Your Ketchup Probably Came from Xinjiang (China)

Your Ketchup Probably Came from Xinjiang

November 20 | 6 Comments

Next time you squeeze that little packet of ketchup onto your greasy french fry for lunch, think of Xinjiang. There’s a high probability that the tomato used to produce that ketchup came from the massive but little-known region of Xinjiang in China’s far west.

Ketchup from China (Xinjiang region)

Xinjiang, known as the largest province in China, is famous for a lot of things. You might have read about the poor human rights here (which is true) or perhaps you know that Xinjiang is known for both its oil and cotton exports.

But did you know that Xinjiang produces more than 70% of all China’s tomatoes? Or that China accounts for a quarter of all global tomato output?

Think about that next time you eat your ketchup-covered hot dog.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes as I’ve ridden my motorcycle from the capital of Urumqi to the northern city of Karamay. Tomato processing plants along the side of the road are often lined with trucks overloaded with tomatoes.

Little-Known China Tomato Facts

I’ve already covered a number of very interesting facts about the Xinjiang region on this website. However, there are a few quick facts directly related to tomatoes that are worth mentioning here (and could be good for your next trivial pursuit game):

  • China exports 700,000 metric tons of tomatoes each year. That’s more the US, Turkey and India (the next three top tomato producers) combined.
  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest tomato tree in the world originated in China (and can now be seen at Walt Disney’s Epcot Center of all places)
  • Despite all of the good tomatoes in Xinjiang, it is practically impossible to get a good pizza or good salsa in the province. This is sad.
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From Plant to Plastic Bottle | Processing Your Ketchup

So what happens between the point that a tomato is picked in Xinjiang (usually during the month of August) and when you buy the plastic bottle?

Check out these pictures that follow the production process from a local Xinjiang farm to your doorstep.

A worker picking tomatoes in the Chinese province of Xinjiang

The tomatoes are picked in the field. Once they’ve been picked they are put in massive trailers pulled by tractors.

Transporting tomatoes in Xinjiang, China

These trailers filled with tomatoes are transported to the nearest processing center here in Xinjiang, China.

Washing the tomatoes at a Xinjiang plant

After being brought to the plant, the tomatoes are washed in the same trailer in which they were transported.

Processing the tomatoes in Xinjiang, China

The washed tomatoes are cleaned and sorted.

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Shipping the Xinjiang tomato paste in barrels

The resulting tomato paste is literally shipped in these blue barrels.

Plain old ketchup

After a bit more processing, it’s ready for you to eat.

Final Thoughts | Ketchup from Xinjiang, China

It may seem far-fetched, but in our global economy it’s quite possible that the ketchup in your refrigerator originated from western China. Even if the ketchup was made elsewhere, the tomato paste could have come from China.

Even if that isn’t true, you now know that one of China’s biggest exports is tomatoes, grown in Xinjiang because it’s the perfect dry, hot climate for them to grow.

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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  1. Nearly right, but well observed. Most of Xinjiangs tomatoes are indeed processed into ketchup or paste type products, but about 90% of it is sold to markets ifrom Central Asia to Turkey. The tomato is a key ingredient in Muslim cooking. The reason we know this is because one of our Italian clients at Dezan Shira & Associates set up a tomato processing factory in Urumqi about ten years back. They are doing very well. Incidentally, you didn’t mention Xinjiangs soil and excellent sun conditions allow many crops to be harvested several times during the year and more than is the norm. Xinjiang per se could be regarded as the bread basket for Central Asia in fact – but most of the export produce goes to Central Asia, Turkey and the Middle East. They also export halal products. – Chris

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