Taste Test: The Best Well-Known Ketchup Brands
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Fourteen years ago, Malcolm Gladwell waxed poetic about the fatal flaw of fancy ketchup.
In his “ketchup conundrum,” he suggests that while we think we want artisanal, high-end products, when it comes to ketchup all we really want is a squeeze bottle of what we know and love: sugar-laden, recognizable brands that we trust will be available at all supermarkets.
While we enjoy a good nouveau ketchup just as much as the next person, it’s hard to argue against the ubiquitous presence of those “57”-stamped bottles. But even a cursory glance at the condiment aisle in the grocery store reveals that the options are overwhelming. So among the popular, accessible ketchup brands, is Heinz really the best? We tested this the only way we know how—by sacrificing a few cartons of fries.
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There were six bottles up for the title, including three varieties of Heinz—regular, no sugar added and organic. Stonewall Kitchen, Del Monte and Hunt’s rounded out the batting order in a blind tasting. The panel unanimously called out the acidity of the no-sugar-added Heinz, and thought the organic version tasted like barbecue sauce. Beyond that, they had some more specific thoughts.
On Stonewall Kitchen: “I would eat this one with a spoon.” (Note: Said with a spoon in hand.)
On Del Monte: “It has to be as cheap as Heinz for me to buy it instead.”
On Heinz: “This is Heinz.”
Noted market researcher Howard Moskowitz—who you can thank for inventing Prego’s tomato sauce—is historically aboard the same train of thought as Gladwell. “The mind knows not what the tongue wants” could be his motto. And from the taste test quotes above, it’s obvious which ketchup our staff is accustomed to zigzagging across their hot dogs. Though when we step back and take nostalgia out of the equation, alliances become skewed. Here’s how the ketchups ranked, all factors considered:
Stonewall Kitchen: Its thickness steers it more towards tomato sauce than traditional ketchup, but everyone agreed that the taste was above average. At over $10 per bottle though, no one could justify ranking it as number one.
Heinz: As Gladwell says, “Happiness can be found in having what we’ve always had and everyone else is having.” And while the group recognized and had nothing negative to say about Heinz, they couldn’t name a characteristic that would deem it far superior to the others.
Del Monte: In terms of bang for your buck, Del Monte was the winner. It was cheaper than Heinz ($1.89 compared to an albeit larger bottle of Heinz for $3.69) which is why this one, while perhaps slightly inferior in a blind taste test against Heinz, takes gold in the all-around. After all, it’s a brand recognized for its high-quality canned and preserved fruits—and what’s ketchup but preserved tomatoes?
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