Most often in Indian brand ketchup bottles, you will see these 3 numbers repeatedly in the ingredient list:
- Preservatives INS 211 = Sodium benzoate
Stabilizers and Thickeners:
- INS 415 = Xanthan Gum
- INS 1422 = Acetylated Distarch Adipate
You may also see acidity regulator, INS 260 = Acetic acid
Let’s look at an example:
However, is it possible to manufacture ketchup without any of the additives listed above?
The answer is yes!!
A ketchup without any preservatives or additives was developed by the industrialist H J Heinz in the year 1906. Yes, ladies and gentleman, a ketchup product without preservatives was developed more than 100 years ago and there are many companies, including Heinz, who can make it to this day – a ketchup with a clean list of ingredients.
- Sugar, Salt
- Flavor: Spices
Example #2…Here’s another company that sells ketchup in the US, but is probably not as globally present as Heinz:
Why are preservatives, stabilizer and acidity regulators added to some ketchups?
Preservatives (like sodium benzoate) are added to increase shelf life. Can a ketchup be made without preservatives? Yes!
HJ Heinz was quite particular to make his product without sodium benzoate, way back in 1906. The amount added in bottles are low and well within the limits set up by the FSSAI. However, long term exposure to sodium benzoate can increase your risk of inflammation, oxidative stress, ADHD, etc.
2. Stabilizers (thickeners):
Stabilizers like Xanthan gum or Acetylated Distarch Adipate are added to adjust the viscosity of the ketchup.
Do ketchup really need thickeners? No, not really.
Companies that have shown that they can make ketchup without stabilizers very proudly declare that they use red ripe tomatoes. This ensure that the product has high pectin (from the tomatoes) that naturally thickens the product.
Also note, all ‘clean ingredient’ ketchups have tomatoes as their #1 ingredient, not water or sugar.
It is important to note that ingredients are listed on the label based on their weight at time of manufacture.
3. Acidity regulators:
Are acidity regulators like acetic acid necessary? Yes, they are. An acidic environment is inhospitable to growth of microbes.
Vinegar is a key ingredient in lowering the pH to 3.9. This increases the acidity (along with tomatoes) that makes the ketchup shelf stable. Some Indian companies use acetic acid (a component of vinegar) instead. This is fine, it is a way to decrease the pH.
Ingredient analysis of popular Indian Ketchup brands:
Let’s look at some of the standard ketchups available in Indian shops and discuss their ingredient list.
Maggi (Authentic Indian) Tomato Ketchup:
Tomato puree is ingredient #1, which is good.
This ketchup has all 3 types of additives. Acetic acid is listed for acidity regulation. Cornstarch and Xanthan gum act as stabilizers here. Sodium benzoate is listed as preservative. Additionally there is potassium iodate, which acts as a microbiocide that disinfects water, food and food contact surfaces.
No onion, no garlic Kissan tomato sauce
This has an identical ingredient list as the standard Kissan ketchup (shown in the top) with the exclusion of onion powder, garlic powder.
This ketchup has all 3 again: acidity regulator, stabilizer and preservatives. Water is listed as ingredient #1, while tomato paste slides down to #2.
Mother’s Recipe Hot and Sweet Ketchup:
Tomato paste slides down to #3!! Sugar at 35% concentration is #2 ingredient; comparatively tomato paste is only at 13% concentration!! This also has all 3 types of additives listed.
Maggi Rich tomato ketchup:
Sometimes the messaging on the front labels can totally throw off the consumer. The name of this flavor of Maggi ketchup is “rich tomato;” however, tomatoes are listed as #3 ingredient after water and sugar.
The Maggi tomato ketchup flavor shown earlier (authentic Indian flavor) is technically richer in tomatoes than this flavor. But, hey, marketing team has a job to do too, I guess!!
Sorry about the poor label pic above, it was on the bottle side and I couldn’t get a very clean picture.
Kissan Chili Tomato Sauce:
I don’t quite understand Kissan’s 100% real tomatoes claim in their front label. As opposed to “fake tomatoes”?? The back label lists tomato paste at 22% behind water and sugar; so what exactly does the 100% real tomatoes even mean?
Marketing geniuses at work again, I suppose….
Always spend a few seconds reading your ketchup bottle labels before purchasing them. Just like looking at prices, or reading the marketing slogan on the front, the back ingredient information is important too.
As a consumer, you have a choice to buy a preservative-free, additive-free ketchup if you want. They do exist.
I hope this brief review into ketchups helped you a bit in making sense out of your ketchup labels. I recently wrote an article on Ketchup (its history, science and ingredient analysis) in Hindustan Times. Do check it out if you are interested.
I also made a video for the article with extra info on ketchup.
So, homework for all of you:)! Review the ingredients of the ketchup bottle in your home. What did you find?
Interested in more topics like this? Check out:
Thank you Swetha. In general I agree with you. However, there is some room for ambiguity in that everybody uses tomato concentrate and dilutes it with water. It is possible (though I don’t know enough to quantify it) that in some locations transport cost vs energy costs balance in such a way that it is cheaper to highly concentrate the tomato before shipping and to use more water to re-constitute it when it comes time to make ketchup. It would certainly be easy to see how a case might occur when the tomato paste was reduced by more than half, in which case water would be listed first on the ingredients list.
Acetic acid instead of distilled vinegar? What is the difference except for the amount of water? Maybe that plays into why water might be listed first on the ingredients list.
Is it possible that some vendors are targeting a customer base that prefers a less acidic ketchup for one reason or another. In that case they might need some benzoic acid to get the same equivalent preservative strength that would comes with a more acidic/higher vinegar ketchup..
I would make the same case for more sugar, it is a matter of balance to meet the tast preferences of the customer and if they want it sweeter, you have to do something to get more sugar in. Ah yes – add sugar. But more sales too.
So while the guidelines are clear, the cases that are made for bad behavior may in fact reflect something else – market forces.
Thank you for bringing up these points. This will enable the reader to get a perspective from the manufacturer’s point of view as well. They can then make an even more informed decision. Appreciate it!!
We were in the final stages of our research for our next YouTube video titled “Which is the best Ketchup for you?” and we found your article Swetha. And we must say, it’s really well written with so much clarity for a laymen to make sense of their ketchup. Glad we found your blog and we’re definitely using some of the references used in the blog in our video.