Be a Ketchup King (or Catsup Queen)!

It’s cookout season and that means you will need condiments to top off all those burgers and dogs, right? Hands down, ketchup (or catsup, if you prefer) is one of the most popular condiments of all time. According to author Dan Jurafsky, ketchup has a long history and actually originated in China. The labeling term “tomato ketchup” is not redundant because the first ketchup was not made from tomatoes at all. Early ketchup recipes utilized things like mushrooms and nuts. For more info on all things ketchup, check out Jurafsky’s book, or this one by Andrew Smith.

Anyway…Americans do like their ketchup is also used as a base ingredient in certain sauces you might be whipping up, such as BBQ sauce or cocktail sauce. If ketchup is a staple in your house, it makes sense to take a look at what it’s contributing to your diet.

Avocado Corn Salsa
Fresh salsas, like this Avocado Corn Salsa, can be a wonderful way to add better nutrition and flavor than traditional condiments.

What’s in ketchup?

Well, of course, it’s made from tomatoes. So, it has some of the nutritional merits of tomatoes (albeit in small amounts), such as potassium and vitamins A and C, as well as lycopene, a natural phytochemical and red pigment that may be beneficial as a cancer-fighter, though research is ongoing. (Plus, most of us aren’t consuming huge amounts of ketchup). It’s also quite low in calories—only 17 calories per tablespoon. However, it is quite high in sodium (154mg per tablespoon!) and does contain added sugar, which lots of folks don’t realize. The good news: there are a few options for ketchup lovers…

Consider a ketchup swap.

Want less sodium? Various versions of sodium-reduced and no-salt-added ketchups are available at supermarkets. It’s a smart swap that will deliver a huge sodium savings (one brand has just 3mg sodium per tablespoon).

Want less sugar? Relatively new on the market are reduced sugar, low carb and sugar-free ketchups. Regular ketchup has nearly 4g sugars per tablespoon, but reduced sugar ketchup has 75% less sugar. Sugar-free and lower carbohydrate versions contain substantially fewer calories and utilize sugar substitutes like or alternative sweeteners like agave.

Sub in salsa.

You may have heard that several years ago news that salsa nudged ketchup out of the favored condiment spot in the US market. (Although in terms of market dollars, mayonnaise is still the #1 condiment in the US.) Yep, salsa is that popular. Some folks think of salsa as a dip though, and not a condiment. I’m one of those folks, however, even I see the beauty of substituting salsa in place of ketchup in some instances. It is a chance to add some extra vegetables and even fruit to a dish for a flavor twist. It also adds a freshness (especially if the salsa is homemade) that ketchup lacks, and of course, it lends a spicier, more ethnic flavor to everything from burgers to grilled fish.

If you’re looking for a nice summer salsa, our sweet and spicy Mango Salsa fits the bill whether you’re serving chips and need an accompaniment, or if you need a topping for grilled chicken, turkey burgers, salmon or tuna skewers or grilled quesadillas. (It’s also good on many non-grilled items of course!)

Up the umami factor in your food.

Another way to bump up food flavor sans condiments is to increase their savory, umami taste by using content of high-umami ingredients. One still needs to keep saltiness in check, however, because some umami-rich ingredients—like soy sauce and aged cheese for example, can also be high in sodium. Check out some natural sources of savory taste (two of my favorites: mushrooms and anchovy paste) and build some of those ingredients into your next burger mixture.