Controversial Ways People Use Ketchup

Ketchup seems to touch a nerve in the American public that no other foodstuff can, dividing the nation into ketchup-lovers and ketchup-haters with little room for moderate takes. The pro-ketchup team appears to be winning the fight quite handily, as Smithsonian Magazine reported in 2018 that 97% of Americans kept a bottle in their fridge. But those who hate ketchup hate it with a burning passion, so much so that some restaurants have even declared a "right to refuse ketchup" to their customers, per Yahoo Life. What's surprising though is the fact that this debate is hardly new, as ketchup has elicited strong opinions since its very birth.

Ketchup has taken a long and winding road on its way to our hot dogs. National Geographic traces its origins to the Hokkien Chinese term kê-tsiap, which originally referred to a type of fermented fish sauce. The British got ahold of some around the 17th or 18th century, from whence it arrived in America. Since then, ketchup has undergone numerous transformations and had many applications, ranging from medicine to cleaning supplies, and of course, a vast array of foods. Many of these milestones proved controversial, sparking debates that still rage on in Reddit threads, YouTube comments, and even national news outlets. If you want to start a ketchup argument for some reason, the following examples are a great place to start.

On steak

There's no quicker way to trigger a chef than to put ketchup on your steak. It seems that anyone who publicly admits to enjoying this combination will be met with the same degree of criticism given to serial killers. Newsweek covered the case of a Reddit user who exposed his daughter's preference for ketchup with her steak. The comment section descended into a heated debate, with one user calling the daughter "a sinner," while others defended her. Of course, the most famous committer of this perceived culinary crime is former U.S. President Donald Trump, whose tastes Eater referred to as an "offense against the beef industry of America."

A less controversial fan of the ketchup/steak combo is NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes. An ESPN profile revealed that the Super Bowl champion loves putting ketchup on just about everything, and that includes steak. Mahomes is well-aware of the hate this combo receives, and got self-conscious about asking for ketchup at restaurants. While many chefs would be up in arms about the very thought of ketchup on steak, Flavortown's very own Guy Fieri came to Mahome's defense. Per Fansided, Fieri was asked about Mahome's tastes in an interview and responded by saying that nobody should care what people put on their steaks, and with all the serious problems in the world, it's silly to get upset over matters of taste. Besides, as Sporting News reports, Mahomes was able to parlay his comments into a sweet endorsement deal with Hunt's.

On cottage cheese

There is one former president whose diet makes Trump's ketchup on steak look downright gourmet. Richard Nixon reportedly ate the same breakfast every day, which consisted of coffee, fruit, wheat germ, and cottage cheese doused in ketchup (via Vice). Cottage cheese was all the rage in the mid-1900s. According to NPR, its popularity began to rise in the 1950s when it became a popular diet and health food, regarded much like yogurt is today. By the time Nixon entered the Oval Office in the early '70s, the average American was eating 5 pounds of cottage cheese per year.

Former White House chef Henry Haller wrote in "The White House Family Cookbook" that Pat Nixon was quite health-conscious, and it seems she and her husband both hopped on the cottage cheese train (via Food Timeline). Haller claims he never actually saw Nixon put ketchup on the stuff, but word of the president's supposed favorite dish spread across the country, inspiring many other Americans to try the unique combination. Haller also notes that the Nixons were very fond of another ketchup-laden dish: cocktail sauce.

On hot dogs

For most Americans, the idea of putting ketchup on a hotdog isn't controversial at all. If anything, it's considered a standard, except in one part of the country, where asking for ketchup on your hot dog is the ultimate culinary faux pas. Chicago-style hot dogs have a rigid formula: take an all-beef Vienna sausage, tuck it in a poppy seed bun, then top with mustard, relish, chopped onion, tomatoes, sport peppers, celery salt, and a pickle spear. Chicago's WTTW reports that the city doesn't take kindly to ketchup at all, and one local standby, Jimmy's Red Hots, even has a sign telling customers, "Don't even ask!"

