Ketchup Decantation – The Definitive Report

How To Pour Ketchup From A Glass Bottle

As it is written,

Shake and shake the ketchup bottle
None will come
And then a lottle

DrHGuy’s Decadent Qualifications

One should first understand that DrHGuy is exclusively interested in the skill of ketchup-pouring, and then only on a conceptual and dilettantish basis. In fact, were it not for his compassion and concern for those ketchup-cravers in the Heck Of A Guy audience, DrHGuy would have no objection to 100% of all ketchup remaining in its designated bottle, thus precluding its contamination of innocent and otherwise potentially tasty food.2

Far from being a ketchup aficionado, DrHGuy is, in reality, ketchup-avoidant, thus eliminating self-interest from today’s task, the elucidation of strategies for socially appropriate yet efficacious extraction of ketchup from its traditional container. This selflessness not only allows for dispassionate evaluation and assessment of techniques but paradoxically endows this quest with a certain purity and sanctity, not unlike the Arthurian search for the Holy Grail.

Those readers who erroneously assumed this post was the consequence of the author’s ketchup lust need not, however, take it hard; it’s an easy mistake to make. Perhaps, for example, one was thinking of DrHGuy’s father, who started every morning with a plate of scrambled eggs slathered in ketchup.3

DrHGuy is, on the other hand, all about performing every task, great and small, with elegant competence,4 especially if doing so involves eighth grade level science.

And, notwithstanding his genuine admiration and enjoyment of Carly Simon’s hit song, Anticipation, both as a concert number and, more pertinently to this discussion, in its reincarnation as a Heinz Ketchup TV advertisement, DrHGuy, it may surprise you to learn, is not a patient fellow. Watchful waiting may be the appropriate medical recommendation in some cases and serene forbearance may be necessary in raising offspring but these are not acceptable tactics, in the author’s view, for condiment availability and application.

The Task

To eliminate trick answers, I am officially defining the mission at hand as

Pouring ketchup from a classic glass ketchup bottle

So you smartypants folks who were planning to allow me to go through my usual prolix and complex explanations (which I indeed will) only to then trump my recommendation with “Why not just squeeze the ketchup from one of those handy-dandy plastic squirt bottles?” can put away those smirks.

We’re talking about the all-American, classic, narrow-neck glass bottle which provides a suitable challenge for the true dining sportsman.

We are not talking about squeeze bottles, bottles designed to stand on their lids, fast-food condiment dispensers, overhead dispensers, pump dispensers, wide-mouth jars, and such, which yield their contents to any wuss who can locate its point of egress.

This (the portion prior to the squeeze bottle introduction) is what I mean.

Time In A Bottle

The Heinz classic ketchup bottle was by no means a casual or random design. The narrow neck simplified pouring and minimized the content’s contact with air, which could darken the sauce. Most importantly, the clear glass bottle, demonstrated the purity and quality of the contents, especially at a time when other manufacturers packaged their product in barrels that obscured the use of cheap fillers (turnips were a popular choice).

This bottle design reigned until the 1980s when plastic squeezable containers, which were safer as well as more convenient, became available and soon outsold the glass bottles. In fact, these days Heinz sells ketchup packaged in glass bottles only to foodservice establishments.

This limited distribution of glass ketchup bottles does not, however, lessen the need for the upcoming generation to develop the skills necessary to extract the condiment from the container. In fact, today’s whippersnappers, lacking experience with this task in the home environment, need instruction all the more if they are to avoid a public faux pas and consequent humiliation.

Of course, glass ketchup bottles will eventually be eliminated altogether. For a vision of ketchup dispensing in that brave new world, check out this must-be-seen-to-be-believed video of a mechanized Ketchup Krapper wrought by those wacky MIT kids.

The Science

The inhibition of ketchup flow through narrow neck bottles involves two interactive scientific concepts:

1. High static shear strength. Ketchup is, as any schoolchild knows,5 thixotropic, i.e., it has a consistency that is gel-like at rest, but fluid when agitated.6

Our problem is that, unless the restaurant hired the Flying Karamazov Brothers to entertain the diners by juggling, in addition to their everyday repertoire of chain saws, bowling balls, cotton balls, and bananas, any ketchup bottles not currently in use, the ketchup has probably been at rest and is consequently in its gel state, blocking the bottle neck. Our goal is the inducement of shear thinning, transforming the ketchup from a more or less solid state to a liquid form.

2. Air blockage. To pour anything from any container under ordinary conditions, the substance (in this case, the ketchup) has to be displaced by another substance, which is typically air. If one is pouring a simple liquid, say, oh … vodka, that’s not a big deal – because vodka, at room temperature, has no significant static shear strength and when poured, easily surrenders a channel for air to enter the vessel the vodka is departing. On the other hand, if one is pouring a thixotropic substance, like nail polish or whipped cream or ketchup, then getting air through the plug blocking the container’s opening may be more challenging.7

The Solution(s)

The desired facilitation of ketchup flow can be effected by overcoming either the ketchup’s static shear strength or the air blockage or both.

1. The Bump
Remove the cap. Hold the bottle horizontally (i.e., with the long axis of the bottle parallel to the floor).

Then rotate the open end downward 10-45 degrees.

Rotating the bottle more than 45 degrees or inverting it such that the opening is pointed directly at the floor is counterproductive. The idea is to induce a sideways flow since, as it turns out, sideways forces are the most likely to induce shear thinning.

