Is ketchup a sauce? (everything you need to know)

In this blog post, we will answer the following question: Is ketchup a sauce? We will teach you everything you need to know about ketchup: its origin, history, and use in the kitchen. We will also leave you a recipe for homemade ketchup. 

Is ketchup a sauce?

Ketchup is the quintessential American sauce that was neither originally created in the United States nor did it have tomato in its recipe. The fried tomato has probably been the European equivalent of ketchup to date. 

The reality is that this mixture of vegetables with vinegar, sugar, and salt does not have many roots among the older generations, although its consumption is expanding year after year due to the dietary changes that the new tastes of adolescents and children entail. 

Symbols of cuisine such as the American one, which does not have a great gastronomic reputation, the creation of the sauce as we know it today has had a long journey.

The original ketchup had no tomato

The invention of ketchup is neither relatively recent nor did it take place in the land of the stars and stripes. Its most accepted origin dates back to the seventeenth century and refers to an amalgam of fish, vinegar, and spices that was made in China. 

This combination was received in the dialect of Amoy of the southern province of Fujian the name, phonetically very similar to the present one, of ‘kôe-chiap’ or ‘kê-chiap’.

The practice of fermenting fish was gradually extended to other ingredients, such as soybeans. Trade brought this type of condiments to the West, and in the 17th century, in parallel with the importation of new spices, the different versions of ketchup spread throughout Europe. 

It is known, for example, that the writer Jane Austen had her own recipe for making nut ketchup, while in UK supermarkets it is still possible to buy mushroom ketchup. One of the earliest documents on the tomato variety we consume today is Sandy Addison’s recipe in her early 19th-century cookbook ‘The Sugar House Book’.

Ketchup – Not suitable for children

The evolution of the sauce had for a long time an outstanding ingredient in its composition: alcohol. In her 1812 cookbook, Dr. James Mease points out that each bottle should contain about one glass of brandy. Red wine or Bourbon was also in common use. The taste of consumers was changing towards its current sweet taste, and alcohol was gradually abandoned at the beginning of the last century.

Whether made of glass or plastic, if we buy a bottle from an American brand we will almost certainly find that unlike other sauces such as mustard, the container will be transparent.

The explanation is due to a historical cause. Unlike what happens today, tomatoes were only available in the summer season. The demand for ketchup was, however, throughout the year. At that time, the preservatives that the food industry uses today did not exist either. As a result, ketchup was said to be a suspect product, teeming with mold and bacteria. To gain the trust of consumers, the manufacturers decided to sell it in bottles that allowed you to see the inside.

Ketchup’s scientific peculiarity

Why is it almost impossible to use the entire contents of the package with today’s sauce? Why pouring it over a hamburger can be a chore with unpredictable consequences? Professor George Zaidan explains in a ‘TED-Ed’ video how ketchup has a physical peculiarity.

There are two types of fluids, ‘Newtonians’ and non ‘Newtonians’. While the former maintain their resistance to flow constant, in the latter this characteristic changes according to certain factors, becoming more or less viscous depending, for example, on how hard and fast the bottle is pressed, in the case of ketchup. 

When no force is exerted, ketchup practically behaves like a solid. It is enough, however, to shake the container so that the sauce suddenly becomes less thick.

Other FAQs about Sauces which you may be interested in.

What can I add to the white sauce for flavor?

What can be substituted for tomato sauce?

What are the best herbs to put in spaghetti sauce?

Homemade ketchup

Taking advantage of confinement and free time, why not prepare a homemade tomato sauce? It is as easy to make as a stir-fry, and although we have prepared a sauce with the basic ingredients, we can add some extra vegetables – such as pepper or carrot – or the aromatic herbs and spices that we like the most.

With these amounts, 2 small sauce jars come out. If we want to do more we just have to double the amounts. It is really good and we can use it in countless recipes. If in passing we dare to prepare homemade ketchup, here is also the recipe that we prepared a while ago.



  1. We wash the tomatoes and make a cross with a knife on top of each one.
  2. We poach them in boiling water for a few minutes or, as we have done, in the microwave, covering them with plastic wrap and heated to maximum power for 2-4 minutes (depending on the type of tomato and maturity) making batches of 1 minute.
  3. We let the tomatoes warm and remove the skin, which will come out easily.
  4. We chop an onion and two cloves of garlic.
  5. Sauté the onion and garlic with extra virgin olive oil over low heat, until the onion is poached. If we want to add any other chopped vegetables now is the time.
  6. When the onion is transparent, add the chopped tomatoes.
  7. Season and add fresh or dried aromatic herbs.
  8. Sauté – over low heat throughout the process – for about 40 minutes, stirring from time to time.
  9. We pass the sauce to a blender or food processor and blend at maximum power.
  10. We put the sauce back in the pan and cook for 5 more minutes.
  11. We add the salt, and just in case it is very acidic, we add a pinch of sugar.
  12. Optionally and to make it even finer, we can pass it through a Chinese strainer.
  13. We transfer the sauce to glass jars and when it cools we store it in the refrigerator.


Ketchup is a tomato sauce flavored with vinegar, sugar, and salt, as well as various spices. Its origin is Chinese “ketsiap”, a spicy sauce that accompanied fish and meat but did not include tomato among its ingredients. 

While you can use ketchup for spaghetti, we recommend you try one of our 5 delicious recipes mentioned above to create a truly unique pasta dish!

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know.

Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.