A Recipe: Ketchup for Real Food Lovers

homemade ketchup

Homemade ketchup – it sounds complicated as though you’d spend all day in the kitchen pounding your way through vats of tomatoes and slowly simmering them away in kettles on a wooden stove.  Making homemade ketchup from scratch seems complex, almost unfathomable in an era when quick-fix, all-in-one bagged skillet dinners constitute “cooking from scratch.”  It’s sad day when we’ve forgotten our collective culinary heritage.

And as difficult and complex has preparing ketchup from scratch may seem, like most traditional foods that we seem to have lost along the way, it’s not. Much like rendering lard, curing olives or making a good pot of chicken broth to chase away the flu, preparing a traditional homemade ketchup requires only a few simple steps and easy techniques that even a small child can manage with little effort and great success.

Don’t expect immediate results.  In a time when meals can be ready in minutes, we’ve forgotten the value and lesson of delayed gratification.  Some things, you see, are worth waiting for, and this homemade ketchup is one of them.  Like most condiments, homemade ketchup originally derived the bulk of its complex flavors through the slow process of microbial action – fermentation a practice that is still used to age raw milk cheeses, cure meats and make yogurt.  Fermentation used to be much more common and it wasn’t unusual for our great- great- grandparents to serve up meals in which every dish presented was bettered through the lost art of fermentation: cured meat and naturally aged cheeses on sourdough breads with brine-pickled relishes and lacto-fermented condiments served as an adjunct to improve digestion.

And our forebears were right: the process of fermentation and culturing foods not only improved their shelf-life, but dramatically increased the nutrition they gleaned from every bite.  You see the traditional art of fermentation – the deliberate and calculated introduction of beneficial bacteria into food – increased each dish’s vitamin and enzyme content while preserving the food for long-term storage.  Moreover, fermented condiments like this homemade ketchup and the other condiments and relishes you can learn to make in Nourished Kitchen’s newest cooking class Get Cultured! How to Ferment Anything provided a wide array of beneficial bacteria which help to populate the gut, working interactively with the immune system to keep pathogens at bay and make for resilient and vibrant health.  It’s a beautiful art, fermentation.

homemade ketchup, an old-world recipe

By Jenny Published: February 18, 2011

  • Yield: about 1 pint
  • Prep: 5 minutes (active) mins
  • Cook: 3 to 5 days (fermentation) mins
  • Ready In: 8 mins

Deeply robust with the rich-sweet flavor of concentrated tomato, this ketchup differs from the cloying sweet varieties you find in the grocery store. Allspice and cloves, traditional inclusions often omitted in most store-bought varieties, bring a level of depth that would be otherwise absent. Not a particularly quick food, this homemade ketchup is slowly ripened and aged over a period of three to five days as beneficial bacteria metabolize the food’s natural sugars, creating a condiment that is potently rich in food enzymes and probiotics. It’s a traditional process, lactofermentation, that increases the nutritional value of the foods we eat and love. This recipe and over 100 others are included in the latest of Nourished Kitchen’s online cooking class: Get Cultured! How to Ferment Anything.


  • 2 cups tomato paste (preferably homemade)
  • 1/4 cup raw honey (maple syrup or whole unrefined cane sugar)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp fresh whey* (divided)
  • 2 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar (plus extra for thinning the ketchup, if desired)
  • 1 tsp unrefined sea salt
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves


  1. Spoon tomato paste into a large mixing bowl and fold in raw honey or other natural sweetener of choice.
  2. Whisk in one-quarter cup fresh whey or vegetable starter culture (available here)into the sweetened tomato paste along with apple cider vinegar, sea salt, allspice and cloves. Continue whisking these ingredients together until the paste is smooth and uniform.
  3. Spoon the homemade ketchup into a mason jar, top with remaining two tablespoons fresh whey or vegetable starter culture, cover tightly with a lid or seal your fermentation crock, and allow the ketchup to sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for three to five days.
  4. After three to five days, uncover the homemade ketchup and give it a thorough stir before transferring to the refrigerator. Naturally fermented homemade ketchup will keep for several months in the refrigerator.

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What people are saying

  1. Aliyanna says

    What about using a pickl-it…you wouldn’t use the whey…..I am just finding out about them…so much different and better I think…any one else tried them?

    • frances says

      Hi Ashley, if you have Kefir Milk then you will have Whey. When I make Cream Cheese from my Kefir Milk I put 2 coffee filters into my coffee machine. I pour Kefir into it and leave it till the cream cheese is thick enough on the filters that I then scoop off and keep in the fridge. The Whey drips into the glass bottom of the coffee maker. I continue making the cream cheese in small amounts, and the Whey keeps on dripping…..From Frances in South Africa

  2. Kenwyn(Winnie) says

    Well that sounds great. Do you have recipes on vegetation/vegan recipes on mayo I saw to use veg starter culture instead of way for the ketchup .but how about the mayo?

