While surfing the immense ocean of food blogs this evening, I came across a recipe for homemade ketchup in honor of what is now the just-passed tomato season. Turns out there are a lot of recipes about homemade ketchup! They sound appealing enough but there is something about them that makes me not care to make my own ketchup, ever. Maybe it’s because a teacher once assigned a reading that changed my perception of ketchup forever. It was Malcolm Gladwell’s rather long New Yorker article about ketchup’s allure, particularly that of the Heinz brand. Read it if you want to learn about ketchup like you’ve never known what ketchup was before. Gladwell describes the chemistry behind creating a perfect condiment and the reasons why no other ketchup brand has been as successful as Heinz, a company that mastered the formula for satisfying every single sense of taste at once: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami, thus making us love the condiment without really knowing why, other than the fact that it tastes good. I thought all ketchup brands tasted the same but after reading the article, I was wrong.
So when I saw the recipe for fresh-made ketchup, the effect was hardly inspiring. We like to cook things for the homemade, wholesome taste but ketchup seems to be one of those rare items that will probably taste better than homemade versions, mostly because it’s a condiment that we grew up with and have acquired a certain taste for. The fresh version might be fun to have while eating homemade french fries or something but when there’s McDonald’s or In n Out fries on hand, I’m reaching for the Heinz.
But we do get carried away, don’t we? The challenge of cooking something out of scratch is seductive to some of us, but the results aren’t always pretty. There were plenty of times when I would see a recipe (many of them baked goods, usually cake-related) and go in a momentary frenzy of experimenting and engaging in complete kitchen upheaval, much to the dismay of my mom who sometimes says, “why don’t you just go to the store and buy it?” I know, why don’t I? Some foods, I think, are better left to the hands of professionals.