Tomato ketchup is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to dismiss it as a simple sauce to be paired with french fries, meatloaf, scrambled eggs and, if you’re far away from Chicago, a hot dog. (On that, we do judge: Don’t!) But there’s a deceptive complexity to ketchup.
Chef Christopher Prosperi, my longtime friend in Connecticut, always said ketchup combined all five basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. The Food & Dining staff sampled 12 brands of ketchup, searching for that idyllic flavor profile.
I was curious to see how all the ketchups would rate tasted side-by-side with no accompaniment. Although the brands sampled were regular tomato ketchup, there was a surprising variation in color, texture and flavor. A few tasted like cocktail sauce or canned tomato sauce. Some were sweet and some spicy. Textures ranged from a smooth paste to much more coarse. Clearly, not all ketchup is alike.
This was a blind tasting, meaning tasters didn’t know which ketchup was which. Each participant in the tasting was asked to rate each brand on appearance, aroma, texture and flavor.
I did not buy membership-only club brands because I wanted ketchup the general public had a reasonable chance of buying. Prices have been updated for 2021 based on listed prices at Chicago-area Jewel-Osco stores, Marianos, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market.
(Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune; Shannon Kinsella/food styling)