Earlier this year, I did an Asian hot sauce tasting for Bon Appetit magazine that included Filipino banana ketchup. I bought bottles of the leading brand, Jufran, and frankly, the stuff was oddly fake tasting in the banana department. There are many kinds of bananas in Southeast Asia and their funky fermented characteristics were in the sauces, as well as a ton of sugar. It was also bright red, practically like nail polish. I wondered what the real stuff was like.
What’s the back story on banana ketchup? Filipinos love American ketchup but during World War II, they had a tomato shortage. One woman resourcefully came up with a knockoff made with bananas. (If you’ve been to Southeast Asia, you know that bananas are ubiquitous and the many varieties are extra delicious.) Banana ketchup, also known as banana sauce, was a local hit and became as popular as ketchup, writes Marvin Gapultos in his debut book, The Adobo Road. As a result, anywhere Filipinos went, they brought their ketchup with them.
Fascinated, I made a batch this week from Marvin’s book. I bought two big bananas and over ripened them to ensure their sweetness. Marvin calls for annatto oil to brighten up the ketchup’s color so I improvised a shortcut, which wasn’t as intense-colored as his, but the impact was purely cosmetic.
When I was done, the ketchup didn’t look like your typical tomato-based ketchup. It was orange-brown, tangy, and thanks to the five chiles I added, it was spicy. The texture was like that of ketchup and the flavor, while earthy more than spritely, was pleasant in its own right. I can totally see how the Filipinos came to love their banana ketchup so much. Forget that bottled stuff and tinker with making your own!
(P.S., There are 3 copies of The Adobo Road up for grabs right now. Enter the giveaway by Monday, July 1, 2013.)
Spicy Filipino Banana Ketchup
Yield: 1 1/2 cups
- 2 tablespoon canola or peanut oil
- 3/4 teaspoon annatto seeds (optional)
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, mined
- 2 to 5 Thai or Serrano chiles, chopped
- 1 generous tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 large ripe bananas, mashed (net 9 oz / 270 gr)
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) water
- 2 packed tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground clove
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon regular soy sauce
- 1 bay leaf
- Put the oil and annatto seeds in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat and let gently sizzle for 3 to 5 minutes, until the seeds are nearly black. Cool for a minute, then use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the seeds. If you’re not using the annatto seeds, go to the next step.
- Heat the oil over medium heat, add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and chile, stir and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until aromatic. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is orange red and the tomato is no longer visible.
- Add the mashed bananas, stir to combine well. Then add the vinegar, water, sugar, pepper, clove, salt, soy sauce, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, partially covered, for 20 to 30 minutes, until thick like—ketchup! Remove from the heat, cool for 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
- Use a mini food processor or blender to puree the mixture. Taste and add water to thin, sugar to sweeten, or vinegar to tartness. Transfer to a jar and use, or refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
Adapted from The Adobo Road by Marvin Gapultos (Tuttle, 2014).
- 3 Interesting Indonesian Hot Sauces
- Sriracha Hot Sauce Week (links to articles and recipes on VWK, Bon Appetit, and BusinessWeek)
- Homemade Sriracha Chile Sauce recipe