp of Madras curry powder

1 cup of vegetable oil


First things first— do all the prep, because the ingredients must be quickly cooked together. Make your sauces first— the ketchup (see the recipe above), and for the mayo, mix the ingredients in a blender.

Slice the cheese, the tomato, and the pickles, wash the salad, and sauté the onion with a bit of oil, sugar, and vinegar until caramelized.

Peel and cut the potatoes into wedges, and fry. Add chopped rosemary and salt when the fries turn golden.

While the potatoes are frying, grill the meat patty and the bread bun halves. When cooked just the way you like it, put the patty on the bread, dollop on the sauces, and add the cheese slices. Top it all off with the caramelized onions.

Serve with a salad, sliced tomato, and pickle and enjoy with the fried rosemary potatoes and the sauces for dipping.

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