Confession: I get most of my daily vegetable servings from potatoes — and as any potato enthusiast knows, potatoes aren't complete without ketchup. Lately, however, there is something that's been bugging potato-and-ketchup fans like me: Should you store ketchup in the fridge? There's nothing better than a huge dollop of tangy, sweet-and-sour ketchup and mayonnaise swirled together over a plate of sweet potato tots (yum!) — but as it turns out, even amidst all of the political drama going on in the world right now, ketchup is doing a pretty good job stirring up controversy all by itself.
First of all, though, let's talk about what actually goes into making ketchup. The origins of this dining staple date as far back as the late 17th century, when British people discovered a dark "fish sauce" in southeast Asia and tried to make their own using mushrooms, walnuts, and even anchovies. Obviously, what's considered to be America's favorite condiment today tastes nothing like fish; ketchup as we know it is made mostly of tomato pulp, sugar, vinegar, and a variety of spices — hardly the sort of ingredients you'd have to worry about when it comes to storage.
But now this begs the question: How do you store the darn thing? A recent Twitter poll by Asda, a supermarket chain based in Britain, found that 46 percent of their consumers store their ketchup in the refrigerator and 54 percent of them usually stick it in the pantry (FYI, this is out of almost 2,700 votes). And yet, many people on both sides feel very strongly about how ketchup is meant to be stored. One Twitter user declared that dating someone who keeps ketchup in the cupboard is a major deal-breaker, while a writer for Metro.co.uk insisted, "Cold ketchup is trash."
I know, I know: What's the big deal? It's just ketchup. When I was a child growing up in the United States, my family would always have a bottle of ketchup in the house. We used it for homemade burgers, frozen fries, leftover tots, fast food takeout, you name it. And it turns out that I'm not alone. About 97 percent of households in the United States have a bottle of ketchup somewhere at home. Yeah, that's basically everyone you know. All of which is to say, no wonder so many people want to know the storage rules for this American staple.
Here's the thing: Ketchup was made long before refrigerators, and it has a pretty long shelf life since its acidity levels are through the roof. Ketchup has high concentrations of salt, vinegar, and sugar, which are all known to help kill bacteria. Thus, ketchup is much less likely to go bad in general than other edibles, like butter. This might be a shock to those of you who religiously keep anything wet and edible in the fridge.
However, you should still do everything you can to prevent contamination, which is pretty standard when it comes to all foods. That means keeping your ketchup away from heat and light sources (so if you leave it out of the fridge, make sure it's actually stored at room temperature) and using clean utensils. Sorry, no licking the ketchup bottle.
Like a lot of debatable issues in today's society, there isn't exactly a right or wrong answer for how to store ketchup. But for those who insist on making decisions based on expert advice, here you go: In a Feb. 6 segment on NBC's TODAY show, Heinz said their specific bottles of ketchup are "shelf-stable," but it's recommended that the ketchup be stored in the fridge to maintain its quality. So, yes, you may now rejoice, pro-fridge people!
Bottom line is, storing ketchup in the cupboard probably won't hurt you in any way. But keeping it in the fridge will make it even less likely than it already is for the ketchup to go bad. So either way, you're safe — but no matter how you store it, pay attention to how it looks and smells: If it seems funky in any way, you'd best get rid of it.
OK, now that we've gotten the big debate out of the way, I can cut the act and say that, of course we all know the real answer to storing ketchup: The best home for your ketchup is, duh, in your belly. Because ketchup is the best.
I think Pikachu agrees.