It’s approaching 7:00 on a Sunday evening, and the dinner line in Thorne Hall is slowly lengthening. I’m behind the counter, running fresh trays of rice pilaf and chicken marsala out to the display case as the old ones are quickly emptied onto the plates of hungry students. In the midst of one frantic dash to the back, I’m stopped by the timid voice of a diner at the front of the line.

“Excuse me,” she calls softly. “Is there any ketchup?

Mackenzie Cooper

Ketchup is more integral to North American cuisine than any other food I can think of. We have ketchup at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We make ketchup ice cream; ketchup-flavored potato chips. We put it on burgers and fries, hash browns and (perhaps controversially) eggs. When we don’t find it along the dining hall display line, we are moved to speak up in its name. Our dedication to utilizing ketchup in every conceivable way is both astounding and terrifying (I’m looking at you, Heinz green and purple ketchup), but it’s hard to hate that tangy-sweet sauce that lingers in the corners of so many childhood food memories. And, sure, we all know why ketchup is so popular and why it probably always was. I mean, one taste and you’re sold faster than they run out of garlic knots on Italian night at Bowdoin. But how exactly did that ubiquitous condiment come into existence to begin with?

As it turns out, what we know and love today is a complete departure from the invention that first held the title of ketchup. During their 16th and 17th century travels through Southeast Asia, European traders were introduced to a sauce made from fermented fish and termed “kê-tsiap” by speakers of the Southeastern Chinese dialect Hokkien. Enamored with its rich, earthy flavor and the depth it added to the dishes they sampled, the traders brought their love for the sauce back to Europe with them, where it quickly spread. Although a hunger for kê-tsiap was steadily growing in countries like England, home cooks and professionals alike were struggling to produce something that had the same qualities so beloved in the original sauce. Popular attempts included mushroom-and seafood-based recipes that, while generally enjoyed, still missed the mark in resemblance to their predecessor

After many a trial and tribulation, the humble tomato at last took its rightful place as the star of the North American variation of what had come to be called "ketchup" in the early 19th century, thanks to the efforts of scientist Richard Bradley. It wasn’t until Henry J. Heinz’s eponymous company began producing the condiment in 1876 under the name “Catsup” that it took on the iconic flavor profile with which we’re so familiar today, but that long and arduous process of striving for a kê-tsiap equivalent left the world with something special. With that beautifully bright red condiment being a triumph in its own right, North American developers came to believe that, although nothing out there could ever be quite the same as kê-tsiap, they could bring a unique flavor out of other, similar ingredients with thoughtful preparation. Ketchup, catsup, and kê-tsiap all describe flavorful sauces that bring life to our plates and joy to our bellies.

From the mushroom ketchup of old England to the beloved sweet and savory banana ketchup of the Philippines, we see that creativity and the willingness to find a new angle are all you need to develop your own brand of deliciousness. So maybe we should all ask ourselves: what kind of ketchup can we bring to the table?

Need some new ways to bring ketchup into your life? Try some of these interpretations from around the world:

American Meatloaf with Ketchup Glaze

· Take two American classics, ketchup and meatloaf, and give them a fun and delicious twist!

Portobello Mushroom Ketchup

· Chicken for dinner again? Try this new take on an old-school companion to British proteins to breathe some life back into your go-to meal.

Filipino-Style Spaghetti with Banana Catsup

No banana catsup? No problem! This recipe provides directions for substitution with tomato ketchup.