A Brief History of Ketchup and Mustard

H/T  Mental Floss.

Around 300 BCE, people in China were experimenting with making pungent pastes out of fermented fish guts. A few centuries later, the Greek historian Pliny shared a method to treat scorpion stings using the ground-up seeds of a common plant. These are the unlikely origin stories of ketchup and mustard, two condiments that people in the United States spend over $1 billion on annually. How did two condiments with thousands of years of history between them become associated with hot dogs and hamburgers?


Mustard has been around for a while—in fact, the plant the condiment comes from may have been among the first crops ever cultivated.

There are multiple species of mustard—most are members of the Brassica or Sinapis genera—and the plant (which is closely related to broccoli and cabbage) and its seeds first appear in the archaeological record in China around 6800 years ago. Before they became a condiment, the seeds harvested from the plant were used as a spice and a medicine; Indian and Sumerian texts from around 2000 BCE mention them in this context.

The paste-like form of mustard showed up roughly 2500 years ago. The Greeks and Romans blended ground-up mustard seeds with unfermented grape juice, or must, to make a smooth mixture. The first version of this concoction wasn’t necessarily food—it may have been used more for its medicinal properties, and not completely without reason: Mustard seeds are rich in compounds called glucosinolates, and when these particles get broken down, they produce isothiocyanates, powerful antioxidants that fight inflammation and give mustard its nose-tingling kick.

The Greeks and Romans applied mustard’s medicinal properties to almost every ailment imaginable—Hippocrates even praised its ability to soothe aches and pains. Many of mustard’s historical uses don’t hold up to modern science—for instance, it’s not a cure for epilepsy, as the Romans once believed—but it’s still used as a holistic treatment for arthritis, back pain, and even sore throats.

While experimenting with mustard as medicine, the Greeks and Romans discovered that pulverized mustard seeds were pretty tasty. In the first century CE, Roman agriculture writer Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella published the first recorded recipe for mustard as a condiment in his tome De Re Rustica. It called for an acid and ground mustard seeds—the same basic formula that’s used to make mustard today.


Meanwhile, the evolution of another popular condiment was underway halfway across the world.

Ketchup first appeared in China around 300 BCE. In the Amoy dialect of Chinese, kôe-chiap means “the brine of pickled fish,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Nineteenth century ethnologist Terrien de Lacouperie thought the word might have come from a Chinese community living outside of China. In any case, the name is pretty much the only thing that version of ketchup had in common with the bottle of red stuff in your fridge. It was actually much more like garum, a Mediterranean fish sauce that was once wildly popular in Ancient Roman cuisine. (Modern versions of garum can actually be found today in high-end restaurants like Denmark’s Noma.) Some have even suggested that Asian fish sauce is a descendant of garum.

The Chinese fish sauce known as ketchup was likely made by fermenting ingredients like fish entrails, soybeans, and meat byproducts. Fermentation creates byproducts that can be of great interest to human beings. One such byproduct is the ethanol that gives us beer and wine through alcohol fermentation. Another is monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG. A lot of theories fly around about MSG, but it’s worth pointing out that glutamates appear naturally in all sorts of foods, from tomatoes to beef to parmesan cheese. Our own bodies produce glutamates. And MSG can give foods a savory, hard-to-define flavor called umami.

The fish paste that was created by fermentation possessed this umami, and was used to add a salty, savory depth of flavor to a variety of dishes. And because fermentation can breed so-called “good” microorganisms while inhibiting the growth of the bad bacteria that cause foods to rot, this version of ketchup could be stored on ships for months without spoiling, an important factor at a time when trade routes could take months to traverse.

As ketchup spread to different parts of the globe, it went through a few transformations. Trade routes carried it to Indonesia and the Philippines, and it was likely around this part of the world that British traders discovered and fell in love with the funky seasoning. And as soon as ketchup landed in Great Britain in the early 1700s, Western cooks found ways to make it their own. One of the first English recipes for ketchup, published in Eliza Smith’s 1727 book The Compleat Housewife, calls for anchovies, shallots, ginger, cloves, and horseradish.

