Ketchup is a well-known and well-loved condiment. We love its bright red colour and snacks like bhajjis or French fries seem incomplete without it. Fast food stalls and restaurants most often have a red bottle on the table that contains ketchup for diners to use. We liberally use it over noodles, hamburgers and sandwiches. In India, we have ketchup from well-known brands like Maggi and Kissan. In the recent years brands like Heinz and Del Monte have found their way into the market. While grocery shopping, we may toss in a bottle of ketchup, without even a second thought.
Most often children are frequent consumers of snacks with ketchup. As with all processed foods, it is important to know what goes into them.
A look at the ingredient list reveals the following:
Tomato Paste- This should be one of the first 3 ingredients. Tomato paste or concentrate is made by cooking tomatoes and removing the skin and seeds. The high heat temperatures used for this process often removes the nutritional value of tomatoes. Lycopene is an antioxidant present in tomatoes which prevents certain types of cancer. It is a stable pigment that gives ripe tomatoes their bright red colour. Lycopene is also beneficial for cardiovascular health. The antioxidant helps fight against free radical damage. A study conducted by the Consumer Affairs of India said that Heinz ketchup contained the highest amount of lycopene.
Preservative- The preservative used in ketchup is Benzoic Acid. A preservative is added to increase the shelf life of a product. It also prevents deterioration of the nutritive value of the product and prevents against odour and contamination.
Sugar- In ketchup, sugar is used as a taste enhancer, it helps balance the sourness of the tomatoes. It also acts as a preservative and gives added thickness. A 200g bottle of ketchup can have as much as 60g of added sugar!
Salt- A 200 ml bottle of ketchup can contain almost 2 g of sodium. This is used to enhance taste.
Thickening agents- Thickening agents with codes like 1422 and 415 are starch derived products that are treated with anhydrides. This helps them resist high temperatures. This is used as a stabilizer, bulking agent and thickener, as it increases the viscosity of the food. There is no acceptable daily intake for human consumption.
Acidity- An acidity regulator is important to extend the shelf life of a product. The acidity factor needs to be at least 1% by weight of acidity. If not, this encourages the growth of microbes and other contaminants.
Onion and garlic powder– Some brands may contain these powders to further enhance taste. However, Maggi- Rich Tomato Sauce does not contain either of these. This has been done in an attempt to market their brand to those who do not consume either garlic or onion.
Spice and natural flavour– Spices and Natural flavours are again added to enhance taste of the product.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, a spice can be- “any aromatic vegetable substance in the whole, broken, or ground form, except for those substances which have been traditionally regarded as foods, such as onions, garlic and celery; whose significant function in food is seasoning rather than nutritional; that is true to name; and from which no portion of any volatile oil or other flavouring principle has been removed.”
Natural flavours according to the FDA is, “…….the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavouring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavouring rather than nutritional.”
How healthy is ketchup then?
Compared to other high fat dressings like mayonnaise, cheese spread or butter, ketchup is a low calorie option. One serve (9 g/ 2 tsps) contains 12 kcal of energy. However, it is important you do not go overboard with eating ketchup. Limit on its intake and remember it is a processed food. You are better off adding sliced tomatoes into your sandwich for an extra bit of lycopene. Also, try and use alternate spreads for bread like mint chutney. Other dipping sauces you can make could be avocado or curd/ yogurt based. The extra sugar in ketchup could dull your taste buds and cause you to crave very sweet snacks, desserts or pastries. It is better then, to have a small amount in moderation and not go overboard with its consumption.
With inputs from: