Ketchup, with its pleasant balance of sweet and bright, for many people becomes ingrained in memory, often the first exposure we have to umami's savory taste. Which is why, no matter if daintily dipped or slathered on, ketchup exemplifies Merriam-Webster's definition of condiment, "to enhance the flavor of food."
Ketchup's history is equally as enduring. As The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink explains, the name and inspiration originated in Asia through a fermented sauce known as ke tsaip. That said, tomato ketchup is considered an American invention and was first bottled in the 1850s. Twenty years later, H. J. Heinz Company debuted their tomato ketchup -- and ever since, competing food manufacturers, home cooks and restaurateurs have attempted to supplant them from their perch as ketchup of choice. Although many have come and gone, there are several worthy challengers, especially when paired with the right dishes. Turn the page for our Top 5 ketchups worth making room for in the fridge.5. IKEA Ketchup + Tater Tots:
No doubt, part of the success of ketchup has to do with the marketing. For generations ketchup has positioned itself as fun and although there have been some colorful stumbles along the way, it has attained the status of dipping sauce of choice for a variety of finger foods. Another marketing powerhouse, IKEA has taken a similar approach with its ketchup. First with the packaging -- a bright red squeezable bottle with minimalist text and stylized illustration -- and then with the flavor -- velvety with a balance of spice and tang -- so it's tame enough for those who dip as well as those who drench. The chubby bottle is almost toylike and calls to mind another cylindrical childhood treat, tater tots. The ketchup adheres to the tot's crispy walls and the notes of tomato, onion and salt accent the fluffy interior.4. Curious Palate House-made Tomato and Onion Catsup + Chicken Strips:
The biggest hurdle that house-made restaurant ketchups must overcome is expectation. It is expected that they taste like ketchup, but very often there is some element of flavor or texture that veers off course. Available for sale at both their Mar Vista and Santa Monica locations, Curious Palate has managed to stay some of those expectations by packaging theirs in a jar instead of a bottle, by noting its prominent onion element and by taking a cue from The South and calling it catsup. Reminiscent of a savory chuntey, it pairs well with meat -- including highly dipable and super crisp panko breaded chicken strips. Their catsup's light consistency doesn't weigh down the delicate coating, so the chicken retains it's crunch.3. K.O. Ketchup + Sweet Potato Fries:
K.O. Ketchup is a homegrown and bottled ketchup/BBQ/cocktail sauce mash-up. Available online and at Bristol Farms, this L.A. native is made with a list of ingredients not typically found in ketchup: a hit of smokiness from chipotle, the mellow sweetness of brown sugar and an extra dose of umami from balsamic vinegar. Combined, the result is a taste that initially seems slightly off, but then the burn from the chipotle rises up and awakens all the other flavors, and soon it becomes a highly addictive substance. When we aren't cooking with it -- it is phenomenal slathered on ribs -- we serve it along side sweet potato fries. The fries not only amps up the brown sugar and balsamic, but also brings out even more of the smoky sweetness of the chipotle.2. Heinz Ketchup + Burgers:
Heinz is perhaps the sweetest ketchup specimen, but it also has a pronounced tang that helps it from becoming too cloying. This complex yet appealing character lends to the versatility that has made Heinz part of the table setting for meals throughout the day. Its sweet-sharp taste goes so well with another item that tastes as good during the day or late at night: hamburgers. Whether made of beef, lamb or turkey, the sweetness helps marry the flavor of the fresh ingredients like lettuce and onion and the tinge of acid from the vinegar cuts through the richness of the charred juicy patty and creaminess of melted cheese.