Last weeks of summer are the best moment to make your own ketchup, but if you consider it an easily copied and uncomplicated sauce, think again. For long years all the home-made specimens I tasted or tried to make were only distant and ridiculous wannabes, not even meriting to be labelled as “ketchup”. Accepting the superiority of commercial brands was not easy to accept by a passionate preserver like me, so when two years ago I was offered a huge batch of untreated, ripe tomatoes, the old dream of making my own ketchup returned. I started searching on internet, leafing through my cookery books… Finally, thanks to Jeffrey Steingarten and his fascinating “The Man Who Ate Everything” (one of the best food-related books I have ever read), I discovered a marvellous sauce which beats every single commercial brand and which is no longer a home-made copy, but the best ketchup in the world.

I have slightly modified the ingredients’ amounts because the original recipe was intended for ten pounds of tomatoes. The process is not complicated itself, but a bit fussy and long. The initial volume of tomato pulp and juice will reduce up to 80%, so this sauce is quite costly, unless you cultivate tomatoes or have access to very cheap ones. The tomatoes must be very ripe and ideally untreated or almost untreated. If the tomatoes’ quality is good, the result is so excellent, you will find it difficult to believe you have made it on your own. The flavour balances between the concentration of a fresh ripe tomato taste and a subtler version of good commercial ketchup. Once you have tasted your first batch, you will realise this sauce is too good to be served with just any ordinary sausage or meat and definitely not to every guest…

TIP: If your tomatoes are far from being perfectly ripe or are rather watery, I strongly advise the Indian style Tomato Chutney. The recipe gives amazing results even with ordinary tomatoes.

Preparation: around 2 hours

Special equipment: a food mill (a sieve and a spoon may be used instead, but it takes much longer)

Ingredients: (for 1 kg tomatoes, but the volume will reduce up to 80%)

1 kg tomatoes (about 2 lbs)

1 garlic clove chopped

1/2 medium onion chopped

70 ml  (about 2,4 oz) cider vinegar (4,5%)

1 teaspoon peppercorns

1 teaspoon allspice berries

6 cm (about 2,4 in) cinnamon stick 

2 cloves

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon dried ginger

1/2 tablespoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

Chop roughly the tomatoes.

Put them in a pan, cover, cook over high heat 5-10 minutes, stirring until the chunks give off their juice.

Strain the juice, pressing gently to the sieve, so that the liquid goes through, but not the tomato pulp.

Add garlic, onion, spices and vinegar (not sugar!) to the liquid obtained by straining.

Cook over moderate heat until it becomes slightly syrupy (it will take 40 – 60 minutes).

In the meantime sieve the pulp or put it through a food mill (make sure the seeds and skins do not get into the pulp). Put aside.

Strain the syrupy liquid discarding all the spices, onion, garlic etc.

Pour it over the pulp, add the sugar and stir well.

Cook until you obtain the desired ketchup consistency (keeping in mind that hot ketchup is a bit more liquid than when it cools down).

Adjust the taste if necessary (some tomatoes need more sugar or more salt) and heat until the sugar is dissolved.

You can mix the sauce in a food processor if you judge the texture not smooth enough.

/At this point you can (after the ketchup has cooled down) either freeze it, or keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or process it in the jars, as described below, and store it in your pantry for at least a year!/

Pour the ketchup, still hot, into sterilised jars. Cover with lids. Leave the jars to cool.

Place the cool jars into a big pan, bottom lined with an old kitchen towel folded in two (this will prevent the jars from breaking), cover up with hot – but not boiling- water to the level just below the lid. Bring to boil and keep on a very low heat, in simmering water, for around 20 minutes.
Stick on self-adhesive labels, write the name of the sauce and don’t forget to mark the date.

40 Replies to “Ketchup”

  1. Again I am pulled into this awesome recipe with words like “best in the world” and definitely not offered “to every guest”. It makes me NEED not want to make this sauce. Sadly, it will have to wait until we return from our European Adventure in October.
    We will be in Geneva to tour the CERN Laboratories and visit a friend who will pop down from Zurich; are you anywhere near Geneva?

    1. Thank you so much, Eva. It’s not my personal recipe, so I don’t have to be modest about it 😉 I really don’t offer it to every guest because many people think ketchup is just fast food sauce and don’t even pay attention to its taste… not to mention appreciate the efforts that it requires.
      I’m thrilled you come to Switzerland! I’m writing you an email and hope we can meet!

