Attentive star-watchers and conspiracy theorists alike are all abuzz about the number 57. Most of our American readers will instantly recognize 57 as the purported number of Heinz varieties (of what always, and perhaps must, remains unspecified, one might add parenthetically).
Those who have lived or currently live in Egypt will likely feel their taste buds all atwinkle. Egyptian Heinz ketchup does not taste like American Heinz ketchup. In fact it more resembles a cousin. Now, there are a couple theories as to why this is: Some contend that Egyptians are more liable to enjoy sweet things than Americans, though strong circumstantial evidence would appear to belie this theory. It’s like when Americans laugh because there are Arabs named Fadi. People who live in Waffle Houses shouldn’t throw fried chicken. (BTW we got the idea for that saying from Sy Hersh’s New Yorker article: “When he was asked whether Syria’s relationship with Iran would change if the Golan Heights issue was resolved, [Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara] said, “Do you think a man only goes to bed with a woman he deeply loves?” Shara laughed, and added, “That’s my answer to your question about Iran.”” WTF?)
A recent visit from a Haitian friend added an intriguing new possibility. She said that Heinz ketchup in Haiti is also considerably sweeter than the American variety, and that she prefers it that way. Furthermore, she claimed that the reason for the difference in taste is not, in fact, due to an alteration in the essential formula, chronicled by Malcolm Gladwell so many years ago, but that the ingredients are different. In short, the tomatoes in the US do not approach the sweetness of their overseas cousins.
This explanation gives rise, however, to a number of questions. Can Heinz prove, in a court of law, that it has only 57 varieties when the overseas versions of one of said varieties vary so much from the original variety as to constitute distinct varieties in-and-of-themselves. Mr. Gladwell’s famous article claimed that Heinz ketchup maintained its market dominance precisely because it hit all the known flavor categories (being sour, sweet, umami, bitter and salty), and was thus supremely satisfying. Be that as it may, the prominent place given to sweetness of Egyptian (10th of Ramadan City-produced) Heinz ketchup upsets the sublime balance attained in the American version of same, opening it to the very competition that the esteemed Mr. G proclaimed impossible. Now the only question that remains is what ambitious Egyptian ketchup engineer will produce a new, market-clearing ketchup based on Heinz US formula?
A wise friend once pointed out to me that each embassy in Egypt has a number assigned to their vehicles and possibly other apparati. On their license plates one sees this number, which serves to identify them to the authorities and others. We can now report that the US Embassy’s number is, you guessed it, 57. It is said that Heinz has received funding from the Pentagon for research on Egyptians’ taste preferences. Al-Masry al-Yom will be breaking this story wide open any day now.
Finally, on our aforementioned visit to McDonald’s, we had the pleasure of listening to McDonald’s radio. One of their advertisements announces to a highly interested public that McDonald’s has precisely 57 outlets in Egypt. Conspynergacy.