Cherry Chipotle “Not Ketchup”

Erika Kerekes writes the award-winning blog In Erika’s Kitchen and is the creator of Not Ketchup™, a new line of gourmet “fruit ketchup” sauces and dips. Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google Plus.

Cherry Chipotle 'Not Ketchup'

The idea for Not Ketchup came to me one day last summer. I was tired of making jam and decided to turn a pound of ripe plums into a sort of ketchup. Vinegar, onions, sugar, spices…the resulting sauce was tangy and delicious with a peppery kick. I could imagine it slathered on roast chicken, dolloped on a burger, pooled next to a plate of french fries. It was like ketchup, but much more complex and interesting.

This is really good, I thought. I should bottle it.

Thus was born Not Ketchup. (Why the name? The FDA has strict rules: No tomatoes, can’t call it ketchup.) I hoped the world would love my modern, gourmet take on America’s most popular condiment. Ripe fresh fruit, sweet onions, pure apple cider vinegar, unprocessed sweeteners like honey and palm sugar: I had visions of brightly colored bottles of my all-natural, completely unprocessed sauces lining supermarket shelves.

And then I discovered that if I wanted to sell to large retailers and ever make a dime, I’d have to make a few compromises.

When you make a food product in small batches to sell at farmers markets or directly to consumers online, you can make it pretty much the same way as in your home kitchen. Keeping things unprocessed is relatively easy. But when you’re making a food product in a manufacturing plant in large quantities, a product that has to stay fresh and consistent for months, you have new considerations.

Food safety is priority number one. How long will it take for your product to start to degrade? Obviously, the longer the better – but creating a stable product with a long shelf life probably means altering your recipe.

And money becomes an overriding concern. You start with the retail cost of your product: How much will stores be able to charge per unit? Take half that number, and that’s how much retailers will pay you. Halve it again, and that’s the ceiling for your per-unit production cost.

Do the math: It’s not a lot. And then there are other costs: labels, bottles, shipping, marketing, sales commissions. The higher your production costs, the less money you make on each bottle sold.

Cherry Chipotle Not-Ketchup

The experienced food technologist I hired to develop the formula and manufacturing process for Not Ketchup reminded me daily of my bottom line. The standard approach for making a product like this industrially, he explained, is to maximize the amount of water and sugar in the bottle, because those are the cheapest ingredients. The reason Heinz can sell huge bottles of its standard tomato ketchup for just a few bucks is that it’s full of corn syrup (two kinds!), water, and tomato paste. Tomato paste is cheap. Cherries, blueberries, and plums are very expensive by comparison.

But I didn’t want to make that kind of product. Certain things were non-negotiable. Real fruit had to be the primary ingredient, and I was determined to put as much fruit into each bottle of Not Ketchup as I could afford. I insisted on unprocessed sweeteners like honey, palm sugar, and turbinado sugar, which are significantly more expensive than plain old white sugar. We added no preservatives, no artificial colors, no artificial flavors.

But in order to be able to sell Not Ketchup with a 12-month shelf life – desirable, even necessary, in the eyes of retailers – ultimately I did add several ingredients I wouldn’t have used at home. After failed experiments with date paste and dietary fiber, xanthan gum proved to be the best way to maintain the product’s texture. And “natural flavors” will keep the acid in Not Ketchup from overtaking the fruit flavor as the bottles sit on grocery store shelves.

I know these compromises mean that Not Ketchup doesn’t pass the October Unprocessed test. But it’s delicious, it complies with Whole Foods’ strict ingredient standards, it’s a product I believe people will like and buy, and the numbers work.

For October Unprocessed, here’s the totally unprocessed version of my Cherry Chipotle Not Ketchup. It’s equally delicious on a turkey sandwich, with sweet potato fries, or served alongside a juicy steak. If you want more heat, feel free to increase the chipotle powder.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Cherry Chipotle "Not Ketchup"
Recipe Type: Condiment
Prep Time: 
Cook Time: 
Total Time: 
  • 1 pound Bing cherries, pitted (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • ⅔ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup palm sugar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon dried mustard powder
  • ¼ teaspoon dried ground chipotle powder
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
  2. Pour into a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the cherry mixture to a boil, turn down the heat a little, and simmer briskly about 45 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to make sure the Not Ketchup isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  3. When the Not Ketchup looks thickened and glossy, pour it into a clean jar or bottle and store in the refrigerator. Use within 1 month.