  3. Nicole says

    i made this last week, set out for 5 days. My hubby put it in the fridge after the right amount of time since I had to go out of town. I got home and tasted it today and what started outta sting like my grandma’s homemade ketchup before fermentation now tastes like home-brew…. :(. Any hints for what to do different next time????

  4. Nicole says

    i made this last week, used a recipe from cultures for health which said to sit out for 3-5 days. My hubby put it in the fridge after the right amount of time since I had to go out of town. I got home and tasted it today and what started outta sting like my grandma’s homemade ketchup before fermentation now tastes like home-brew…. :(. Any hints for what to do different next time????

    • Les says

      Nicole, I myself am still working on my fermentation expertise – that’s another way of saying I’m pretty much a beginner myself, only have two batches of sauerkraut to my credit so far. Still, in my opinion, the correct time to allow for room temperature fermentation depends on the room temperature. I myself have tentatively decided to use 75 degrees F as the frame of reference in regards to the initial “getting the fermentation going” phase in sauerkraut making. And if I were to apply this guideline to ketchup making and a recommendation to “let it sit for 3-5 days,” I think if the ambient room temperature inclined toward 75 or above, I’d only leave it sit for 3 days (because fermentation should be more brisk at warmer temperature), and if the ambient room temperature average was below 75 – closer to 72, say – then I’d leave it sit for the 5 days. Hope this helps.

    • jenny says

      Since you didn’t use my recipe, I can’t comment on why it may not have worked. Perhaps the recipe author has an answer for you?

  5. Angela says

    is it possible to can the ketchup after it has fermented to increase it’s shelf life? for instance if you were making ALOT of it (fall harvets from the garden etc.)? or would that completely undo all the benefits of eating the fermented food in the first place?

    • Kathryn C says

      Why not make tomato paste from the summer bounty, then can that. Make smaller batches of fermented ketchup as needed. Canning will kill the beneficial cultures in the ketchup.

  6. Candi says

    I have followed this recipe to a T several times and it has always turned out beautifully. This time, it developed a white mold on top. My whey had a little bit of milk solids in it still that I didn’t think would hurt anything. Is that what molded? I scooped off the ick and the ketchup underneath looks good and smells wonderful. Would you use or toss?

  7. Kelsea says

    Can I just use Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar and skip the whey? If not, would the way be around the yogurt in the grocery store? I’m not sure where to find it.

  8. sara says

    I followed this recipe but didn’t have the allspice or cloves. I just looked at my ketchup after 5 days and it has a whitish mold or something on top. Should I chuck it all, or scrap it off the top, mix it up, and eat it?


  9. Krissi says

    Hi, I too am a beginner fermenter :) I made this recipe and I set it out for 5 days. When I set it out it was smooth texture. After 5 days it is lumpy and solid. Have you run into this problem?

  10. says

    I love this recipe (and the accompanying photo)! I did change a few things and had great success. I was feeling a little weary about clove & allspice (just my personal taste), so I left them out. And I replaced the honey with maple syrup. It turned out super-delicious and I have found myself making excuses for why I need to put ketchup on x, y, and z. Haha! Thanks for the great recipe!

  11. Carrie says

    I am severely dairy intolerant. I’d like to make this, but cannot use whey. Do you have a suggestion of what else I can use?

  12. Amy says

    I also ended up with white moldy spots on the surface. I used whey from homemade yogurt that may also have had some stray yogurt in it. Like the others I am wondering if I must dump it? The ketchup doesn’t smell foul; just faintly sour as most fermented things do.

  13. Penny says

    Also hoping that there is a dairy free alternative to the whey. My son has a dairy allergy, but I would love to make ths!

  14. Sandra Mort says

    I prefer to buy unsweetened ketchup when I get it. Have you tried this recipe without the honey or is it required for fermentation? I’d think not, since tomatoes have so much sugar to start with. Thanks!

  15. Ashley says

    Thanks for this recipe! I’m starting my ketchup right now! Super excited! To the previous posters asking about non-dairy whey options… Coconut yogurt whey might work. Worth a shot.

  16. Jenny says

    Just wanted to share that I heard about mold and food safety. When mold appears on a dry or solid product like bread or cheese, you can cut off any mold that you see and be assured that the food is safe and mold free. When mold appears on a liquid or wet food product, even though you may remove any surface mold, the mold has ‘roots’ that extends to undetectable depths in the liquid or wet product, so even though you might scoop it off the top, the product may still be contaminated with mold.

  17. Ramona says


    I’ve followed your recipe and so far loving the ketchup. BUT it’s bubbling like crazy even in the fridge and when I take it out it bubbles out of the jar. Did I add too much (or too potent) of whey? Do you think this is a problem? I used whey from homemade kefir. Thinking maybe I should dilute the ketchup with some more tomato sauce to balance out what seems to be an overload of culture… or maybe all this is normal… it’s my first time making ketchup.

