Your Ketchup Probably Came from Xinjiang | Xinjiang: Far West China

Your Ketchup Probably Came from Xinjiang

August 16 | 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 China’s largest, western province.

Much news is written about Xinjiang’s oil exports and even the Chinese cotton industry, 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 was riding my motorcycle down highway S201 from Karamay to Urumqi when I ran into the following scene:

Truckloads of Xinjiang tomatoes waiting to be processed

In the picture you can only see about 4 trucks of tomatoes. I guarantee you there were about 30 more waiting to process their load. I have never seen so many tomatoes in my life…and it’s likely I never will again.

Little-Known Tomato Facts

Here’s a couple quick facts you might find interesting 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.

From Plant to Plastic Bottle

So what happens between the point that a tomato is picked in Xinjiang (usually during this 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 (some pictures thanks to Xinhua):

A worker picking tomatoes in the Chinese province of Xinjiang

The tomatoes are picked in the field.

Transporting tomatoes in Xinjiang, China

They are transported to the nearest processing center.

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Washing the tomatoes at a Xinjiang plant

After being brought to the plant, they are washed.

Processing the tomatoes in Xinjiang, China

Sorted and cleaned…

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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.

About Josh Summers

Josh is a writer, musician and entrepreneur who currently resides in Urumqi, capital of China's western province of Xinjiang. He has been traveling and writing about this region since 2006 and has no plans to stop in the near future.

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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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