Why Is Ketchup Red ? – Here’s Where The Color Comes From

Ketchup is one of those condiments no one thinks about yet everyone has at least two bottles of it: one sweet, one spicy. It’s in everything, and in every diner, it comes with every pizza box, and it’s one of the first things you reach for when that burger tastes sub-par. 

And one thing is always constant and immediately recognizable: the deep red color of ketchup. It’s so darn red you may be wondering it it’s dyed or natural. So why is ketchup red ? And is the green one still around ? What’s ketchup made of, and why does it flow so weirdly ? Let’s take a look.

ketchup red

Why is ketchup red ?

Ketchup has a deep red color due to the lycopene in the tomatoes used for ketchup. Lycopene is a natural pigment that doubles as an anti-oxidant, and it’s responsible for the red color of all tomatoes. As the tomato ripens, the lycopene develops and the tomato turns from green to red.

Because ketchup is simmered and cooked for a few hours, the red from the lycopene deepens, and it ends up as a slightly darker red. You cannot see through a bottle of ketchup because a good amount of moisture has been evaporated, which in turn darkens the red a little. 

Natural ketchup has an orange undertone

Because lycopene has a yellow-orange undertone, ketchup also has that undertone. It’s not immediately obvious, but if you’ve ever dropped some on a white shirt you’ve noticed it’s a deep orange stain. And it’s very difficult to get out of clothes fibers, since lycopene is fat-soluble, and fat (such as oil) has a tendency to cling to everything.

So if your ketchup ever leaves a pure red stain on your white shirt, you’ll know it has some food dye added. Most ketchup doesn’t have other pigments than the natural lycopene. 

Read also: Pico De Gallo VS Salsa 

Ketchup flows differently from other condiments

Because ketchup has a small amount of xanthan gum, it has a very specific texture and viscosity. It doesn’t have any chunky bits to break that texture, and that means all the sauce will behave the same. 

Due to the way it’s made, ketchup will not flow even if you keep it upside down with the cap off the bottle. However the moment you shake it (apply force and pressure) it will come crashing. This is called a non-Newtonian fluid.

So if you’re holding a squeezable bottle of ketchup, be sure to shake it a couple of times before squeezing. And if you’ve got the classic 57 bottle, be sure to tap the 57 to apply the correct force. 

Is green ketchup still around ?

No, Heinz discontinued green ketchup in 2006 along with the other colors, and now only produces the red ketchup. The green ketchup was a product of a miscalculation that removed all color from the original ketchup. When green dye was added, the ketchup took up the color very well, and this became a great marketing point. 

At the time the first Shrek movie was just coming out, so a green ketchup wasn’t completely off key. As time went on more colors appeared like purple, blue, pink, teal, and most of the marketing effort was geared towards kids. Most adults didn’t really feel like eating fries with purple goop, but kids had a wild imagination and plenty of creativity. The fad was short-lived, only a few years.

What is ketchup really made of ?

Ketchup, in the sense we know it today, is made of tomato concentrate, sugar, vinegar, sale, onions, spices, and most are thickened with xanthan gum. The proportions of each ingredient vary from brand to brand, but you can trust all of them to be sweet and sour.

This was not always the case, because the older ketchup, similar to tomato sauce, didn’t use as much vinegar and sugar. It also did not last as long on shelves, which was a problem that needed fixing. 

Why is ketchup so sweet ?

Ketchup is so sweet because it has a good amount of sugar added to it. The sugar does three things: preserves the ketchup inhibiting bacteria growth, reduces water content, and brings out the tomato flavor. However as time went on more and more sugar was added to ketchup recipes, the point where ketchup is now distinctly sweet.

There is also the acidity from vinegar to take into account. Sweet and sour lead to a very pleasant sensation for most people, and with the proper conditioning (like being raised on sweet ketchup) will make people assume that this is the way it has to be.

Try swapping ketchup for tomato sauce

If you’re looking for a table condiment that has a great tomato flavor but isn’t as sweet as ketchup, go for tomato sauce. Tomato sauce, not tomato puree or tomato bouillon.  Those are overly concentrated tomato flavors that don’t get you where you want to be.

A good tomato sauce can be anything you like, as long as it’s cooked and it has a neutral set of flavors. A tomato sauce made of tomatoes (not concentrate), chopped and fried onions, a bit of basil, salt, and pepper, and a small amount of cooking oil. This is the simplest tomato sauce, no sugar or vinegar added.

It’s not ketchup, but it’s definitely a way to improve the flavor if you’re looking for something much less sweet. 

If you’ve got any other food curiosities be sure to check the related articles below, we’re always adding more food facts to make your life that much easier.