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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

WHAT THE F*** WEDNESDAY - The wonders of ketchup and childhood!

American's will eat garbage provided
you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup.

Arthur Miller


Before I get into the wisdom and American obsession with the condiment ketchup, may I point out today is Wednesday.

Hump Day.

Horrid mid-week day.

What I crassly call What The F*** Wednesday. Every Wednesday is a gamble and on this blog, anything goes on Wednesday.

In the immortal words of the classic Risky Business (which played a huge role in my youth), these are words to cherish:

Whatever gets you through the day is all good! And clearly one of the things that got many of us through childhood was ketchup.

But before we go there, let's have a little Xanadu for our morning, shall we?

There. Wasn't that fun?


35.8 million tons of ketchup were consumed worldwide in 2008. That's a lot of ketchup. We are obsessed with it. The most popular by far is Heinz.

Despite the plethora of mustard's and mayonnaise and other condiments on the market, there are none which surpass Heinz and there has never been. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great article in 2004 on the conundrum.

If you have the interest, the article is worth the time to read:

When I began reading about ketchup I had no idea the reams upon reams of scholarly research there was on the subject.

I mean, why?

Why so much time and effort to dissect the reason why so many people have devoted so much time, effort and money to only one brand of ketchup.

I figured it had to be money. Why else? It's a billion dollar industry Heinz has cornered. I've always been perplexed by the national obsession with ketchup. So I did a bit of reading.

It all comes down to 'umami.'

There are five known fundamental tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Umami is the proteiny, full-bodied taste of chicken soup, or cured meat, or fish stock, or aged cheese, or soy sauce, or mushrooms, or seaweed, or cooked tomato, like the cooked tomato which Heinz perfected with their thick and rich tomato ketchup product.

On Monday I wrote about the nice gay couple in Florida I met. One of them had memories of ketchup and breakfast and since then always has to have breakfast with loads of ketchup in an effort to psychologically squash his dark childhood.

The other one told me developmentally our tastes stop at age 3 or so. I thought that was a bit absurd.

Seems he may have had a point.

Gladwell wrote in his article the truth little kids are neophobie. By age 3, they shy away from new tastes.

He wrote, "that makes sense since throughout much of human history that is the age at which children would have first begun to gather and forage for themselves, and those who strayed from what was known and trusted would never have survived. There the three-year-old was, confronted with something strange on his plate—tuna fish, perhaps, or Brussels sprouts—and he wanted to alter his food in some way that made the unfamiliar familiar. He wanted to subdue the contents of his plate. And so he turned to ketchup, because, alone among the condiments on the table, ketchup could deliver sweet and sour and salty and bitter and umami, all at once. "

Ascribe it to the sensation and taste of umami or to the memories of childhood, but ketchup is, like soy sauce and tomatoes and cheese rinds and cooking stock an elemental and basic component to all foods which many home cooks dismiss but shouldn't.

There is a deep pathological and psychological pull to and with these foods which both remind us of our childhood and fulfill out taste buds with a sensation few other foods can.

Tomorrow, I'm going to detail two fantastic recipes using ketchup as either a binder or a star condiment.

Heinz ketchup isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Neither are memories of your childhood.

Time to embrace both.

Mikey Bryan Your Food Therapist

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