  18. David says

    Does the culture eat the sugar? I dont do sugar~! And isnt raw honey a natural anti bacteria so wouldnt it get in the way of the whey. hehe. I mean of the fermenting?

    • Jenny says

      Yep! The bacteria eat the sugar, and while raw honey has antibacterial properties, it doesn’t deter fermentation when it’s diluted as in this recipe (or mead, for example). You can always leave it out, of course, as there’s probably enough sugar in the tomato paste to support fermentation, too.

  19. says

    I used vegetable culture instead of whey and it tasted great when I made it, but after letting it sit out for almost 3 days, there was white mold on it and it tasted weird. So my suggestion would be to just stick it in the fridge right away after you make it. I hardly have problems with fermentation, but this ketchup just didn’t work out. Definitely a recipe I will try again, but next time I’ll skip the fermentation process. I ended up boiling the ketchup down and the smell stunk up the house so I just dumped it.

  20. Tatoosh says

    Do you have a recommendation on vegetable starter cultures or is there a way to get them started naturally, without a commercially purchased starter? I am in the Philippines and most cultures whether for cheese, pro-biotics,or even sour dough are very hard to come by.

    And is there a good source for making your own tomato paste, as you recommend in your article? While tomatoes are easily available here, the cost can shift radically due to supply and demand. Romas or Plum tomatoes are the most common, but run from $1 to $2.50 a kilo, depending on the supply. So when they are cheaper, I’d love to make a lot of paste and store for use later.

  21. says

    If never used used whey to help my ferments, but in this case of ketchup it makes sense. I have a question. Could I use whey from milk gone “bad”? or could I use rennet on milk and use that whey? or does it need to be a specific kind? thanks for this great post. Very informative!

  22. Carol says

    Jenny, I used whey from homemade raw milk yogurt that probably had some floaters in it, and I just stirred it in after letting it sit for 5 days. I don’t THINK what I stirred in was mold, but after reading others’ comments, I don’t see that you have relied to that question yet – is it safe to eat still? I tasted it, and it seems fine.

    Also, I would prefer it to be just a bit thinner/runnier. Can I add a little more whey to thin it, or what would you suggest?

  23. Shelby says

    I started my ketchup 3 days ago. I put it in my closet ( so nobody would see it and throw it away! haha) but I went into my closet and it is pretty chilly in there. How would I know if it has fermented enough? Would the cooler temp of my closet make it so it hasn’t even fermented at all?

  24. Joanna says

    I am a bit confused about how to best cover my ketchup. I have been reading different things…one says seal in a fermentation jar (like this: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0001BMYG6/?tag=homema0cblog-20) and your recipe recommends a light seal (maybe a dish towel with a rubber band…like I do with my kombucha). Is that right? Can someone please explain why oxygen is bad for some ferments and beneficial for others? And how am I supposed to know which is which when so many recipes (with the same ingredients) suggest different ways to cover during fermentation?! Thanks so much!!

  25. makalove says

    This is very similar to my recipe, except that I use kombucha vinegar in place of the cider vinegar (in nearly everything calling for vinegar, actually, because I have so much booch vinegar all the time!). It turns out super-thick but we just thin it with water as we use it for dipping or use it as-is in recipes calling for ketchup.

  26. Patrick says

    Some of you folks who had mold problems might take note that a lot of fermentation recipes give you the option of floating a bit of olive oil on top of your yet-to-be-fermented jar of ketchup. This is a cheap way to allow the gas by-products of the fermentation escape without exposing your food to air. You can then spoon the oil off the top before refrigerating. I’ve tried this with lacto fermenting watermelon rind with good results. (…yeah, yeah; I thought the watermelon rinds were a gamble too, but damn, they’re tasty.)

  27. Donna says

    I hope you are still answering questions on this recipe :) I want to use Vegetable Starter Culture instead of the Whey. What amount of Starter Culture do I need? It comes in little envelopes so am thinking I won’t need a whole cup? Thank you.

    • Jenny says

      It will last in the fridge for about 6 weeks. You can can it, but that will kill the probiotics, making the fermentation proceess irrelevant.

  28. Cory says

    If I was to use canned organic tomato paste with Caldwells Starter, would it work? Or does the tomato paste have to be raw?

  29. cher says

    I just love your website and recipes! I just started some preserved lemons today!! I made your ketchup and let it ferment for 3 days before putting it in the fridge…that was about a week ago…I ate it tonight and it almost tasted like wine – almost too fermented…does this sound right?

  30. says

    Thank you for the recipe! I was thinking that ACV would bring the proper balance to the ketchup, I was surprised when another book recommended fish sauce. I used canned tomato paste but it looks gorgeous!

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