Ketchup Is the Absolute Worst Condiment

Food Features cooking
Ketchup Is the Absolute Worst Condiment

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was eight years old, and I had just enjoyed a gourmet Thursday night meal of frozen chicken nuggets with my family. There were the crispy nuggets, golden-brown and formed into dinosaur-shaped chunks; the shoestring fries, salted with zeal; the side of canned peas so we weren’t just consuming a whole plate full of brown.

Like that of any respectable family on chicken nugget night, our kitchen table was also dotted with condiments: the mayonnaise in the squeeze bottle, barely touched, and the bright yellow mustard that only my brother used sat there, waiting to be put back into the fridge. The star of the show, though, was the ketchup. As an eight-year-old, there was no alternative to the sugary condiment. Chicken nuggets and fries simply had to be adorned with the red gloop. There was no other way; I didn’t make the rules of the universe. Childlike, innocent, I believed that ketchup was a given, a requirement, and I never expected it to do me wrong.

But then came the time to clear my plate. I stepped up to the stool that stood waiting in front of the kitchen sink so I could reach the running water. I placed my plate, which looked like a crime scene from the unceremonious smears of ketchup all over it, under the hot running water. Suddenly, I was assaulted with the most abhorrent scent I had ever experienced in my almost decade of life at that point. It was at this moment I realized how horrible ketchup truly is. When enhanced by the running water, the scent of the slimy, sugary abomination became unbearable. It smelled like the rotting pumpkin we had thrown out the previous November after we came home to find our porch buzzing with flies. I was horrified. How could I have not realized what a crime, what a travesty ketchup clearly was?

This moment with the leftover ketchup falling from my dirty plate in globs, stinking and clogging the kitchen sink, began a lifelong hatred of the ubiquitous condiment. Go to any fast food restaurant and there it is, outshining the mustard and mayo at every turn. Every diner, ever upscale burger spot, every junk food counter at every college’s food hall features it boldly, prominently, like we don’t all know what trash it is. So I’m here to say what has to be said, once and for all: Ketchup is indisputably the worst condiment in the entire American fast food repertoire of dips, sauces and relishes.

First of all, there’s the texture. In the best-case scenario, it’s thick and gloopy and somehow never as smooth as you want it to be. But all too often, you’re met with even more of a mess. Let that ketchup bottle sit for more than an hour or so, and you’ll have to suffer the separation of the solids and liquids in the sauce. First, you squeeze the bottle and are met with a runny red liquid that can ruin your plate of food if you don’t clean it up quickly enough. The chunky solids come next, and they just have to sit there in that watery red sauce while you try to move your fries out of the rapidly approaching river of liquid.

But even if you can get over the consistency, you’ll then have to contend with the flavor. Ketchup seems like it should be savory, considering it’s often paired with dishes like fries, burgers and nuggets. But, alas, it’s sickly sweet, coating your saltiest favorites in a layer of sugar that does little to enhance the flavor. And no, I’m not against dipping your fries into something sweet. What is a Wendy’s Frosty for if not for dipping? It’s just that the flavor profile of ketchup misses the mark every time; I’d be more willing to use watered-down tomato paste that I would be to ruin my fries with a squeeze of ketchup.

But hear me out: I’m not a monster. I’m not asking you to force yourself to eat dry fries and unadorned nuggets. Rather, I just want to encourage all the other ketchup haters out there to explore the world of less-traditional condiments. Of course, mayo is a clear choice. The fattiness and acidity work perfectly for fries, and it adds just the right amount of liquid to a burger or other sandwich. If you truly want to dip, opting for gravy is always a fun option if you have the time to prepare it. And we can’t forget about mustard, the poor, unfortunate condiment that has been unfairly paired with ketchup for millennia.

It’s about time we rise up against the tyranny of ketchup’s dominance over the world of condiments. It’s about time we accept that ketchup is an inferior food and only serves to make our favorite fried foods taste worse. And it’s time to raise our standards so we can truly come to enjoy the wide world of condiments waiting for us. Life is too short to cover it in ketchup.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

Share Tweet Submit Pin