23 Fascinating Facts about America’s Condiment Kings: Ketchup, Mayonnaise, and Mustard


I come from a family of ketchup lovers. I don’t know how we became one, but here we are.

We would have ketchup on hot dogs and hamburgers, as well as on cottage cheese, hard cheese, green beans, meat, fish, eggs, and an assortment of other foods. We always favored Heinz; however, when then-presidential candidate John Kerry, whose wife is the Heinz ketchup heiress, was running for president, I started to explore other brands to show solidarity with his conservative opposition. I even bought an unnamed generic brand at Walmart, and it was just as good, and a lot cheaper.



1. Ketchup wasn’t always red! When you go shopping for ketchup now it’s easy to spot the bright red bottles. However, when it was invented it was sort of brown, and it wasn’t until the 19th century that it began to be made with tomatoes.

The Chinese, the industrious inventors of so many western items like gunpowder and paper, created the ancient form of ketchup as well.

The word ketchup is derived from the Chinese ke-tsiap, a pickled fish sauce. It made its way to the Malay Archipelago, where it became ketchup or ketjup (in Indonesian). The Chinese product was more like soy sauce.

In another version, in 300 B.C. texts began documenting the use of fermented pastes made from fish entrails, meat byproducts and soybeans. The fish sauce, called “koe-cheup” by speakers of the Southern Min dialect, was easy to store on long ocean voyages. It spread along trade routes to Indonesia.


2. Ketchup has standards. Government regulations for ketchup or catsup basically state that ingredients include: cooked and strained tomato sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, onion or garlic flavors, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, mace, and cayenne.

Old grading standards, dating back to 1953, dictated that ketchup which flowed 9 centimeters in thirty seconds received the Grade A rating. The standards were revised in 1991 so that now Grade A ketchup need only ooze 3 to 7 centimeters in thirty seconds to make the grade. In other words, this means the old ketchup used to be thinner — today’s is thicker.


3. President Richard Nixon’s favorite sandwich was cottage cheese, pineapple, and ketchup.


4. Ninety-seven percent of households have a bottle of it at all times. We Americans adore it.

5. The top seller is Heinz.

6. Ketchup is healthy, too, if you discount its high percentage of sugar. It has lycopene, which is excellent for your eyes’ health.

7. Ketchup is also called “catsup.”

Whatever you call it, pour it on.



Then there are the mustard lovers like my husband Avi — he likes his hot and spicy.

8. The English name mustard is derived from a contraction of the Latin mustum ardens, meaning burning must. This is a reference to the spicy heat of the crushed seeds.

9. Another Chinese innovation. Thank you.

10. The mustard grain was cultivated by the Chinese over 3,000 years ago.

11. Mustard has been a part of the most ancient Mediterranean civilizations. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used it to spice up meat and fish dishes. They crushed the grains and mixed it into their food.

12. The Romans imported the custom of using table mustard to Gaul.

13. The emperor Charlemagne recommended the cultivation of this spice throughout his realm as well as in the botanical gardens surrounding the monasteries in Parisian suburbs.

14. In Northern Europe, it was believed that scattering a few mustard seeds around your house would ward off evil spirits.

15. Standards were set for mustard in the 14th century. In 1390 the manufacture of mustard was governed by regulations: it had to be made from “good seed and suitable vinegar” without any other binder. Fines could be levied on those who produced substandard mustard.


16. Mustard was a sex medicine as it was thought to do what Viagra is supposed to do now. It was believed to enhance the libidos of wives in the Middle Ages.

17. It was used as a medicine by the Greeks. In the sixth century B.C., Greek scientist Pythagoras used mustard as a remedy for scorpion stings. One hundred years later, Hippocrates used mustard in a variety of medicines and poultices. Mustard plasters were applied to “cure” toothaches and a number of other ailments.

18. Mustard is a nutritious food containing 28% to 36% protein.



Mayonnaise, as we know it today (also lovingly called mayo by so many of us), is a Johnny-come-lately among condiments, compared to the other two.

19. First heard of in about the 18th century, the invention of our modern mayonnaise seems to be shrouded in mystery. Some feel the Spanish invented it, others the French. The French did popularize it, but then they popularized many sauces to cover some of the offal bits of meat they served. Mayonnaise does cover a multitude of culinary sins.

There are those who feel that mayonnaise is older, as the Romans ate a concoction of oil and eggs.

20. According to the Oxford English Dictionary mayonnaise is a feminine French word and was originally “Mahonnais” from the French port of Majon or Mahon.

21. Mayonnaise can be paired with ketchup to make Russian dressing. If you’re a purist you’ll make your own mayonnaise combining oil, eggs, and seasonings in a blender or food processor.

22. President Calvin Coolidge was a big fan. He said he couldn’t do without his Aunt Mary’s homemade mayonnaise.


23. Hellmann’s, probably the aristocrat of commercial mayo makers, was created in the early 20th century by either European immigrant Richard Hellmann or his wife. They first produced their product in butter boats. Since then mayonnaise, some say, even has surpassed ketchup sales. Who can live without mayo for potato salads, or cole slaw, or any number of great American salads?

So whatever your love — ketchup, mustard, or mayo — you’ll be in good company with millions who’ve relished these condiments, in some cases for thousands of years.

What’s your favorite way of using these food greats?

Bon appetite!


Image illustrations via Pecold /

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