Despite restaurant chefs turning their nose up and refusing to use bottled ketchup, it is not just a condiment, but is often used in cooking. For example, ketchup or “catsup” is often an ingredient in barbecue sauces.
If a recipe calls for a large amount of ketchup and you don’t have enough, what can you substitute for it?
Well, chefs are right. Bottled ketchup is not very complex. It does, however, serve as a nice blank slate for various sauce creations, and to add flavor to dishes. Most bottled ketchup, such as Heinz or Hunts, is nothing more than a concentrated tomato puree with sugar (usually corn syrup) and vinegar added. There may be some other spices or flavors added, as well.
The ingredient list of Heinz Ketchup is:
Tomato concentrate from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, natural flavoring.
All of us would probably agree that the primary flavors, though, are tomato, vinegar, and sugar, and some would say mostly sugar.
What to substitute for ketchup depends on the purpose of the ketchup. If you want to make homemade ketchup, then you will actually have to cook it down. You could even start with fresh tomatoes, add various spices, onions, or even celery. You could use brown sugar and maybe a bit of molasses. No doubt, your homemade ketchup will be far superior to any bottled product! There are many recipes on the web, however, and no need to recount one here.
If you simply need a quick substitute for catsup in a recipe such as for barbecue sauce, though, you don’t need to make a batch of homemade ketchup. You just need to duplicate, more or less, the primary flavors. Since you will be adding other flavoring ingredients to the recipe, and presumably cooking it, your ketchup substitute does not really need to be pre-cooked.
This substitute, however, does assume you have either tomato paste or tomato sauce on hand (you should always have one or the other…consider them staples!)
If all you have is tomato paste, start by turning tomato paste into tomato sauce.
Basic Tomato Ketchup Substitute for Recipes
A good basic substitute for one cup of tomato ketchup in cooked recipes is:
1 cup tomato sauce + 1/4 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is fine, and you can use brown sugar, plain white table sugar, or other sweeteners. You can adjust the level of sweetness, but it may be best to start with this basic substitute and adjust the sweetness of the finished recipe as needed. You can, of course, add spices or other flavors to this substitute. Some sources call for ground cloves, for example. Again, you can adjust the seasoning of the recipe after you have added the tomato ketchup substitute. This is not an exact equivalent, of course, but there is no need for an exact equivalent in a recipe calling for bottled ketchup.
By the way, did you know that ketchup wasn’t always made of tomatoes?