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Serious Condiment Reporting

Does Whataburger spicy ketchup stack up to the competition?

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Whataburger spicy and fancy ketchup
Whataburger ketchups arrive in HEB supermarkets on Memorial Day weekend. Photo courtesy of Whataburger
Whataburger ketchup review
Ketchups, from left: Whataburger spicy, Whataburger fancy, Heinz, Trader Joe's organic. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Whataburger spicy and fancy ketchup
Whataburger ketchup review

The day has finally arrived. We can now buy Whataburger ketchup, spicy ketchup and mustard at HEB stores. Condiment news doesn't get much bigger than this. And the timing is divine: Memorial Day, the first weekend for serious backyard barbecue action.

Although the topic of mustard is most certainly newsworthy, much of the mania surrounding this news has to do with the spicy ketchup, which Whataburger first released in January 2012 but only for a limited time, then reissued permanently in March 2013.

Now that we have them in the bottle, it seems like the time to compare, contrast and review. Our lineup includes Whataburger spicy ketchup, Whataburger fancy ketchup, classic Heinz and Trader Joe's organic ketchup. We rate them by number of French fries, 4 being best. You can also read our parallel review of Whataburger mustard.

Whataburger spicy ketchup - 2 French fries
Ingredients: tomato concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, vinegar, red jalapeno pepper puree, sugar, salt, onion powder, potassium sorbate, garlic powder, spices, natural flavor
The spicy gives you a smack in the face the minute it hits your tongue, with a bracing, three-pronged punch of sharp, sour and hot. Hot but not sizzling, it lingers longer than you expect — on the top and sides of your tongue and on your lips. That heat contrasts nicely with the sweet, but it's more a sensory experience than a complexity of flavors; the ketchup part seems almost secondary. This is almost a hot sauce, and true to that ilk, it tastes rather shallow in the end.

Whataburger fancy ketchup - 1 French fry
Ingredients: tomato concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, vinegar, sugar, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, spices, natural flavors
The first hit is overly ripened tomatoes, with a caramel undertone. It's sweet, but the flavor seems a bit muddy, almost like canned tomato soup. With an ingredient list nearly identical to Heinz, it seems obvious who the role model is. It's a decent clone, though not as good when you compare them side by side.

Heinz tomato ketchup - 4 French fries
Ingredients: tomato concentrate, vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, natural flavoring
The standard by which all ketchups are measured, Heinz is like the happy face of ketchup. The color was the prettiest red, slightly paler and a bit more orange than the rest. Its appearance was impeccably glossy, with a light texture and a bright, chipper flavor. It may not be the most real food, but it's the one that defines what ketchup is for most of us. It's just so damned American.

Trader Joe's organic ketchup - 3 French fries
Ingredients: organic tomato puree, organic sugar, organic white vinegar, salt, organic onion powder, organic spices
FYI, this ketchup is organic. In case you missed that. It's also the only ketchup here that does not contain foul, evil high fructose corn syrup, which many consumers are shunning lately. If you want an HFCS-free ketchup, this is it. The flavor was sweet and most like real tomatoes, but with a spicier profile, maybe a sprinkle of cinnamon. The notable difference between TJ's and the rest was texture: This had the tiniest hint of pulp, almost granulated, though not unpleasantly so — just what you might expect with real tomatoes.

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