Make your own version of an American culinary staple.  It's fun to keep your DIY ketchup in a plastic squeeze bottle, similar to those found in diners and coffee shops.  You can find these bottles in most housewares and kitchen stores. 

Why This Recipe Works

Imagine a world without ketchup: All those lonely French fries mourning the loss of their life partner, and dejected burgers in an endless search for a saucy companion. Phew. That was scary, huh? Americans love their ketchup, so we can probably rest easy tonight knowing that it’s not going anywhere. But the crusade against processed foods has certainly caused me to think twice about what’s inside the bottle of my beloved Hunt’s. (Sorry, Heinz.)

Now, some naysayers might argue that ketchup is simply slow-moving, tomato-flavored sugar full of preservatives and syrups. But store-bought isn’t your only option; the reality is, ketchup is pretty easy to make at home. I found a surprising number of recipes on the web, but most were just too trendy. Every restaurant I’ve been to lately has its own version: smoky, curried, spicy, or truffled. Sadly, these all, well, kind of stink. And I’m left eating my fries nude with a cartoon bubble of a smiling bottle of Hunt’s over my head.

Apparently, those commercial ketchup-making people know what they’re doing; I wanted to duplicate their product. Up to this point, I’d never thought much about what went into a bottle of ketchup. Tomatoes, salt, sugar, and vinegar, right? It was the mysterious “spice” and “natural flavor” listed on the bottle’s ingredient list that tripped me up. Natural flavor of what?

Once I figured out the secrets, though, making ketchup was not all that complicated, and, I’m happy to report, all the ingredients needed to make it are things you probably already have on hand. Just make sure to buy whole tomatoes packed in juice, not puree, for this recipe.

—Lynn Clark, Associate Editor, Cook’s Country

The right spices are in the bag: Peppercorns, mustard seeds, bay leaves, and allspice are pretty standard fare for most homemade ketchup recipes. I also add cinnamon. Wrap everything in cheesecloth–a sachet, if you will–and tie it with kitchen twine. Leave several inches of extra twine on the end. You'll see why later.

D.I.Y. clove oil: Clove or, more specifically, clove oil is said to be Heinz's ™secret ingredient. I liked the idea of clove, but whole cloves in the sachet were too aggressive and the resulting ketchup reeked of bad mulled cider. You can buy clove oil in natural foods stores, but I prefer to just make my own by first heating some cloves in vegetable oil. Let the cloves steep for a few minutes in the oil before straining them out. What's left: infused oil with just a hint of clove.

Thicken with tomato paste: Next, put the clove oil back in the pot and use it to sauté some onions and garlic, which together serve as the savory elements in our ketchup. Tomato paste–a full can, at that–makes the ketchup thicker. I heat it with the onion and garlic to help deepen its flavor.

Put the tomato paste mixture in a blender and add 2 cans of whole tomatoes. Whole tomatoes work better than diced or crushed; when cooked, the gelatinous centers give the ketchup more structure so it stays put on hot dogs and burgers. And tomatoes packed in juice are best; the puree is just too thick. Process the whole thing until smooth. You might need to do this in batches if you have a small blender. The color of the resulting puree is probably lighter than what you expect; it'll get darker later when it cooks down.

Pour the tomato mixture back into the pot, add brown sugar, vinegar, and salt, then submerge your spice sachet. Tie the sachet to the handle of the pot, which will make it easier to fish out later–just make sure to trim any loose edges. Now just let it simmer. (To avoid scorching, make sure the heat is turned down low enough to keep the sauce simmering gently.) Other than an occasional stir, it won't need you for a couple of hours. After a couple hours the ketchup should be really thick and dark red.

Technically, you could call it a day here. But I strain out the seeds and tomato solids. A fine-mesh strainer will do the job; just press on the solids to extract as much ketchup as possible.

One month in the fridge is the limit.



  1. Bundle peppercorns, mustard seeds, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, and allspice in small piece of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine to secure, leaving about 5 inches extra twine on 1 end.
  2. Heat oil and cloves in large saucepan over medium-low heat until oil begins to bubble. Continue to cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain oil through fine-mesh strainer set over bowl and discard cloves.
  3. Return strained clove oil to now-empty saucepan and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Transfer to blender, add tomatoes, and process (in batches if necessary) until smooth, about 30 seconds. Return tomato mixture to now-empty pot, and stir in brown sugar, vinegar, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Secure twine of spice bag to handle of pot and submerge bag in tomato mixture.
  5. Bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture is dark red, thick, and reduced to about 4 cups, about 2 hours.
  6. Remove spice bag. Strain ketchup through fine-mesh strainer set over large bowl, pressing on solids. Let ketchup cool to room temperature, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour cooled ketchup into jars or plastic squeeze bottles with tight-fitting lids and refrigerate. Ketchup can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.



CondimentsAmerica's Test Kitchen


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