Ketchup Gets Classy

The humble burger, or as some highfalutin spots call it, hamburger sandwich, has ushered in an era of high-class lowbrow cooking: free-range fried chicken; hand-cut duck-fat fries. And yet, consider the condiments. A squirt of Heinz on that grass-fed patty? A fancy burger without ketchup to match is like a retro-chic bartender without a bowtie.

Maybe that's why some burger joints like LA's Father's Office (and, let's be fair to the burger's originators, Louis' Lunch) ban the stuff altogether. But ketchup fans rejoice—there is another way. Sir Kensington's Gourmet Scooping Ketchup uses upscale ingredients, awesome graphics, and a less, ahem, noisy little glass jar to make a ketchup worthy of fancy burgers, and spectacular enough to elevate even your morning-after eggs. Scott Norton and Mark Ramadan are the founders, and we spoke with them about their idea.

Why ketchup?

SN: The idea originated three years ago when a friend of mine said, Look at the mustards in the grocery store—how many are there? Dozens of glorious varieties. OK, what about ketchup? And there might be two kinds, but they're all in the same bottle, all with the same contents.

Why do you think that is? How come mustard gets to have all the fun?

MR: Ketchup hits on these primal urges. It's sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory; it has all five tastes. But they combine into one taste, like Coke. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a story called The Ketchup Conundrum where he says, basically, that Heinz is perfect. Wired had a response to that article and said that mustard is nose food, so there are lots of varieties, but ketchup is tongue food, so there doesn't have to be as many. People try to explain why, but we just wanted to make something different.

SN: For us, it was a challenge: Can we make something better than Heinz?

What was your first step? Research, experimentation...?

SN: We looked at what's in ketchup: Tomato paste, high fructose corn syrup, vinegar, spices. All these ingredients can be elevated. We made eight prototypes and invited 30 friends over to taste them. We had Asian ketchup, Tex-Mex ketchup, one kind with Greek yogurt, another with maple syrup and cloves. The two winners are what we make today: Classic and Spiced.

MR: There have been other ketchups. But they weren't different ketchups. They used the same exact bottle. Heinz was the standard, and the other ketchups innovated only slightly.

SN: We looked at the history. Ketchup comes from a Southern Chinese fish sauce used to give umami, a savory flavor, to dishes. It spread to Malaysia and Indonesia and then the Dutch and English brought it to Europe where it was adapted as an oyster sauce. The big difference with those recipes was vinegar content. It was made to eat that day, so preservation wasn't an issue and the vinegar content was low. When it needed to be preserved, manufacturers used sodium benzoate. Then Heinz started using vinegar instead.

MR: Heinz's dominance is fairly recent in ketchup's overall history.

What makes Sir Kensington's different?

More on ketchup from Food Republic:

Have you tried Sir Kensington's? How does it stack up to Heinz? Pour it on in the comments.