Ketchup and steak make for a controversial combo, true, but this is not the place to judge. So, if you do choose to indulge (talking to you, President Trump), then you might as well splash the best-tasting ketchup brand out there on that grilled slab of meat.
The Food & Dining staff sampled 12 brands of ketchup as part of our monthlong focus on “Craving: Steak.” You’ll find the results in the photo gallery at the top of this article. Click through the photos to find out how your favorite brand did. (Interested in more taste tests? Check out how national brands of mayo and tomato sauce fare.)
Tomato ketchup is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to dismiss it as a simple sauce to be paired with french fries, meatloaf, scrambled eggs and, if you’re far away from Chicago, a hot dog. (On that, we do judge: Don’t!) But there’s a deceptive complexity to ketchup.
Chef Christopher Prosperi, my longtime friend in Connecticut, always said ketchup combined all five basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.
As for ketchup on steak, a pairing Trump famously indulged in during his first visit to a Washington, D.C., restaurant as president, a 2017 poll by Public Policy Polling showed 56 percent of the 800 registered voters contacted disapproved of it as “a condiment on steak.” Even Trump supporters frowned, with 52 percent against it.
That sort of reaction seems to belie an old advertisement promising that “juicy steak and Heinz rich tomato ketchup are a winning combination all men go for.” But then an October 2017 poll by Mintel, the market research firm, of 1,919 adult Internet users who had bought condiments or dressing in the prior six months noted that 30 percent of them reported using ketchup with “red meat dishes.” (69 percent used ketchup on a sandwich, 44 percent as an ingredient in a recipe, and a brave 7 percent admitted to using ketchup on pizza.)
For this tasting, I decided to forego the steak because there’s only so much you can ask of colleagues. I also considered and rejected pairing ketchup with hot dogs or french fries — pizza, frankly, did not enter my mind.
I was curious to see how all the ketchups would rate tasted side-by-side with no accompaniment. Although the brands sampled were regular tomato ketchup, there was a surprising variation in color, texture and flavor. A few tasted like cocktail sauce or canned tomato sauce. Some were sweet and some spicy. Textures ranged from a smooth paste to much more coarse. Clearly, not all ketchup is alike.
This was a blind tasting, meaning tasters didn’t know which ketchup was which. Each participant in the tasting was asked to rate each brand on appearance, aroma, texture and flavor.
The ketchups were purchased near the Chicago Tribune’s new Randolph Street location at a Mariano’s supermarket, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market. I also shopped for ketchup at Devon Market in Rogers Park. I did not buy membership-only club brands because I wanted ketchup the general public had a reasonable chance of buying. Prices listed are what I paid.
Again, for the ratings, please click through the photo gallery.
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