Ketchup is the hero of American condiments. It goes well with potato fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings, burgers, pretty much every food known in America.
In fact, 97% of American households have a bottle of Ketchup at the table, so no wonder brand-new vegans want to know whether ketchup is vegan. However, ketchup did not originate in America.
Apparently, the British encountered what was fermented fish sauce in Southeast Asia and tried to replicate it when they’ve arrived home. After several attempts (and tomatoes), Ketchup came to be, without the fish.
Standard ketchup is made from tomatoes, sugar, and vinegar, with seasonings and spices, so it’s usually suitable for vegans. Some vegans worry that ketchup might contain sugar processed with bone char, so they often purchase ketchup made from unprocessed sugar.
What is Ketchup and How is It Made?
Ketchup, or tomato ketchup, is a sweet and tangy condiment made mainly from tomatoes.
The original recipes used to contain egg whites, mushrooms, oysters, grapes, mussels, walnuts, among other ingredients, but nowadays tomato ketchup is simply a combination of tomatoes, vinegar, and sugar, with seasonings and spices.
The seasonings and spices vary, but they’re usually plant-based ingredients such as onions, garlic, mustard, cumin, cloves, coriander, and sometimes celery or ginger.
Making ketchup involves following a nine-step process, but I’m not able to speak for every brand, as I’m sure each brand has its own peculiar steps.
The first step is developing good tomatoes, which is highly important because a slight variation in the quality of the tomatoes might completely alter the flavor and color of the finished product.
The next step involves preparing the tomatoes after they’re mechanically harvested.
For instance, in the U.S, state inspectors approve or grade tomatoes to meet the initial requirements. The tomatoes are sorted, washed, chopped, and precooked in stainless steel vats to preserve the tomatoes and destroy bacteria.
The precooked tomatoes are pumped into pulping machines, which separate the seeds, skins, and stems from the pulp, and the pulp and juice are filtered through screens and processed further into ketchup.
The pulp goes into cooking tanks or kettles where it will boil and then the ingredients such as sweeteners, vinegar, salt, spices, and flavorings are added throughout the cooking process. The temperature must be carefully regulated so that the ingredients are actually absorbed.
Once the cooking is done, the final ketchup mixture goes through a finishing machine where they remove the excess fiber and particles through screens, creating a smooth consistency. The ketchup may go through an additional processing step for an even smoother consistency, but that might not always be the case.
Finally, the ketchup is de-aerated to prevent discoloration and growth of bacteria, and it’s transported into filling machines where they’re sealed into various containers to preserve the freshness of the product.
Is Ketchup Generally Vegan?
Yes, ketchup is generally vegan, as it’s mainly a combination of tomatoes, sugar, and vinegar, with seasonings and spices, all of which are derived from plants.
Some vegans take issue with ingredients like sugar, especially in the United States, because it’s not unusual for sugar refineries to process sugar with animal ingredients.
However, while that may be the case for conventional brands like Heinz or Kraft, you can easily purchase ketchup from brands that use organic sugar, which is essentially unprocessed sugar.
Conventional ketchup brands also usually include natural flavors, which are also seen as controversial within the vegan community because it’s not exactly easy to pinpoint their source.
Why Is Sugar Not Always Vegan?
There are two types of sugars, each one with its own refining process.
You have beet sugar that is obtained through a diffuser and mixed with additives to crystallize, and where none of the additives are derived from animals. Then you have cane sugar that after being processed and heated to crystallize— is sometimes filtered and bleached using bone char.
Bone char is a charcoal-like powder obtained by carbonizing animal bones, predominantly cattle from countries such as Afghanistan, Argentina, India, and Pakistan. Bone char is also referred to as natural carbon and is often used by sugar refineries as a decolorizing agent, so it allows cane sugar to achieve its white, pristine color.
It’s important to point out that cane sugar does not actually retain bone char particles, at least that’s what Caroline Pyevich explains in The Vegetarian Journal.
Also, bone char is not allowed in most European countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand, so you just have to be wary if the product is produced in North America. Additionally, some companies in North America use alternatives like granular carbon or ion-exchange resins, which are vegan-friendly.
This type of information is not disclosed on labels, so if you wish to know whether the sugar within a product is vegan-friendly, you have to contact the company.
What I have found is that many companies often source sugar from a mixed pool of suppliers, so you will typically have suppliers that also use bone char, which is disappointing.
Whether or not you choose to avoid cane sugar it’s up to you, but I’d assume that this is a concerning topic, especially for those that are more strict.
Why Are Natural Flavors Controversial?
Natural flavors are controversial because they can be derived from different sources, including plant and animal sources.
Here is what the FDA has to say about natural flavors:
“The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”
You can, however, easily detect whether a product contains something like dairy or seafood because they’re allergens, so it’s mandatory for companies to disclose them on labels, usually as a warning.
However, meat is not considered an allergen, so it can fall under the umbrella of “natural flavors”, even though it’s an ingredient that both vegans and vegetarians avoid.
Fortunately, the natural flavors in products like ketchup are typically vegan, as they’re simply spices or seasonings the manufacturers added to the product.
Can You Find a Ketchup Without Cane Sugar?
Ingredients: Tomato Concentrate Made from Red Ripe Tomatoes, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Natural Flavoring, Onion Powder, *Sucralose, Spice.
