Poisonous Catsup [i.e. Ketchup]

This article is very often subjected to one of the most reprehensible modes of adulteration ever devised. Quantities are daily to be met with, which, on a chemical examination, are found to abound with copper. Indeed, this condiment is often nothing else than the residue left behind after the process employed for obtaining distilled vinegar, subsequently diluted with a decoction of the outer green husk of the walnut, and seasoned with all-spice, Cayenne pepper, pimento, onions, and common salt.

The quantity of copper which we have, more than once, detected in this sauce, used for seasoning, and which, on account of its cheapness, is much resorted to by people in the lower walks of life, has exceeded the proportion of lead to be met with in other articles employed in domestic economy.

The following account of Mr. Lewis [111] on this subject, will be sufficient to cause the public to be on their guard.

"Being in the habit of frequently purchasing large quantities of pickles and other culinary sauces, for the use of my establishment, and also for foreign trade, it fell lately to my lot to purchase from a manufacturer of those commodities a quantity of walnut catsup, apparently of an excellent quality; but, to my great surprise, I had reason to believe that the article might be contaminated with some deleterious substance, from circumstances which happened in my business as a tavern keeper, but which are unnecessary to be detailed here; and it was this that induced me to make inquiry concerning the compounding of the suspected articles.

"The catsup being prepared by boiling in a copper, as is usually practised, the outer green shell of walnuts, after having been suffered to turn black on exposure to air, in combination with common salt, with a portion of pimento and pepper-dust, in common vinegar, strengthened with some vinegar extract, left behind as residue in the still of vinegar manufacturers; I therefore suspected that the catsup might be impregnated with some copper. To convince myself of this opinion. I boiled down to dryness a quart of it in a stone pipkin, which yielded to me a dark brown mass. I put this mass into a crucible, and kept it in a coal fire, red-hot, till it became reduced to a porous black charcoal; on urging the heat with a pair of bellows, and stirring the mass in the crucible with the stem of a tobacco-pipe, it became, after two hours' exposure to an intense heat, converted into a greyish-white ash; but no metal could be discriminated amongst it. I now poured upon it some aqua fortis, which dissolved nearly the whole of it, with an effervescence; and produced, after having been suffered to stand, to let the insoluble portion subside, a bright grass-green solution, of a strong metallic taste; after immersing into this solution the blade of a knife, it became instantly covered with a bright coat of copper.

"The walnut catsup was therefore evidently strongly impregnated with copper. On informing the manufacturer of this fact, he assured me that the same method of preparing the liquor was generally pursued, and that he had manufactured the article in a like manner for upwards of twenty years.

"Such is the statement I wish to communicate; and if you will allow it a place in your Literary Chronicle, it may perhaps tend to put the unwary on their guard against the practice of preparing this sauce by boiling it in a copper, which certainly may contaminate the liquor, and render it poisonous."


[111]Literary Chronicle, No. 24, p. 379.