Given the Windy City's aversion to ketchup, you'd have to say Heinz was asking for trouble when the Pennsylvania-based ketchup brand merged with Chicago-based Kraft in 2015, and sure enough, it wasn't long before they stirred up a serious controversy. CNBC reported in 2017 that Heinz had attempted to trick Chicagoans into eating ketchup by relabeling it as "Chicago Dog Sauce." They received swift backlash through social media, with Twitter users calling the condiment "crap" and "hot garbage."

On cheesesteaks

Continuing with the regional food theme, ketchup is a highly controversial addition to Philadelphia's beloved cheesesteaks, with passionate arguments to be made on both sides. In 2021, The Philadelphia Inquirer published "The ultimate guide to the Philly cheesesteak," in which it reported that you don't typically see condiments of any kind used on the sandwich. However, for the ones who do, ketchup is typically their first choice. Nevertheless, it's not a combination many people are expecting, which has led to serious trouble in at least one instance.

Philly cheesesteaks have proliferated across the entire United States, ultimately being adopted by international chains like Subway, and it was at one such eatery that the ketchup-on-cheesesteak debate reached its most heated point. A 2013 report from News Talk Florida covered the case of an Orlando Subway location where a legitimate fight broke out — all because someone asked for ketchup on their Philly cheesesteak. The Subway employee said they didn't carry any ketchup, and that he'd never had it requested before. The details of what happened next are a bit muddy, but it seems that this sparked a verbal confrontation that wildly escalated when the employee threw a chair at the customer, who then called 911. No arrests were made, but Subway ultimately fired their overly-passionate sandwich maker.

On eggs

Putting ketchup on eggs isn't nearly as controversial as putting it on a steak or Chicago hot dog, but it is one of those things that you either love or hate with no in-between. The Takeout published perspectives from both sides of the argument, revealing that people have put a great deal of thought into this simple matter of taste. The pro-ketchup argument focused on the perception that the condiment's mix of sweetness and acidity complements the eggs, as well as the temperature contrast created by squirting cold ketchup on eggs fresh from the skillet. The anti-ketchup side particularly complained of the texture, insisting the viscous liquid paired poorly with eggs, no matter how they were cooked.

Some people are a lot harsher in their assessment of the issue, none more so than Brian Hickey, a writer for PhillyVoice, who called the act of putting ketchup on eggs "uncivilized and inhumane" in a scathing 2018 article. He called attention to the case of convicted murderer Robert Streetman who, according to Mr. Breakfast, requested scrambled eggs and ketchup as part of his last meal. It's an awfully big stretch to link the case of one murderous man to every single person who puts ketchup on eggs, and Hickey should be careful where he points his fingers, considering he happily admits to putting ketchup on fried chicken.

On pasta

Alright Italians, you might want to skip this part because it could very well give you a heart attack. In Japan, there is a popular dish called "Spaghetti Napolitan," in which noodles are coated in a ketchup-based sauce. According to The Japan Times, the sauce is made by cooking ketchup, onions, and bell peppers in butter until the ketchup caramelizes, and the whole thing is typically topped with a fried egg. As to how this dish originated, the prevailing theory takes us back to Yokohama in the 1950s. As the story goes, a hotel chef was inspired by the spaghetti marinara he had witnessed the American military eat. However, tomatoes were hard to come by in Japan at that time, so he used the closest thing he could find: ketchup.

Spaghetti Napolitan has also gained popularity in South Korea. As author Eric Kim explained over at Food52, there has been a great deal of cultural exchange between these two nations due to Japan's former colonization of Korea. In the 1960s, South Korean president Park Chung-hee imposed limits on rice consumption to grow the nation's reserves. In its place, Koreans were encouraged to eat flour-based foods like pasta. The Takeout reports that a similar dish is popular in Hong Kong, where the spaghetti may be topped with pork chops and melted cheese.

