Have you ever had a Mr. Burns moment, pondering the difference between catsup and ketchup? Well, spoiler alert: they are one and the same. That’s right, there is no difference between ketchup and catsup, save for the spelling on the bottle!
Technically (per “The Oxford English Dictionary”), both words can apply to any sauce made from “the juice of mushrooms, walnuts, tomatoes, etc., and used as a condiment,” and they are usually qualified with the main ingredient stated on the label (i.e. Heinz Tomato Ketchup).
Although ketchup seems like an all-American ingredient perfect for squirting on burgers, hot dogs, and fries, the origins of the beloved condiment are actually Chinese. Ke-tsiap was a sauce based on fermented fish that was popular in 17th-century China (fish sauce came to them from Vietnam). British sailors got a taste for ke-tsiap in the 18th century and subsequently brought it back to England, where people began tinkering with it and trying to recreate it with more common Western ingredients. The early recipes published in 18th-century Great Britain called for “kidney beans, mushrooms, anchovies, and walnuts,” writes Andrew F. Smith in “Pure Ketchup.” Then the condiment spread to the American Colonies, where tomatoes were added. The first known recipe for tomato ketchup was devised by the American scientist and horticulturist James Mease, and recorded in 1812; it contained brandy and spices along with tomato pulp, but no sugar or vinegar like the tomato ketchup we consume today at a rate of 70-plus pounds per year.
The oldest Westernized spelling of the sauce name, according to the OED, was actually catchup, with the first citation appearing in 1690. Ketchup came next, in 1711, and finally catsup appeared in 1730. Ketchup giant Heinz originally went with catsup as the spelling for their product, but changed it to the now-standard “ketchup” in the late 1880s as a way to stand out from the competition, which was using the then-current “catsup” variation.
However you spell it, aside from being a delicious condiment in its own right, it’s also great for adding complex sweet, savory, and tangy flavors to other dishes, like the ones below:
Marie Rose sauce is a British concoction of ketchup, mayo, brandy, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and hot sauce—and it’s fantastic. Use it as a dip for seafood, fries, or roasted vegetables, smear it on sandwiches and burgers, lick it off a spoon…you get the idea. Get our Smoky Grilled Shrimp with Marie Rose Sauce recipe.
Transcend your boring old meatloaf sandwich smothered in plain ketchup and use this incredibly flavorful turkey meatloaf mixed with bacon, chipotle, and smoked paprika and glazed with a bold ketchup-chipotle sauce instead. Feel free to add extra bacon strips (and maybe cheddar cheese) to the sandwich too. Get our Turkey Chipotle Meatloaf recipe.
Ketchup is a classic base for barbecue sauce of all sorts, and this one has dark brown sugar, molasses, cider vinegar, garlic, paprika, chili powder, and Worcestershire sauce too—plus, the ribs are rubbed with even more spices before being roasted until tender. They move from the oven to the grill for the finishing touch of sauce, smoke, and char. Get our Easy BBQ Baby Back Pork Ribs recipe.
Jarred cocktail sauce is okay, but it’s really easy to throw together your own. All you need is ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Tabasco, and black pepper. And plenty of chilled shrimp to dip in it. Get our Cocktail Sauce recipe.
You may not want ketchup on your hot dog (especially if you’re from Chicago), but you will want in in your slow cooker baked beans to go alongside. These are practically effortless, yet deeply delicious—and taste even better a day or two later. Get our Easy Slow Cooker Baked Beans recipe.
This recipe from Chris Santos is a fine way to make wings. A plethora of sweet, spicy, and smoky seasonings are rubbed into the meat, and an easy, sticky glaze is made from store-bought barbecue sauce doctored up with ketchup, molasses, bourbon, honey, and cider vinegar. Get Chris’s Smoky Rubbed Chicken Wings with Honey, Bourbon, and Molasses Sauce recipe.
The childhood favorite gets updated with ground chicken in place of beef, plus a few sauteed vegetables for extra flavor and nutritional value, but there’s still plenty of sweet and tangy ketchup-based sauce to go around (and inevitably, onto your shirt). Get our Chicken Sloppy Joes recipe.
Ketchup sneaks into a lot of stir-fries, which makes sense given its origins. This Japanese favorite is super simple and quick to make, but has a surprising amount of flavor thanks to the complexity of ketchup. Or catsup, if you will. Get the recipe.
This post was originally published on November 16, 2009 and was updated on June 1, 2018.
Header image by Chowing, using photo from Shutterstock.