Some people like their French fries au naturel, unadorned with any condiments. We are not those people. No, we prefer our fries dressed a little bit, usually with that great American classic, Heinz ketchup. After all, this is the ketchup that Malcolm Gladwell, in The New Yorker, noted as successfully hitting all five tasting notes (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami) on the “the sensory spectrum.” Accordingly, a panel of professional taste testers in the article deemed Heinz's ketchup as being more “sensorily complete” than a competitor brand.
The Oinkster and Hole in the Wall Burger Joint, however, bravely take on the Heinz hegemony and offer their own unique blend of tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt, and spices. With the 57 bottle looming large in the background, we pit these homemade ketchups against each other to see if either one sensorily completes us.
The Oinkster serves only its own blend of ketchup, and it does so in two variations (homemade and chipotle). In fairness to Hole in the Wall (which only has one, plain version of its ketchup), we went with the regular homemade for this Food Fight.
The Oinkster's ketchup has a slight, pleasant tang, but that quickly dissipates and gives way to an overpowering sweetness. When you can get past the sugars and taste the ketchup itself, the tomato flavor is smooth and rich. It's a thin blend; if it were bottled, you would never find yourself frustratingly tapping a magic number to coax the ketchup out. It's tasty though, and, if the flavor wasn't so glaringly bright, it actually may hold its own against Heinz.
Hole in the Wall offers both “their” (Heinz?) ketchup and “our” ketchup. One of the many differences between the two is that the homemade ketchup is made with love. We know this because their sign says so:
Hole in the Wall's condiment is distinctly several shades darker than The Oinkster's, almost like the color of a light BBQ sauce.
Hole in the Wall's house ketchup is a completely different animal than The Oinkster's. Where The Oinkster's version is a complete blend of ingredients, Hole in the Wall's is not quite there. It's a bit watery and, for lack of a better word, chunky.
The taste of Hole in the Wall's ketchup similarly is the near opposite of The Oinkster's. Its tomato flavor is faint; what it lacks in tomatos, it makes up in vinegar. A lot of it. Fine, this may very well be “the way ketchup was meant to be made,” but that doesn't mean we have to like it.
Oddly, despite the acidity, the ketchup actually disappears under the joint's deliciously crispy, hand-cut Kennebec French fries. If anything, it gets in the way of tasting the full flavor of the potatoes. We sort of hate to say it, but we prefer “their” ketchup, with its tasty corn syrups and questionable natural flavoring and all. True, the anonymous alternative may not have been made with love, but if the price of love is a lot of vinegar, then we're going with the less expensive option.
In the end, then, The Oinkster's fully blended ketchup soundly beats Hole in the Wall's concoction. Does it 86 the 57, though? Almost – but not quite.