Some recipes used oysters as the seafood component, while others cut the fish out of the fish sauce completely. Popular bases for ketchup around this time included peaches, plums, celery seed, mushrooms, nuts, lemon, and beer. Like their predecessor, these sauces were often salty, flavorful, and had a long shelf-life, but beyond that, they could vary greatly. The word ketchup evolved into a catch-all term for any spiced condiment served with a meal—”spiced” referring to ingredients like cinnamon or nutmeg rather than heat level. Walnut is said to have been Jane Austen’s preferred ketchup variety.


Mustard received its own makeover when it was imported to different parts of Europe. The Romans invaded the land now known as France in the 1st century BCE, and the mustard seeds they brought with them thrived in the region’s fertile soil. Locals, including the monks living in the French countryside, loved the new condiment, and by the 9th century, monasteries had turned mustard production into a major source of income.

Mustard found its way into less humble settings as well. Pope John XXII was said to be such a fan that he appointed a Grand Moutardier du Pape, or “Grand Mustard-Maker to the Pope.” John XXII was one of the Avignon popes, who lived in what is now France rather than Rome, and he created the mustard-making position specially for his unemployed nephew who lived in Dijon, which was already the mustard capital of France by the 14th century.

Even French royalty developed a taste for mustard. King Louis XI made it an essential part of his diet, going so far as to travel with a personal pot of the sauce so he’d never have to eat a meal without it.


There are many types of mustard—yellow, spicy brown, English, Chinese, and German, to name a few. But to some condiment connoisseurs, mustard is still synonymous with the creamy Dijon variety that first took hold of France centuries ago.

In 1634, it was declared that true French mustard could only be made in Dijon. The recipe was an important part of French cuisine, but as one innovator proved, there was still room left for improvement.

Dijon native Jean Naigeon tinkered with the formula in 1752, swapping the traditional vinegar with verjuice, or the sour juice of unripened grapes. The simple change gave dijon the smooth taste and creamy texture that’s associated with the product today. Most modern dijon uses white wine or wine vinegar to imitate that original verjuice flavor. And most of it isn’t made in Dijon. Unlike champagne or Parmigiano-Reggiano, which must come from the areas who lend their names to the products, dijon no longer enjoys “protected designation of origin” status.

The dijon you’re most likely to find in your local supermarket is probably Grey Poupon. In 1866, inventor Maurice Grey teamed up with financier Auguste Poupon to revolutionize the mustard world. Grey’s automated mustard-making machine brought the artisan product into the Industrial Age. Today, most Grey-Poupon mustard is made in American factories.


While mustard was flourishing, ketchup was still figuring out how it would leave its mark on the white T-shirt of history. And after arriving in America by way of British colonization, the sauce joined forces with the ingredient that would define it for decades to come: the tomato.

The British had experimented with turning nearly everything they could find into ketchup, but tomatoes were the exception—at least in part because the New World fruit was believed, by some, to be poisonous when it was first introduced to Europe by explorers in the 16th century. It’s possible that some wealthy English people did get sick from eating tomatoes, though not for the reasons they suspected. If they were eating off lead and pewter plates, the acid from the tomatoes may have leached lead into their food, thus giving them a case of lead poisoning they might have mistaken for tomato poisoning. A lot of food historians doubt how much influence this could have had on public perception, though, arguing that lead poisoning takes too long to develop to get connected to any single dish. Instead, it could just be that tomatoes looked like plants that Europeans knew were poisonous, and so were branded with guilt by association. The bottom line is, the reasons are contested, but by the late 16th century, you can definitely find anti-tomato texts in English.

This misconception about the risks of tomatoes may have persisted among English Americans if it weren’t for the efforts of some passionate tomato advocates. One of these crusaders was Philadelphia scientist and horticulturist James Mease. He referred to tomatoes as “love apples,” and in 1812, he published the first known recipe for tomato ketchup.