Heinz is a brand that sells ketchup without cane sugar, which is the sugar you should be wary of, especially if you live in the United States, as that’s a country where sugar refineries use bone char.
To replace the cane sugar, Heinz added sucralose to replicate the flavor of the original Heinz ketchup. While sucralose is vegan-friendly, it does not come from a natural source.
Some people claim that artificial sweeteners are linked to cancer, or they actually make you feel hungry, so you end up gaining weight as a result.
However, this is mere conjecture right now, so it would be wise for you to research further before consuming products with artificial sweeteners like sucralose.
What About Organic Ketchup?
Ingredients: Organic Tomato Concentrate, Organic Balsamic, Less than 2% of Salt, Organic Onion Powder, Organic Garlic Powder, Organic Spices.
Even though organic ketchup does not contain sugar or artificial sweeteners, there is a price gap, as most organic products are more expensive.
However, if you’re someone that prefers healthier alternatives, organic is the way to go, as you know exactly what you’re putting into your stomach, and it’s usually something healthy.
Making Homemade Ketchup
This is my go-to way of tasting my favorite ingredients without committing any sins.
If you want to make ketchup with real vegan sweeteners and no artificial flavors, you just have to make your own ketchup at home.
Plus, making ketchup doesn’t take that many ingredients nor time. You probably can create enough ketchup to fill up a cup in 2-minutes.
At least, that’s what the recipe by The Simple Vegan Blog shows.
Another interesting ketchup recipe is this 5-minute recipe by the Detoxinista.
Instead of using sugar — Detoxinista uses dates as a natural sweetener because they break down quickly in the blender. This is a clever alternative if you don’t wish to use maple, agave, or other natural syrup. In fact, it may be healthier than any of those options.
The deciding factor between choosing to consume Heinz Ketchup, or choosing a more natural alternative depends on the type of vegan you are.
Are you okay consuming ketchup that contains sugar that may have been bleached with bone char? Or are you cool as long as the product doesn’t have flagrant animal ingredients?
Frankly, It comes down to how strict you are, as a vegan. I consume Heinz Ketchup, Oreos, and other products, but I do not live in North America, so bone char is not an issue.
Is Heinz Ketchup Vegan?
Ingredients: Tomato Concentrate From Red Ripe Tomatoes, Distilled Vinegar, Cane Sugar, Salt, Onion Powder, Spice, Natural Flavoring.
The original Heinz Ketchup is technically suitable for vegans, however, it does contain cane sugar, which may or not have been processed with bone char.
To be on the safe side, you can always consume their “no sugar added” ketchup, which contains sucralose instead of cane sugar, which is vegan-friendly.
Purchasing organic ketchup is also another option you have, but because it’s organic, it’s also more expensive, and most people are not willing to spend that much money on ketchup.
Is Mcdonald’s Ketchup Vegan?
The ketchup you will find at Mcdonalds’ is the original Heinz ketchup, so while it doesn’t contain flagrant animal ingredients, it does contain cane sugar, which is a controversial ingredient, particularly if you live in the United States, as sugar refineries often use bone char to process it.
Is Burger King’s Ketchup Vegan?
The ketchup at Burger King is also provided by Heinz, so like Mcdonald’s ketchup, it’s technically vegan because it doesn’t have animal ingredients, however, it does have cane sugar, which some vegans might avoid because it may have been processed with bone char.
Is Hunt’s Ketchup Vegan?
Hunt’s ketchup contains tomatoes, cane sugar, vinegar, salt, and a few other seasonings, so it’s technically suitable for vegans. However, it’s produced in the United States, and it does contain cane sugar, which may have been processed with bone char.
Is Aldi’s Ketchup Vegan?
Yes, Aldi’s tomato ketchup is suitable for vegans, as it does not contain any animal ingredients, and it’s produced outside North America, where sugar refineries do not use bone char to refine sugar.
Is Leon’s Ketchup Vegan?
Leon’s ketchup is different from most ketchup as it’s spicy, but it’s still suitable for vegans. You will find ingredients such as mango chutney, tomato paste, and red jalapenos, but you won’t find any animal ingredients.
Is Tesco’s Ketchup Vegan?
Tesco’s Everyday Value Ketchup does not have any animal ingredients so it’s suitable for vegans. It contains sugar, but since it’s produced within the UK, there’s no use of bone char to process the sugar.
Is Banana Ketchup Vegan?
Yes, banana ketchup is typically vegan as it’s usually a mix of banana, vinegar, sugar, and spices.
Is Chef Ketchup Vegan?
Yes, the Chef Tomato Ketchup sauce is suitable for vegans, as it doesn’t contain any animal ingredients.
Is Del Monte Ketchup Vegan?
Del Monte Ketchup is 100% vegan as it does not contain animal ingredients. Also, it doesn’t contain sugar, which is deemed a controversial ingredient in the vegan community. Instead, it contains high fructose corn syrup, which is not processed with bone char.
Is Daddies Ketchup Vegan?
Daddies Ketchup is suitable for vegans, as it does not contain animal ingredients. Some of the ingredients include tomatoes, glucose-fructose syrup, spirit vinegar, sugar, and modified cornflour, which are all vegan.
Is Five Guys’ Ketchup Vegan?
The ketchup at Fibe Guys is suitable for vegans as it does not contain animal ingredients.
Is Chic Fil A Ketchup Vegan?
Yes, the ketchup at Chic Fil A is vegan-friendly, as it does not contain animal ingredients.