Phomato Sauce (Paleo-friendly, fermentable pho-spiced ketchup)


Really, who doesn’t want to try pho-spiced ketchup? (Besides my wife, I mean.) I’m telling you, it’s absolutely brilliant.

Or a Russian dressing made with said pho ketchup, in which the dressing is also made using your own delicious, Paleo-friendly mayo, fermented hot sauce and fermented horseradish? Which then goes on your own homemade “Pho Reuben” sandwich topped with pho-spiced sauerkraut and pho-spiced corned beef?

Phomato was my first pho-inspired recipe on this site. But even before that, I was making something I have yet to post about, my pho-spiced okra, aka Phokra. (Bear in mind, as you probably know, pho is pronounced like “fuh,” but pronounce phokra however you like.)

This recipe is for a 16 oz. jar of ketchup. Details on how to ferment it are provided below; this isn’t a requirement of the recipe.

Pho spice is an aromatic blend of seasonings like star anise, cinnamon sticks, coriander, black cardamom, clove, and sometimes other ingredients like fennel or Szechwan peppercorns
Pho spice ground down

You will need:

  • Electric grinder
  • 16 oz. jar recommended (or double quantity of ingredients to make a quart jar; a bottle of Heinz has 14 oz., which is about how much ketchup you’ll end up with with the recipe below)
  • medium mixing bowl
  • measuring cups & spoons
  • spoon
  • Optional: blender (discussed below; needed for a smooth sauce if using a squeeze bottle)
  • If you are using a squeeze bottle, transfer the ketchup into it using a bottling funnel (strainer detached)
  • If fermenting: fermenting airlock (or otherwise use a plastic lid and be prepared to burp your jar every day) and fermentation weight


  • Two 6-ounce cans of tomato paste
  • 1.5 tsp additive-free salt (add an additional 1/2 tsp if fermenting)
  • 1 TBSP raw apple cider vinegar
  • 1 TBSP filtered or distilled water
  • 1 tsp Pho-spice blend, finely ground (1/2 tsp for a milder pho flavor)
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • Optional: for a spicy phomato sauce, add cayenne powder to taste, or a red jalapeno (seeds removed) if you will be blending the sauce (discussed below)
  • If you want this to be a squeezable sauce in a squeeze bottle, there will be an additional step at blending of adding an extra 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup vinegar (you add extra pho seasoning if you’re worried about losing the flavor, but I don’t find it necessary)
  • For a fermented sauce: 2-3 TBSP of active sauerkraut brine or other lactoferment brine (my pho sauerkraut brine would be a perfect taste compliment, recipe to be posted soon)


1.) If you’re using a pre-made pho pack, ground it down. If the pack uses whole cinnamon sticks, they can be difficult to grind or easily overpower the other flavors. Instead, you may opt to add 1/8 – 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder and omit the cinnamon sticks from your grinder.

2.) After preparing the pho spice blend, combine all the ingredients in mixing bowl. Stir with spoon until thoroughly blended. If fermenting the ketchup, read the information at the bottom about next steps.

3.) If you aren’t fermenting the ketchup, you can process it now in a blender for a smoother sauce which can be used in a squeeze bottle, or directly jar and refrigerate if you like it the way it is (as shown in this picture).

4.) If you want to get it in a squeeze bottle, follow the steps below for blending and transferring to a squeeze bottle.

Blending: For a smoother ketchup, you can blend the ketchup as it is and then transfer to the jar. Totally optional.

Or, if you want to get it into a squeeze bottle, add equal parts water and apple cider vinegar and blend on medium until you reach the correct pour consistency. For me, this is around 1/4 cup added water, and 1/4 cup added vinegar. At this point, the ketchup will transfer easily into a squeeze bottle if desired. Do this by using a bottling funnel, which you can tap up and down on the rim of the squeeze bottle to push it down (see picture). Using a spoon handle to help get things down can help too.

Fermenting: If you want to ferment this sauce, at the beginning add an additional 1/2 tsp salt, and 2-3 TBSP fermented sauerkraut or pickle brine (or other lacto-ferment brine) to kickstart fermentation.

Many recipes state that whey (such as kefir whey) can be used instead of brine with excellent results. I haven’t tried this so can’t personally testify to the results. (I don’t culture vegetables with dairy ferment products for a few reasons, but it’s not an uncommon practice.)

Mix these extra ingredients well with all other ingredients in the bowl and then transfer to the jar. Top the ketchup-filled jar with the ferment weight to reduce air exposure (don’t worry, it won’t sink into the ketchup), apply the airlock lid, and ferment for 3-4 days. (I’d recommend 4 days in colder environments.) After the allotted time, you can begin refrigerating the ketchup or you can choose the extra step of blending before refrigeration, as explained above.

Besides the depth of flavor and providing some gut-healthy probiotic bacteria, fermenting this ketchup will add shelf life. (Even without fermenting, the vinegar should give a shelf life of at least a few weeks.) On the other hand, fermentation is ongoing even in a fridge, just at a slower rate. This means that you may notice the flavor continues to develop over time. For most fermenters, this is part of the fun. The shelf life should be at least two months.

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