Tap the lower surface of the bottle’s neck (the encircled “57″8 on the neck label of the Heinz Ketchup bottle is a convenient target) repeatedly with the heel of your hand.

If you are right-handed, this is most efficiently accomplished by holding the bottle in the left hand (palm down) and bringing the hands together as though applauding – politely.

This mild agitation is sufficient to liquefy a portion of the ketchup, propel it obliquely toward the bottom of the bottle, and allow air to enter the bottle, thus fulfilling the conditions necessary for flow.

1A. The Horizontal Bop (The Jiggle Variation Of The Bump)
With the cap on the bottle, force the ketchup from the neck of the bottle by holding the bottle vertically with the cap pointed up and striking the bottom of the bottle against the palm of the hand. Then, remove the cap and rotate the bottle just past the horizontal plane. Jiggle the neck of the bottle in a plane parallel to the floor. The sideways forces induces shear thinning and, with it, ketchup flow. Once flow begins, gravity will cause the flow to continue as long as an air path exists between the outside and inside of the bottle.

2. The Sole Shake
With the cap on, shake the bottle a few times. Then take off the cap and rotate the open end downward just past the horizontal. The shaking causes shear thinning of the thixotropic ketchup.

3. The Western Swing
With the cap on, hold the bottle such that the long axis of the bottle is along your forearm with the cap of the bottle pointing away from you. Swing your arm and the bottle together as a pendulum (to create centrifugal force) for a few seconds. Stop swinging, open the bottle, and pour.

If transforming oneself into a centrifuge to extract ketchup from its bottle seems a bit over the top, there is an alternative methodology that uses the same principles without requiring the public arm swinging:

1. Apply for and be accepted into the astronaut training program
2. When placed in a centrifuge similar to that pictured below as part of the training, smuggle aboard the bottle of ketchup

3. Hold the ketchup bottle such that the capped end is pointed away from the center of the centrifuge
4. Spin
5. Stop
6. Open and rotate the bottle to taste
7. Pour

4. The Mr. Wizard (AKA Turkey With A Straw)
This method requires a flexible plastic drinking straw, AKA a “bendy straw,” (no, there is no slurping involved; this is the Mr. Wizard Method, not the Animal House Tactic), which may or may not be available at a restaurant. In any case, users of The Mr. Wizard Method seem the sort to bring along two of three in their plastic pen protectors.

With the ketchup bottle upright and uncapped, place your thumb over the end of the straw, and insert it into the ketchup as far as possible. Remove your thumb, and bend the straw over the neck of the bottle, taking care to keep the lumen of the straw open. Hold the bottleneck and the portion of the straw sticking out of the bottle neck with one hand.

The straw provides a channel for air to enter the bottle.

Invert the bottle-and-straw unit. Pour. Graciously acknowledge the adoration of your audience.

An Inspirational Moment

The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle is a 170 feet tall water tower in Collinsville, Illinois built in 1949 for the G.S. Suppiger catsup bottling plant, bottlers of Brooks catsup.


  1. This sage observation, formatted as delightful doggerel, is properly ascribed to Richard Willard Armour. The frequently seen attribution to Ogden Nash is inaccurate but does have an historic basis. A few years before Mr. Armour’s ditty became known wherever condiments are revered, Oggie wrote

    The Catsup Bottle
    First a little
    Then a lottle

    Mr. Armour, it appears, then borrowed Mr. Nash’s rhyme, transformed the title into a first line, and thus earned his place in this country’s populist poetry pantheon. []

  2. DrHGuy’s interest in ketchup-pouring thus parallels his appreciation of caber tossing; both undertakings are undoubtedly difficult to execute and thus worthy of admiration when done well, but, all the same, DrHGuy cares not a whit if the cabers and condiments in question are actually transported from one location to another []
  3. Fun Fact: only 4% of people in the US use ketchup on their eggs although this practice is widespread in Russia. Also, many Swedes put ketchup on their pasta. From: Anticipation, Monte Burke, Forbes December 12, 2005 []
  4. To grasp the notion of performing a task with elegant competence, it may be helpful to envision the stylish, efficient, almost cavalier manner in which James Bond – the James Bond as played by the young Sean Connery rather than the later pretenders – vanquished villains and bedded babes. Can you imagine the tuxedoed James, dining at a four-star, all night diner in Paris, pounding his fist on the bottom of a ketchup bottle to apply a dollop of that sauce onto his Veau à la persillade? I didn’t think so. []
  5. Assuming that schoolchild had Mr. Maupin as his science teacher []
  6. Other thixotropic comestibles include yogurt, mayonnaise, cottage cheese, and whipped cream. Thixotropy is a also a factor in earthquakes (certain clays that are stable at rest liquefy under certain, sideway stresses), quicksand, epoxies, and paints. Theoretical physicists and the folks at NASA spend a good deal of time pondering this phenomenon. []
  7. Consequently, it is unsurprising that the Catsup Cosmopolitan has never achieved the popularity during the cocktail hour as the Vodka Martini. []
  8. The “57″ in “Heinz 57″ is derived from the number of varieties of pickle the company once carried []

0 Responses to Ketchup Decantation – The Definitive Report

  1. Circles, arrows, footnotes. Footnotes! You are a delightful man! More correctly, I find your blog delightful, you may very well be, perhaps, a teensy bit too meticulous to be delightful. Then again …

  2. When an author is too meticulous about his style, you may presume that his mind is frivolous and his content flimsy
    Lucius Annaeus Seneca

    Yeah, and your point is … ?