With summer around the corner, care to come over for a cookout? Whether you favor a juicy all-beef hot dog or your tastes lean more towards a perfectly seasoned veggie burger, sooner or later you're going to approach the condiments table and let your palate make its most lasting decision: ketchup or mustard?
You can have both, sure. You can swirl it about until it's an orange glob of culinary excellence, but what if you could only choose one topping? Would you pass on passing the Grey Poupon? Would ketchup cut the mustard? With grills ablaze, it's time to get saucy, Jack.
Catching up with ketchup
If you think the origin of ketchup is just another fish tale, you're actually right. The origin of the tomato-based condiment dates back centuries to a salty pickled fish sauce from China called ketsiap. Like all good pungent, fish brine-based toppings, ketsiap finally made it to the West in the 1600s where the recipe went through many transformations. From anchovies to mushrooms, tomato didn't even factor into the mix at first. But it was certainly there when Heinz
While Heinz, and its 57 varieties, has become practically synonymous with ketchup, the company was a major player in pickles and horseradish at the time. While ConAgra's
With 60% of the stateside ketchup market, Heinz has been moving as quickly as its ketchup pours slowly in recent years. Ketchup is no longer that red stuff in the clear bottles. The company has taken its ketchup, tacked on some food coloring, and fortified it with a dash of Vitamin C for its colorful EZ Squirt line. While grown-ups may think twice about dipping their fries into green or purple ketchup, little squirts have taken to EZ Squirt.
But Heinz has also given adults a leg-up on flavor with its KICK'RS line of enhanced ketchup. From mesquite to garlic, ketchup has simply become Heinz's easel lately. The company has even taken to turning its sector upside down with its new Easy Squeeze bottle, which caters to the immediate gratification crowd that doesn't have time to hum a few bars of Carly Simon's "Anticipation" when they need a ketchup fix.
Do you think that mustard could pull off a smoky mesquite flavor or come in its own shade of purple? That's why ketchup rocks -- but does it rule, too?
Cutting the mustard
If you'd like to accuse Colonel Mustard of being in the dining room with the spreading knife, you might be in the mustard camp. Hey, you don't need that bully ketchup to call you yellow. Mustard's distinctive flavor has made it a popular blend with everything from honey to curry. You won't find too many people asking for their salads to be topped with honey ketchup, so let's give mustard some respect for its wide range of applications.
For starters, mustard has been a Western hemisphere staple for a much longer time than ketchup. The hungry have been crushing mustard seeds since well before the Greek and Roman civilizations came to pass.
Privately held French's claims to be the top retail brand. The company's signature yellow mustard made its debut at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair along with the hot dog. Other names you may recognize include Kraft's
Sure, mustard's per capita consumption may be a paltry 12 ounces annually, but it packs a cultural punch. While we may wolf down 100 times as much of tomato-based products (through not just ketchup, but other popular foodstuffs like pizza and pasta sauces), you can't deny that the mustard seed is in its own breed of hip. There's an actual mustard museum. And, while ketchup's usage peaks in the 6-12 year-old bracket, mustard's consumption ages well.
For investors there is no pure mustard play. It's a relatively small $300 million market according to French's -- and that company, and others like Plochman's, are not publicly traded. ConAgra and Kraft have wide product lines (so wide that ConAgra plays to both the ketchup and the mustard lover).
To be fair, Heinz isn't really a pure play on the ketsiap derivative anyway. Heinz is also behind everything from Ore-Ida fries to Wyler's soup mixes to Classico spaghetti sauces. So you can choose between ketchup and mustard as a consumer, but the argument is moot when it comes to your investing dollar.
Put it all together
So, we're back at the condiments table and you still haven't decided. If you were looking at a plate of fries or a soft pretzel, the choice would be easy. Don't bother reading the nutritional labels for inspiration. They -- they are both free of fat and cholesterol. That jar of mayo in the middle? That's the one that can't be trusted.
So whether you ultimately see red or mellow up to yellow, it's a healthy decision, literally. The only thing cool about the procrastination process is the once-warm burger in your hands. Relish your decision. Pour wisely.
Rick Munarriz still can't come to grips with why he would take mustard over ketchup on a sandwich but would prefer it to be the other way around if we were talking burger. Rick's stock holdings can be viewed online, as can the Fool's disclosure policy.