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The Filipino Condiment You Don't Know You're Missing

Smooth, sweet, tangy banana ketchup has a potent flavor you'll find a surprising amount of uses for.

Banana ketchup, aka banana sauce, is a tangy, fruity, ketchup-adjacent condiment that's a brightly sweet stalwart in the Filipino kitchen. Filipino friends of mine use it as their condiment of choice for fried chicken, lumpiang, and breakfast silog. As a component in a marinade, it provides incredible depth and sweetness. Combine banana ketchup with soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and wine to slather ribs. And at Jollibee, this fruity sauce is used in place of marinara to make the chain's (in)famous Jolly spaghetti. Though it was created around roughly 80 years ago during a ketchup shortage in the Philippines, banana ketchup has both modern and mass appeal.

The origins of banana ketchup

Banana ketchup was made to be used interchangeably with tomato ketchup, which is why it's dyed red. It's a condiment with a fascinating history, one of my favorite culinary origin stories of all time.

It was created by Marìa Orosa, a Filipina food chemist. Orosa graduated with two degrees (pharmaceutical chemistry and food chemistry) from the University of Washington in Seattle while working in Alaskan canneries in the summer, and after graduating she turned down a job so she could move back to the Philippines. There she spent her time teaching meal planning, cooking, food preparation, and preserving techniques to Filipino families.

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She invented the palayok oven, a style of clay pot used to cook directly over hot coals. And during World War II while the Philippines were occupied by Japan, she also, get this, invented a protein powder called Soyalac, which she then snuck into Japanese-run concentration camps to feed starving prisoners of war. In short, she was a motherfuckin' badass. If you have a subscription to the New York Times, I suggest reading more about her.

Today, Marìa's banana ketchup has endured, and with one-click online shopping it has reached an even wider audience. I got two bottles of Jufran on Amazon for a measly 10 bucks. They come in glass bottles—a ketchup aesthetic I adore—and I submit that anybody who loves to cook and eat should have a bottle of the stuff at home.

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When and where to use banana ketchup

My advice: Pick your battles with the stuff. French fries dipped in banana ketchup, for instance, are a lovely combination. Fluffy and crispy potatoes with fruity, tart ketchup is a tasty contrast that hits different. Ditto for hash browns.

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That said, I don't want something this banana-brash around a hamburger or mixed with mayonnaise for a special sauce anytime soon. However, replacing the ketchup with banana ketchup in any marinade recipe instantly adds a new layer of flavor. I'm very excited to bust this out next summer for grilling season.

Is banana ketchup actually made from bananas?

Unlike Heinz tomato ketchup, Jufran's banana ketchup doesn't contain any high fructose corn syrup. It also lists banana as the third ingredient, meaning the third most prevalent ingredient here is banana (behind water and sugar, just ahead of salt). I'm not saying it's the healthiest thing in the world—it's on par with Heinz as far as sugar content goes—but it does at least taste like a less processed product. The banana flavor is delightfully fresh. And it has plenty of delicious Yellow 5 and Red 40. Yum!

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There's a shelf in my kitchen stocked specifically with Filipino ingredients: coconut vinegar, Silver Swan soy sauce, brightly acidic calamansi juice, and now banana ketchup. Utilizing them adds some much-needed tartness and sweetness to my favorite foods. Living in Los Angeles, I'm acutely aware of how Filipino food has forever altered my palate, as I find myself craving sourness and fruity sweetness. Adobo is my new comfort food. I order pork sisig at my local Filipino restaurant once a month. I pour coconut vinegar into my pasta sauces, and I use calamansi juice to sweeten and brighten up marinades. Now banana ketchup is in the mix, too. Maybe you have the same cravings I do. If so, banana ketchup is a must.

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