Nothin’ But the Best! Canning Ketchup

Home-canned ketchup.

#VeganMoFo18 Day 11 – Nothin’ But the Best!

Please note, this post is meant as an overview of canning tomatoes and ketchup and does not replace or represent itself to be an official guide for proper canning at home. It is important to consult safe canning resources, which are listed at the end of this post.

So I can’t make ketchup without recalling the scene from National Lampoon’s Family Vacation where the Griswolds sit down for dinner (with meatless burgers, no less!) with Cousin Eddie and family…

Cousin Eddie and Hamburger Helper

From National Lampoon’s ‘Vacation’, Cousin Eddie’s thoughts on Hamburger Helper.

According to the National Geographic, ketchup’s origins are probably from Vietnam, by way of China, derived from a fish sauce called kêtsiap. The first recipe for ketchup (without tomato, I might add) was published in 1732 in Britain; tomato didn’t appear as a ketchup ingredient until 1812 in the United States. Surveys have determined that 97% of American households have a bottle of ketchup!

I love ketchup and consider it it’s own food group! It goes along with hot sauce as one of my favorite condiments. In fact, sometimes I have such a hankering for ketchup that I’ll cook up a potato, just so I can eat ketchup!! I do buy the sauce in glass bottles, but, when I saw the recipe for ketchup in North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Service’s publication on canning your own condiments, I just had to give it a try! It’d be great to not have to buy another bottle of ketchup and I’ve never seen it in bulk to fill my own containers.

Canning Tomatoes

Peeled Roma and San Marzano tomatoes.

Peeled tomatoes

Before we get into canning ketchup, however, I’m going to cover canning tomatoes, because the first step of making home-canned ketchup is just like making home-canned tomatoes. Canning tomatoes is really easy and was my gateway into the world of canning 20 years ago. We use a lot of canned tomatoes in our cooking, so I can tomatoes to use all year long. I prefer using home-canned tomatoes to avoid chemicals in our food, including BPA, BPS, pesticides, and lye. Many commercially canned tomatoes come in cans that are lined with BPA or BPS. In addition, about 30% of commercially canned tomatoes are peeled using lye (sodium- or potassium hydroxide), which is deemed safe by the FDA. Although lye peeling is considered safe, it’s just another chemical that I can avoid putting in my body, so I choose to avoid it (you might remember TV commercial for Hunt’s tomatoes referring to their product being steam-peeled rather than chemical peeledConAgra, their parent company, was asked to stop running that ad as competitors who used chemical peeling were concerned that it misled the public and hurt their business).

The first step for canning tomatoes (and making ketchup) is to peel the tomatoes (I prefer using San Marzano, Roma, or other paste tomatoes for canning)with hot water! Get a stock pot full of water to a rolling boil and fill your sink or large bowl with cold water and ice. Take a couple handfuls of clean tomatoes and put them into the boiling water, being careful not to splash yourself. Leave the tomatoes in the boiling water for about 60 seconds until the skins start to split; this indicates its time to pull all of the tomatoes out and plunge them into ice water. Note, not all the tomatoes will split, but just rely on the first one as an indicator that they’re all ready to come out, or else you’ll cook them to mush (some skins never split). The cold water stops the cooking and cools them so you can handle them. Now you can cut the stem end and simply slip the skins right off.

Split and peeled tomatoes.

Tomato with a split peel (left) and Skin Easily Slipped Off (right)

If you want, you can lay the peels on sheets for your dehydrator and dry them to crisp. Those crisp peels can be blended into a powder that you can add to soups and stews later. The peels are full of great phytonutrients and makes this process zero waste. Otherwise, you can add the peels to your compost or worm bin.

Once you’ve peeled all your tomatoes, you need to decide the method you want to use for canning them. There are two methods—raw and hot pack. Raw pack simply means putting your peeled tomatoes into jars at this point with salt, lemon juice or citric acid, and topping off with hot water. Hot pack requires an extra step to boil the peeled tomatoes in a stock pot for five minutes, then packing those hot peeled tomatoes in jars with salt and citric acid or lemon juice, and covering with the hot liquid that comes out of the tomatoes. I prefer to raw pack as it’s less work and cleaner. I don’t mind the tomatoes packed in water, the liquid gets tomato-y during the processing and I’ve never had a problem using it in my cooking. Half the time a cooking recipe calls for draining the can of tomatoes anyway. Jars can be pre-sterilized in your dishwasher as they will be processed 40-45 minutes, depending on jar size and elevation.

