Some readers were understandably miffed that I ragged on HEB's Whataburger "Fries" without actually conducting a taste test. (The product description provided more than enough material for extended sarcasm.) And while I'm very willing to ridicule H-E-B for selling Whataburger mustard and ketchup, curiosity about the supposedly unique taste of these condiments got the better of me, especially after reader Shanna Bonana-Butler called the ketchup "wonderful" and reader Cheryl Harris claimed Whataburger has "the best ketchup ever."
I've only visited Whataburger a handful of times and had no recollection of its ketchup being particularly remarkable. Because, however, I am the type of person who puts ketchup on everything (including hot dogs, a practice that would definitely get me kicked out of Chicago), I was alarmed at the thought that my loyalty to Heinz had closed my eyes to other satisfying or even superior varieties. Upon further reflection, I also realized that the majority of those infrequent trips to Whataburger were prompted by excess alcohol consumption and therefore my memories might have been muddled.
Growing up four hours from Pittsburgh, Heinz's longtime global headquarters, meant there wasn't much diversity in the condiment aisle of our grocery stores. I remember looking at the few lone bottles of Hunt's and wondering who bought it, especially since it was never on sale and was a few cents more expensive than Heinz. Ketchup was also one of the very few products that never appeared in our household in generic form (Cheerios and Oreos also held this distinction) despite the fact that my parents instilled in me from a young age that being a whore to brands was a waste of money.
Perhaps it was time to question my values. I conducted a side-by-side comparison of Heinz and Whataburger Spicy Ketchup (Note: The "Fancy" kind was not at my H-E-B) using a homemade burger and some McCain's Smiles fries (which are so awesome, I may need to write a whole love letter post about them sometime). These are foods I would typically douse in ketchup and therefore fitting material for the test. Whataburger Spicy Ketchup, as the name suggests, has more of an acidic zing than milder, sweet Heinz. I enjoyed it more on my burger than on my potatoes, perhaps because it complemented the melted slice of jack cheese I had on the former. Likewise, I think the simple starch of the Smiles called for a more straitlaced tomato condiment, which is why I found myself practically bathing the fries in Heinz so they sort of looked like they were grinning in a pool of blood.
So, which is better, Whataburger Spicy Ketchup or Heinz? Neither, really. Both are essential components of a well-rounded condiment larder. Non-Texan visitors to your home may more readily gravitate toward the Heinz due to tradition, but urge them to try the Whataburger. They may forget, as I did, to poke fun, as they add a second and third to their burger.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.