PHOTO: Five tasters, including Sierra Hanash, 8, were asked to dip french fries and tater tots into three brands of ketchup and tell The World-Herald their favorite. Three picked Heinz; two picked Hunt’s.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on Omaha.com
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By Kevin Coffey
THE WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Most of us, especially children, will put ketchup on just about everything.
Ketchup on hot dogs. Ketchup on fries. Ketchup on burgers. Ketchup on brats. And, yes, ketchup on potato chips, spaghetti and macaroni and cheese.
Recently, Berkshire Hathaway acquired condiment maker Heinz — maker of the most popular ketchup, according to national sales statistics. ConAgra, just down the street, owns the Hunt’s brand, the second most popular name-brand ketchup.
With both brands now tied to Omaha, we sort of figure that we’re the ketchup capital of the world.
Ketchup is mighty popular on our dinner tables. Over the last year, Americans have purchased more than $736 million worth of ketchup, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.
Heinz ranks first, followed by private label store brands, Hunt’s, Del Monte and finally Red Gold ketchup.
So we asked a few ketchup connoisseurs — OK, more like ketchup enthusiasts — to try a few brands and tell us, once and for all, which is the best ketchup.
Our five panelists were all ketchup fans and included World-Herald food writer Sarah Baker Hansen as well as Bob Homan, Nick Gustafson, Cassandra Hicks and Sierra Hanash.
They were opinionated from the start.
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The Ketchup Testers:
Cassandra Hicks: 24, graphic designer; has to eat ketchup on any kind of meat even steak
Bob Homan: 41, software quality assurance; likes ketchup on burgers most of all
Sierra Hanash: 8, third-grader at Millard’s Reagan Elementary; eats ketchup right out of the bottle
Nick Gustafson: 29, insurance, “Heinz or death!” Eats ketchup on burgers, hot dogs and fries.
Sarah Baker Hansen: Omaha World-Herald food writer and critic; loves ketchup on grilled cheese
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“Heinz or death,” Gustafson, 29, bluntly stated before the tasting.
Sierra, 8, loves ketchup so much, she’ll even eat it right out of the bottle, said her mom, Hollie Hanash.
“I’m an expert at ketchup,” said the third-grader from Reagan Elementary School in the Millard district. “I eat it on my pasta.”
Hansen, 35, eats it on grilled cheese sandwiches, where ketchup is a “must have.” But that’s as out there as she gets. She mostly eats it with burgers and fries.
Hicks, 24, said she doesn’t eat much of anything without ketchup piled on top.
“I even eat it on steak,” she said. “I know it’s bad. People judge me, but I need it.”
For his part, Homan, 41, buys packets of Heinz ketchup and keeps them in his car. If he’s in the mood for a burger, he prefers Heinz, and some places such as McDonald’s make their own ketchup. It’s not very good, he said.
After lengthy discussion during a blind taste test, the panelists determined the best ketchup was Heinz, but by a slim 3-2 vote.
All were admitted Heinz fans — like 60 percent of ketchup buyers — including the two who voted for Hunt’s.
Here’s how we got there:
We placed three unmarked ketchups in front of our panel members with a pile of french fries and tater tots. We labeled each serving cup with a letter: A, B, and C, and didn’t tell them which was which.
They tried each, one at a time, and gave us their comments. At the end, they voted.
Tasting ketchup sounded like a strange concept to everyone, but they kept the conversation going.
“Is it pretentious to say this ketchup has no depth?” Gustafson said with a grin.
Hansen told us about a recipe for ketchup-braised tofu, and they debated whether there was a difference between ketchup out of a packet or ketchup out of the bottle.
When it came to different ketchups, Homan had tried spicy ketchup, but no one had tried balsamic vinegar ketchup. Hansen prefers Heinz’s “Simply Heinz” branded ketchup, which is made with sugar, vinegar and tomatoes and nothing else.
Still, the best conversation was about what foods people eat with ketchup. Pasta, grilled cheese and bratwurst came up, and then someone said they liked it on potato chips.
Homan disagreed strongly with that one.
“Putting ketchup on chips versus fries is the difference between kissing a mannequin or a real person,” he said.
Sierra had the most interesting ketchup-food combination.
“I eat it on macaroni and cheese,” Sierra said.
“Gross!” Hicks said, and everyone laughed.
For the tasting, we started with cup A.
It tasted sweet, Gustafson said. The other panelists dipped more fries and agreed.
Homan added that it had a tangy taste, which he attributed to the vinegar in the ketchup.
Moving on to cup B, they mostly agreed it wasn’t as sweet, and it tasted different, but it was hard to tell why.
“I thought it would be easier to tell the difference,” Homan said. “It’s hard to tell why they’re different, but they are.”
“I think it tastes better,” Sierra continued. “A little bit.”
Cup C disappointed nearly everyone. It had a different color, consistency and even a different smell. Almost no one liked the taste.
“Ketchup A is tangier, but ketchup C tastes like nothing,” Hansen said.
Almost instantly, everyone knew that ketchup C was neither Hunt’s nor Heinz. It just didn’t taste right.
“There’s very little flavor,” Homan said. “It’s the imposter.”
“It’s a waste of a french fry,” Hansen said.
Only Sierra thought the mystery ketchup was good. It wasn’t quite as tasty as the other two, she said, but she still thought it tasted fine.
When it came time to vote, Hansen and Homan immediately put their votes down for ketchup A, which they both had guessed was Heinz.
Gustafson took a few seconds to think — “I feel like I’m putting way too much effort into this,” he said — but also went with A.
Hicks said she liked ketchup B (Hunt’s) better.
“It tastes better, and different,” she said. “It has more flavor than C and less tang than A.”
The last vote came to Sierra, who went for B.
It was time for the reveal: Heinz was A, Hunt’s was B and the third, C, was Del Monte, the third most popular brand-name ketchup.
While Heinz won 3-2, everyone agreed that both Heinz and Hunt’s ketchups were good. They wouldn’t turn away a bottle of Hunt’s, but everyone said they’d probably stick with Heinz when they went to the grocery store.
Even Hicks, who voted for Hunt’s, said she’ll still buy Heinz.
“It’s like Coke and Pepsi,” she explained. “Pepsi tastes sweeter with one taste, but Coke is better if you’re drinking the whole bottle.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1557, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/owhmusicguy
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VIDEO: The Great Ketchup Taste Test