      1. I just downloaded the book The Man Who Ate Everything and started reading it on the elliptical at the gym today. Very funny indeed. Makes me want to run home and get my wild yeast going! I emailed you earlier this morning about when we are in Switzerland. Hope to meet up.

        1. Hi, Eva. I’m glad you like the book. It’s a bit old, so certain things are a bit out of date (food-related discoveries, research…) but otherwise it”s well written and still fascinating. I hope we can meet soon!

    1. Thank you so much, Tessa. I hope you will not be disappointed: this ketchup is really similar to commercial but good ketchups, only it is subtler and of course the concentrated tomato flavours are irresistible…

    1. Thank you so much, Jeno. Haha! I was half serious half joking… Some people wouldn’t appreciate really because they see it only as a fast food sauce. In Europe it’s a bit similar with hamburgers. Some people understand that you can make a tremendous hamburger with high quality meat etc. but others only see it as a fast food item, no matter how much effort you put into it.

  2. Hi Sissi, I’ve been meaning/wanting/needing to make ketchup for a very long time. Sadly, so many recipes I’ve seen – even ones from big name chefs – end up looking dreadful… watery, sloppy and thin. Perhaps I’m spoiled by what commercial ketchup has become, and perhaps it was never supposed to be like that, but personally, for me – ketchup should at least make an attempt to hold its shape on the plate. I’ve seen recipes before on TV where it was just a liquid mess and the chef was all “here you go, super awesome ketchup oh yeah!” at the end!

    Sadly I can only see yours in the jar and not in a little heap, but it looks like it would be very good, and I love the fact that it’s not “luminous red” like commercial ones too!

    1. Charles, I feel that you have had a similar experience. When I was a child it was fashionable among my mother’s friends and women in the family to produce home-made ketchup. It was always completely different from ketchup and some were really awful. The worst part were the overwhelming herbs or spices which are not felt in a commercial ketchup even though they are there.
      I can guarantee this one is not watery because… you reduce the initial liquid amount by 80% (I have given proportions for 1 kg tomatoes, but I never make less than 2kg)! You control how thick you want your ketchup to be (and you can also mix it at the end in a food processor if you think it’s not smooth enough). The author’s idea was to get as close as possible to commercial ketchups, but produce something more natural and better tasting. I think he has succeeded at 100%!
      As for the wateriness… do you see a tiny peak forming at the top of the jar? It wouldn’t form but the surface wouldbe flat if the ketchup was watery 😉

  3. The best ketchup in the world you say?!! Now I’m definitely intrigued… actually, what I find most intriguing is the modest amount of sugar in this recipe. Commercial ketchup has tons of sugar in it – so I’m finding this version quite different and refreshing and I’m very curious about the taste and texture… so many delicious sounding herbs & spices too. Sounds like you’ve hit on a great one Sissi!

    1. Thank you very much, Kelly. If tomatoes are ripe and good quality there is no need for a big amount of sugar and the ketchup is still sweet. Sometimes I need to adjust the sugar amounts at the end but the additional portion is never big. The texture is thick because the reduction of liquid is huge (about 80%) and it can even be thicker, depending on what we want.

  4. Sissy, this is the BEST ketchup recipe I have ever seen…honest! The list is endless with all the spices of what should go into this all-American classic. I happen to have an Italian food mill that I haven’t used in years, and for the amount, I would use at least 5lbs of tomatoes and cook it in the slow cooker. Will give it a try, since we get beautiful and ripe tomatoes all year round here in S. Florida:)

    1. Thank you so much, Elisabeth. You know, I use my food mill only for the ketchup and the tomato chutney I have mentioned. I hope you can try making it. Just don’t skip the separate cooking process (the “watery” liquid is cooked separately with the spices). I once tried this shortcut and it was not even half as good. Good luck! I hope you will like it.

  5. I’m sure this ketchup tastes nothing like store bought ketchup which is something I’m not too crazy about. This ketchup looks beautiful and so very, very tasty! Love the spices you used especially the allspice berries. Great recipe Sissi!

