Is Ketchup Vegan? Uh, It Depends How Technical You Want to Get

You made the switch to a plant-based diet. Kudos to you. You’ve probably learned by now that nothing saves a dry veggie burger like ketchup, the sticky elixir that can bring any sandwich or basket of fries to life. But is ketchup vegan? The truth is more complicated than you might think.

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Is Ketchup Vegan?

The answer is yes—sometimes. Most ketchups are made from tomatoes, vinegar, salt, spices and some kind of sweetener, like sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The sugar is where things can get hairy. It turns out not all sugar is vegan, because a lot of white sugar is bleached by being filtered through animal bone char. Bone char is a black, porous material made from charred animal bones, namely cattle. The bone char acts as a decolorizing filter for raw sugar. Some companies have swapped to granular carbon, but it’s impossible to know how sugar in a product is made just from reading the ingredients on the bottle, says America’s Test Kitchen.

We know what you’re thinking: What about brown sugar? Since it’s typically made by adding molasses to white sugar, brown sugar is no different—unless it’s organic. So, if you’re a strict vegan, ketchups made with conventional sugar can be a no-go. (For what it’s worth, PETA says obsessing over micro-ingredients in food can make veganism seem difficult to non-vegans, which could potentially hurt the cause down the road.) In addition, ketchups sweetened with honey also aren’t vegan, since honey comes from bees.

Organic granulated white sugar, brown sugar and confectioners’ sugar are never processed with bone char, so ketchups made with them are vegan. Next time you’re shopping for a bottle, check the ingredients for organic sugar if you want to play it safe. Or, stick to vegan brands. Speaking of…

What Ketchup Brands Are Vegan?

Heinz Tomato Ketchup, the essential king of all ketchups, is vegan because it’s sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (which is always vegan, BTW) and contains plant-based ingredients. Hunt’s Classic Tomato Ketchup is also vegan for the same reason. Heinz Simply Tomato Ketchup and Hunt’s 100% Natural Tomato Ketchup, on the other hand, might not be totally vegan because they’re non-organic and sweetened with cane sugar, which might have been filtered through bone char. Target’s Market Pantry and Organic Simply Balanced ketchups are also vegan.

Organic picks, like Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup or Annie’s Naturals Organic Ketchup, are also vegan because they’re made with organic sugar. Sugar that’s certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture can’t be filtered through bone char.

Here are a few other popular vegan brands:

  • 365 Everyday Value Organic Tomato Ketchup
  • Tessemae’s Organic Ketchup
  • Primal Kitchen Organic Unsweetened Ketchup
  • Veg’d Organics Vegan All-Natural Ketchup
  • True Made Foods Ketchup
  • Westbrae Natural Organic Unsweetened Ketchup
  • Sir Kensington’s Ketchup
  • Fody Foods Vegan Tomato Ketchup
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Photo by Rafa Elias/Getty Images

Is Ketchup Plant-Based?

Here’s the thing: Being plant-based and vegan are two different things. In fact, you can eat animal products and even meat on a plant-based or flexitarian diet every so often. By that logic, ketchup is always plant-based because it’s mostly made from tomatoes, regardless of whether the sugar in it is vegan.

Are There Animal Products in Ketchup?

If a ketchup is vegan, that means there are no animal products in it whatsoever. Unless it contains a sweetener like honey, it’s animal product-free. While granulated sugar bleached through bone char isn’t technically an animal product, strict vegans might still not consume ketchup made with it.

Is There Dairy in Ketchup?

Ketchup is naturally dairy-free. If you’re shopping funky brands or flavors, feel free to check the ingredients label to make sure.

How to Store Ketchup

Ketchup is so naturally acidic that it’s shelf-stable. It can therefore be stored at room temperature, at least until it’s opened. Once it’s open, Heinz would tell you to store it in the fridge to extend its shelf life. While the refrigerator will keep opened ketchup good for up to six months, there’s technically no real need to keep it cold. Tomatoes and vinegar help preserve it, so it’ll likely be just fine on your pantry shelf. Once the color or scent seems off to you, it’s time for a new bottle.

How to Use Ketchup

Sure, ketchup’s tasty squirted on everything from fries to eggs. We also love it mixed into our mashed potatoes (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it). But ketchup is also a surprisingly solid substitute for tomato paste. As long as your recipe calls for some other thickening ingredient besides tomato paste, ketchup will hold down the fort just fine. You can also reduce ketchup on the stove prior to substituting to give it a thicker consistency that’s closer to tomato paste. The more you know.

Ketchup also works wonders in food. Here are some of our favorite recipes that call for ketchup:

taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...