How Much Ketchup Is Too Much Ketchup?

There is a lot of unused ketchup in the world, don’t you think?

Objectively a lot of ketchup (Image: Joel Kramer)

The top three condiments in The United States, by market value are: mayonnaise, ketchup, and soy sauce. Quartz published a report in 2014 pre-answering the question I would otherwise have gotten wrong had I not first Googled the answer—“What is the most popular condiment in America?”

For some reason a lot of us immediately go to ketchup, because french fries and hot dogs and monsters who put ketchup on their eggs. But the true smart alecks know that mayonnaise gets incorporated into lots of other foods, and only people who had already read that article and remembered it two years later know that the real source of the spike in mayo sales is the boom in the low-fat mayo market because cholesterol. Also now that veganism is cool and people care about whether their eggs were born in cages, there is a surge in the eggless mayo market, to the point of bad business practices—remember the Hampton Creek saga about Just Mayo?

(Among other things, that story and all its ripple effects led to one of the greatest New York Times headlines, which in the future should serve as a test for proof of artificial intelligence if a robot can parse it: Egg Board Chief Retires Early After Move on ‘Mayo’.)

Okay, we get it—America is gross and loves fatty oily tastes in its gross sandwiches, to the point that the mayo business is more than DOUBLE the size of the ketchup business. Putting that aside, take a moment to think about the way we eat ketchup: the quantities, the forms, the various settings. You don’t go to a diner and find a glass bottle of mayo sitting out on the table, among other reasons because that would be disgusting as hell, but also probably sickening (if not deadly). You do get bottles of ketchup, and one of the first things you do if you’re the caricature of a busboy working your college summer on the Jersey shore is consolidate all the ketchups, right? Think of all that unused ketchup!!

Think about packets for a second, too. They do technically make packets of mayo but they are the secret shame of cafeteria sandwich-havers everywhere. You know you need it, but you wish no one had to see you holding it. Ketchup packets on the other hand: go nuts. Come home from the drive-thru with a paper bag that’s just full of ketchups. Stuff the junk drawer full of them. They don’t go bad, right? Not really! Anyone who’s ever inherited a desk at an office in any kind of news media organization knows that at any given moment, most of the top drawers have ketchup in them. It’s just a fact. Ketchup packets don’t go bad really, they just go kind of old. It gets brown and watery and you wouldn’t want to eat it, but unfortunately there’s just no way to know the difference between one of the old ones and one of the new ones without opening them and trying them.

Okay now think about your fridge. You probably have some ketchup in there. Have you ever in your life finished a thing of ketchup? Ever? Or have you just moved houses or apartments and been like, I guess I’ll just throw that half-empty squeeze-bottle out because I’m not going to put it in a hot moving van for ??? hours. Have you ever accidentally left the ketchup out overnight and then realized you’re not even really sure if you’re technically supposed to refrigerate it?

When you go out to eat, ketchup comes in either one of those steel shot glass thingies or you walk up to a pump dispenser and squirt some into a paper cup, because that is the proper amount of ketchup to eat. With mayo, you do not want to know how much mayo you are consuming, so there is very little measuring on either side of the food transaction, if we’re being honest. What this HAS to lead to is a glut of ketchup. There has got to be an overstock problem unlike any other condiment. There must be millions more ketchup packets in the world than there are mayo packets, that much is true. There are probably a lot of soy sauce packets from Asian takeout foods, but not nearly as many as ketchups. And people always take more than they need and then put the rest in the drawer. Is this ketchup waste? Probably. If you took all the leftover ketchup and consolidated it all together could you float the world’s ketchup supply for the next ten years? Maybe not. But what’s worse than having too much ketchup? Not having enough.


If you or someone you love has ever finished a bottle of ketchup from your fridge, please tell me more below.