    1. Thanks a lot MJ. This ketchup is similar to commercial ketchups in texture and in the fact that when you have it you don’t imagine there are many different spices, but it tastes more “tomatey” and more natural in general. I think the author has found a perfect balance between the spices.

    1. Thank you so much, Barb. Haha! Not really “select” friends, but if someone hearing that you make your own ketchup makes comments confirming that for him/her it’s just fast a tasteless food product, you don’t think your effort is worth serving them such a time-consuming product.

  6. You are amazing…homemade ketchup? I never thought in making it myself…sounds really tasty with all the ingredients that you have in this tasty ketchup.
    Thanks for the recipe Sissi and hope you are having a great week 🙂

  7. I’m impressed by you before and all the time, but this one is exception. You made ketchup?!?! Cindy (Jeno) is right – I totally admire of your love for preserve! I don’t use that much ketchup in our cooking, maybe occasionally so the small amount sounds perfect. The only thing I need is my strong will/determination to do it. Though it would be fun making this with you~~ (hint hint). That book sounds interesting. I’m afraid I’d fall asleep reading in English copy – I should check if they have translated version. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Nami, for so many compliments! I also don’t use ketchup very often, but since I started to make my own, I have been using it much more often. It would definitely be fun to make it with you. I absolutely agree. The book is really very amusing, but it’s not recent at all. I have bought it at second hand book charity sale.

  8. Your ketchup does sound amazing but I’m going to let Heinz keeping supplying my household ketchup needs for a while longer. I’m just lazy that way. 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot, A_Boleyn. I’m lazy too, but once I started to prepare it, I cannot skip a single year and make jars every September.

  9. been waiting for this post since you commented on mine that you have a really good recipe that you like a lot! will give this one a go soon as I get back to london where I can get hold of some good tomatoes.

    1. Hi, Shuhan. Sorry, I have completely forgotten I told you about it, but yes, this is the ketchup recipe I have been telling you about. It’s rather close to commercial ketchup (not too hot, spices are not easily spotted), but the natural, tomato-rich aroma and taste as well as the subtle flavours are wonderful.

    1. Thank you so much, Liz. Even though Heinz has always been my favourite brand, I was still looking for something better, different… this is why I tried this recipe and never stopped since then.

  10. Thank you thank you thank you! Experience made me trust your opinion Sissi, I never ended up with a dud from trying any of your recipes. So on that well developed trust I am super excited to cook up this season’s last wine ripened tomatoes from our garden.

    I tried it several times over the years and always regretted using up my lovely tomatoes for a ketchup wannabe. You know that it had to be you to inspire me for one last time to try my hand at ketchup making. 🙂

    1. Zsuzsa, thank you for the kind words. I feel honoured, proud and… horribly scared! What if you don’t like this ketchup? Maybe try first with a small batch (about 2 kg?). This is a very subtle and delicate ketchup with a very rich tomato taste. The spices are hardly felt, but you do feel it’s not just concentrated tomato juice, you feel them without feeling really… You control the texture on your own (you boil it until it thickens enough), so this part cannot be failed. The author also suggests mixing the final product in a food processor if you think it’s not smooth enough for a ketchup (I never did). The only thing I do not advise is simplifying the recipe and cooking everything together (here the juice is first cooked with spices). I did it once and regretted my laziness. The result wasn’t half as good. Good luck and please tell me if you have any doubts or questions! (I’m so nervous!)

        1. Zsuzsa, you prepare everything lovingly, so I have no doubts. I hope you will enjoy the book. It’s a bit outdated concerning certain health/food news, but it is still a very pleasant read and I’m sure you will find some useful tips and information too.

  11. Homemade ketchup is something I have been always wanting to try, but for some reason I never did. Yours look so rich in color and flavor Sissi! You inspired me!

    1. Thank you very much, Katerina. This is fussy and bit time consuming, but it shouldn’t scare such an excellent cook as you.

  12. Liz and I actually prefer making our own homemade ketchup to anything store bought, so of course I’m all about this recipe Sissi. Actually, one of my last experimental recipes was so good that Liz has forbidden me to post it on the website. She say I have to make money on it instead. 😉

    1. Thanks a lot, Jed. I also have at least one recipe I only told most trusted, close people and would never blog about (but it’s a secret of course!). This ketchup recipe is not mine, it is available to everyone who read the book, so I’m glad to share it with my visitors.

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