I’ll admit I’d never thought of this before. but the “Verbal Energy” column in the Feb. 9, 2015 issue of the Christian Science Monitor takes this on.
It seems the word “ketchup” comes from Chinese, or more specifically Hokkien, which is the language of southern Fujian and Taiwan. Ke means “preserved fish” and tschup means “sauce”, so the original ketchup was fish sauce in Hokkien and Cantonese. Traders brought this idea to Europe, where the recipe evolved for local tastes. An early English recipe used mushrooms, for example. One version with tomatoes came to America, and with sugar became our popular condiment.
The column’s source is the Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky. Jurafsky traces derivations of all types of food terms, along with the circumstances of how they spread.
To see the full column, visit http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Verbal-Energy/2015/0205/History-of-the-world-in-a-ketchup-bottle