Ketchup Used to Be Sold as Medicine

Ketchup, the tangy and iconic condiment found on tables across the globe, has a fascinating history that dates back centuries. While it is now commonly associated with hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries, ketchup’s origins are rooted in a much different use. In fact, it started as a medicinal product in the United States, making its journey from being marketed as a cure-all to becoming the beloved sauce we know today.

Ancient Origins: From Asia to Europe

The story of ketchup begins in ancient Asia, where various cultures used fermented fish sauces and brine to enhance the flavors of their meals. These early versions of ketchup bear little resemblance to the tomato-based condiment we are familiar with today. The word “ketchup” itself has diverse linguistic roots, originating from Chinese (koechiap), Malay (kecap), and British English (ketchup), all referring to different types of condiments made from fermented fish brine, mushrooms, and walnuts.

Tomatoes, the key ingredient in modern ketchup, were introduced to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century. Initially met with skepticism and fear due to their relation to poisonous nightshade plants, tomatoes gradually gained acceptance as a safe food to consume. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that they became a prominent part of ketchup recipes.

Ketchup as Medicine: A Curious Transformation

In the 18th century, ketchup underwent a transformation from a condiment to a supposed medicinal cure. This era saw a wide range of concoctions being sold as remedies for various ailments, and ketchup was no exception. It became a hot new tonic in the United States, marketed and sold by apothecaries and other salesmen as a panacea for indigestion, diarrhea, rheumatism, jaundice, and more.

One of the pioneers of ketchup’s medicinal rebranding was Dr. John Cook Bennett, a physician from Ohio. In 1834, he claimed that tomatoes contained powerful medicinal properties and urged people to consume them to treat various illnesses. Dr. Bennett even went as far as having ketchup pills made, which were essentially extracts of tomato in pill form. However, the claims made by many of these ketchup medicine purveyors were often exaggerated, and the industry eventually collapsed in the mid-19th century.

The Rise of Henry J. Heinz: Revolutionizing Ketchup Packaging

In the late 1800s, ketchup underwent another transformation, this time in the realm of packaging. Henry J. Heinz, the founder of the renowned condiment company, revolutionized the way ketchup was packaged by introducing the iconic glass bottle. He designed the bottle to allow the ketchup to flow smoothly and evenly, making it more convenient for consumers. However, anyone who has dealt with a glass bottle knows that a few smacks on the bottom are often necessary to coax out the desired amount of the crimson sauce.

Nutritional Considerations: Ketchup in Moderation

While ketchup is a beloved condiment, it’s important to use it in moderation due to its high sugar and salt content. However, it’s worth noting that tomatoes, the primary ingredient in ketchup, are a good source of nutrients like lycopene, an antioxidant associated with various health benefits. So, when enjoyed in moderation, ketchup can be a tasty addition to meals.

Fun Facts and Records

Here are some fun facts and records related to ketchup:

  1. The Guinness World Record for the farthest ketchup squirting distance was set by Hikaru Nakasone, a Japanese man, in 1998. He shot a stream of ketchup from a regular bottle a distance of over 30 feet and 9 inches (9 meters)!
  2. Ketchup is a versatile ingredient and can be used in various recipes beyond the traditional condiment applications. It can be incorporated into marinades, dressings, and even desserts for a unique twist.
  3. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, ketchup is spelled as “catsup.” The different spellings are a result of linguistic variations and regional preferences.


From its humble origins as a fermented fish sauce in ancient Asia to its transformation into a medicinal cure and eventually a beloved condiment, the history of ketchup is filled with surprises. Today, ketchup remains a staple on tables worldwide, adding a tangy and flavorful kick to our favorite dishes. So, the next time you reach for that bottle of ketchup, remember its intriguing journey from medicine to condiment. Enjoy it in moderation and savor the flavors that have delighted taste buds for centuries.

Additional Information: Ketchup is often associated with fast food and unhealthy eating habits. However, there are now many healthier alternatives available in the market, such as low-sugar or sugar-free ketchup options. These alternatives cater to individuals who are conscious of their sugar intake or following specific dietary guidelines.

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