Ketchup Wars

Heinz has removed the Hebrew transliteration of Ketchup from bottles of their iconic sauce. The reason? Israel has a standard for Ketchup that Heinz doesn’t come up to. Specifically, Israeli Ketchup contains a higher percentage of tomato extracts than Heinz’ tomato flavored condiment.

I read about this development in Yesterday’s Idiot Acharonot (Israel’s largest circulation fish & chips wrapper newspaper) whilst enjoying a leisurely breakfast on holiday in the Galilee.  The topic is a hot sweet & sour issue among fellow Anglo-American Immigrants who I am in contact with on Facebook.

To those of us who grew up in the UK or the US, Ketchup meant Heinz. Heinz launched its first Tomato Ketchup in 1876, Heinz was at the forefront of exploring natural preservation, and in 1906 was first to launch a Ketchup free from artificial preservatives. To prevent it growing a beard without fungicides, it includes enormous amounts of sugar and vinegar.

 

14-global-ketchup.w529.h352.2x

There never were 57 varieties of ketchup or indeed of anything else. Nevertheless, worldwide, Heinz is the #1 ketchup.

In the 17th century, the Chinese mixed a concoction of pickled fish and spices and called it (in the Amoy dialect) kôe-chiap or kê-chiap (鮭汁. By the early 18th century, the table sauce had made it to what is now Malaysia and Singapore, where it was discovered by English explorers. The Indonesian-Malay word for the sauce was kecap (pronounced “kay-chap”). That word evolved into the English word “ketchup”, and English settlers took ketchup with them to the American colonies.

In the United Kingdom, preparations of ketchup were historically and originally prepared with mushroom as a primary ingredient, rather than tomato. Ketchup recipes begin to appear in British and then American cookbooks in the 18th century. 

So the term Ketchup doesn’t imply containing tomatoes at all. It really simply means a savoury sauce. Nevertheless, to most of the world, the term relates to the thick dark red sauce that Heinz manufactures and distributes.

In Israel, a variety of condiments are sold as tomato ketchup. The most widely distributed and probably the best of them is Osem’s ketchup, which also comes in a distinctive container that is perhaps as well recognized in Israel as Heinz’ is elsewhere. I prefer Heinz’ Ketchup as it the taste I grew up on. My Israeli kids prefer Osem’s.

To put the argument into some kind of perspective, I’d like to use the analogy of mustard. I am sure that for British ex-patriots like me, mustard is a very strong condiment prepared from a powder. Coleman’s mustard has a long and distinguished history.

Jeremiah Colman founded Colman’s of Norwich in 1814. To create a tangy flavour, he blended brown mustard (Brassica juncea) with white mustard (Sinapis alba). From 1855 the firm introduced its distinctive yellow packaging and bull’s head logo, and in 1866 was granted Royal Warrant as manufacturers of mustard to Queen Victoria. The royal household still uses Colman’s today.

colmans mustard

Now the French make an entirely different condiment called Dijon mustard, that is rather milder. Americans have a sort of yellow ketchup that they call mustard, but which has no similarity to English mustard. One could envisage the UK banning American mustard from being sold as ‘mustard’ without a qualifier, such as ‘American style’ mustard. Similarly, one could imagine Americans requiring Colman’s Mustard to be sold with a government health warning that it should be consumed in small quantities only, and that it is rather different than what Americans are used to.

Israeli bottles of Heinz Ketchup will still have the word Ketchup on their labels in English, just not in Hebrew. Presumably English and American immigrants will see that the sauce is what they are looking for, and Israelis will appreciate that the condiment is something different. It is not a bad compromise. However, as the term ketchup doesn’t actually imply tomatoes and the average consumer is aware that condiments from different companies taste slightly different, and since both Heinz and Osem’s ketchup bottles feature the name of the manufacturer clearly and each comes in a distinctive bottle, I am not convinced that this is really necessary.

namesred mug

There are, of course, Israeli precedents for this type of thing. Nestle’s Nescafe Original was marketed in Israel as Red Mug. They couldn’t call it Nescafe as the term was generic. The Hebrew word Nes means miracle, and, where Elite’s Cafe Namess (soluble coffee) was known as Nescafe (miracle coffee), there was no way for Nestle to obtain a trademark for Nescafe.

Pips Cola

Prior to the Oslo accords, Pepsi Cola was not available in Israel, as Pepsi decided to kowtow to the Arab boycott. A Galilean Arab sold a locally produced cola as Pips Cola. When Pepsi entered the Israel market they tried to get an injunction against the Arab manufacturer. The Israel courts correctly noted that they had abandoned the local market. They ended up having to buy him out.

For British readers of my generation, I refer to classic Goodies Episode “The Bunfight at the OK Tearooms“, where ketchup as a metaphor for movie blood and gore was taken to its logical conclusion.

 

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