PITTSBURGH, Pa. (August 30) — Condiment psychologists yesterday announced the results of a three-year-long study that finally reveals what’s the deal with ketchup.
Long speculated about by observational comedians and stoned college students, a Penn State University team led by Dr. Martin Regis showed that America’s favorite kitchen seasoning has been diagnosed with a fairly common mental disorder. The tomato-based sauce loved by generations suffers from Acquired Situational Narcissism (ASN) with a side of Schizotypal Histrionic Syndrome (SHS).
“At its root, it’s a pathologically seated craving for attention,” said Regis. “Ketchup has always wanted to be the most revered of the condiments, and so has made many behavioral and other changes over the years to maintain that supremacy.”
Part of its yearning to be noticed is seen in the various spellings of its name — ketchup, catsup, ketsup and catchup are all considered acceptable.
“It’s not unlike what we see in certain celebrities who suffer from a similar malady,” said Regis. “You have your The Rock, who becomes Duane “The Rock” Johnson, who becomes Duane Johnson. You have your Sean Combs, or Puff Daddy, or P. Diddy, or Puffy, or Diddy. It’s all just a way to say ‘look at me, look at me.'”
Ironically, ketchup is believed to have been invented in the modest setting of late 17th century China, where a blend of pickled fish and spices was called “ke-tsiap.” It was brought to the west by British explorers and, by 1801, a recipe for the concoction had made it into an American cookbook.
As the century progressed, its ascent in popularity continued and in 1876, Heinz advertised tomato ketchup as a “blessed relief for mother and the other women in the household!” With the sauce now in mass production, “mother and the other women” were not only freed from the arduous task of creating their own ketchup, but they could bungle all kinds of entrees and cover the awful taste with vinegary pulverized tomatoes.
Modern ketchup began being sold in the 1900s in tall glass bottles with thin necks. When they FDA ruled in 1906 that the poison benzoate could no longer be used as a preservative, producers turned from watery green tomatoes to pickled ripe tomatoes, rendering the topping much thicker. As what Wikipedia describes as a “pseudoplastic substance, a type of non-Newtonian fluid,” ketchup became more difficult to pour from a bottle.
It was then that advertising executives were charged with making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and then pouring ketchup on it. The sluggish nature of the pour was transformed from a waste of five good minutes into a confirmation of the quality of the product. Various ad campaigns followed to convince American diners that they better start pouring now if they wanted superior ketchup on their hamburgers some time later in the day. “The best things come to those who wait,” went one slogan. Another commercial featured Carly Simon singing “Anticipation” for the entire 60-second segment, at the end of which a bare hint of the paste had begun to appear below the inverted mouth of the bottle. It was the “s-l-o-w” ketchup.
It’s the only time in advertising history that a negative feature was so successfully turned into a positive. (Tylenol came close when it promised “there are no headaches in heaven” following an incident in 1982 where seven people were killed by the tainted pain reliever).
When the go-go Nineties began, Heinz realized that people needed to get on with their lives, and introduced squeezable plastic bottles. Though the ketchup erupted more quickly, it did so with an unappetizing “ppfftt” that created a three-foot-diameter spatter pattern that drew CSI crews from miles around. Finally, just after the turn of the millennium, the dispensing part of the bottle was moved to the bottom. Ketchup makers had finally gotten it right.
“Usually, it’s a two- or three-year-old that engages in this magnitude of ‘acting out,'” said Regis. “To see it in a product that’s been widely available for over a hundred years is very unusual. The way to stop such anti-social behavior is generally to ignore it. Don’t encourage it. Try using more salsa, relish and mustard.”