In popsicles

In June of 2022, the French's condiment brand unveiled the "Frenchsicle," something NBC's "Today" said "tests the limits of what constitutes a delicious summer treat." Yes, it was a ketchup-based popsicle. Perhaps anticipating the controversy this would stir, French's only offered the treat from June 20-24 at a few pop-up locations in Canada. That's right, Canada. If you thought Americans loved ketchup, the Canadian people would like to have a word with you, as Kraft Heinz Canada reports that the nation consumes more ketchup per capita than the U.S.

Canadians have a habit of finding offbeat uses for ketchup, with their ketchup-flavored potato chips garnering particular attention. According to the Chicago Tribune, these were invented to mimic the taste of french fries with ketchup, and although they seem like a surefire hit for the States, Americans can only get them online. As for the Frenchsicles, you can't get them at all anymore, unless they do another summertime special. Meanwhile, French's has been kind enough to share their recipe with the world, so you can turn your own kitchen into a hotbed of controversy.

As a household cleaner

At first glance, ketchup seems like something you would have to clean up, not clean with, but Taste of Home reveals that it can be a useful addition to your cleaning supplies. That doesn't apply to everything. The outlet cautions against using ketchup to clean any kind of fabric, as it'll cause stains in that case. Where ketchup really shines is in cleaning metal surfaces. This is due to its high acid content, which is the same reason people sometimes clean with vinegar or even grapefruit juice. Express lists copper, brass, stainless steel, and cast iron — metals commonly used for pots, pans, and other kitchen supplies — as surfaces you can clean with ketchup.

If you're going to try this method for yourself, it would be wise to try cleaning one of your less-valued kitchen tools, or a small section of a nicer pan, just to test it out before you fully commit. To clean up a pan, Express recommends coating the entire surface in a thin layer of ketchup and letting it sit for 10 minutes. Once the time is up, wipe off as much ketchup as you can and rinse off the rest. For especially tough jobs, like burnt-on food, Taste of Home suggests covering the pan with ketchup and letting it sit overnight before wiping and rinsing.

For skin care

Smearing ketchup all over your face sounds like something an ill-behaved child would do to ruin the family picnic, but some people are advocating we do just that. Healthline reveals that tomatoes contain a type of antioxidant called lycopene that may help boost collagen production and potentially protect one's skin from sun damage. With this said, apple cider vinegar, or ACV, (via Byrdie) is known to dry out the skin, so the vinegar present in ketchup may do just that as well — somewhat negating its beneficiary powers.

India-Jewel Jackson of Glamour covered the same subject and wrote of a friend who used ketchup to soothe burns she got from a hairstyling tool and spoke highly of the method. She also noted that some women with bleached blond hair rinse their locks with ketchup or tomato juice after swimming in a pool. They do so to counteract the effects of chlorine, which can turn bleached hair green. Go figure.

As medicine

When ketchup was first introduced to the U.S. via England, it still resembled the Chinese fish sauce it evolved from. Fast Company notes that the British had toyed with the recipe, experimenting with additions of mushrooms, walnuts, and even beer, but one thing you couldn't find in ketchup at that point was tomatoes. That all changed in 1834 when an Ohio-based physician named John Cook Benett decided to add tomatoes to the mix, but not for the purpose of flavor. Dr. Bennet believed that tomatoes had great curative powers, and advertised his ketchup as medicine rather than a condiment. According to Ripley's, he claimed that ketchup could cure indigestion, diarrhea, rheumatism, and jaundice, and he even sold it in concentrated pill form.

As it turned out, medical ketchup was a terrible idea, even before they started loading it up with sugar, as Insider points out. Ripley's explains that copycats started making their own versions of Dr. Bennet's ketchup, and they were much more liberal with their medical claims, suggesting the mixture could cure just about everything, including broken bones. In actuality, ketchup was more likely to cause an illness than cure one, as Fast Company reveals that early iterations used preserved tomato pulp that was often infested with bacteria. To enhance its red color, manufacturers used coal tar, which is carcinogenic and highly flammable. Finally, in the late 1800s, Henry J. Heinz started a company with higher standards and a no-preservatives policy, forever changing the condiment game.