The day ketchup became art was a truly defining early 2000s childhood moment. When Heinz launched EZ-Squirt ketchup, which came in vibrant colors like green and purple, the brand gave kids an excuse to do exactly what they were always told not to do—play with food. And the day the company discontinued this product was the day creativity died.
I am not alone in my memory of EZ-Squirt and my desire for its return. Back in 2018, Jenna Rose Burkert (@TheJokerJB) tweeted, “Another year older, another year I wish they made purple ketchup again.” The official U.S. Heinz Twitter account was tagged in the tweet and responded with, “You never know who is listening to your wishes!” and an image of a purple bottle of Heinz ketchup with Burkert’s name on it. A bit of hope sparked within all of us, but the flames were soon snuffed out by the brand.
In 2020, another Twitter user revisited the same thread tweeting, “I found this old tweet.. because I’m sitting here at 5:10AM thinking about how much I wish purple ketchup still existed.” Burkert agreed and tagged Heinz again. Unfortunately Heinz crushed all hope by responding, “It was a phase, Jenna…” A phase? Low rise jeans were a phase, ketchup is a lifestyle. Some people out there still recognize the value of this specific ketchup product, because for a time three bottles were listed on eBay for $199.95 and recently, after contacting the seller, I found out one of the bottles did in fact get sold.
Let me paint you a little picture of my devotion to Heinz. It’s summertime and I’m lucky enough to be spending the summer with my grandparents visiting family in Mexico. I’m maybe six or seven years old, so my palette is fairly limited and yet I’m already a little snobbish when it comes to the things I do like to eat. Ketchup is a regular part of my adolescent diet, and I can’t fathom the possibility of it not being available, let alone that there are ketchup brands other than Heinz. Yet, all around me is the image of a parrot on bottles and packets of catsup, not ketchup. This stuff is the most watery-red juice I’ve ever tasted in my life. I refuse to eat it, and without that how could I eat at all? So my grandparents literally drive across the border to get me some Hunt’s ketchup—not Heinz, but as good as it was going to get for me, so I settled.
I promise you I was not the spoiled brat I just painted myself to be. I just really loved ketchup and my grandparents really love me. And now I’ve decided I no longer want to live in a world where colorful ketchup doesn’t exist. So, like many things in life, if I want it done I have to do it myself. But before I can tackle bringing this rainbow back to life, it’s best to understand how it first came into our lives.
How ketchup creativity came and went
I tried to get information for my ketchup investigation straight from the source. Unfortunately, a public relations contact for Heinz candidly expressed that no one who worked on the product more than 20 years ago is currently working for Heinz—getting an inside scoop on its creation and life was just not possible right now.
Without Heinz, I was left to scour the internet to piece together the short-lived history of EZ-Squirt Ketchup. In 2000, the adventure began with EZ Squirt Blastin’ Green, as reported in the brand’s 2001 annual report. This launch resulted in more than 20 million bottles sold within the first two years and over 25 million sold by 2003, reported Pittsburgh Business Times and The Associated Press. The company’s 2001 annual report reads, “EZ Squirt Blastin’ Green captured the world’s imagination and energized sales growth in the category. EZ Squirt, available in traditional tomato red as well, delivers inventive packaging, with an easy-grip squeezable bottle designed for smaller hands and a thin nozzle that enables children to draw and write on their foods.” The green ketchup was promoted in conjunction with the release of the movie Shrek and led to the development of other brightly colored follow-ups.
Heinz released purple, pink, orange, teal, and blue in order to capitalize on the popularity. The Post-Gazette, a publication based in Pittsburgh where Heinz headquarters is also located, reported that bottles were flying off shelves with parents purchasing bottles as stocking stuffers during the holidays. Over the six years Heinz continued to produce EZ-squirt colorful ketchup, the company’s market share grew incrementally, reaching 60% in 2003, which was a new record at the time.
When it came to the actual flavor of the ketchups, Heinz said the process meant somehow stripping the pigment from its usual ketchup and adding in food coloring to achieve the desired color. The brand advertised the ketchup as having the same taste as original Heinz. Unfortunately, the same great flavor and original color palette weren’t enough to hold kids’ interests for long. Sales declined and Heinz discontinued the bright ketchup in 2006. For a brief moment in 2012, Heinz partnered with Burger King to create a green dipping sauce for St. Patrick’s Day, but it wasn’t EZ-squirt.
The great ketchup experiment
It’s time for a revival. If Heinz won’t do it, I will… try. Understanding that Heinz used its proprietary ketchup and then took the red color out of it by some sort of witchcraft, I have to admit I was not confident going into this experiment. I consulted with someone who has plenty of experience testing out weird food creations: Fellow staff writer Dennis Lee is always up for food experiments (whether it involves Pepsi and popcorn or gold-plated hot dogs).
After our discussion, I concluded that I had two options. I could either take some Heinz ketchup and add food coloring in the hopes that the drops would overpower the natural red, or I could try to make the ketchup from scratch and incorporate the colors into the process. On the one hand, adding food coloring to ketchup would be the easiest way to maintain that “Heinz taste” I hold dear. On the other hand, making the ketchup from scratch would give me the blank slate I needed to bring out the vibrant color of these long-lost squirters.
To guarantee at least an ounce of success, I decided to try both.
Experiment #1: Heinz and food coloring
This was a partial success! I was able to create a green and a blue-ish color while still making it taste like Heinz. To achieve the green I added yellow food coloring and a tiny bit of blue food coloring. There was no measurement to this process; I just added and mixed until I saw some color form. To get the blue (I was actually aiming for purple but oh well) I only added blue to the ketchup. These were the only colors I was able to achieve because the red pigment of the ketchup plays such a dominant role. I tried for orange with some yellow food coloring and it wasn’t strong enough; every other color I tried ended up turning into a black, indistinguishable mess.
Experiment #2: Ketchup from scratch
I chose to go with a recipe that lacked tomato because I thought it would be easier to alter the color this way (it’s something fellow staff writer Allison Robicelli does often). The recipe I found, on a website called Unbound Wellness, had beets, carrots, and applesauce along with other ingredients. Beet juice is probably an even stronger pigment than tomato, so that was already a big mistake. I blended all of the ingredients in a blender, and if I was judging by just looks this would have been fine. Unfortunately, the taste brought me back to that parrot-brand in Mexico, and I couldn’t even bring myself to try to alter the color further. What’s the point if my brightly colored condiment doesn’t even taste like ketchup?
Two out of six colors is far from a win, but it’s a start. I’ll admit I don’t remember the most basic color theory from grade school and this was the first time I tried to make no-tomato homemade ketchup. I challenge all of you out there who miss Heinz EZ-Squirt ketchup to try and make your own. Maybe if we all try hard enough (or nag Heinz again), we can make this more than a phase.