Just in time for grill season: America's favorite hamburger topping, rated.
The best ketchups hit all the right notes—honest tomato flavor, a well-balanced ratio of sweetness to tanginess, and a thick, robust body that holds up to the food it's paired with. Be careful how much you squeeze, though. On average, a single 15-calorie tablespoon of the condiment contains 190 milligrams of sodium. That's only 8 percent of your daily sodium allotment, but for ketchup lovers it can quickly add up. A few brands have introduced no-salt-added versions, but we found them overpoweringly sweet or too bitter. Two of our winners come in at a sensible 160 milligrams without shortchanging your taste buds.
BEST REGULAR: 365 Tomato Ketchup, $2 (24 ounces)
Flecks of spices set this ketchup apart from other brands. We loved the sweet and naturally clean flavor and applaud Whole Foods for making a great product with only 160 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon. Less salt but lots of flavor.
BEST ON A BUDGET: Great Value Tomato Ketchup, $1.25 (20 ounces)
Wal-Mart's house brand is thick and clingy, has a robust vinegar flavor, and the standard 190 milligrams sodium. Its brightness is balanced by a smooth, sweet finish.
BEST ORGANIC: 365 Organic Tomato Ketchup, $4.39 (24 ounces)
Whole Foods gets another gold star. This ketchup's smoky-sweet character evokes barbecue sauce—it would be as tasty on a grilled burger as it would be topping a meat loaf. Plus, you'll find the same 160-milligram sodium level we love in the original.
From the Test Kitchen: 3 More Ways to Use Ketchup
1. Use as a base for barbecue sauce. Commercial sauces do this, and it works fine at home in a pinch. Add hot sauce, molasses, spices, minced onion, mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce—whatever gets you grilling. As with any sugary sauce, it burns easily over high heat.
2. Add a sweet tang to baked beans. Ketchup forms the base of a great sauce for baked beans. Add a little brown sugar or maple syrup, some dry mustard or prepared Dijon, and a hint of Worcestershire sauce. Follow a basic recipe for soaking and baking the beans.
3. Curry it up. Traditionally served with grilled bratwurst, curry ketchup is also great on fries, roasted sweet potato wedges, and, of course, hot dogs. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon curry powder, and toast 30 seconds or until fragrant, stirring constantly. Mix in 1 cup ketchup, and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Serve warm.
HOW WE TEST
Method: A panel of Cooking Light editors and Test Kitchen staff held two blind tastings of 12 nationally available regular and organic ketchups. All samples were tested first plain, then with Tater Tots for dipping.
Nutritional guidelines: We evaluated ketchups with 190 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon or less. We did not include ketchups that contained salt substitutes or artificial sweeteners.