What's really in your bottle of tomato ketchup?

The red sauce is meant to be a condiment rather than a soup, so use it judiciously

Some things seem better out of a supermarket bottle. And one of those is tomato ketchup. It’s a rare person would even consider making their own, even though it has few ingredients.

Heinz Tomato Ketchup, for example, uses just tomatoes, vinegar, salt, spice and herb extracts along with the dreaded sugar. It’s good to know there is quite a lot of tomato – and it takes 148g to make 100g of ketchup. There’s a lot of sugar too, however, at almost 23 per cent of the gloop that comes out of a standard jar.

That is partly because tomatoes are technically fruit, hence some of the sweetness, but also because of the added sugar. It means that one tablespoon of this ketchup has about 4g of free sugars, according to the World Health Organisation, which recommends getting no more than 25g per day.

Some see this as a reason to stay off the sauce, but it’s worth remembering that ketchup is a condiment. It’s meant to be used fairly sparingly. That used to be easy because it was hard to get out of the bottle, unless you were very patient or gave it a thump. Now, however, it seems to glide out of the squeezy plastic container, even though the list of ingredients is the same.


For those who either can’t take that much sugar in their diets because of blood sugar issues, or who just don’t want to, Heinz has a new product with “no added sugar and salt”. (Yes, I was sent a bottle to investigate.) The nutrition table shows that it has just 4.6g of sugars per 100g, including naturally occurring sugars.

The product also uses 200g of tomatoes to make 100g of ketchup. Despite the lack of added sugar, it tastes a lot sweeter than the standard ketchup because it contains sucralose, a calorie-free artificial sweetener derived from sucrose that can be up to 600 times sweeter. (White table sugar is sucrose.) It’s really quite sweet.

The list of ingredients is filled out with spirit vinegar, lemon juice from concentrate, potassium chloride, malic acid, citrus fibre, spice and herb extracts including celery. Potassium chloride gives a salty taste and can have a functional role also affecting texture and shelf life, according to giant food ingredient maker Cargill. Those with kidney problems or on medication for the heart, kidneys or liver should check with their doctor before using products with potassium chloride. It is seen as a good salt substitute when taken in moderation, however.

Malic acid, which can come from fruits such as apples, and lemon juice concentrate help to give the tart or sour taste. Citrus fibre is produced from orange pulp or peel without the use of chemical processing agents. It is neutral in taste, colour and odour. Depending on the grade used, it can hold up to 13 times its weight in water, which may account for why this sauce seems so runny.


Consumers are often unhappy to see items that sound like chemicals on the list of ingredients so expect to see citrus fibre pop up on a lot more labels. All this means that this tomato sauce can say it has “no artificial colours, no artificial flavours and no artificial preservatives”.

Chef’s Tomato Ketchup, which is a label owned by multinational Valeo Foods, does not make those claims preferring to pull on the heart strings by declaring that it is “Made in Ireland to Chef’s secret recipe”. The ingredients that go into that recipe include tomatoes, sugar, barley malt vinegar, salt, spices – and the much maligned modified maize starch mentioned in previous features.

The Chef label also has a tick beside the words “gluten free” on the back, even though it has clearly highlighted barley in bold letters as it is an allergen which contains gluten. That’s because barley malt vinegar is made using fermentation. So the amount of barley and gluten in the end product is deemed to be well under the level considered safe for those with coeliac disease.

Check out the nutrition label and you will find there is a lot more sugar in this at 27g per 100g than there is in the standard Heinz product though it uses the same amount of tomato. There is also more salt at 2.5g as compared to 1.8g.

You don’t have to lay off the sauce, but do check out the labels.

 Being a successful shopper
2) Bread
3) Milk
4) Cereal
5) Rashers
6) Yoghurt
7) Soup
8) Hummus
9) Pasta sauce
10) Chinese ready meals
 Frozen chips
12) Chilled fish
13) Egg

14) Chicken Kiev
15) Crisps
16) Mayonnaise
17) Baked beans