20 July 2008

How's your knowledge of the condiments?

Next time someone asks you to pass the ketchup, mustard, mayo or Worcestershire sauce, you can wow them with your knowledge of the condiments.


Ketchup

The word “ketchup” comes from the Chinese “ke-tsiap,” and if you’re wondering why ketchup isn’t used in Chinese food, well, there’s your story. Ke-tsiap wasn’t at all like ketchup. It was a sauce made from pickled fish that frankly wouldn’t taste so great on a burger – or in our opinion on much else. Nonetheless, it was popular enough to catch on in Malaysia, where it was called “kechap,” and Indonesia (“ketjap”), and to be honest it probably wasn’t as bad as it sounds; it’s been compared to soy sauce. When English and Dutch sailors made their way to the Far East in the 17th century, they “discovered” the sauce and brought some back with them. Homemade versions immediately became popular; Elizabeth Smith’s The Compleat Housewife (copyright 1727) called for anchovies, shallots, vinegar, white wine, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, pepper, and lemon peel.
Note the lack of tomatoes in that recipe. In the grand East-meets-West tradition of fusion cuisine, someone thought to add tomatoes to ke-tsiap in the early 1700s. The British counterpart of that person, by the way, went another direction and added mushrooms instead; you can still find mushroom ketchup at a few specialty retailers, and The New Joy of Cooking contains a recipe for the homemade stuff. Anyway, in both nations, the spelling also mutated around the same time; the first reference to “ketchup” appeared in 1711. This, too, caught on, and within 100 years or so ke-tsiap had acquired yet another regional name: tomato soy. Teresa Heinz Kerry’s great-great-great in-laws started selling a thin, salty version of the stuff in USA as “tomato ketchup” in 1876, and it was such a hit that eventually they just dropped the “tomato.”
Kiwis still call it tomato sauce and must have it with everything from meat pies to fish n chups to . . . well, all kinds of things really.

My grandmother would not allow the bottle on the table, instead, slipping it discretely to my dad who kept it on the floor by his chair. My friends can quickly see my opinion of the steak I'm eating by the absence of or the amount of catsup I apply.

Mustard
Mustard, in our opinion, has one of the best linguistic back stories in the English tongue: its name is a contraction of the Latin mustum ardens, meaning “burning wine” – presumably because the seeds are spicy and used to be as valuable as the vintage stuff. (The French used to mix mustard seeds with grape juice, which may also have something to do with the name.) Mustard’s tastier qualities, however, weren’t always appreciated the way they are today. It started out as the ancient equivalent of Neosporin: Pythagoras prescribed it for scorpion stings. His successor, Hippocrates, tried to cure toothaches with it (at least he didn’t use something sugary).
To read about Mayo & Worcestershire sauce go to Mental Floss.

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