The word ketchup originally meant “fish sauce” in a dialect of Fujian province, the humid coastal region that also gave us the word “tea” (from Fujianese te). By the turn of the 18th century, fish sauce and arrack had become as profitable for British merchants as they were for Chinese traders.
From 1750 to 1850 the word ketchup began to mean any number of thin dark sauces made of mushrooms or even walnuts. It wasn’t until the 19th century that people first began to add tomato to ketchups, probably first in Britain.
By the mid-1850s, the anchovies had been dropped, and it was only in 1890 that the need for better preservation (and the American sweet tooth) led American commercial ketchup manufacturers like Heinz to greatly increase the sugar in ketchup, leading to our modern sweet and sour formula.
The evolution of ketchup reads like a classic product iteration; one that spans over centuries and continents. Starting off as a basic fish sauce, ketchup was refined by different cultures to the tune of market feedback. 300 years later, the recipe with the widest appeal won, and ketchup became the world’s most popular condiment.
Consumer darwinism at its best.
What other examples have you come across? Let me know.