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Which Popular Condiment Was Sold as a Medicine in the 1830s?

Updated May 17, 2024
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Ketchup is among the most widely-used condiments in the United States (and in many other countries). It's not much of a stretch to assume that most people have ketchup in their fridges right now, but did you know that it was once sold as a medicine? In fact, when it was marketed in the 1830s, ketchup was supposed to treat a wide range of ailments.

Unlike the condiment we know and love today, the earliest versions of ketchup involved ingredients such as mushrooms and anchovies. Some recipes began including tomatoes in the early 19th century, but an Ohio physician named John Cooke Bennett took things a step further in 1834. Rather than creating a sauce, Bennett marketed his ketchup as a medicine. Sold in capsule form, Dr. Bennett claimed that his tomato extract pills could cure everything from rheumatism and jaundice to indigestion and diarrhea.

Trying to capitalize on Bennett's success, a variety of similar products soon hit the market, yet many of them didn't even contain tomatoes. In fact, many of these pills were simply laxatives. Their far-fetched medicinal claims (such as healing broken bones) were so outrageous that the entire market for ketchup pills collapsed around 1850.

Will the real ketchup please stand up?

  • American scientist and horticulturalist James Mease is credited with publishing one of the earliest tomato ketchup recipes in 1812.

  • The tomato was once known as the "love apple" and praised for its aphrodisiac qualities. Some early ketchup recipes featuring the "love apple" contained alcohol, too.

  • The popularity of ketchup skyrocketed when the H.J. Heinz Company began producing ketchup from a blend of tomatoes, brown sugar, distilled vinegar, salt, and spices. It was originally introduced as “catsup” in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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