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Ketchup – Podictionary Word of the Day

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There’s no other kinds once you’ve tasted the brine of pickled fish.

That seems to have been the feeling of sailors who’d been exposed to a tasty kind of sauce during their voyages to Malaysia.

According to most dictionaries the Malaysians appear to have adopted the word for this brine of pickled fish from Amoy, a Chinese dialect.

Bowl of Potato Wedges and Tomato KetchupSince adding the brine of pickled fish to hamburgers and hotdogs is not currently standard procedure something has obviously changed about the meaning of the word ketchup.

According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America the prime ingredient in what in the Far East had been called ketchup wasn’t fish but soybeans. As explained there Europeans couldn’t make the stuff themselves because they didn’t grow soybeans and so tried instead to produce ketchup using such things as mushrooms, walnuts, anchovies and oysters.

The Oxford English Dictionary entry for ketchup hasn’t yet been updated for the third edition and has as its most recent citation an item dated 1874. Sure enough the prime ingredient listed throughout this entry is mushrooms.

Tomatoes are mentioned in the OED entry but it was the year before that, in 1873 that the H. J. Heinz company began selling tomato ketchup.

So somewhere in there tomatoes came to dominate. And so it is that what we call ketchup is red and has a consistency of applesauce instead of more closely resembling soysauce.


Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of several books including his latest History of Wine Words – An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle.

Recent Comments

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rebecca and SoybeanWatch, Cassie. Cassie said: I don't even like ketchup, but now I'm hungry. RT @oupblog: A podcast on ketchup: http://bit.ly/4ET6Mw [...]

  2. Stan Carey

    Ketchup seems to be the flavour of the season: Dan Jurafsky recently wrote about the history of the word and the condiment.

  3. vitamine c 

    Hello
    Ketchup is all time favorite for people.You have given nice information about it.Thank you very much for giving such a good information.

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