One trend, three trailblazers

Three ways with: upgraded ketchup

Ketchup sales have become stagnant, but a number of chefs are experimenting with how to spice the condiment up.

23 May 2019
Tribute to Bacon burger

The trend

  • UK tomato ketchup sales fell by 2.7% to £145.5m in 2017, according to figures from Kantar Worldpanel, when they were overtaken by those of mayonnaise, which rose by 6.9% to £152.2m.
  • However, the sauces and condiments category overall is strong, growing £17.2m in the year to June 2018, as sales passed the £550m mark for the first time.
  • The US, which is the largest market for ketchup, has held National Ketchup Day on June 5 since 2013. The UK is the second-largest market for the condiment, according to Statista.

For most of us, the term 'ketchup' is synonymous with a red tomato sauce, which is hardly surprising when its entry in the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as a “spicy sauce made chiefly from tomatoes and vinegar.”

Condiment brands have associated ketchup with the tomato for decades, and it remains a staple offering within the relish collection of many restaurants and pubs. This, however, is a gross simplification of a sauce whose name originally comes from the Hokkien Chinese word 'kê-tsiap,' which referred to a product derived from fermented fish. When ketchup was first made in the UK, mushrooms, not tomatoes, were the primary ingredient.

Button mushrooms, sherry, fish stock and shallots with mushroom ketchup

It’s been a long time coming, but a growing number of chefs have started moving beyond the convention of using tomato, instead featuring everything from bacon, chorizo and sardine, to mushroom, mint, beetroot and banana.

“I think we’re used to only seeing red ketchup because of the big brands, but historically they can have all sorts of ingredients in them. Ours is just a bit of fun, but shows you can mix it up a bit,” says Tom Barton, co-founder of restaurant group Honest Burgers, where you'll find bacon ketchup among the sauces it serves.

As Gareth Ward, chef-owner of Ynyshir in Wales, points out, “ketchups cover a lot of angles,” allowing the sauce to enhance any dish, especially with some creative tinkering.

“You can get texture and sweet and sour flavours all from one ketchup,” he says. “That means the dish can seem simple in terms of number of elements but really deliver on flavour and texture.”

Other restaurants shaking up their sauces include The Pony & Trap in Chew Magna, where Josh Eggleton has made a sardine ketchup to accompany sardine starters, and London-based fries outlet Poptata, where banana and curry ketchups are available for dipping chips.


The trailblazers

Tom Barton, co-founder of Honest Burgers: “We make a bacon ketchup with bacon stock and a simple ketchup recipe and then blitz up dry cured smoked bacon through it. It’s tangy and it's got some texture, plus it's great for dunking chips in. We make a bacon stock from poaching bacon in water, then combine it with some braised onions, garlic, vinegar and a few secret ingredients, then cook it down to the right consistency. We like it quite coarse and thick. We first served bacon ketchup with our Tribute to Bacon burger. I decided to make it when I found out about National Bacon Day in the US. The idea was to put as much bacon in a burger as possible, so we ended up with a beef patty, smoked cheddar, streaky bacon, beef and bacon gravy and of course our bacon ketchup. The Tribute to Bacon burger is no longer on the menu, but the bacon ketchup is still available to go with anything and everything – ideally for dunking chips or our onion rings. If you like bacon it has a habit of making most things taste better.”


Chris Cleghorn, head chef at The Queensberry Hotel & Olive Tree Restaurant, Bath: “Our mushroom ketchup is made with button mushrooms, sherry, fish stock and shallots. We cook all the flavours out until you get the acidity from the sherry coming through. It's served with confit chalk stream trout, morels and pea. I used the mushroom ketchup last year with another dish and it worked really well. In this dish you've got the earthiness of the morels and the sweetness from the trout – which has been confited in beurre noisette – complemented by the flavours of the mushroom ketchup. The ketchup helps bring a beautiful umami element to the dish. You get sweet, sour and bitterness all in one.”


Gareth Ward, chef-owner of Ynyshir, Wales: “We make a mint ketchup which we serve with roast lamb, a really fresh onion salad and lots of fresh mint. We make a mint kombucha and then leave it for a month, so it turns into a mint vinegar. We set it, add sugar and then blend with some more of the fresh mint kombucha, and it makes an incredible ketchup that's really minty with a good balance of sweet and sour. A roast with mint sauce is one of my favourite things in the world and this has all the flavours of that. We have a lot of meat and fish on the menu that is finished on the barbecue and everything from the barbecue tastes amazing with ketchup! We decided to play around a bit with different ingredients and now we have things like elder ketchup with scallop and shiitake ketchup with Welsh wagyu rib.”

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