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Ketchup, Catsup... Is the controversy really over?

     For years the debate raged that smooth tomatoey condiment properly spelled Ketchup or Catsup? Some would say...does it matter? And of course the answer is Yes. Although the current trend among manufacturers seems to be to use the spelling "Ketchup", "Catsup" lovers refuse to give in. Why? It’s a subject of interest to all that I would like to delve into. Let's start with where it all began...
    Ke-tsiap or Kecap was a spicy  pickled-fish condiment popular in 17th-century China and is said to be the origin of the name "ketchup." British seamen brought the ke-tsiap home, then introducing it to other nations. Catsup without tomatoes is almost unimaginable these days  But it wasn't until the late 1700s that canny New Englanders added tomatoes to the blend and it became what we know today as ketchup. Even a century ago, catsup cooks were still only dabbling with tomato-based recipes, while also trying a surprising array of vegetables and fruits such as plums, walnuts, mangoes or mushrooms that were being turned into a condiment and called Ketchup. Not so talented cooks were also trying, shaved tree bark, pig parts, or dust-based catsups. None were successful among the masses...even with heavy onion and garlic added.
     But how, you may say, can this be? One minute you have a fish sauce, and then suddenly you have tomato ketchup?  When did we take the fork down the "tomato" catsup road? Perhaps it was in 1876 when Heinz produced their Ketchup with tomato and it made its way into the American kitchen. Then as more manufacturers entered the marketplace, so came more variations of the spelling. And so the controversy began. Soon there were Ketchups, Catsups, Catchups, Katsups, Catsips, Cotsups, Kotchups, Kitsips, Catsoups, Katshoups, Katsocks, Cackchops, Cornchops, Cotpocks, Kotpocks, Kutpucks, Kutchpucks and of course Cutchpucks. All were tomato based and bottled. All vied for the becoming the household word. But as these small locally produced and often homemade varieties went by the wayside and America entered the 1950's, it appeared as if only 3 major brands remained to steal the spotlight...Heinz Ketchup,  Del Monte Catsup, and Hunts, who could not decide on a spelling and bottled under the names Hunts Catsup (east of the Mississippi), Hunts Ketchup (west of the Mississippi), and Hunts Tomato Cornchops (in Iowa only).
     Now it was a matter of advertising dollars and a cunning advertising strategy as to which spelling would win out. But there were more failures than successes. Del Monte’s  jingle  “Even Cats like our Catsup!” drew a lawsuit from one customer who overfed it to her cat causing it to have stomach problems and hair with an unnatural red-orange glow. It ended after weeks of litigation with a million-dollar settlement and two years of free hairdying for the cat. Heinz trying to play up their spelling and new plastic bottle was ridiculed by English teachers everywhere for their promotion “You don’t need to ‘ketch’ it when it drops!”, forcing Heinz to make huge donations to the “Erase Illiteracy in America” program. In the end, no matter how hard they tried to set the name standard, the people remained divided. By the 1980's Americans had factioned into two groups, the Ketchupers and the Catsupers. (The Cornchoppers remained a subgroup of the Ketchupers for several decades until Hunts finally dropped the name when their mascot, Cornchoppy, who they sent around to promote the product, overindulged on cider at the State Fair and goosed the governor's wife during the apple pie judging, bringing disastrous press.)
       Now the final battle began. In an attempt to raise their visibility, the Catsupers declared a slogan, "Its "Cat" not "Ket" so let's spell it that way! It’s simple to spell..Its simple to say!” which prompted the ketchupers to counter with "Catsup Schmatsup."   Unfortunately the Catsupers were losing ground. No matter how hard they fought for ease of spelling, marketshare was going to the Ketchupers. The final straw came in the 1980's when Ketchup was declared a vegetable on the government's standards for school lunch menus. Suddenly Del Monte's Catsup, because of its spelling, was not on the approved list. Heartbroken Catsupers could see the end in sight. It wasn't long afterwards that Del Monte changed the product's name to Del Monte Ketchup. True Catsupers remain hopeful though. Catsuper President Vance Carson comments, "We're trying to get the government to add Catsup to its list of vegetables, too. But then the Mustard people heard this and they got all riled up and started a lobby, too. Then the Worcestershire Sauce people and the Mayonnaise people and the Salad Dressing people followed. All these other groups trying to be listed as vegetables suddenly boondoggled the entire campaign. And the name change is only Phase 1, too. Phase 2 will be reconvincing a manufacturer to use the name Catsup. Yea its a long battle...I don't know...sometimes I just don't know..."  Ketchuper President Lyle Kent responds by throwing up his arms, "Its like they just can't let it go can they? Pack of sore losers."
     So the controversy goes on.

Ketchup Mailbag:

September 18, 1998 - "Boondoggled in Australia"

July 30, 1999 -  "Heated Ketchup Debate"

July 16, 2000 - "Ketchup: Sauce or Condiment?"

*Important Disclaimer
Please note: Although we have all become fondly attached to that lovable Cornchoppy, he is only a fictional character, as is this entire story. There never were untalented cooks who attempted to make shaved tree bark, pig parts, or dust-based catsups. And although I'm not absolutely sure there were ever Catchups or Katsups, the fact is no one bottled Ketchup under the names Catsips, Cotsups, Kotchups, Kitsips, Catsoups, Katshoups, Katsocks, Cackchops, Cornchops, Cotpocks, Kotpocks, Kutpucks, Kutchpucks or Cutchpucks. Granted there are Catsoup recipes available (I don't need one) and I'm sure more than one of your grandmothers has made Katsocks for their beloved kitties, all that is beside the point of course. Futhermore, (and to your relief I'm sure) no cat ever ate so much catsup that their hair took on a red-orange glow. Hence no lawsuit. Neither did Heinz ever get in trouble with the English teachers of America. There was no slogan "You don’t need to ‘ketch’ it when it drops!", (although frankly I'm pretty proud of that one myself and think it has potential!) And finally, Ketchuper Kent, Catsuper Carson, their vast followers, and all their antics are only a figment of my imagination. One figment out of many, many figments...but all good figments only meant as amusement. Thank you.
Suz :)

P.S. Cornchoppy regrets any embarrassment caused to the great state of Iowa, too.

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