From Garum To Ketchup

April 23, 2011

I’m sure that you know what is ketchup, but probably you haven't got the slightest idea of what garum is.
However, garum and ketchup are two different sauces unite by a long history. But today, the latter is viewed as bland, commonplace and a culinary atrocity, while the former is considered an exciting, exotic, and mysterious condiment.
As a matter of fact they represent two different eras: garum represents a bygone one that many historians wish was a culinary reality, and chefs nostalgically try to recreate; while ketchup is the epitome of modern commercial days that many gourmet chefs wish was history and try to get rid from their menu.
But both sauces have something in common: they have been surrounded by wrong myths. Garum, for instance, was neither invented by Romans nor did it disappear when Rome fell; and ketchup was neither invented by Americans nor, was in the beginning sweet, thick or tomato based.

What is garum?

In the ancient Mediterranean world, Egyptians and Greek gutted and salted fish and stored them in large vessels. The natural process of osmosis, produced a liquid, called garòs (in latin garum), that was used in some culinary preparations. It was mentioned in the works of Plinio, Aristophanes, Sophocles and Aescylus. It was incredibly popular in Greece and much later in Rome, where people would add it to almost anything. It was, in effect, the ketchup of the ancient world.
Since there was a fish called garos, or garòn, in Greek, it's a fair bet to say that the sauce was made mostly from that fish.


So garum was initially a culinary solution to the problem of fish preservation. While highly nutritious, most fish have a pH level below neutral. After death, fish are highly susceptible to decomposition. Several mechanisms were thought and created to preserve fish and avoid due to putrefaction. The use of salt or salt brine for preserving was common throughout the ancient world.

What and where are the connections between garum and ketchup?

You must know that the word ketchup is derived from the Chinese ke-tsiap, a pickled fish sauce. Probably at the beginning ketchup had the same use of garum. This sauce made its way to Malaysia where it became kechap and ketjap in Indonesia.
Seventeenth century English sailors first discovered the delights of this Chinese condiment and brought it to the west. Ketchup was first mentioned in print around 1690 (the Chinese version is actually more akin to soy sauce).
Ketchup went through various changes, particularly with the addition of tomatoes in the 1700s.
By the nineteenth century, ketchup was also known as tomato soy. We must wait until 1876 when the Heinz Company began selling tomato ketchup.
Today tomato ketchup is the primary type of ketchup in the United States, and the descriptor of tomato was gradually dropped.

So ketchup wasn't always ketchup...

Ketchup originally came from Asia as a fish sauce that contained fish brine, mushrooms, herbs and spices, but what is ketchup today?
Ketchup has been a staple condiment in the U.S. for decades. Heinz sells around 650 million bottles of its original-style ketchup every year.
Ketchup mainly contains tomato concentrate from red ripe tomatoes. Distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder and natural flavoring are then added to produce another layer of sweetness and saltiness to the product.
There are 15 calories per serving and all of those come from carbohydrates. Fat and protein do not contribute to the calorie content. According to the ketchup label, there are four grams of sugars per tablespoon. There are 190 mg of sodium per serving, as well.
The American Heart Association recommends intake of sodium should be limited to fewer than 1,500 mg per day. One tablespoon contains almost 13 percent of this recommendation.
The high sodium content of ketchup can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, asthma, and potentially even stomach cancer.
However, ketchup has its positive benefits. It contains one of the most powerful antioxidants called lycopene. When tomatoes are cooked, the way they are to make ketchup, the concentration of lycopene increases.


If you are curious about the taste of Garum, you should give it a try. It might not an easy task to find it but you can buy it online and have it shipped.
It has a pungent and specific taste that you’ll either love or hate!


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