Powered by

, , , ,

19 Responses to Cherry Chipotle “Not Ketchup”

  1. Dustin November 13, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    This looks fantastic! Enough so that I’m thinking it would make a great Christmas gift… and I was wondering if it would be safe to pressure can it? I’m assuming not, or you wouldn’t have so much trouble keeping it shelf stable for 12 months, but it would make a lovely gift so I have to ask.

    • Erika {In Erika's Kitchen} November 13, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

      Dustin, truthfully I’m not sure. It is a highly acidic product so if you fill it hot and seal it will probably be fine…but I wouldn’t want to guarantee that. I think you can process it the way you’d do jam. Or give it as a refrigerated (perishable) gift. :)

      • Dustin November 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

        Looking for reputable sources for similar recipes, the Washington Post has this ( which they claim is water bath safe, so given that yours has even more vinegar and less cherries, plus pressure canning is far safer than water bath, I would assume it would be complete safe to pressure can your recipe.

  2. Cynthia @What A Girl Eats November 9, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    Sounds fantastic Erika! Can’t wait to try this!

  3. Dorothy at Shockingly Delicious November 3, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Cannot wait to buy your product in stores! In the meantime, I need to make this recipe to tide me over.

  4. sippitysup October 31, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    Interesting journey you are on I can’t wait to see where it goes. I have a fig ketchup recipe I serve with duck sliders. FDA be damned because I call it ketchup. Of course I’m not selling it so I’m sure they just don’t care anyway. Good luck. XOGREG

  5. Erika {In Erika's Kitchen} October 27, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    @Alice, Dana, Valentina: Thanks for sharing my excitement! And yes, it will be in stores soon…probably sometime in early December (she says hopefully).

  6. Valentina October 27, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    Erika — I’m in LOVE with this idea. Sounds delicious! So does this mean “Not Ketchup” will be avail in stores soon!?

  7. Dana @ Foodie Goes Healthy October 27, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    Wow Erika– so excited for your new product. I loved hearing about how recipe development is different for products on the market shelf. Thanks for sharing your unprocessed version– sounds delicious!

  8. Alice October 27, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    This sounds yummy. Thanks so much for sharing the recipe!

  9. Erika {In Erika's Kitchen} October 27, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    I have made “ketchup” like this using many different fruits: cherries, blueberries, blackberries, plums, kiwi, apricots. The basic formula is similar: fruit, vinegar, sugar, salt, spices. I decided to formulate the Cherry Chipotle flavor first for production because I thought it had the broadest market appeal. Plum is coming later….

  10. kerry surface October 27, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    natural flavors???????

  11. E. Caesar October 27, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    In the article you first loved it and wanted to share it when using a pound of ripe plums. Where are the plums in the current recipe? Can one substitute the plums for the cherries? Thank you for the recipe – and the interesting story!

  12. Erika {In Erika's Kitchen} October 27, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    @Suzyhomemaker good question. In the case of Not Ketchup, they are lab-made versions of the actual chemical compounds in cherries (in this case) that give the fruit its aroma and taste. They come from real food and meet Whole Foods’ strict standards for natural ingredients. No, you probably couldn’t make them in your kitchen, at least not without an advanced chemistry degree. But they are the chemical equivalents to compounds that occur naturally in fresh fruit.

    This article has some more information:

  13. Kathy October 27, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    I want to try this one. I cannot eat tomatoes as they give me a migraine, so I’m excited for a non tomato ketchup!

  14. suzyhomemaker October 27, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    So I have to ask, what are the “natural flavors”?

    And thank you for the recipe. It really looks delicious.


  1. Gruyere and Thyme Goureges with Not Ketchup - Adventures in the Kitchen - January 16, 2014
  2. Not Ketchup - Dip Differently | She Paused for Thought - January 14, 2014
  3. Kale Salad with Chicken, Garbanzos and Oranges with Cherry Chipotle Dressing — Shockingly Delicious - January 14, 2014

Leave a Reply

Rate Recipe: