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Beginner’s Guide To Making Homemade Ketchup

Tomatoes - Bumper Crop

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So, you have a bumper crop of tomatoes, far more than you and your family can get through before they start to rot!  You could dry a whole lot (See dehydrating article.) But you also have various options for cooking your tomatoes and storing them in a form which will be useful to you for many months to come – tomato sauce, paste or ketchup.

When you look at the ingredients of cans of tomato on supermarket shelves you will find an extraordinary amount of disagreement about the exact meanings of these three forms so I am going to state my idea of the difference – and you can chose what you will call the stages while you cook up your bumper crop into useful tomato substances!

I am assuming that the difference between tomato sauce and tomato paste or puree is one of consistency.  Tomato sauce is a cooked, unseasoned tomatoes, designed to be added to stews, casseroles and pasta dishes. It has a sharp acid tomato taste that mellows out as it cooks further, and can add a pleasant, last-minute tomato kick to a finished recipe.

Tomato paste or purée is tomato sauce cooked a great deal more so that it loses excess moisture and becomes thick and crimson as opposed to orange-colored. It has a stronger flavor than sauce and a small dab of the paste adds a hit of tomato flavor to a dish without the excess liquid that comes with using fresh tomatoes and can make anything taste like it has been cooking for hours.

Tomato ketchup is a sweet and tangy condiment made with tomatoes, sugar, vinegar/acetic acid and spices. Ketchup is cold in nature and is never served hot, while all varieties of sauces are served hot.

One tends to think of ketchup as an essentially American addition to food like burgers and chips but in fact the word derived from the 17th Century Chinese “kê-chiap” literally meaning the ‘brine of pickled fish or shellfish’ and the original “ketchup” (or catch-up or catsup) was actually made from fermented fish. English colonists first discovered it in the 18th century in Malaysia and Singapore and took it across to the Americas with them, where it evolved into the tomato-y substance we know today.

How To Make Homemade Ketchup

This is a basic recipe. There is loads of room for experimentation as you make your own batches of ketchup and realize that you and your family prefer more of this or less of that.


  • Medium stock pot, 4-quarts or larger (enough to house the tomatoes with some extra room)
  • Cheesecloth
  • Kitchen twine
  • Blender (immersion or traditional)
  • Sieve or fine-mesh strainer
  • Sterilized glass bottles


  • 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes roughly chopped (classically ketchup is made with Roma-type tomatoes because of their lower moisture content.)


  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ¼ teaspoon celery seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice

Make a “spice packet” a square of cheesecloth that will fit all the spices with room to fold and secure the contents. Place the above spices in the middle of the cheesecloth. Fold closed and secure with a length of kitchen twine.

Other ingredients

  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, very finely diced


  1. Place tomatoes, salt, vinegar, sugar, onion, chili, garlic and spice packet in the pot.
  2. Cook over medium heat until tomatoes are soft and the onion is translucent and limp (about 30 minutes).
  3. Remove and discard the spice packet.
  4.  Puree the sauce.
  5. Strain the ketchup to remove tomato seeds and skins. (You can use the strained pulp in a soup or stew.)
  6. Return the tomato mixture to the pot. Cook over medium-low heat for an additional 20-30 minutes until thickened to your preference. (Take note, will thicken more when cool.)
  7. Bottle in a sealed glass container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. (or freeze.)

Note: the color of commercial ketchup is generally artificial.  Home-made ketchup is less brightly colored than the commercial form.

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