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Whilst ketchup is near-universally adored, its prevalence in our kitchen is sometimes the source of deep debate. Should we have ketchup on mac and cheese? On pizza? For many chefs around the world, ketchup is a secret ingredient that elevates a dish with its vinegary tang, creating a moreishness that’s otherwise hard to achieve. Others believe that ketchup has no place in our cooking, preferring to leave it on the tables of fast food restaurants across America.

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Ketchup has a long history dating back to pickled sauces from ancient China. The root of the word ketchup comes from East Asian languages – kecap in Malaysian and kê-chiap in one Chinese dialect, and these traditionally fermented sauces evolved over the centuries into the ketchup we know and love today.

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In its current form, tomato paste is combined with a balanced mixture of vinegar, sugar, salt and seasonings to create a sticky sauce. Whilst there are other forms of ketchup on the market (mushroom ketchup is notably popular in parts of Europe), tomato ketchup has conquered the globe. Let’s take a look at how ketchup can be used, and the ways you can substitute it out if you so choose.

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Ketchup’s Flavor Profile

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One theory behind ketchup’s ascendancy to world domination is that it hits every one of the basic categories of taste. Ketchup balances sweetness, salt and tangy sour flavors with notes of bitterness and umami beneath. Whilst few of us consider ketchup to be a sophisticated cooking ingredient, its complex flavor profile explains its popularity across the world.

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Ketchup is best known as a sauce. Slathered on chips or tucked under the burger bun, ketchup works its tangy magic in almost any situation. But ketchup isn’t exclusively used on the side and it’s often on the ingredients list of complex recipes where it introduces a salty tanginess that leaves you wanting more. Ketchup can help Chinese-American fusion dishes such as sticky sweet-and-sour chicken burst into life with sweet and tangy flavors and ketchup can contribute to marinades and glazes of meats. The world of ketchup holds many surprises.

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Although statistics show that ketchup is in the cupboard in a whopping 97% of American households, it’s always possible to run out. Ketchup is such an essential component of many meals and it’s hard to imagine enjoying our chips without it. If you go to open the fridge and find it bare of ketchup, don’t panic. Here are some of the best substitutes for ketchup in any circumstances.

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The Best Substitutes For Ketchup

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Whether you’re looking for someplace to dip your pizza crust or you’ve got ribs to glaze, these substitutes for ketchup have got you covered.

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Make Your Own

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If a dollop of ketchup goes alongside your dinner every night, making your own ketchup is likely the best road to go down when you’re all out of this favorite condiment. Homemade ketchup is surprisingly easy and with the right ingredients you can even outdo commercial brands, creating your own signature ketchup. Quick homemade ketchup can take as little as five minutes, and it’s easier than popping to the shops.

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For a simple homemade substitute, all you need is canned tomatoes, sugar and vinegar. However, an array of common pantry ingredients can allow you to elevate your homebrewed ketchup into something marvellous – spice it up with some combination of cloves, allspice, cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg, or use garlic, onion and celery as a base for a deeper flavor. Cooking these ingredients together in a heavy pan will allow the flavors to combine in a rich way, creating the perfect condiment.

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If you’re in a real rush, you can even whip up ketchup in the blender. Simply switch out the canned tomatoes for concentrated tomato paste, add a pinch of sugar and a dash of vinegar and blitz it. In an airtight container, either of these homecooked concoctions will last for up to two weeks in the refrigerator – if you can resist it for that long!

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Salsa

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If you’re looking for a ketchup alternative without the hassle, see if you’ve got any salsa lying around. Salsa – in Spanish this just means sauce – refers to any number of popular Mexican sauces, and tomato salsa is hugely popular across the United States and beyond.

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Tomato based salsas (salsa rojo, if you’re down in Mexico) make a great substitute for ketchup. Salsa has the sweet and tangy combination we love in ketchup and it’s a great addition to any meal from fries to chicken nuggets.

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Additionally, salsa is usually made from fresh ingredients and has a lower sugar content than store-bought tomato ketchup. This condiment is packed with flavor and could be considered a healthier option. It’s easy to make at home too – chopped herbs and a little bit of heat from chilli flakes can give your dinner a spicy twist.

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BBQ Sauce

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Most barbecue sauces are tomato-based and mild barbecue sauces can make a great substitute for ketchup. Barbecue sauce recipes can be surprisingly similar to tomato sauce, differing only in a few key ingredients, and it will have a similar consistency to tomato ketchup, making it great for dipping or for drizzling over your favorite meals.

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There’s a wide range of BBQ sauce out there and some will make an appropriate substitute for tomato ketchup, whilst others may miss the mark. Some barbecue sauce promotes smokiness as its predominant flavor and although this goes great with meats, it may not work so well on your mac n cheese.

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A good tomato-based BBQ sauce will possess the sweetness and tang that’s familiar from tomato ketchup. Whatever you’re using it for, it packs a lot of flavor and so it’ll work well on plainer foods such as french fries.

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Sriracha

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Sriracha is a south Asian substitute that’s gaining popularity as Western palettes become accustomed to spicy sauces. Sriracha is made with vinegar, garlic, salt and sugar – ingredients shared with its ketchup cousin – but in place of tomatoes, red chilli pepper paste is used. As a saucy condiment, sriracha shares a sticky consistency with tomato ketchup and it brings a familiar red sheen to your plate.

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Sriracha tends to be a little less sweet than your average ketchup and, of course, it brings a spicy kick. If you can handle the heat, sriracha can be a great substitute for ketchup and you might not even want to switch back.

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Conclusion

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For many ketchup lovers around the world, there may be no substitute to good old-fashioned sticky, tangy tomato ketchup. For the true ketchup aficionado, home-brewed ketchup will be the way to go and by experimenting with the balance of sweet, sour and salt you might create a recipe to pass down through the generations. Beyond ketchup there are a few mouth-watering condiments that can suffice in ketchup’s place. Ketchup may reign supreme in the kingdom of condiments, but it’s worth exploring the challengers to the throne.

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