Simmer Down: How to Make Homemade Ketchup
Ketchup can and should be more than crimson sugar sludge. You deserve better.
If I presented you with the idea of making ketchup from scratch at home, I assume your eyes would roll and you’d opt for Heinz 57 instead, yes? This was at least my first instinct when broaching the subject, simply because I have historically overlooked ketchup as a condiment entirely. I dip my fries in mayonnaise, so sue me. Think of the times you doused some fried food or burger bun with tomato water, out of blind faith in a store bought bottle of the stuff, only to be left deeply disappointed. That experience is incorrect. On the flip side however, I now know and can joyously share with you that making ketchup at home, following the guidance of fermentation and condiment wizard, Greg Arnold, comes together in a pinch and requires precisely five minutes of your time. Imagine! I am a ketchup convert, and that is a miracle in and of itself.
I connected with Chef Arnold, founder of his own condiment and fermentation program, Dark Horse Organic out of Los Angeles, to learn a little bit about the process of condiment creation and why designing one’s own ketchup is worth the effort. “One, it's fun and two, you know what all of the ingredients are and where they come from. You can also really customize them to your own taste buds,” he notes.
Arnold, raised by his Japanese family, “grew up with soy sauce and ketchup spiked in most dishes.” He explains that the cuisine known as yoshuku describes the point at which Western condiments meet a Japanese style of cooking. “There is a lot of influence of yoshuku in my upbringing and through the product line of Dark Horse. The food produced in the U.S after the 1940s, whether it be frozen, canned, denatured, or processed to increase the shelf life, basically removed all of the flavor, so condiments became extremely important in our culture to make the food palatable.”
Chef Arnold reflects on working in restaurants and tasting popular American condiments, “trying to replicate their flavor using natural and organic ingredients,” and noticing, “almost all [premade] condiments have huge amounts of salt and processed sugar or fructose. So, to make a healthy version at home you need to really put thought into natural alternatives.”
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It’s not breaking news that ketchup is loaded with sugar and it’s likely more preservatives are present than tomatoes in an average bottle. Ketchup is arguably one of the most shelf stable items at the grocery store… this is not a ringing endorsement. What I love about Arnold’s process is his authentic approach to making condiments with a purpose—providing healthy, thoughtful choices. He shows us that ketchup, mustard and the like, deserve more respect than leaving them in your refrigerator door for years. I’m looking at you, mom.
“Fermentation is really important in building good gut flora. Having a good gut allows for a healthy mind and a healthy body. It also builds massive flavors and is a natural way to preserve your food. My theory behind condiments is more of an Asian or Middle Eastern approach where instead of drowning and masking the flavor of the foods, I use whole ingredients, rich with flavor and the condiments are used to add that final one to two percent of vitality and shimmer across the top of the flavors,” says Arnold.
What else makes Dark Horse unique besides being fully organic? It’s fermented. “This adds umami and a sense of depth to the flavors. It contains local honey from Santa Barbara, and tamari and miso which adds tons of full bodied flavors.”
With Greg Arnold’s help, you too, can start working on your from scratch customizable condiments. According to him, his given recipe is a “very good jumping off point for a base ketchup. You can also experiment with adding in things like cayenne, smoked paprika, fish sauce, whatever ideas/flavors you want to play around with. A lot of ketchup recipes call for garlic or onions, but by removing those ingredients, the shelf life will go from a matter of days to several weeks when you store it in the refrigerator. Have fun experimenting and creating your own personal condiment line,” Arnold encourages.
- 1 cup tomato paste
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ tamari
- ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon of each: allspice, paprika, clove, cumin, black pepper
- Salt to taste if needed
Whisk all together in a mixing bowl and transfer into a jar.