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There was a strange moment at the turn of the most recent century when we were, it seemed, obsessed with green slime. We doused our favorite stars with buckets of it on Nickelodeon as a sign of gooey admiration. Robin Williams toted around a hyperactive, animate (and glasses-wearing?!) pile of it in his hands. And then, in the most bewildering turn, we started to eat it. Our supermarket shelves were suddenly lined with emerald-colored sludge, which we squirted onto our burgers and fries. It wasn’t actually slime, but Heinz’s EZ Squirt green ketchup looked a lot like the goop otherwise clogging the zeitgeist.
EZ Squirt ketchup was made for kids. It came in an ergonomically designed bottle that was indented a third of the way down and had a twisty nozzle top that made squirting, as the name implies, easier. To hell with those square adults who told us we couldn’t play with what we ate—this ketchup was all about having fun with your food. We could play tic-tac-toe on hamburger buns or draw curlicues across french fries. Our junk-laden plates were our canvases, our multicolored bottles of vinegary tomato purée our improvised paintbrushes. Doodling on paper was soooo 1999.
Blastin’ Green, as it was labeled on the bottle, was rolled out in late 2000 alongside a red tomato ketchup. With their distinct shape and top, they were the breakout products of the EZ Squirt line. Heinz achieved the distinct shade by a process that stripped normal ketchup of its coloring and subbed it instead with green dye—an unfortunate chemical rewiring that prevented this new hue of condiment from being labeled as tomato ketchup. “Same great Heinz taste,” block lettering across the bottle’s bottom reassured us.
These were halcyon times. Ingredient lists were not only worth ignoring, but mostly illegible, and food wasn’t meant to fulfill our children, just keep them full. If it kept them entertained, even better! I remember the first time I saw Blastin’ Green. It looked alien and exciting on the shelf. It was vaguely pegged as a promo for Shrek—because if you couldn’t get enough of the lovable green ogre on screen, you could now eat something that loosely resembled what his blood might look like—and I needed it (please, Mom, please) as much as I needed the next Now That’s What I Call Music album for my portable CD player.
Food was, all of a sudden, rendered unfamiliar. The pool of green gloop looked naughty on my plate. Could this be the ketchup I knew so intimately? I slogged a microwaved fish stick through the Astroturf condiment. It turned my saliva green.
It tasted different. I’ve debated with many early-aughts children (tail-end millennials) about the flavor profile of Blastin’ Green, and I can definitively say that it tasted different. By different, I mean not like ketchup. It didn’t have that lycopene-y tartness, that vinegary heft. It was duller and stranger and, no, it had nothing to do with my mind playing tricks on me because the red sauce I’d spent years enjoying was suddenly, inexplicably green. The modifications incurred on ketchup made this funny-colored companion taste slightly different. But it was green! So who cared, right?
Despite whatever I think now, or may have thought then, Blastin’ Green was a runaway hit. Heinz sold more than 25 million bottles of the stuff. “We’re on track to ship in the first 90 days what we thought we would sell in the first year,” said Casey Keller, the company’s global ketchup managing director—what a title—at the time. In 2003, Funky Purple joined the ketchup cadre, and we could begin to douse our plates with the color of ancient monarchies. After that came a special edition called Mystery Color, sold in opaque bottles that refused to reveal the color of their contents until that highly anticipated first squeeze. The rainbow continued to stretch: Stellar Blue, Passion Pink, Awesome Orange, and Totally Teal joined the ranks. Ketchup, suddenly, was anything but conventional. It was wacky, as if Dr. Seuss himself was Heinz’s newly appointed creative director.
Yet in 2006, it all came to a head. Or rather, an end. The novelty of multicolored ketchup was running low and so, too, were its profits. Parents started perking up to the foods they fed their children in a more serious, health-conscious way. Kale was one year away from snapping us into a sturdy-green-induced stupor that would last over a decade. We were beginning to embrace greens of a more natural ilk. And so in January of 2006, Heinz discontinued the once irresistibly popular line of vibrant sauces.
What, after all this, is EZ Squirt’s legacy? Perhaps nothing aside from a few online articles (“The Rise and Fall of Heinz’s Green Ketchup”, “What Were They Thinking? The Day Ketchup Crossed The Line From Perfect To Purple”) and two novelty stuffed toys on eBay. The whole moment feels like a relic of an early aughts fever dream. We’ve relegated EZ Squirt to the historical moment from which it emerged. Foods in absurd colors? We are so beyond that, we look up from charcoal lattes with ink-stained teeth to scoff. At least this is natural.
Do you remember green (or purple) ketchup? Share your memories in the comments.