Consider the following ingredient lists:
McDonald's Fancy Ketchup: Tomato concentrate from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, salt, natural flavors (vegetable source).
Heinz: Tomato concentrate from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, natural flavoring.
Hunt’s: Tomato concentrate made from vine ripened tomatoes, high fructose corn syrup, distilled vinegar, corn syrup, salt, less than 2% of onion powder, garlic Powder, natural flavors.
Although the ingredient proportions differ slightly and the spice blends aren’t identical, all three of these ketchups are pretty much the same. So what makes the McDonald’s ketchup fancier than the others?
Turns out, it’s nothing special on the ingredient list. According to Heinz, “fancy” is simply a USDA designation that producers are allowed to use for marketing if their product meets the standards of US Grade A/US Fancy tomato ketchup, which possesses a better color, consistency and flavor, and has fewer specks and particles and less separation of the liquid/solid contents than US Grade B/US Extra Standard Ketchup and US Grade C/US Standard Ketchup.
What goes into ketchup grading? Testers look for a lack of tomato skin and seeds in the product, a smooth, uniform texture and a total acidity over one percent, among other things. For a through explanation of what all goes into ketchup grading, see this USDA manual.