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Blind Taste Test: Let’s Rank The Top Grocery Store Ketchups

When it comes to American condiments, none is more popular, more beloved, and more controversial than ketchup. Bright, sweet, and tangy with a hint of subtle umami complexity, it’s a classic pairing for all things fast food. A natural fit on burgers and fried potatoes (or onions!) and perfectly acceptable on a quality hot dog, ketchup even has a place on the breakfast table, pairing great with eggs, breakfast burritos, and hash browns. Plus it’s a key ingredient in endless secret sauces.

The simple tomato-based condiment is clearly versatile. But as someone who reviews a lot of fast food and is often exposed to the same two brands, Heinz and Hunt’s, I began to wonder: What else is out there?

Dane Rivera

As you can see, the answer is “plenty.” The sector seems to have found rejuvenated interest from established brands and industry upstarts in recent years. But with so much sense memory playing on the palate, especially when it comes to the “Big Two,” I knew this ranking would have to be done blind. So I bought a bunch of random ketchup bottles from multiple grocery stores in my area — and took some Heinz and Hunt’s ketchup packets from my sizeable junk drawer collection — and had my girlfriend squeeze out a dollop from each onto a plate, four at a time, in random order.

Using ketchup’s greatest pairing partner, the french fry, I then tasted each dollop, jotted down a few tasting notes and impressions, and gave each one a rating from one to five. To cleanse my palate, I swigged Coke from McDonald’s, where I also got the fries.

Clearly, I’m not messing around.

Dane Rivera

With tons of reps under my belt, I went into this sure that I’d be able to pick out Heinz and Hunt’s by sight and smell. I was absolutely wrong. Honestly, I could hardly tell any of the brands apart before tasting them — they were all just subtly different shades of red and smelled generally the same.

The actual flavors of the 11 different brands were definitely unique, though. Read on to see which tasted best.

11. Traina — Gourmet Classic Sun Dried Tomato Ketchup

Dane Rivera

Price: $9.95

Tasting Notes:

Visually the worst, Traina’s Gourmet Classic Sun-Dried Tomato Ketchup featured a dark-almost-brownish color with a noticeably grainy mouthfeel. As I worked my way through this particular dollop, it started to separate on the plate. During the second go-around, I made sure to give the bottle a good shake to see if this would fix the problem. It didn’t.

I was hoping the inclusion of sun-dried tomatoes would lead to a unique experience, but all this convinced me was that maybe ketchup should never be made with sun-dried tomatoes. Though I don’t think the sun-dried tomatoes were to blame for the weird, grainy texture. That’s on the brand itself.

What To Eat It On:

Nothing. It’s actually bad. If you thought ketchup couldn’t possibly be bad, you’re wrong. This one is.

10. Hunt’s — Tomato Ketchup

Dane Rivera

Price: $2.29

Tasting Notes:

Hunt’s is the Pepsi to Heinz’s Coca-Cola. It’s the other brand you see popping up at fast-food chains and burger joints. It’s also clearly not as good (and unlike Pepsi, I don’t believe Hunt’s has a legion of loyalists), so it doesn’t surprise me to see it ranked low on this list.

This ketchup just comes off as overly sugary. It lacks the deep complexity of an actual tomato — as if the people at Hunt’s packed it with sugar to hide that they’re working with bad produce. Which… they probably are!

What To Eat It On:

It’ll do in a pinch, but it definitely leaves something to be desired. If another sauce is available, we’d suggest reaching for that instead.

9. Sprouts — Ketchup

Dane Rivera

Price: $1.99

Tasting Notes:

With the way this ketchup looked on the plate, I expected it to taste much worse. Sprout’s ketchup had a gross watery appearance (yes, the bottle was shaken), with noticeable separation and a pale red color that made it appear bland. It didn’t suffer from the overly sugary quality found in Hunt’s, but that suspected blandness was very much there.

To be frank (pun!), this ketchup lacked any noticeable flavors, providing more of a pleasing mouthfeel than anything else.

What To Eat It On:

This is ketchup you’re going to want to spice up. Sprinkle some pepper and maybe some MSG in it and you’ve got a decent dipping sauce for french fries or breakfast potatoes. Without some added spice, it’s forgettable at best.

8. Cucina Antica — Organic Tomato Ketchup

Dane Rivera

Price: $4

Tasting Notes:

Cucina Antica’s Organic Tomato Ketchup was a rich crimson color and had a bright tomato puree aroma. It featured a rich and balanced flavor with a hint of onion. Never too sweet, tart or tangy, this very natural-tasting and neutral ketchup would serve as a great base for a more complex sauce.

What To Eat It On:

Serve it up on some scrambled eggs or use it as a base for a rich and spicy sauce.

7. Heinz — Tomato Ketchup

Dane Rivera

Price: $2.99

Tasting Notes:

I was surprised to find Heinz’s basic ketchup ranked in the middle, as I was fully expecting this to be my favorite. It’s everything good ketchup should be, with a bright flavor that cuts through whatever you put it on, but it’s also more like baseline ketchup compared to some of its cohorts — leaving it in the “serviceable but unremarkable” range.

