Preposterous Universe

Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Gourmet ketchup

Okay, this was so my idea. For many years I've been pointing out to all who would listen that there are millions of dollars to be made by taking some common food item and tricking it up to be both better and fancier-looking. It's worked with mustard, with coffee, with ice cream, even with water for crying out loud. The missing example was perfectly obvious: ketchup. You could have gourmet ketchup that was thicker and had interesting texture and consistency, and offer it in a variety of flavors: spicy varieties like jalapeno or curry, sweet flavors like honey or cinnamon. Millions of dollars, I promise.

But apparently someone is already doing it (of course). The Sept. 6th issue of the New Yorker has an article by Malcolm Gladwell (not online, sorry) about Jim Wigon and his gourmet ketchup business. Unfortunately, Wigon doesn't seem to be doing it correctly. He's named his company "World's Best Ketchup," which is just silly. Just as Grey Poupon got fantastic mileage out of the faux-French presentation, with ketchup you should hint at some exotic Asian background -- perhaps Indonesian or something. (It's possible that ketchup derives from a Chinese fish sauce brought back to Europe by British sailors -- but the truth is hardly the point here.) You have to sell the lifestyle, not just the condiment.

I'd be disgustingly rich by now if I weren't so devoted to selflessly exploring the secrets of the cosmos.

Update: The New Yorker article is now online, as pointed out by Eric in the comments. Gourmet ketchup afficionados might also be interested in gourmet cheesesteaks.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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