Not too many days go by when a customer or two doesn’t ask Jack Mooney about the mysterious tiny number on ketchup packages. The 18-year-old member of the Whataburger restaurant team in Boerne, Texas has a tactful answer to those who inquire about the “secret code.”
“We heard down in Rockport the numbers mean the level of sweetness,” said Betty Mason, who lives in Corpus Christi where the burger chain in headquartered. “If it is rated ‘1’ it’s not as sweet and has more vinegar than a packet labeled ‘5,’”
“Yes, fives are the sweetest,” Darlene Hill claims. “My daughters and I have done taste tests on them.”
The rumors have spread throughout the Lone Star state and beyond that on the lid of every Whataburger ketchup pack, there is a tiny number of 1 through 5 embedded. In the video above, these customers actually did a blind taste test in Port Isabel, Texas to confirm that each number “has a different taste – from sweet to tangy (or combination).”
Do the numbered packets indicate a variance in recipes, or is this just a restaurant urban legend?
Along the familiar lines of the myths that green colored M&Ms are good for raising the romantic mood levels for females, or perhaps the old one about shaking a Polaroid picture faster will cause it to develop quicker, the Whataburger Ketchup Mystery seems to have grown across regions.
Perhaps Mooney has it right:
“We’ve been told the packets come off the manufacturing line in rows of five and this helps them trace which row it is in if something goes wrong during assembly.”
All those loyal or curious customers who have been collecting different numbered ketchup packets for their own taste tests might consider what headquarters has to say.
“The number on the ketchup packages refers to the way they are packaged,” says Matt Houston, Whataburger General Manager.
“There are five rows in each case of ketchup,” Houston explains. “The numbering is for quality control purposes.”