February 14, 2013

(Toby Talbot/AP) This logo apparently used to feature a gherkin!

Warren Buffett is part of a group of investors who just purchased Heinz ketchup – not a bottle, the whole H. J. Heinz company.

For anyone else who remembers the abomination that was Green Ketchup, this raises a few questions. Fortunately, Heinz has an FAQ site geared to answering just these questions — and offering some lessons that will CHANGE YOUR KETCHUP-RELATED LIFE!

If you don’t have a ketchup-related life, I don’t know what to tell you. You are doing something wrong. Ketchup is the king of condiments and the condiment of kings. It’s been with us since 1869! What other food product from the Grant administration do we view with such fondness? Ronald Reagan used to put it on his eggs. Nothing is so irredeemably bad that it can’t be slightly improved by ketchup. No hamburger is so limp and oily. No hotdog is so rubbery and uninspiring. Even Russell Crowe’s singing in “Les Miserables” starts to sound palatable when you put some ketchup on it. And it has myriad uses in the home!

Ketchup fights skunk odor! Ketchup can be used to repair chlorine damage to your hair! You can shave with ketchup, according to this thing I read once on the Internet. I also read online that it soothes wounds, although I am not sure how it does this. Maybe if you massage it gently into a hamburger while someone tends to your wounds using proper medical equipment?

In short, it is a thing of wonder.

Other condiments pale in comparison. They are fine. But they are not essential the way ketchup is. Mustard is all right. You can cut it. You can roll down your car window and ask strangers for it in a sneering tone. Mayonnaise and Miracle Whip — well, the less said about them, the better. They are like those videos of the Harlem Shake that everyone insists on making — I don’t hate them, strictly speaking, but I don’t understand why you would seek them out.

And Heinz ketchup holds a special place. I learned from the Heinz FAQ that ketchup emerges from its iconic glass bottles at a rate of 0.28 mph. “We know because it’s something we test in our quality assurance procedures. If the Ketchup we test comes out faster than this speed, that batch of Ketchup is rejected,” the FAQ notes. There is physics in this, but there is also psychology. Who wants a condiment that just comes right out when you whistle for it? (Well, everyone. But other than that.) Heinz makes you work for it, so that when it does come out, you are so tired of waiting for it that you have decided to try going without it appreciate it. Like Anderson Cooper, sort of.

Also, Heinz is not making green ketchup any longer. Good. I am glad they realized what a bad idea that was. A bottle of the stuff suppurated for years in the back of my childhood refrigerator, after we bought it on a whim. It was impossible to tell if it had gone bad or if that was its intended flavor and consistency.

My strongest feeling about ketchup stems back to the old-timey insistence on addressing it as “catsup.” That and the expression “that was all she wrote” are things you never hear nowadays. What happened to them? We ought to revive these traditions, as well as men wearing hats and calling people “Toots.” Actually, never mind.

You can also learn from the FAQ that “To release Ketchup faster from the glass bottle, apply a firm tap to the sweet spot on the neck of the bottle — the “57.” Very few people know this secret. Now you’re “in-the-know.”

Now you’re in-the-know, too!

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.