Ever wonder why Heinz carefully labels its ketchup bottles as “tomato ketchup”? Doesn’t that seem vaguely redundant, like mustard labeled as “mustard-seed mustard”? Well, apparently it isn’t. For one thing, ketchup made with tomatoes was a relatively late American innovation, a cheap new local-ingredients-based twist on a traditional sauce made primarily with mushrooms, or oysters, or (ugh) walnuts and anchovies. (At least one British manufacturer still makes and markets mushroom ketchup.)
And for another thing, a friendly A.V. Club reader from the Philippines named Nicole recently informed us that a non-tomato ketchup is big in the Philippines—specifically ketchup made with bananas. In fact, it’s so popular that a Filipino company has just released a ketchup made with apples, as well. As weird as banana and apple ketchup may sound to Americans, Nicole had this to say:
“Banana ketchup is much more popular than tomato ketchup here in the Philippines. I've personally never liked it, but I'm very much in the minority. The stuff is apparently really made of bananas with much red food coloring, and is used like regular ketchup, on burgers, fries and most popularly, fried chicken.
Apple ketchup is evidently the result of a brain wave by some product development person at the ketchup company. It’s a brand new product, I’ve never tried it, and neither has anyone else I know.”
Well, you can’t say that anymore, Nicole, because we went out and bought a bunch of fries from the deli across the street, and tried the hell out of both banana and apple ketchup, just for you.
(Incidentally, Nicole is the same reader who sent in the tiny crunchy crabs that Chang ate last week between chunks of giant Toblerone. She had this to say about them: “The crabs are Japanese, and I bought them in Singapore. However, baby crabs (or crablets, as we call them here) aren't an uncommon thing in Asia. Here in the Philippines, they're served in a lot of restaurants and are eaten as an appetizer, most often with beer.”)
And not with banana ketchup? How disappointing.
And speaking of disappointing, we were all a little disappointed with banana and apple ketchup, which we were expecting to taste like, well, bananas and apples. This taste test was such a letdown in terms of disgusting, horrifying shocks that we decided to add in some more things we had sitting around the office: a series of sodas sent to us by popular local brewpub Goose Island. The company had already marketed root beer, grape soda, and a tasty orange cream soda; now it’s gone all Jones Soda on us and reconfigured those flavors so they’re made with natural flavors instead of artificial ones, and with cane sugar instead of corn syrup. They’ve also added two new flavors: Spicy Ginger Soda and Vanilla Cream Soda. They sent us a couple of bottles of each to try out, and they worked pretty well at washing down banana ketchup.
Taste: It says something about how much we’ve corrupted our taste buds with these taste tests that the office was all geared up to be horrified and disgusted over ketchup that tasted like bananas, and everyone was then totally bummed when it didn’t. The differences between banana ketchup and tomato ketchup are actually very subtle; the banana stuff has exactly the familiar color and vaguely spicy flavor of the tomato stuff, but without the very slightly lumpy, irregular consistency. It’s sweet in a slightly syrupy, fruity way that isn’t quite like the sugary, grainy sweetness of tomato ketchup, but it could easily pass for a slightly oversweetened tomato ketchup. A few people claimed to notice a bit of banana aftertaste, but it only barely asserted itself, and we really had to wait and concentrate to notice it.
The apple ketchup is a weirder creature; it’s slightly translucent, like jelly, and brighter in color than normal ketchup. It’s also smoother and more gelid. It has an apple-vinegar smell that’s fairly strong and noticeable, but the taste by comparison is mild, though still noticeably like a particularly sweet variety of apple. Still, the spice and the minimal vinegar flavor outlast anything else, producing an entirely tomato-ketchup-like experience. More disturbing is the distinctly apple-jelly texture. Also, the label boldly proclaims that the product “contains flavonoids,” which “may prevent • heart disease • tooth decay • high cholesterol • brain disease (Alzheimer’s) • type 2 diabetes & asthma • breast and prostate cancer.” Apparently “flavonoids” is a real thing, as much as it sounds like a made-up bullshit word, of the variety that might have been used to sell cigarettes in the ’40s (mmmm, Vitamin Q), or to sell some kind of weird hybrid squirting gum to kids today.
Incidentally, apart from the fruit in question, the ingredients in both ketchups were pretty much the same: water, sugar, salt, vinegar, spice, and “sodium benzoate as preservative.” What we tasted was pretty much entirely those six auxiliary ingredients, which raises the question of what else one might make into ketchup. Possibly anything that blends into a lumpy fluid? Ketchupworld.com carries a mango ketchup, a chai curry ketchup, and a couple of agave ketchups. It’s enough to make us wonder if the “Iguana Lightning Hot ’N’ Spicy Ketchup” is made with real iguanas. And lightning. We hope so.
As to the Goose Island sodas, most are pretty predictable. The root beer and grape flavors taste like root beer and grape soda. The orange cream is very strongly creamy, more like a melted dreamsicle than a standard orange soda. The vanilla cream smells and tastes like yellow sheet cake with vanilla ice cream, or for that matter, like Cold Stone Creamery’s Cake Batter ice cream, with the same tons-’o-sugar taste. The Spicy Ginger Soda was the most unusual, with a very strong ginger flavor, but apparently enough sugar to take the burn off, so it doesn’t go straight up the back of the nose the way most harsh ginger drinks do.
