Ketchup to Become Less Salty, Imperfect


Your ketchup is about to get less salty, thanks to threats of government regulation:

Just after the FDA announced its plans to limit salt in processed foods, Heinz has given word that it's tweaking the recipe for its iconic ketchup—and the new bottles will hit stores this summer. The company, which has not changed this ketchup recipe in 40 years, believes the new formula—which contains 15 percent less sodium—will be as popular as the old version, according to the AP. And that's very popular indeed—the brand corners about 60 percent of the ketchup market.

Which is a shame because, as Malcolm Gladwell convincingly argued in The New Yorker six years ago, Heinz ketchup is the perfect food:

There are five known fundamental tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami.  Umami is the proteiny, full-bodied taste of chicken soup, or cured meat, or fish stock, or aged cheese, or mother's milk, or soy sauce, or mushrooms, or seaweed, or cooked tomato.  "Umami adds body," Gary Beauchamp, who heads the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, says.  "If you add it to a soup, it makes the soup seem like it's thicker—it gives it sensory heft.  It turns a soup from salt water into a food."  When Heinz moved to ripe tomatoes and increased the percentage of tomato solids, he made ketchup, first and foremost, a potent source of umami.  Then he dramatically increased the concentration of vinegar, so that his ketchup had twice the acidity of most other ketchups; now ketchup was sour, another of the fundamental tastes.  The post-benzoate ketchups also doubled the concentration of sugar—so now ketchup was also sweet—and all along ketchup had been salty and bitter.  These are not trivial issues….What Heinz had done was come up with a condiment that pushed all five of these primal buttons.  The taste of Heinz's ketchup began at the tip of the tongue, where our receptors for sweet and salty first appear, moved along the sides, where sour notes seem the strongest, then hit the back of the tongue, for umami and bitter, in one long crescendo.  How many things in the supermarket run the sensory spectrum like this?

Worse, the sodium theft will be stealth. No advertising campaign is planned. Which means most people will simply find their french fry experience puzzlingly imperfect this summer. At least, they will until they shrug and shake more salt on their plates.

Via Jacob Grier.