PATTERSON -- Traina Foods Inc. of Patterson has taken on an American icon.
The state's largest producer of sun-dried tomatoes has started making them into ketchup ketchup with more tang and texture than you get from the standard brands.
Willie Traina, chief executive officer of the 87-year-old company, believes it is the first such product on the market.
"It's a traditional ketchup," he said Thursday morning at his Lemon Avenue plant, "but it's made with sun-dried tomatoes, and the intensity of the tomato flavor is much higher than a typical ketchup."
The company, previously known as Traina Dried Fruit Inc., handles tomatoes, apricots, pears, apples, peaches and several other fruits. Most of this stuff becomes ingredients for companies that make things such as pasta sauce, frozen pizza, breakfast cereal and energy bars. Restaurants and other food service operations also are big customers.
Traina employs 120 people year-round and up to 140 more during the drying season, which starts with strawberries in April and ends with tomatoes in October.
The ketchup, made at another company's plant in Fresno, is part of a small but growing line of Traina-branded products. It has reached about 400 stores on the West Coast since it launched in the fall and could be in about 3,000 across the nation within a year, Traina said.
The ketchup is a somewhat upscale version of a condiment that Americans consume in great quantities with burgers, hot dogs, fries and other foods.
Some basic ingredients are the same, including sugar, salt and vinegar. The extra tomato punch comes from the sun-drying process, which removes most of the water while concentrating the flavor. It takes 4 pounds of vine-ripe tomatoes to make each 16-ounce bottle of Traina ketchup.
They typically sell for $4.99, more than the conventional ketchup from other Central Valley processors, but Traina said each ounce goes a long way.
The label suggests pouring the ketchup on sausages, steak, meat loaf, eggs, tacos, paninis or burgers.
The product is yet another example of a valley company taking a basic crop and adding value to it. Think of dairy farmers who make cheese or almond growers who flavor their nuts. The result is more jobs and income for the region.
"To be innovative in agriculture in this valley is essential to make us unique and to keep that competitive edge," said Traina, a third-generation company leader.
Ketchup-making is an ancient art that often involved no tomatoes, according to food historians. Instead, it is a general term for a type of preservation.
The History Channel's website tells of "koe-cheup," a fermented paste made in China around 300 B.C. from fish entrails, meat byproducts and soybeans. British traders caught on to it in the early 1700s.
History.com describes 19th-century ketchups made from oysters, mussels, mushrooms, walnuts, lemons, celery, plums or peaches.
Traina ketchup does not go that far afield, but the CEO said the new product has a place among today's food choices.
"It's not like we're trying to replace a Del Monte or a Heinz in the refrigerator," he said. "It's just nice to put this next to them."
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WHERE TO BUY IT
Traina Foods' sun-dried tomato ketchup can be found at:
All Raley's stores
The Fruit Yard restaurant and store, also owned by the Traina family, on Yosemite Boulevard at Geer Road, east of Modesto