Homemade Ketchup Recipe
If you’ve never made your own ketchup, you’re in for a big treat. I’m going to take you through how to process fresh tomatoes into ketchup, including tinkering with the spices to make it your own. Finally, I’ve got instructions for canning homemade ketchup so you can enjoy it all year long.
Warning – making ketchup from scratch isn’t a fast process. It’s not difficult but it will take a few hours. Most of that time is simmering, so it’s hands off. But good ketchup takes time to reduce and concentrate – it’s well worth it, though. Once you taste fresh ketchup, you may never go back to store bought.
As written, the homemade ketchup recipe is safe to can.
Ingredients for homemade ketchup
25 pounds of tomatoes (see below for recommendations)
3 cups yellow or white onions, chopped
3 cups of apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1.5 cups of sugar
1/4 cup of salt
- 4 teaspoons of whole cloves
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 2 teaspoons of allspice berries
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 tablespoons of celery seeds
- 1 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper (if you don’t like any heat, leave this out)
Special Tools and Gear
Large stock pot
Food processor, blender or immersion blender
Food mill (optional)
Large tea ball or strainer OR cheesecloth
To can ketchup (recommended):
Pint, half-pint or quarter pin jars + lids and bands OR reusable lids and bands
A large pot for water bath canning
Other basic canning tools – see What Do You Need to Can Food? for more information on canning supplies
Turning fresh tomatoes into ketchup
To make ketchup, you need a LOT of fresh tomatoes. Ideally, use paste tomatoes, like Amish Paste or San Marzano. These tomatoes are denser, with more flesh and less juice. That means you won’t have to reduce them so much to get pulp. Having said that, you can make ketchup for any kind of fresh tomato.
You can make a small batch of ketchup, of course. But I’m writing this with the assumption that you want to make and can a big batch. As you’ll see, the processing time is significant, so it just makes sense to go big.
We’re going to reduce 25 pounds of fresh tomatoes into a six or seven pints. It’s totally worth it. Canned ketchup will keep for at least 18 months in your pantry.
Making tomato ketchup from scratch
In order to end up with excellent ketchup, you have to process the tomatoes thoroughly.
First you need to peel and seed the tomatoes. While you can, technically, puree the entire tomato into slurry and reduce that, the texture won’t be right and you won’t be able to get rid of the seeds. Take the time to process the tomatoes completely. It’s worth it.
How to peel tomatoes easily
There’s two ways to easily peel fresh tomatoes.
Option 1 – Freeze the tomatoes. This works best if you’re growing them yourself, since you’ll likely be getting a small amount each day. Chuck them in the freezer (whole) until you accumulate enough for the recipe. The easiest way to do this is to keep a large zip top bag in the freezer and keep adding to it.
When you’re ready to process the tomatoes, let them thaw. The peels will slide off easily. With the peels off, cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds and glop.
Option 2 – Blanch the tomatoes. Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl, pot or other big container with cold water and add lots of ice cubes. Cut an X into each tomato, then drop it into the boiling water. After 1-2 minutes, fish it out and immediately put it in the ice water. The skins will split and you can peel the tomatoes easily, once they cool enough to handle. With the skins off, cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds and glop.
Both methods will get rid of the peels and a lot of the seeds. But you’ll have a hard time catching every single seed – that can affect the texture of your ketchup but you can still get a good batch.
Use a food mill to peel and core tomatoes
If you have a food mill, use it to peel and core your tomatoes. I find it’s easiest to cut them into quarters and pulse them briefly in the blender or food processor but you CAN run them through the mill without doing that step. Read about using a food mill.
The food mill takes out every bit of peel and every seed. If you want ketchup that’s very smooth, you need to use a mill to peel and core your tomatoes.
Speaking of canning food…
The best canning books and books about food preservation
The All New Ball Book is my favorite canning book. If you only buy one canning book, that’s the one I recommend. Once you get started, you’ll want the rest of these, though. Click on any of the books to order your own copy through Bookshop. Buying from Bookshop means I receive an affiliate credit (at no cost to you), which helps cover the costs of producing content. Bookshop robustly supports local, independent bookstores.
Processing tomatoes into ketchup
With the tomatoes peeled and the seeds and glop removed, it’s time to turn the tomatoes into very thick sauce, which will be the main ingredient. This is the longest part of the process but most of it is hands-off time.
Put all the tomatoes into a very large pot. Add the chopped onions. Let it all simmer until the flesh begins to break down and the water and juice reduce. From time to time, use a potato masher to gently press the tomatoes and help things along.
Meanwhile, infuse the vinegar
Once the tomatoes are simmering, put the apple cider vinegar in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Put the allspice, cloves and celery seeds in a tea ball. Drop the tea ball, bay leaf and cinnamon sticks into the vinegar. Let them simmer on low until you’re ready to add the vinegar to the tomatoes. This will infuse the vinegar with tons of flavor.
You can tweak the dry spices if you wish but this is a pretty solid spice blend. It gives the ketchup depth without overwhelming the tomato flavor.
Working the pulp
Eventually, you’ll have a pan full of tomato pulp, with some juice. In order to get a thick, velvety ketchup texture, the pulp needs to be broken down further at this point. You can use a food processor, blender or immersion blender.
You can see in the photo that several hours of simmering reduces the tomato pulp quite a lot. If we were putting up a batch of tomato sauce, we could stop here. But ketchup needs to be thicker and smoother, so there’s more processing ahead.
Incidentally, the amount of processing and simmering time is the reason I suggest making homemade ketchup in large batches. It doesn’t really go any faster in smaller batches, so you might as well get the maximum results for all that effort.