Sadly, the name love apples didn’t stick, but tomato ketchup did. People with fears about tomatoes felt safer eating them in processed form. And ketchup may have gotten an assist from a bit of old-fashioned quackery. Dr. John Cook Bennett touted tomatoes as a cure for maladies ranging from diarrhea to indigestion. He published his own recipes for tomato ketchup, and eventually the product was being sold in pill form as patent medicine, helping to sway public perception about the benefits of tomatoes.

In reality, though, early tomato ketchup was actually less safe than tomatoes from the vine. The first commercial products were poorly preserved, resulting in jars that were teeming with bacteria—and not the good kind. Some manufacturers cut corners by pumping the condiment with dangerous levels of artificial preservatives. Coal tar was also added to ketchup to give it its red color.

It was the Heinz company that was largely responsible for elevating ketchup from potential botulism-in-a-bottle to staple condiment.


Pennsylvania entrepreneur Henry J. Heinz got his start in the condiment business in 1869 by making and selling his mother’s horseradish recipe. Seven years later, he saw an opportunity to bring some must-needed quality to the ketchup market. The first bottles of Heinz ketchup hit stores in 1876, and in the years that followed, they would do several things to set themselves apart from the competition.

For starters, Heinz got rid of the coal tar. Instead, he blended distilled vinegar with ripe, fresh tomatoes. His formula was shelf-stable and it tasted good, but that alone may not have been enough to make Heinz a household name. Arguably the biggest change he made was packaging his products in clear, glass bottles. Before that, ketchup had been sold in brown bottles to hide its poor quality. With Heinz, customers knew exactly what they were getting.

The Heinz ketchup bottle is one of the most iconic pieces of food packaging ever created, and it’s likely shaped your perception of the product. This extends even to the spelling of the word. If you write C-A-T-S-U-P you may get funny looks, but it’s a perfectly valid old spelling for the word, and for years was actually the preferred spelling in America. Heinz labeled his condiment ketchup with a K as another way to differentiate it from its catsup with a C counterparts. Today Heinz’s version is widely regarded as the correct spelling.


Mustard also arrived in America shortly after the first European settlers did, but All-American yellow mustard didn’t appear until much later—at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904, when the R.T. French Company debuted its new “cream salad mustard.”

Distracted fairgoers may have overlooked the product if it wasn’t for a special new ingredient. Mustard is naturally brown or beige, but Brothers George and Francis French added turmeric to their mustard to give it a neon yellow look.

For a canvas to showcase their condiment, the Frenches chose the hot dog—a dish that was fairly new to Americans at the time. The R.T. French Company’s cream salad mustard, or French’s yellow mustard, is still a classic hot dog topping more than century later.

Ketchup and mustard have no doubt secured their positions as culinary heavyweights. Surprisingly, though, neither product is the top-selling condiment in the U.S. That distinction belongs to ranch dressing, which is a $1 billion industry as of 2019.



A Brief History of Pepper Mills & Grinders

H/T Peppermint.com.

PepperMate’s Brief History of Pepper Mills

Pepper mills, sometimes referred to as pepper grinders, are a common kitchen accessory designed to grind peppercorns into a fine powder used to season foods. Many of us probably have a pepper mill sitting in our kitchen right now! Yes, that’s very true.

History of the Pepper Mill

The pepper grinder was invented by Peugeot of France in 1842. Earlier versions of pepper mills were based on a mortar and pestle design. The pepper grinder allowed for a less labor intensive way to crack the peppercorns. The pepper grinder invented by Peugeot was constructed of metal and the individual grooves inside the casing were virtually indestructible. You may really want to see it.

Pepper Mill Construction

Peppermills can be made from a variety of different materials including steel, zinc alloy, ceramic or even acrylic. Stainless steel models are durable and crack resistant making it an excellent choice for a device that requires a fair amount of continuous pressure. Stainless steel in the number one choice for professional chefs and home chefs alike. Zinc alloy is also a popular choice because of its ability to resist corrosion. Zinc alloy is a composite material made up of a mixture of chrome plating, zinc and assorted metals. Ceramic peppermills are popular because a chef can use them to grind multiple things. Salt, pepper and even coffee can be ground in a ceramic model. Another popular choice is acrylic. It is durable and cost effective. While not as aesthetically pleasing as stainless steel or even ceramic, it get the job done!