Photo of hot water being poured from a kettle into canning jar of raw, peeled tomatoes for Raw Packed canning.

Raw Pack Tomatoes

It is important to put either lemon juice or citric acid in your jars when canning tomatoes. Even though tomatoes are an acid food, they need a little boost as the natural acids in tomatoes decrease as they ripen and not all varieties have the same level of acid in them. Here is an interesting read by the University of Wisconsin Extension on why we add acid to home-canned tomatoes. Salt, on the other hand, is not a requirement and can be omitted.

Citric Acid, Salt, Lemon Juice.

Citric Acid, Salt, Lemon Juice

After packing your jars, top them off with either hot water or hot tomato juice, based on the method you choose. Then you need to remove air bubbles from the jar. To do this, simply insert a non-metallic spatula or similar device (I use a wooden chopstick) and give the air a channel to escape upward. It’s important to remove trapped air so bacteria don’t have a space to grow within the food. You may need to add more liquid after the air is released. You’ll want to maintain a 1/2-inch head space. Wipe the rims, place lids, and screw on lids finger-tight. Put them in hot water of boiling water canner and process according to jar size and the elevation you are canning at.

Video of removing air bubbles from jar of tomatoes:

Removing Air Bubbles from Canning Jar of Tomatoes

This shows how to remove air bubbles from jars when canning tomatoes.

If you want to make tomato juice, sauce, or paste, you don’t even have to peel the tomatoes to start with, you simply quarter them with skins on, simmer until soft, and run through a food mill or press to separate the juice from the skins and seeds. If you can it at this point with citric acid/lemon juice and salt, you have tomato juice. If you want tomato sauce or paste, you’ll need to cook the juice down until it is the thickness you desire, perhaps adding seasonings during the cooking. You can find more information on making these from the Tomato Resource page of the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Canning Ketchup

Blended ketchup vegetables.

Boiling Blended Veggies

Once your tomatoes are peeled, you can also make ketchup! The ketchup recipe from NDSU calls for adding sliced red and green sweet peppers and onions to the peeled tomatoes and blending them in a high speed blender. (Note, I made half a batch, because while I love ketchup, I’m the only one in my house that eats it and I don’t think I can really consume nine pints of ketchup on my own!) Then the blended veggies are set to gently boil for an hour. After an hour, vinegar, sugar, and spices are added and the mixture is boiled for as long as it takes to reduce by half and the ketchup mounds on a spoon, like we looked for when making apple butter. It took approximately two and a half hours for the ketchup to cook down to the mounding stage. When it got close, the mixture really began to splatter, so make sure you have a splatter guard handy to protect yourself and your kitchen!

When the ketchup is reduced, ladle it into hot, pre-sterilized jars and put into the boiling water canner for processing.

Example of "mounding" in jam, jelly, fruit butter, and ketchup making.

Example of “mounding”

In the end, this ketchup has great flavor but is on the sweet side. We don’t eat sugar all that much, so our taste buds are more sensitive to it. However, when I do a side-by-side comparison with commercially made ketchup, it is sweeter than that, too. The next time I make it I will cut some of the sugar. But it definitely is a keeper and I’m thrilled to have a zero waste option for ketchup!

Imperial Candlewick 3-piece Ketchup and Mustard Condiment Set .

Doesn’t it look great in my Imperial Candlewick Ketchup and Mustard Condiment Set with the mustard I made?


There are some great resources available for home canning. Internet resources are fantastic as they are generally most up to date. There are some standby books, but remember to get new ones every few years to be current with updated guidelines.

Ball® Blue Book® Guide to Preserving

National Center for Home Food Preservation

North Dakota State University Extension Canning Publications

Washington State University Extension Food Preservation

Iowa State University Preserve the Taste of Summer Online Canning Class

Ball® and Kerr® Fresh Preserving Website

My Vegan and Whole Food Plant-Based Canning Facebook Group

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