My biggest gripe was how it lingered on the palate, leaving you with a ketchup-y after taste that eventually overpowered the aftertaste of the fries themselves. In contrast to other bottles of ketchup on this list, it’s actually too powerful.

What To Eat It On:

Anything! Your Burgers, fries, breakfast burritos, and scrambled eggs will taste better with some Heinz. It’s the industry standard and doesn’t have flavors that make it better or worse for any one type of food.

6. Whataburger — Fancy Ketchup

Dane Rivera

Price: $10.99 (Three Pack)

Tasting Notes

I’ve never been to Whataburger, but people tell me I need to go there all the time. I can now say I’ve at least tried their ketchup. At first, I didn’t understand why Whataburger even had retail ketchup, but now I’m on board. It’s… slightly better than Heinz (which clearly isn’t an easy task for all brands)!

Compared to Heinz — which is a pretty easy reference point for most of us — this was a tad sweeter but considerably less bright. It doesn’t linger on the palate in an obtrusive way. It’s a much more subtle approach to ketchup, with a richer flavor that tastes just a tad better on french fries than Heinz original.

The Bottom Line:

Use it for what it’s intended for: fries and burgers!

5. Melinda’s Black Pepper Ketchup

Dane Rivera

Price: $7.49

Tasting Notes:

This one was the only entry that was easy to pick out visually, it had noticeable specks of black pepper. I didn’t remember the brand by name, but as soon as I saw it on the plate I said “oh, that’s the black pepper one!” So much for going in blind.

Melinda’s has a noticeable dark and complex quality to it, with subtle pepper notes that ease off the typical brightness of ketchup, plus an even more subtle cinnamon aftertaste. I should note that in terms of smell, Melinda’s had the worst, with a strong vinegar aroma that made me wince.

What To Eat It On:

Bring out those faint cinnamon notes by dipping some sweet potato fries in this one.

4. Noble Made By The New Primal — Tomato Ketchup

Dane Rivera

Price: $5.79

Tasting Notes:

I couldn’t figure out if this brand is called “Noble Made By The New Primal” or just “Noble Made” but, annoying branding aside, this ketchup is very interesting. It has a distinct tartness that the other ketchups on this list lack, probably thanks to the inclusion of Apple Cider Vinegar and pineapple juice, which makes it feel like it exists slightly apart from what you might consider “typical tomato ketchup.”

If you served this up to someone on a plate they’d definitely notice that this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill bottle of Heinz or Hunts. And in this case, that’s a good thing.

What To Eat It On:

We like this one as a base for a complex sauce. Mix it up with some molasses for the start of a complex BBQ sauce, or with some soy sauce as part of a stir fry mix. If you pair it with fries, people will comment — which is sure to break some conversation lulls, if nothing else.

3. Heinz Organic

Dane Rivera

Price: $4.50

Tasting Notes

It’s strange just how different Heinz Organic tastes compared the original stuff. More than the classic recipe, this has a “freshly crushed tomato” scent that isn’t overly processed. The taste begins with those classic Heinz bright notes, before settling into something more balanced, with mouthwatering hints of umami. Overall the experience is cleaner, with more focused and distinct flavors.

Heinz rules fast food at the moment. We’d all be better off if this version of their ketchup became the new standard.

What To Eat It On:

Like the OG Heinz, this ketchup is balanced enough to work on pretty much anything — from sausage links to chicken nuggets to steak. We’re just kidding about the steak.

2. Annie’s Organic — Ketchup

Dane Rivera

Price: $11.99

Tasting Notes:

When I tasted Annie’s Organic, I swore up and down it was Heinz with full confidence. After enduring my bragging, my girlfriend gleefully rubbed my mistake in my face when it was time for the big reveal. For my palate, this is what ketchup should taste like. It presents itself with an appetizing bright color and features a tangy and tart aroma and flavor with a hint of clove on the finish, which balances the loud tomato paste characteristics nicely.

This was part of the first round of testing and I had a hard time imagining ketchup could get better than this. I was wrong there, too!

What To Eat It On:

My ideal choice for hashbrowns or any variation of fried potatoes. And a must on a backyard hotdog.

1. Portland Ketchup Company — Organic Ketchup

Dane Rivera

Price: $8.55

Tasting Notes:

Portland Ketchup Company’s Organic Ketchup is something special. It has a thick consistency to it, with a rich, ripened tomato color and carries an initial kick of cayenne pepper tamed by a slight sense of sweetness, that further settles into rich umami flavors mingling with notes of clove and allspice.

It’s a journey of flavors but it’s also concise. Once you swallow, it completely leaves the palate, allowing you to prepare for your next bite.

What To Eat It On

Forget what you should eat it on — have it on anything! Once you have this ketchup it’s going to be the only bottle you ever want. This was far and above the best ketchup on this list. Things weren’t even particularly close.

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