See some our World Famous Pepper Grinders.

Electric Peppermills

Peppermills can also be electronic. An electric motor powered by battery or from an electricity source, grinds the peppercorn completely eliminating the need for manual operation. Electric grinders grind peppercorns much faster than manual models. A drawback to the electric model is that some heat is generated by the high amount of friction which can affect the taste and performance of the peppercorns.

Benefits of Freshly Ground Pepper versus store bought pepper

Pepper is almost always better when it is freshly ground. As soon as peppercorns are ground up they begin to lose some of their flavor and intensity. Within a period of about three months, pepper shows a marked difference in quality. Something to consider is that while pepper you buy from a store may have been placed on the shelf within the last week, the chances are that the peppercorns used in the manufacturing process were harvested many months before they were actually ground and packaged. This fact added to the time it takes to process the peppercorns means that the pepper you sprinkle into that pot of chili has been slowly degraded over a period of months. Professional chefs will almost always choose freshly ground pepper over any sort of pre-ground pepper.

Measuring Freshly Ground Pepper

When you look at a recipe in a book you will often see that many common recipes call for freshly ground black pepper. Unfortunately they do not always specify the exact amount. You may be told to simply “sprinkle” some freshly ground pepper or even “generously season” a piece of meat with pepper. What exactly does that mean?

Most home cooks would agree that when it comes to pepper, they are not pulling out a measuring cup or measuring spoons to determine the amount of pepper to use in a recipe. Using salt and pepper in a recipe is one of those things that most people just kind of leave up to chance. But you may be depriving yourself and the folks you are feeding by not putting enough seasoning into your dishes, or on the other hand, adding too much. Measurements like “sprinkle” don’t exactly help! The taste test doesn’t always work either. If you are cooking with raw eggs or meat, it’s not a good idea to taste your recipe before it I fully cooked.

A really easy way to measure the amount of ground pepper in a recipe is to count the number of rotations used. Try grinding out one or two rotations into to a bowl and measuring the output. For example, if five turns of the grinder equals one teaspoon, you will know that’s the amount you are adding. You can, in turn, experiment with your recipes so that you know exactly how spicy your casserole should be and then add the pepper accordingly.

Types of Peppercorns

Pepper is served at nearly every table on the planet. It may surprise you to know, however, that there are a wide variety of peppers out there, each one with own distinctive flavor.

Black Peppercorns  – are the most recognizable. They are actually a dried berry and happen to be the most flavorful and aromatic. The berries are harvested just before they are ripe and are traditionally laid in the sun to dry out. When the dried hull is cracked the flavor released is strong which is why chefs prefer this pepper above most others.

Tellicherry peppers  – are another popular type of peppercorn. It is the oldest known source for what we call “black pepper.” Its name comes from the region it is harvested in, India, and it has a complex flavor. It is darker than most other peppercorns and was actually used as form of currency in ancient times!

Green peppercorns  – are another popular option for chefs ad home cooks alike. Green peppercorn berries are picked well before they are ripe and then the berry is freeze-dried in most cases. The texture of these peppercorns is smooth and the taste is much milder than black peppercorns. Green peppercorns have a tart flavor that disappears quickly after the hull is cracked. Green pepper is best served freshly ground to preserve the flavor.

White pepper  – is not as well known in the United States as it is in Europe. While pepper is derived from fully matured berries and the hull is removed. The remaining berry is sun dried and as it is dried it becomes the distinctive pale color. White pepper is sold as either whole or ground and is one of the main ingredients in fish sauces and creamy soups.

A Brief History of Washing Machines

H/T ThoughtCo.com.

A look at some of the highlights of the washing machine.

Laundry May Not Be Fun, but the History Is Fascinating