“My search for the secrets of American ketchup began in a sun-baked field near Los Banos, Calif,” writes Dan Charles in their recent NPR article entitled “Meet The Man Who Guards America's Ketchup.”
“The field didn't look like much at first. Just a wide, pale-green carpet of vines. Then Ross Siragusa, the head of global agriculture for the company Kraft Heinz, bent over, lifted up some of the vines, and revealed a mass of small, red fruit, too many to count,” shares Charles.
According to Charles, “Each acre of this field, Siragusa tells me, will produce about 60 tons of tomatoes. That's up from about 40 tons per acre just 15 years ago. The tomatoes themselves are a mix of tomato varieties that are specially bred to produce red, thick ketchup.”
“A mechanical harvester approaches at the pace of a brisk walk. It's a giant machine, a factory on wheels. It collects a swath of tomato plants, shakes fruit loose from the vines, and sends a stream of bright red tomatoes into a big truck driving alongside. The scale and speed of the operation boggles the mind,” the NPR piece continues.
Charles explains, “Within a day, a processing plant in Los Banos will turn these tomatoes into paste. Weeks or even months later, the paste will become the central ingredient in ketchup.”
“Nothing in this scene, from the tomato varieties to the mechanical harvester, existed when the Heinz company created the classic version of American ketchup many decades ago,” Charles continues.
“And I wonder, has ketchup's taste changed, too?” asks Charles.
According to the article, “Siragusa says that he doesn't know. But he knows somebody who would. A man named Hector Osorno. They call him the ketchup master, which is actually a formal title at Kraft Heinz.
"He's completely obsessed [with ketchup]. He's got secrets that he won't divulge," Siragusa tells Charles in the article.
“A few hours later, I meet Osorno. He's smiling the way people do when they're hiding delightful secrets,” shares Charles.
"What makes you a ketchup master? Is it your skill? Your knowledge?" Charles asks Osorno.
Osorno tells Charles in the article, “I like to think that it is my skill. But it's probably my stubbornness more than anything else. I'm obsessive to do the right thing the first time."