As with Jones sodas, the Goose Island cane-sugar sodas are almost viciously sweet, yet low-key, with very low carbonation, to the point that they’re almost more like sparkling juices than sodas.
• “Huh, not bad.”
• “That’s really sweet.”
• “Doesn’t really taste like much. Sweet-and-sour sauce.”
• “It tastes like ketchup applesauce.”
• “I’m not noticing the tomatoes missing at all. Are there no tomatoes in regular ketchup?”
• “It tastes like spiced apple jelly, not like ketchup.”
• “It’s a very weak spiced-apple flavor.”
• “Like dipping a fry in jelly. It isn’t bad, it’s just unexpected.”
• “I feel like I want to put that on toast. It’s not good ketchup, but it is good jelly.”
• “The apple has a much stronger taste, and it’s pretty nasty. This is the flavor of my disgust.”
• “If you hadn’t told me and it wasn’t that funky color, I wouldn’t have picked up on it. I would have wondered if it was left sitting near a banana at some point.”
• “Doesn’t taste like banana at all.”
• “That just tastes like bad ketchup. Cheap ketchup.”
• “I’m not getting any banana—ooh, there it is!”
• “This is almost like sweet and sour sauce too. There’s just a little more sweetness to it.”
• “I think it’s too subtle.”
• “The banana isn’t much. That’s what she said! Oh God, I hate myself.”
• “This tastes exactly like ketchup.”
• “I could taste the banana, but it wasn’t noticeable. If you didn’t know what it was, you’d just think it was ketchup that tasted weird.
Goose Island Grape Soda
• “This just makes me think of jelly again.”
• “Smells like Dimetapp.” “Medicines have ruined our tastes for weird food, because they all have the same flavor.”
• “It just tastes like a grape soda.”
• “I like this because it isn’t too harshly grapey. There’s no burn, which is fine, because I don’t need burn from grape soda, but that’s what I usually get.”
• “Tastes like a melted popsicle. Or an Icee.”
• “It isn’t as overpowering as most grape soda.”
• “There’s nothing to say about this. It’s grape soda.” “But what’s the exit flavor?” “Grape soda.”
Goose Island Orange Cream Soda
• “I don’t taste the orangeness of it. It’s just creamsicle.”
• “That’s really mild and sweet.”
• “Ugh, I hate that. It tastes like Tang powder. Emphasis on the powder.”
• “I’d only drink this as a mixer. It’s just okay. It needs vodka.”
• “None of these are particularly carbonated. They’re very mild.”
• “Could you really drink a bottle of this? It’s nice in a small amount, but it goes too far with the sweetness.”
• “Yeah, it’s not refreshing so much as it’s like an entire cupcake in each sip. Nothing wrong with cupcakes, but a whole bottle of them is a bit much.”
• “I like it, in small amounts. It’s really mellow and smooth, more like an orange milkshake than a soda.”
• “What I like about Fanta and other standard orange sodas is that crisp bite. This doesn’t have any of that.” “I wonder if we’ve just been conditioned by sodas with carbolic acid and so much sweetness and carbonation that we can’t appreciate a good handmade soda anymore.”
Goose Island Spicy Ginger Soda
• “Oooh, I like this one!”
• “This one’s the winner so far.”
• “I could sip on this for a whole bottle.”
• “It’s got a really strong ginger flavor, and yet somehow it isn’t painful and overwhelming.”
• “It’d be great with sushi.” “So you want to pair it with wasabi soda?”
• “This is probably the most authentic ginger drink I’ve ever had.”
• “It doesn’t burn like most of them.”
• “I still couldn’t drink a whole bottle.”
• “I’m enjoying the burning aftertaste.”
• [Kyle, sadly.] “I just want to drink Coke. That’s all I want. I just want some Coke.”
Goose Island Vanilla Cream Soda
• “I think they bottled a birthday cake.”
• “Oh, that tastes awesome.”
• “It’s like sprinkles and confetti.”
• “Oh man, that is good.”
• “I think it’s just too sweet. We need a good salty soda.”
• “I can’t do it. The smell is too strong.” [After a minute.] “Okay, I tasted it. The taste actually isn’t as overwhelming as the smell, but I couldn’t drink much of this because the sugar smell is so intense.”
• “It smells exactly like the icing on birthday cake.”
• “This is way too sweet. It’s like eating frosting directly out of the tube.”
• “Too much vanilla syrup.”
• “It’d be great as a mixer, though. Again, with vanilla vodka. Where the hell is Genevieve when we need her?” “She’s off on a cruise, drinking way more than we are.”
Where to get them: Banana ketchup and apple ketchup are both manufactured in the Philippines, and the banana, at least, is available online, via outlets like the aforementioned ketchupworld.com. Goose Island’s press release says its sodas are available “at Chicagoland Food Stores, Goose Island brewpubs and other fine stores.” Check the soda aisle of your local big-box supermarket.