Ketchup is the absolute worst condiment

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was eight years old and had just enjoyed a Thursday night gourmet meal of frozen chicken nuggets with my family. There were the crunchy nuggets, golden-brown and formed into dinosaur-shaped pieces; fried potatoes, salted with zeal; side of canned peas so we don’t just eat a whole plate full of brownies.
Like any respectable family on chicken nugget night, our kitchen table was strewn with condiments: mayonnaise from the squeeze bottle, barely touched, and the bright yellow mustard that only my brother used sat there, waiting to be put back in the fridge. The star of the show, however, was the ketchup. At the age of eight, there was no alternative to the sugary condiment. Chicken nuggets and simple fries he had to be decorated with red gloop. There was no other way; I didn’t make the rules of the universe. As an innocent child, I thought ketchup was a given, a requirement, and I never expected it to harm me.
But then it was time to clear my plate. I stood up at the waiting chair in front of the kitchen sink so I could reach the running water. I placed my plate, which looked like a crime scene with unceremonious ketchup stains all over it, under the hot water. Suddenly, I was assaulted with the most disgusting perfume I had ever experienced in almost ten years of living since that moment. It was at this point that I realized how horrible ketchup really is. When intensified by the running water, the smell of the glistening, sugary abomination became unbearable. It smelled like the rotting pumpkin we’d thrown away the previous November after coming home to find our porch buzzing with flies. I was terrified. How could I not realize what a crime, what was clearly fake ketchup?

At this point, with the rest of the ketchup falling off my dirty plate in globs, stinking and clogging the kitchen sink, a lifelong hatred of the ubiquitous condiment began. Walk into any fast food restaurant and there it is, eclipsing the mustard and mayo at every turn. Every diner, every fancy burger joint, every junk food counter in every college dining hall displays it boldly, prominently, as if we all don’t know what junk it is. So I’m here to say what needs to be said, once and for all: Ketchup is arguably the worst condiment in the entire American fast food repertoire of dips, sauces, and condiments.
First, there’s texture. At best, it’s thick and grim and somehow never quite as smooth as you want it to be. But all too often, you’re met with even more mess. Let the bottle of ketchup sit for more than an hour and you will have to suffer the separation of solids and liquids in the sauce. First, you squeeze the bottle and you’re met with a oozing red liquid that can ruin your plate of food if you don’t clean it up fast enough. The chunky solids come next, and they just have to sit there in that watery red sauce while you try to move your fries out of the fast-approaching river of liquid.

But even if you can get past the consistency, you’ll have to contend with the flavor. Ketchup seems to be tasty considering it is often paired with foods like fries, burgers and nuggets. But unfortunately, it’s cloyingly sweet, coating your more savory favorites in a layer of sugar that doesn’t do much to enhance the flavor. And no, I’m not against dipping your fries in something sweet. What’s a Wendy’s Frosty for if not for dipping? It’s just that ketchup’s flavor profile misses the mark every time; I’d be more willing to use watered-down tomato paste than ruin my fries with a squeeze of ketchup.
But listen to me: I’m not a monster. I’m not asking you to force yourself to eat dry fries and unadorned nuggets. Rather, I just want to encourage all the other ketchup haters out there to explore the world of less traditional condiments. Of course, mayo is a clear choice. The fat and acidity work perfectly for fries and add just the right amount of liquid to a burger or other sandwich. If you really want to dip, opting for gravy is always a fun option if you have the time to make it. And we can’t forget mustard, the poor, unfortunate condiment that has been unfairly associated with ketchup for millennia.

It’s time to rise up against the tyranny of ketchup’s dominance over the condiment world. It’s time to accept that ketchup is an inferior food and only serves to make our favorite fries taste worse. And it’s time to raise our standards so we can truly come and enjoy the wide world of spices that awaits us. Life is too short to cover it in ketchup.


Samantha Maxwell is a writer and food editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.