Ketchup Chronicles

You may have noticed that updates on here have been a bit sparse of late and I wanted to share with you why that is. Back in the summer, I started working on my own low salt, low sugar ketchup for toddlers and children. Initially, it just was to entice Archie to eat finger food and move away from his preference for mush. These were desperate times my friends and, at my lowest ebb, I discovered the magic of Heinz tomato ketchup.  Archie would lap anything up if there was Heinz in the mix but I was well aware of the sugar content. Naturally we explored Heinz's low salt, low sugar version but it's a poor relation. I decided to see what else was out there.

Having bought all Wholefood and Waitrose’s ketchup offerings, I started tasting them. It became clear that despite some brands being organic and appearing on the surface to be 'healthier', ingredients like carrots, apples or beetroot etc, they still had high levels of refined sugar and salt. The ones that tasted great had the highest levels of sugar and salt. Frustrated, I started to experiment with my own kid-friendly ketchup. I planned to create something as close to the market leaders but with no added salt or refined sugar.

After a lot of playing around I arrived at a recipe I was happy with, or so I thought, and Archie was lapping it up. Good times were here to stay my friends. Finger foods were back on the menu just as long as there was a decent dollop of ketchup Archie was happy. Bowls were licked clean leaving comedic red tashes on my hilarious toddler. I was content as I knew exactly what I was giving my son and it was, as far as ketchup can be, healthy. Let's be real here, ketchup is ketchup, it can never be wholly sugar-free and healthy. The main ingredient, tomatoes, are full of naturally occurring sugars. Before you've even added sweetening ingredients you're already in the fructose zone.

What happened next was nothing particularly spectacular but was to start me on a journey I am still on as I type. I posted my recipe up on here and thought nothing more of it. I caught up with a mate with a son the same age as Archie. I asked if she’d had a chance to make it for him to try, as he was also in a fussy phase. Unsurprisingly the reply was that she hadn’t had time. She was back at work full-time and daily grind is next level when you're a mother. This conversation happened a few more times - I know I’m a nag, what can I say! Long story short, she said she just didn't have time to be making ketchup from scratch but would love it if I could make her some. So I did. Later, she suggested I consider selling my kid's ketchup. The seed was planted.

I went into my kitchen and I've barely been out since. Some of you reading this, you know who you are, were kind enough to help me out early on. You let me test my first recipes on your children and you took the time to give me invaluable feedback (good and bad) and amazing messages of support. This feedback showed me there was potential in my idea and spurred me on to keep refining the recipe. I was determined to not only create a product I would be proud to put my name on but also happy to give my son. Those that know me know I'm a bit of a perfectionist. Well this journey has been a real exercise in knowing when to carry on refining something and when to stop. At times, I’ve nearly downed tools but it only ever last a couple of days. Soon inspiration would strike and I'd be back in my kitchen determined not to let the ketchup defeat me.

I've learned a lot along the way. The reality is sugar and salt make things taste good. There’s no getting away from the fact most kids love this magic combination. Finding a healthy alternative that makes a great end product has not been easy. Of course, there are natural alternatives to refined sugar, many getting a lot of hype at the moment, but they can also be slightly misleading. On a side note, sugar and salt also act as preservatives so if you're trying to create a product low in both this presents a whole new set of challenges. When I set out on this journey I wanted to be open and honest. No smoke and mirrors. No claiming to be healthy and ‘sugar-free’, when I know the reality is different.

Then there's legislation! God don't get me started on it. There's A LOT of legislation around product claims and food labelling when it comes to children. As a mother, obviously I'm really glad these laws are in place to protect us (somewhat) but this is also the reason there's been little action on here recently. For the last couple of months I've been attempting to wrap my head around the rules and regulations and trying to decide my best route.

I have tried approximately seven gazillion different recipes. Although I am hopefully within touching distance of the finish line, I’m not there yet. As I type my latest recipe is being analysed by a nutritionist who will tell me tomorrow (AGGHHH!) what product claims I can and cannot make. She will also tell me if, in her opinion, my current route is the most nutritionally sound for toddlers and children.  Once I have this information I will know the next set of challenges I face. The next big one looming on the horizon is the shelf life test DUN DUN DUNNNN – more on that next time!

Why have I have decided to share my journey with you now? Well, I'm devoted to this blog and I didn't want you to think I'd got bored and abandoned you. I haven't I promise! I also hope I'm getting close to the point I'll have something exciting to share with you, I hope. Finally, it becomes joyless beavering away at something behind closed doors. It's all consuming and can drive you a bit bonkers if you can't share the ups and downs along the way. The fear of failure is real and, until now, has stopped me from even hinting at what I’ve been doing. I wanted to wait until everything was perfect when, in reality, nothing will ever be perfect. The best way is to make mistakes and learn from them. From now on I'll keep you updated on my journey as the milestones happen. If it doesn't work out, well it'll make another great story to tell the grandkids!

 I can’t wait to share my finished product with you! Keep your finger’s tightly crossed for me please folks.

x Milly