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Salespeople looking to land new accounts call on new restaurants while they are still under construction. Vendors selling such things as office supplies, cleaning supplies, paper products, and condiments flock to these soon-to-be-opening restaurants. When a local ketchup salesman arrived at what soon would be Trinidad & Tobago’s first Pizza Hut, he met with the man who had been sent from U.S. headquarters to open the business. The sales rep asked how much ketchup he would need. The manager laughed him out of the building. “Ketchup? We use tomato sauce to make our pizzas, not ketchup! Nobody puts ketchup on a pizza!” 

Within hours of opening, the manager called the ketchup salesman 

His customers were irate that there was no ketchup for them to pour over their pizzas and were angrily demanding it. Looking to sew up the account, the salesman quickly delivered a dozen cases of ketchup and customer demand was satisfied.

Trinidad & Tobago is the world’s leading per capita user of ketchup

Does that mean they put more ketchup on their burgers, hot dogs, and fries than anyone else? Yes, it does, but you don’t get to be World #1 just by adding an extra squirt or two. You do it by putting ketchup on lots more things than Americans do: Trinis pour it on pizza, spaghetti, lasagna, Chinese food, Indian food, French food, tuna salad, pancakes, any food.

Trinidad & Tobago is in the tropics, where fresh foods go bad quickly 

In the days before air conditioning, poultry, meat, and fish rotted in the sun, heat, rain, and humidity. The worse the condition of the flesh, the more sauces made from chili peppers and vinegar starving people poured on to cover up the taste so they could choke down the rotten, foul-smelling food. 

This former British colony’s condiment tradition, established in the days of slavery and indentured servitude, lives on

The condiment tables in Trinidad & Tobago restaurants are crowded with more bottles of sauces than any I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. Supermarket shelves groan under the weight of hundreds of 5- and 10-pound bags of bulk ketchup.

The best-selling ketchup in T&T is the cheapest and contains more sugar than many desserts

In Trinidad & Tobago, more than half the population is overweight and a third are obese, earning them World #5 status. The two-island nation’s diabetes rates put them in the Top Ten. Maybe not causation, but hardly a mere coincidence, either.

The word ketchup is said to have come from the Chinese word ke-tsiap, meaning “flavored fish sauce” 

It was a dark brown sludge that looked sort of like today’s Worcestershire sauce but thicker and really, really smelly. It was used to preserve fish, the dietary staple of the Mekong Delta. Used as a flavoring, not as a condiment, ke-tsiap morphed into ketjap and kechap. 

When English settlers came to the USA, they added tomatoes to their ketchup 

Tomatoes come from a family of plants that includes three known poisons – belladonna, jimsonweed, and nightshade. Early settlers refused to eat fresh tomatoes but would eat ketchup because the tomatoes had been cooked and preserved with other ingredients.

People made their own ketchup back then

There was no bottled ketchup, so if you wanted some, you made it yourself. One early recipe directed cooks to “squeeze the tomatoes dry, boil them in salted water, press them through a sieve, then add mace, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and salt and pepper to taste.” 

In 1834, ketchup was advertised as a medicine that cured indigestion, jaundice, rheumatism, and diarrhea

Dr. John Cook Bennett, president of the medical department at Willoughby University, was the first to patent and sell ketchup that was administered in pill form. Three years later, Jonas Yerkes was the first to bottle and sell ketchup nationally, a product people used as a condiment, a sauce – and a soup that cost 2¢ a bowl.

Forty years later, HJ Heinz introduced his bottled tomato ketchup

He advertised it with the slogan “Blessed relief for Mother and the other women in the household!” Nobody called it sexist then, but this ketchup advertising trend would last for many years.

In the early days of bottled ketchup, unscrupulous manufacturers would buy up tons of spoiled tomatoes for pennies 

To cover up the awful taste of their rotten tomatoes, they added astounding amounts of salt, sugar, and harsh chemicals. An 1896 study found 90% of all ketchup sold contained injurious ingredients. Ten years later, the Pure Food and Drug Act banned sodium benzoate as an additive.

Under President Ronald Reagan, budgets for school lunch programs were slashed

To get around the legal requirement that every school lunch includes one vegetable, the United States Department of Agriculture declared ketchup was a vegetable. Republican Senator John Heinz (whose family owns Heinz ketchup) said “Ketchup is a condiment. This is one of the most ridiculous regulations I ever heard of, and I suppose I need not add that I know something about ketchup.

Quick, name another vegetable where 25% of every serving is sugar

How about a vegetable that comes in a bottle? Or a vegetable that maintains its freshness for months after opening? Click here for a Closer Look at Tomatoes.

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When the American manager confidently declared the Trinidad & Tobago Pizza Hut had no need for ketchup, he was displaying his cultural bias. He was imposing his personal frame of reference when he should have been open to how other peoples just might do a few things differently.

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