If, like me, you’re a lazy person with minimal responsibilities and the palate of a 12-year-old, you may expend a surprising amount of brainpower thinking about hamburgers: how the fast-food franchise burgers stack up against one another, where to find the best burger in your town, which ingredients belong in a burger, and, most important, what the platonically perfect burger would look, smell, feel, and taste like.
So-called “ketchup leather,” a pressed sheet of the classic tomato-based condiment, has already made inroads in a few restaurants, where customers have deemed the novelty “better than it seems.” But the topping may come into its own with a Kickstarter for Bo’s Original Slice of Sauce™, a patent-pending and packaged version that could soon turn up in grocery store shelves. The true test of any ketchup, of course, is whether shoppers buy it for a backyard BBQ; already, though, people have invested nearly $13,000 in the project, putting it close to the finish line with a month to go.
Since this could be the future of burgers, we ought to ask if it’s one we want. Ketchup slices only make sense if they improve upon normal, liquid ketchup. Sadly, we won’t know that for sure until Bo’s slices debut in June; for now, let’s consider the issues with conventional ketchup, a surprisingly controversial substance often taken for granted.
The Bottle Battle
The glass ketchup bottle is perhaps the most notoriously irritating foodstuff container on the market. As with hiccup cures, everyone has some dumb folksy method of loosening the ketchup stuck within — most make you seem a desperate, uncoordinated ketchup fiend, while those that work tend to deliver a major glut of the red stuff that overwhelms whatever you’re eating. Plastic bottles, in theory a solution, cause uneven and unappetizing spatter, and what about that first watery spurt from a half-used squeezer? There’s something profoundly gross about the congealed, cold ketchup that’s been sitting in your fridge for over a year, and the nozzle crust is downright appalling. There’s no doubt in my mind that ketchup slices are the practical choice for the 21st century.
The Beefsteak Tomato Dilemma
I truly love a great tomato. San Marzano, cherry, Roma, or rainbow — all can bring a dish together. When it comes to burgers and other staple sandwiches, however, we’ve reached a disappointing national consensus: they must all have a slice of beefsteak tomato, and that slice will come from the sickliest beefsteak tomato available. What does the application of this seedy, slimy cross-section do for your otherwise ideal lunch? It serves as the queasy middle ground between the melt-in-your-mouth grilled beef and the pleasing crunch of lettuce and onions, and let me tell you, I haven’t let In-n-Out lay one on my double-double in years. Ketchup, insofar as it’s an expression of tomato, is an imperfect backup for the discarded beefsteak wedge — so why couldn’t ketchup slices solve the lack-of-tomato problem without inviting liquid ketchup’s assorted headaches?
The Heinz Monopoly
Did you know that Heinz doesn’t even qualify as ketchup in Israel anymore? It was demoted to “tomato seasoning” by the country’s health ministry a couple of years ago because it contains just “21 percent tomato concentrate,” well short of the 41 percent threshold required to be, you know, ketchup. Meanwhile, Americans are stuck in what amounts to a Heinz-only universe, loading up on a sugar-packed goop with zero nutritional value. Even poor Brits like Ed Sheeran are addicted to the stuff (he has a tattoo of the Heinz label). A big selling point for Bo’s Original Slice of Sauce™ is the ingredients: “vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, all-natural with no artificial flavors, preservatives, or high-fructose corn syrup.” It’s like getting your favorite fancy restaurant-made ketchup, just not as lumpy!
Besides, any chance we have to inject some variety into the ketchup scene and break up the Heinz stranglehold is welcome. The earliest European take on the condiment, which originates in Asia, called for “anchovies, shallots, vinegar, white wine, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, pepper, and lemon peel” — no tomatoes whatsoever. Not saying we need to go that crazy again, but come on, admit it: homogenized crimson paste has gotten pretty damn boring.
The James Franco Connection
This really just applies to me, but ketchup is a painful reminder of one of the worst sentences of prose I’ve ever read. It’s from a James Franco short story. Here it is:
I should be able to enjoy ketchup without thinking of James Franco. Ergo, slices.
The Texture and Collateral Damage
This is a debatable front in the liquid-vs.-solid ketchup showdown, as it largely depends on your own expertise. Nevertheless: too much ketchup leads to a soggy burger, can ruin any delivery order, and ensures a messy overall experience that will take upward of 40 diner napkins to deal with. Assuming you don’t want to resemble a lion devouring its kill, sliced ketchup could restore some dignity and poise to the burger-eating experience — which, as the slobs we are, we could definitely use. I’m so averse to a bun saturated in ketchup that I usually just dip my burger one bite at a time, and, as they say in infomercials, there’s got to be a better way! We’ll keep the regular ketchup packets (though it’s preposterous that you need at least three to attain a suitable amount) for, like, french fries and whatever else a slab of ketchup wouldn’t work on. Don’t say scrambled eggs, I swear to god. Find a bottle of Tapatío and rectify yourself.
So, on balance: yeah, we’re ready for an alternative — dare I say end? — to the current ketchup situation, and slices could be just the ticket. Of course, they could also be terrible. What am I, a food critic with exclusive access to experimental sauce refabrications? All I’m saying is it’s nice to hear that somebody’s thinking outside the bottle. Feel free to yell at me if this stuff is revealed to be trash. If, on the other hand, you start eating it solo like Kraft cheese slices, you may praise my sage optimism.