Let the Japanese have their toyo and the Thais have their patis. If there was such a thing as a Philippine national condiment, banana ketchup would probably be it.
It’s been said that banana ketchup was invented by Filipino food technologist Maria Orosa, who wanted to address the shortage of tomatoes during World War II by using various locally available fruits. But it was another Filipino food chemist, Magdalo Francisco, who is credited for being the first to commercially mass produce the red condiment, under the brand name Mafran (which is a portmanteau of “Magdalo” and “Francisco”).
Nowadays, there are many brands of banana ketchup, but they all can be traced back to the recipes of these two pioneers. Banana ketchup is made from varying amounts of just four basic ingredients — puréed bananas, vinegar, sugar, and spices. In reviewing the various supermarket brands, we decided to rate them based on their sweetness, sourness, spiciness, and thickness (a likely indication of its overall banana content).
Incidentally, during the war, Orosa also invented a food preparation called Soyalac, which helped save thousands of starving Filipino and American soldiers held in Japanese prison camps. For this invention, the government named a street near Luneta after her — the inventor of banana ketchup — in an area where the street names honor Filipino heroes and revolutionaries. But that, it turns out, is just a small part of the banana ketchup’s long and interesting history.
UFC Tamis Anghang Banana Catsup (Php 18.25 per 320g bottle)
Decades ago, before Ultimate Fighting became a thing, the letters UFC were synonymous to banana ketchup. Today, UFC is still considered the baseline for what banana ketchup should taste like, or even look like: it’s a thick, deep red, sweet-sour sauce with specks of black pepper and chili bits giving that unmistakable heat and spice. It has a well-balanced flavor, but surprisingly, no aroma — it’s mostly taste. But this taste has a long, spicy finish that lingers even after the meal is over.
UFC’s history is similarly spicy. Universal Foods Corporation was founded in 1960 when a financier named Tirso Reyes agreed to fund Magdalo Francisco’s expanding Mafran business. The partnership was short-lived, however, when a dispute involving a lack of raw materials (and consequently, a lack of finished products) ended in Francisco being fired from his job as chief chemist. Francisco went on to establish Jufran, a rival banana ketchup brand, while UFC underwent many changes of ownership until it was finally acquired by the company now known as NutriAsia, which owns UFC today.
Jufran Banana Ketchup (Php 23.00 per 320g bottle)
As mentioned earlier, Jufran was the “revenge” banana ketchup formulated by Magdalo Francisco after his bad breakup with his previous company, UFC. Rather than reviving his original “Mafran” brand, he decided to name his new condiment “Jufran”, after his son Magdalo “Jun” Francisco, Jr.. It is said that the chief chemist even tweaked the ketchup’s formulation and marketed it as a “banana sauce” (rather than a banana ketchup) so as not to further complicate any legal issues with UFC. Fortunately for the elder Francisco, this new formula was well received by the general public, and it went on to become the in-house condiment of another Pinoy food legend, Max’s Fried Chicken. This co-branding arrangement made Jufran a more upmarket ketchup compared to UFC, and this is reflected in Jufran’s higher price tag.
The pairing with Max’s is well-considered, though. In our opinion, Jufran works best on (unbreaded) fried chicken because it is the sourest among all banana ketchups reviewed. It’s this fruity acidity that not only complements the flavor of well-browned, fatty bits like chicken skin, but it also brings out the flavor of blander portions like chicken breast. Theoretically, such a sauce should also work well on any fried white meat like pork loin, or even tilapia — but probably not for burgers, french fries or hash browns, as the label on the bottle would suggest. In a strange twist of fate, NutriAsia eventually acquired both the Mafran and Jufran brands, making NutriAsia the country’s dominant banana ketchup manufacturer.
Lasap Banana Catsup (Php 14.90 per 330g bottle)
With its simple, no-frills packaging, Lasap is the cheapest banana ketchup you can buy. Manufactured by a relatively unknown company in La Loma called Billie’s Marketing, Lasap is also one of the thickest — which is good, because it suggests a higher banana content. This makes sense if you believe that Lasap is handcrafted by a small, upstart operation willing to take on the NutriAsia goliath by using a secret family recipe, and with no concern for fancy packaging or promotions. Sadly, this is not the case. Lasap tastes plain and uninteresting. The most likely reason Lasap is affordable is because it has less of the flavorful ingredients. At best, its lack of spiciness and kick makes it more suitable as a semi-neutral thickening ingredient (to a spaghetti sauce, for example) than as a sandwich condiment or dipping sauce.
Papa Sweet Sarap Banana Ketchup (Php 16.50 per 320g bottle)
Papa Ketchup is similar in taste to Lasap, but slightly more sour (which suggests more vinegar). This, in turn, cuts the sweetness down a notch. This brand became popular in the early ’90s because of its catchy name and its TV ads aimed at kids. Why kids? Because among all of NutriAsia’s stable of ketchups, Papa is perhaps the “kid-friendliest,” with the least amount of spices (black pepper and chilies). Twenty years after it first appeared, Papa’s kid-friendly branding still lives on — just check out the Minions from Despicable Me! (clutching bananas, of course) on every bottle’s label.
This use of officially licensed mascots is a far cry from Papa’s early days when it was first acquired by UFC. Papa was designed to be sold “tingi” (literally, by the scoop) out of large containers at local wet markets, in order to establish it as UFC’s downmarket stable-mate. Now that Papa has clearly leveled up, one wonders if it’s possible that Lasap is actually a NutriAsia downmarket brand in disguise, designed to be the new “palengke” ketchup. Interestingly, if you look closely at Lasap’s bottle, you’ll find the UFC logo clearly embossed, and the bottle even has a similar white cap.
Mother’s Best Banana Ketchup (Php 18.00 per 340g bottle)
Mother’s Best is somewhat of an outlier in the banana ketchup business because it’s one of the few of brands not manufactured by NutriAsia. Its manufacturer, HDR Foods Corp., is known more for that slender bottle of hot sauce found in many cafeterias and Filipino restaurants. In its incursion into banana ketchup territory, they’ve come up with a condiment that tastes very similar to the spiciness of UFC but with the sweetness of Papa. This cross-breeding of flavors would make it ideal for both kids and adults at the same time, making it a worthy contender against NutriAsia’s brands. The finish however, is noticeably shorter than UFC’s — the banana ketchup aftertaste dissipates faster, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your preference.
Del Monte Extra Rich Banana Ketchup (Php 32.00 per 320g bottle)
And finally, Del Monte Extra Rich, the heavyweight contender of all banana ketchups. With its deep red color and strong aroma, Del Monte is a powerhouse of well-rounded, well-balanced flavors, just as its “extra rich” title promises. Not surprisingly, it is also the priciest— it’s almost twice the price of UFC — but not without reason. Del Monte is so flavorful, it’s almost like it was less of a banana ketchup and more of a sweet chili sauce. One can imagine its balanced tanginess bringing out and complementing the flavors of grilled fish, for example, or even chicken nuggets. We think it’s even good enough to give regular tomato ketchup a run for its money.
So has the ketchup giant NutriAsia finally found its match in Del Monte? Well, not exactly. If you googled Del Monte Philippines, you’ll find out that its majority stakeholder is none other than (you guessed it) — NutriAsia.
The history of the Philippine national condiment may be long, but in the end, it leads you back to the same place.
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