Can a spoonful of ketchup make the medicine go down? Maybe. But in the mid-1800s, ketchup was the medicine. You see, ketchup was once made not from tomatoes, but from mushrooms. The popularization of tomato ketchup didn’t happen in America until 1834. (In Asia, on the other hand, tomato ketchup had already been hugely popular for decades.)
After reading that tomatoes could work to cure certain maladies, a man named Dr. John Cook Bennett created a recipe. Bennett claimed his concoction could cure diarrhea, indigestion, and other digestive woes. Bennett even concentrated his ketchup into a portable pill and sold it as medicine, attracting followers such as Archibald Miles who also marketed and distributed tomato pill bottles.
Mr. Miles must have been a real whiz at marketing. Because despite Bennett’s own fluctuating credibility (the well-known physician was later excommunicated from a number of religious institutions for accusations of adultery, treason, and even murder) the pills were a huge hit.
Copycat recipes and supplements began to crop up on shelves, claiming they could outperform Bennett’s ketchup by accomplishing wild feats: curing scurvy, mending broken bones, etc.
These claims, obviously, were all false. Some of the pills were actually just laxatives and didn’t contain any tomatoes at all. (Ketchup, laxatives… To-may-to, to-mah-to.) But consumers weren’t as laissez-faire about that. As a result of Bennett’s fraudulent followers, tomato pills fell in popularity until they were nearly nonexistent, around 1850.
However, it’s largely thanks to these crazy claims that tomato ketchup became popular in the United States. Upon discovering the taste, people began using tomato ketchup as more of a condiment than a cure-all.
The only thing today’s ketchup can heal is the boring taste of a chicken nugget. People use it to doctor up all kinds of dishes, ranging from scrambled eggs to grilled cheese — yes, people actually do that. Though the cheese in their sandwich could actually mess with certain medications — as can these other popular foods.