An immersion or stick blender is the easiest way to finish processing the tomato mixture. Simply put it in the pot and whizz it around until the tomato and onion pulp is very, very smooth. You should see water forming small ‘pools’ on the surface – that’s a good sign you’re on the right track. Keep the heat on low while you do this.c
If you don’t have an immersion blender, a regular blender or food processor will work, too. Just move the pulp through in batches and blend or process until it reaches the desired texture.
At this stage, you should have something that looks like a thick puree, with a very uniform texture.
After processing, bring the puree to a low simmer. Add the vinegar, sugar, cayenne and salt, then stir to dissolve completely.
Note that you can safely use a little less sugar if you prefer your ketchup less sweet. Omitting too much of the sugar will make the ketchup too thin, however. If you’re not sure about sweetness, start with 1 cup of sugar – add more after simmering if you wish.
It’s almost ketchup now! Let it simmer for at least 20 minutes, then check the consistency.
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How to tell when ketchup is done cooking
Is it thick enough to ‘stand’ on a spoon without separating when you scoop some out? If so, it’s close to done. If not, let it simmer a bit more.
Likewise, if you let the ketchup sit for a moment and any ‘pools’ form on the surface, keep simmering. You won’t get rid of the liquid entirely (and you don’t want to) but you shouldn’t have more than a few very shallow pools on the surface.
In this photo, the ketchup has just finished simmering. The texture is consistent and smooth.
The ketchup should be thick and smooth enough to stay put on a spoon easily but, of course, it can’t be so thick that it’s a paste. Fortunately, it’s hard to over simmer it, once the vinegar is in.
Note that homemade ketchup likely won’t have quite the same sleek (almost plasticky, in my opinion) texture as most commercially prepared ketchups.
There is room for some subjective assessment with homemade ketchup. If you prefer a slightly runnier texture, you can certainly reduce the simmering time a little. and you can let it simmer longer for a denser product. You can spend less time pureeing the mixture if you’d rather have a chunkier ketchup.
But ultimately, aim for something thick enough to coat a fry but viscous enough for easy dipping or spreading.
Flavoring the ketchup
Once the texture is right, taste your ketchup. If you’re planning to can this ketchup (instructions further on), then you can’t omit any of the vinegar. You can, however, add a bit more if you want more tang. You can add up to 1/2 cup more sugar if the ketchup doesn’t seem sweet enough. If you do add any vinegar or sugar at this point, be sure it’s thoroughly mixed in.
Feel free to add more dry spices, like cayenne or celery salt, at this point if you wish.
How to can ketchup
After all the simmering, it’s time to can the ketchup! Ideally, can your ketchup in quantities you can eat within 3 weeks of opening the jar.
This recipe will yield 6-7 pints, 12-14 half-pints or 24 quarter pints. You can mix and match the jar size for your batch but you’ll need to follow the processing times for the largest sized jar in each canner batch, which is 15 minutes.
Happily, it’s very easy to can ketchup.
What do you need to can ketchup
Ketchup is pretty acidic from both the tomatoes and the vinegar, so it can be water bath canned. If you’ve never done any water bath canning, please review the National Center for Home Food Preservation guidelines on safe canning.
Make sure your canning jars are clean and warm. Wash the lids and bands and keep them warm. Do not boil the lids and there is no need to sterilize your canning jars because the processing time is longer than 10 minutes.
Place a canning rack in the pot. Fill with enough water to cover the jars by two inches. Bring the water to a boil.
While the water is boiling, fill the jars. A canning funnel makes this task MUCH easier.
Be sure the ketchup is simmering as you put it in the warm jars. Leave 1/8″ of headspace in the jars, then put the lid and ring on. Read about canning with reusable lids here.
With the jars filled and the lids in place, lower the jars into the boiling water. Once the canner is full, be sure the water covers the jars with at least two inches to space. If the water stops boiling as you add the jars, cover the pot and wait for the water to start boiling again.
Once the water is boiling and all the jars are in, put the lid on and process for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, turn the burner off, remove the lid and let the jars rest for at least five minutes. Then remove them carefully to a clean towel or wooden cutting board. Let them sit for at least 12 hours. Single-use lids will likely make a satisfying ping as they seal – reusable lids will not, sadly. Remember, if you’re using reusable lids, you need to manually tighten the bands once the jars are out of the canner!
How to tweak this homemade ketchup recipe
At the end of the day, ketchup is all about the tomato flavor. Making ketchup from fresh tomatoes showcases that flavor beautifully. The apple cider vinegar provides a fruity, tart balance and the sugar keeps everything in harmony.
In my humble opinion, this is a great ‘basic’ ketchup. I’d suggest making and canning it more of less as written. If you want to play around with it in order to serve it with specific foods, consider adding those other flavors when you open the jar, instead of to the whole batch. That gives you the most flexibility and ensures the recipe stays shelf-stable and safe.
A free ‘safe’ tweaks
Feel free to use more or less cayenne, or to sub in different dried peppers.
You can also add other dried herbs or spices to the vinegar infusion. Coriander is a nice option.
It’s fine to use a little garlic powder or other powdered spices. You can add a couple teaspoons of dried spices without throwing off either the texture or the canning safety. Some people swear by a pinch of turmeric in their homemade ketchup.
Remember, if you’re canning this ketchup, you can’t use less vinegar proportionally, nor add more onions. You can sub other types of onions, and you can tweak the amount of sugar or salt.
Can you use a different vinegar?
As long as it has 5% acidity, you can use any vinegar you’d like. But apple cider vinegar is the classic choice for ketchup – white vinegar will be very harsh but you can sub it in if you must. Be prepared to tweak the sugar and salt a little if you do.
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