According to the Oxford English Dictionary ketchup is a "sauce made from the juice of mushrooms, walnuts, tomatoes, etc" which is "used as a condiment", although the word is generally used in conjunction with the qualification indicating its main ingredient as in tomato ketchup, mushroom ketchup, or indeed walnut ketchup.
Of course these days ketchup is, as Merriam-Webster puts it, "usually made from tomatoes", although tomato ketchup is a comparatively recent and American development. The first recipe for tomato ketchup didn't appear until 1792 and it wasn't until 1876 that Henry Heinz began producing the first mass-produced tomato based condiment. However in Victorian Britain mushroom ketchup, the "secret of success of many Victorian cooks", was by far the commonest type of ketchup (which remains available today, at least in the product manufactured by G. Costa & Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Associated British Foods, following the original recipe first introduced in 1830) whilst throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century there was a wide variety of ketchup recipes on offer based on other ingredients such as cucumbers, anchovies, lobster or even lemons.
The word ketchup is an apparent adaptation of 'kôechiap' or 'kê-tsiap' from the Amoy dialect of Chinese, a word which meant the "brine of pickled fish or shell-fish". It has also been claimed that original source was the Malay word 'kechap', which means much the same thing, and it appears most likely that the Malays borrowed the word from the Chinese, the Dutch borrowed it from the Malays, and the English borrowed it from the Dutch, as the word came to signify any strongly flavoured sauce. No doubt its popularity was based on its ability to disguise the flavour of food that was otherwise not quite at its freshest. It should also be noted that although some recent dictionaries have alleged that the word is derived from the Japanese 'kitjap', the Oxford English Dictionary notes that this "is an impossible form for that language", and believes that this is in fact simply a misprint for Javanese.
There is of course, some discussion as to whether the word should properly be rendered as 'ketchup' or 'catsup', although as it turns out the word was first recorded in the year 1690 as 'catchup', in which form it appears in the work, A new dictionary of the terms ancient and modern of the canting crew where it was defined as "a high East-India Sauce". The form of ketchup first appeared in Charles Lockyer's An account of the trade in India (1711) which noted that the best was "from Tonquin", whilst catsup was first mentioned by Jonathan Swift in his A Panegyric on the Dean in the Person of a Lady in the North from 1730 where "our home-bred British cheer" was said to be induced by the provision of "Botargo, catsup, and caviare".
Although ketchup is now the accepted standard in British English, in North America catsup also has its adherents.
- The Oxford English Dictionary, http://www.oed.com/
- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary 2008,
- Michael Quinion, Words from Malay,
- Roger M. Grace, Ketchup: a Condiment Evolved From Fish-Based Sauce
- G. Costa and Co Ltd,
- Carstaairs Douglas, Chinese-English Dictionary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Amoy. With the Principal Variations of the Chang-chew and Chin-chew Dialects. (1899)
- Charles Payson Gurley Scott, The Malayan Words in English, (American Oriental Society, 1897)