The History of Ketchup

English Listening Lesson

Listening level: 4
Audio file: 2:18 min
Story length: 299 words


The History of Ketchup

Ketchup is a red, sweet sauce made from tomatoes. But ketchup wasn’t always red or sweet or made from tomatoes. It’s changed a lot since it was discovered in Asia about 500 years ago.

The history of ketchup begins in China.

Chinese sailors frequently traveled to Asian ports in search of trade opportunities. Their business was buying and selling. In Vietnam, they encountered fishermen who had a thick, brown sauce made from anchovies. Though odd in appearance, Chinese sailors liked the sauce. They called it ke-tsiap, which means fish sauce.

Around the 1600s, Chinese sailors met traders from England. The British bought the sauce and sold it in England. English people enjoyed it a lot. Over time, ketchup became an important part of China’s vast global network of trade which included tea, spices, and manufactured products. Factories were eventually established in Indonesia to produce ketchup for export.

Because of its popularity and the cost of shipping from Asia, businessmen in England manufactured their own fish sauce. They made it with different materials like mushrooms, walnuts and beer. But no tomatoes. At this time, people in Europe didn’t eat tomatoes, which were thought to be poisonous.

Two centuries later, tomatoes were used to make ketchup for the first time. This early version had anchovies in order to retain the fishy taste.

In the 1870s, an American named Henry Heinz changed the formula. He removed the fish and added more tomatoes and some sugar. This combination turned ketchup into a red, sweet sauce. That’s basically the same product we buy in shops today.

The history of ketchup is a story about trade and change. The next time you put ketchup on your fries, remember this. You’re eating an international food with roots in an era of globalization once dominated by China.

More Practice

Here’s a gap fill exercise. Download the History of Ketchup printable worksheet (pdf file). Listen to the story and fill in the blanks.

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