Catsup or Ketchup? The Victorian Era Cure-All & Some Other Saucy Claims

downloadThe British-based “ketchup” or American-named “catsup” is a tomato-based table sauce used for dunking fries, spiraling on hot dogs and glazing meatloaf…on and on. However, in the Victorian Era, it held some pretty saucy claims.


European traders were first introduced to the thick red pottage while visiting the Far East in the late 17th century. The varying recipes for ketchup quickly found their way to British shores carrying with them a plethora of formulas. Traditionally, these recipes featured ketchup made of mushrooms, oysters, mussels and walnuts. However, today’s version, as we know it, is boiled down to a sweet and tangy sauce, typically made from tomatoes, a sweetener, vinegar, and assorted seasonings and spices. Seasonings vary by recipe, but commonly include onions, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, garlic, and sometimes Heinz will throw in a bit of celery for good measure. So when and why was it prescribed as a cure for all that ails you?


In the 1830’s, in an effort to boost sales (GENIUS–some things never change!!), one Victorian Era, enterprising manufacturer bottled it as Dr. Miles Compound Extract of Tomato, reputed to cure anything from baldness to athlete’s foot, and all points in between. In a counter-attack, the H.J. Heinz Company rooted out scientific studies which claimed that tomatoes had antioxidants which were beneficial in preventing cancers.

While the latter is true, the carotenoid known as lycopene, occurs in such small quantities, that even when applied liberally to your fries, the benefits remain pretty much nada… So, all in all, today, our beloved ketchup has been boiled down and reduced to “Want fries with that?”

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25 Comments Add yours

  1. Ha-Ha In Europe there is a produce called “American Sauce” by Heinz. So what exactly is it? HA=Glorified Thousand Island dressing? BAHAHAHAH. True. Cheryl. Ps Have a great weekend Lana!

    1. haha! We Americans remain a mystery to Europeans then! lol! Thanks Cheryl…you too, hon!

      1. Well…I just about fell over laughing when I saw it! LOL

      2. Lana should read PRODUCT (not produce) I think I have veggies in mind today I have been cutting them up! LOL. PS It is a jarred sauce-“American Sauce”.

      3. haha! Cheryl I read product—see, we understand each other beyond the written word lol!! Being veggie minded is great!

      4. LOL-had to have clarity-too funny Lana!

  2. Osyth says:

    You can still get mushroom ketchup in England and it is fabulous added to a hearty beef and ale stew. But what fascinating facts – I can’t get over the image of a bald man rubbing Tommy-K (as its often called in Britain) on his pate and hoping it will produce hair. Doc Miles must have been laughing all the way to the bank!

    1. haha! I’m with you! I’m sure Doc did until Heinz stole the show! lol! I would love to try the mushroom ketchup! Beef an ale stew…mmm! Sounds wonderful! Thanks a bunch for your witty and valued comment! Cheers!

      1. Osyth says:

        I’ll try and remember to put a recipe on my blog sometime … we have just the weather for it right now (but I have to make sure I know the names of the cuts of beef here or it could be ale broth with melted meat which sounds disgusting!)

      2. hahaha! I look forward to your recipe nonetheless! lol!

  3. I love this history and who would have thought it started in this way and so long ago! Wow so Ketchup is really a cure all? Thanks Lana!

    1. Thanks, Lynn! Writing this reminded me of the old snake oil salesman! 🙂

      1. yes hahaha so much fun to read! A great post!

  4. Such a fun post! Not only a cure-all, but also considered a vegetable in school lunch programs starting in the ’80s. 😉

    1. Thanks so much, Jean! A condiment considered a vegetable in schools isn’t acceptable! Before we know it mayo will be approved as eggs! lol!

      1. Your prediction isn’t too far off… right now 2 tablespoons of tomato paste on pizza is considered a veg. A bill was put before congress to raise that minimum and they voted it down. 😕

      2. Oh my, Jean! Sounds as if congress has too much time on their hands! I didn’t know this!! Thanks so much!

  5. I thought us Americans called it Ketchup too? I’ve never spelled it Catsup. I wonder what the origin of that spelling is? Fun facts though! 😀

    1. Hi Kathryn! My hubby called me on the exact same thing! In truth, in the US, I mostly see Ketchup, but do see catsup from time to time as well. Evidently, ketchup is even more common in the UK? Sounds good right? lol! Thanks!!

  6. gabrielbyrde says:

    Looks like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals! I enjoyed this!

    1. Thanks, Steven! You’re right! Minus the plume 🙂

  7. Such an interesting read 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lynne! I love these little tidbits of history too 🙂

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