What Are You Really Paying For When Buying Bougie Ketchup?

Alongside mustard and mayo, ketchup is a staple pantry item you're likely to find in nearly any American kitchen and American restaurant. Depending on your personal taste, ketchup makes the perfect accompaniment to scrambled eggs, fries, hot dogs, burgers, and more. So, what's the deal with the "fancy" types of ketchup that have come on the market in recent years? Are companies trying to reinvent the wheel, or are these bougie ketchups worth the hype?

When you get down to it, most ketchups are all the same. They contain basic ingredients, just in varying quantities. For example, Heinz ketchup is made from a mixture of tomato concentrate, vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, and spices. Similarly, a nearly $30 bottle of ketchup from Nicolas Vahé is also made from tomatoes, sugar, onions, peppers, vinegar, and spices. If you're not buying bougie ketchup for the ingredients, what makes the "fancy" ketchups stand out? Well, it turns out that it all comes down to legal terms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) splits ketchup into three "grades" — and "fancy" is the best. That grade is what you're paying for when you buy bougie ketchup.

How the USDA ranks ketchup

The USDA awards ketchup a grade based on its color, consistency, defects (or lack thereof), flavor, finish, and solids content. The ketchup that performs the best according to these standards is awarded a U.S. Grade A. Those that perform slightly worse receive a U.S. Grade B. A step down in quality receives a U.S. Grade C. Basically, the fancier the ketchup, the higher the rating – and the brighter the color, the smoother the texture, and the thicker the consistency (to a degree).

However, to enjoy the best — or Grade A ketchup — you don't actually need to drop a lot of cash to pay for some ultra-high-end, luxurious brand. While doing so might get you organic ingredients or a bottle with no high fructose corn syrup, there are many Grade A ketchups on the average grocery store shelf — and maybe even in your fridge. Heinz is actually considered to be a Grade A ketchup. Many restaurants serve Grade A ketchup, too, including Whataburger, Burger King, Applebee's, Arby's, McDonald's, and Chick-fil-A.