How to Make Ketchup

It’s much, much easier to buy ketchup off-the-shelf, than it is to make it from scratch. Preparation weighs in at about two hours, and makes tons of dishes that are a pain to clean: strainers, immersion blenders, and several pans. You may even have a hard time identifying the end result as “ketchup.” The sweet, sticky flavor of Heinz 57 has been so thoroughly seared into your brain, that it’s hard to accept any other lower-viscosity tomato-based sauce as the real thing, particularly when you remove the kick-you-in-the-brain punch of corn syrup that makes up most commercial ketchup.

Why bother, then, making it yourself? First, you omit a ton of the sugar found in commercial ketchup by making it yourself. Our recipe uses just a quarter cup of brown sugar, to make about a quart of ketchup. Ours lasts only about two weeks in the fridge, though it can be canned beautifully. Most importantly, homemade ketchup can be adjusted to your taste as it cooks. Want spicier ketchup? Up your cayenne to about 1/8 teaspoon. A little less sweet? Try reducing the sugar, and then adjusting after it cooks. Love garlic? You can safely double it (or triple it!) in this recipe.

After cooling, your ketchup may be thin; if so, return it to a simmer, and mix in 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in a little water (be sure to dissolve it first; adding cornstarch directly to hot liquids causes clumps). Add more as needed until you meet your desired thickness.

Homemade Ketchup
Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman


  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pickling spice
  • 2 tablespoons corn oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeds removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 6 cups chopped tomatoes (or use canned…about three pounds, drained)
  • 1/4 brown sugar
  • 1/16 teaspoon of cayenne (or more, to taste)
  • Salt, to taste


1. Bring vinegar and pickling spice to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for about an hour.

2. Meanwhile, put oil in large pot over high heat. When hot, add bell pepper, onion, celery, and garlic. These can be chopped very roughly; don’t feel the need to finesse it too much. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften, about 10 minutes.

3. Add tomato paste and stir. Cook until combined and tomato paste starts to darken, another minute or two.

4. Add tomatoes and reduce heat until mixture bubbles gently. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 45 minutes.

5. Strain the spiced vinegar into the tomato mixture, along with the brown sugar, salt, and cayenne. Cook until just thinner than bottle ketchup; about 45 minutes. Taste, and adjust seasonings.

6. Puree with immersion blender, or let cool slightly and blend in food processor until smooth.

7. Push puree through a strainer with a wooden spoon. Return to saucepan, and simmer over medium heat until mixture thickens to desired consistency. If ketchup is very thin, add cornstarch dissolved in water a tablespoon at a time, being careful not to over-thicken. Let ketchup cool completely, and serve.

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the junk food blog "Spork & Barrel," and "Brocavore," a blog about food trucks and street food culture. His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, Eat Rockland, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.


      1. I didn’t have pickling spice on hand. It’s the one item we really would have killed for in Mexico, living such a pickle-less existence, so I’m kind of surprised we hadn’t bought some sooner. It’s with the other spices, and around $3.00 . You can make your own, which I’m sure is much less expensive.

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    1. I imagine so. I went to the cornstarch for two reasons:

      1. I already had way, way more time invested in this project than I wanted, and by the end, was looking for a shortcut

      2. Using cornstarch as a thickener actually helps keep the water from separating from the tomato, and keeps everything in suspension a little better.

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