You’ve probably seen the word “fancy” on a bottle or packet of ketchup and had one of two reactions: nothing, or “Ooh, fancy ketchup — I hope it’s just the regular stuff.” What exactly is fancy ketchup? Is it Heinz’s caramelized onion– and bacon-flavored ketchup, whose reviews describe its flavor as “chemical and burned” and “not a great reality?” The ketchup you ruin a prime rib with? No, in fact, fancy is somewhat of a misnomer, as containing a higher tomato solid concentrate should really be called something more like “tomatoey-er.”
In the U.S., the percentage of tomato solid — the concentrated paste of skinless, seedless tomato flesh more commonly known as tomato paste — determines whether a grade of ketchup falls into the category of Fancy (33 percent), Extra Standard (29 percent) or Standard (25 percent). Fancy means more tomatoes per dipped fry. The difference may sound negligible, particularly with regard to that pile of fries you’re about to dip, but the premium price for the fancy grade was once the basis for a poorly executed counterfeiting scheme.
What’s more, one country’s standard is vastly different from others, so “fancy” to someone might be “prison grade” to another. Heinz was recently downgraded from bona fide ketchup to mere “tomato seasoning” in Israel, due to its higher tomato solid percentage requirement.