The Origin of Banana Ketchup
Banana Ketchup Ingredients | Photo Courtesy of Food Network
By Kristine Cannon
Open the fridge or pantry of any Filipino, and you’ll see the holy quattuorvirate: fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar and — yes, you guessed it — banana ketchup.
This sauce is arguably as versatile as the American equivalent, ketchup (or catsup if you’re fancy like that), used to dip, fry and smother your food of choice — from egg rolls and lumpia to spaghetti. It’s considered an essential component to many Filipino dishes. But what makes the two condiments different? Banana ketchup has, as one would expect, a banana puree base; but it’s the added selected spices, chili, sugar and vinegar that gives it its distinct sweet-and-spicy flavor that has Filipinos coming back for more.
But while the taste is indisputably unique, it’s the history behind banana ketchup that’s a real headscratcher.
To start, the story of banana ketchup is more folklore than anything, due to the fact the origins were never properly recorded. So settle in as we set the scene: The place? The Philippines. The time period? Around World War II. The characters? Maria Y. Orosa and Magdalo V. Francisco.
It’s said, when the Philippines was a U.S. territory during or after World War II, banana ketchup was created due to the lack of tomatoes in the area, causing a shortage of tomato ketchup. Because of the high production of bananas in the Philippines, the fruit was substituted to create as close a resemblance to ketchup as possible.
Banana Ketchup Ingredients | Photo courtesy by Lifestyle
This next part, however, is where it gets tricky. According to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, we have chemist, war heroine and pharmacist Maria Y. Orosa to thank for the creation of banana ketchup. Orosa, who hailed from Batangas — a province in the Calabarzon region in Luzo — is also most notably credited with the making of calamansi juice, calamansi nip and Soyalac, a powdered preparation of soya beans that helped saved thousands of Filipinos’, Americans’ and others’ lives while they were held prisoners in Japanese concentration camps during WWII. As a food technologist, it’s through her many studies, research and innovations and experiments in plant utilization and canning that led her to creating banana ketchup via combining bananas, mangoes and tomatoes.
However, according to UCF marketing materials, it’s Magdalo V. Francisco who’s credited with using banana as a ketchup base. Francisco, the man behind the popular UCF brand, is also reported as inventing the technology of making banana ketchup in 1938. In the midst of World War II, he produced the ketchup in commercial quantities, naming the brand Mafran at the time and later expanding it to Universal Food Corporation in 1960.
So which is it? Do we credit Orosa or Francisco for creating it? And did it actually originate during WWII?
While the history might be a bit blurry, yet admittedly intriguing, we do know a few things for sure: we certainly won’t stop using banana ketchup anytime soon; introducing its perplexing taste to our non-Filipino friends will forever be one of our favorite pastimes; and at least now we have a story to serve along with our banana ketchup-laden dishes.
Banana Ketchup Sauce | Photo courtesy by Pepper.ph