The Reason Ketchup Is Added To Meatloaf

Whether you add ketchup to the meat blend or use it as a spread on top, meatloaf and ketchup go together, well, like meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It's such an iconic family American dinner that it is even a big part of the classic movie "A Christmas Story." While Randy hated his meatloaf and chose to play with it, families have enjoyed the easy weeknight meal for decades.

Like so many foods, the history of meatloaf is not totally known, although some believe it could trace its origins to medieval Europe when finely diced meats, fruits, nuts, and seasonings were combined, per Bon Appétit. There were many versions of this recipe made from leftovers and odds and ends, but the recipe for the type of meatloaf we know today was first published in the 1870s, food historian Andrew Smith told Bon Appétit. When food ingredients were in short supply during the Great Depression, meatloaf was often found on American tables, according to Life at The Table.  One of the aspects that made meatloaf so popular was it helped home cooks extend their ingredients, especially expensive ones like meat, by incorporating vegetables and breadcrumbs into the "loaf."

More than a condiment

Mixed in with those breadcrumbs, eggs, and ground meat often is ketchup. All Recipes explains that having a sweet element in your meatloaf like ketchup is critical to creating a delicious dish. The reason? It balances out the flavors. 

Calling it a "secret ingredient," Southern Living says a good-tasting meatloaf must have ketchup in it, while other ingredients can be switched out (breadcrumbs for biscuits, etc.). A meatloaf recipe from The Wholesome Dish calls for ketchup in the meat mixture and as a glaze on top. The glaze also contains red wine vinegar and brown sugar. Mom Makes Dinner says a meatloaf with a ketchup glaze is reminiscent of childhood meals. Instead of red wine vinegar, the recipe on Mom Makes Dinner calls for Worcestershire sauce. The reason Southern Living loves having a ketchup glaze on top of the meatloaf is that when it bakes, the mixture gets caramelized and takes on a smooth texture. However, if you aren't a fan of the condiment, Southern Living suggests using BBQ sauce instead. Or, All Recipes says to switch out the ketchup in the meat mixture with another sweet element such as brown sugar, white sugar, or maple syrup.

We don't know if the mom in "A Christmas Story" used ketchup in her meatloaf, but we doubt any kid could refuse the classic dish if it did.