A Taste of Umami in Ecuador

October 2006

Professor Koziol oversees a demonstration

  • Old Fown warsaw - UMAMI Infomation Center
    Professor Koziol oversees a demonstration
    Report on the Workshop on Umami Taste Consciousness held in Quito, Ecuador on 20 July 2006.

    Ecuador is the latest country to wake up to the taste of umami, thanks to a seminar held in the country's capital, Quito in July 2006. It brought together a panel of food experts from Ecuador, elsewhere in South America, the USA and Japan in order to explore different aspects of the fifth taste, including its importance in food in general, and traditional South American cuisine in particular.

    The expert view

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    The seminar gets underway
    The panel of experts was made up of Gary K. Beauchamp PhD., Director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Kumiko Ninomiya of the Umami Information Center in Japan, Michael Koziol PhD., Dean of the School of Agriculture, Foods and Nutrition of San Francisco de Quito University in Ecuador and last but by no means least Toshiro Konishi, of the famous Toshiro's Sushi Bar in Lima, Peru.

    Toshiro san, who also appeared at last year's umami symposium in Lima, is a Japanese restaurateur who has lived in Peru for 30 years, and who is well known in his adopted homeland and neighbouring countries as a purveyor of Japanese delicacies and PeruvianAndean-Japanese fusion cuisine. The event was attended by around 80 delegates, including chefs, gastronomy students, journalists and nutritionists.

    First taste of umami

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    Dr. Beauchamp
    Dr. Beauchamp kicked off the seminar by presenting an overview of how human beings perceive flavour, and the role played by umami in relation to the other four basic tastes; sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Next, Ms. Ninomiya of The Umami Information Center gave a presentation on the basics of umami, explaining what exactly causes the fifth taste, the story of its discovery and its role in various foods. In particular, she introduced the audience to dashi; the Japanese stock that is one of the purest expressions of the umami flavour, and forms the base of many Japanese dishes. She explained how dashi differs from its Western equivalent, consomme, and also discussed some typical umami-rich foods, such as cheese, ham and tomatoes.

    Experiencing umami

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    Mr. Toshiro Konishi

    Dashi Tasting
    Dashi Tasting
    After hearing about umami and its effect on taste, the audience was given an opportunity to experience it for themselves with a dashi demonstration and tasting session overseen by Toshiro san. He made some premium dashi, and explained about the umami rich properties of the various ingredients, namely kombu (kelp), katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and dried shiitake mushrooms. In order to explore the role of umami in more depth, the audience was invited to sample a number of substances containing the umami taste in one form or another. These consisted of a solution containing 1.5% umami seasoning (monosodium glutamate), kombu stock, katsuo stock, premium dashi (containing both kombu and katsuo), shiitake mushroom stock and consomme. The audience was also given the chance to sample a range of foods high in umami, including the cheddar cheese, ham and tomatoes discussed earlier by Ms. Ninomiya, as well as prawns, and two regional delicacies; ceviche, a traditional salad of seafood dressed in citrus juice that originates in Peru, and a goat stew.

    Balancing the five tastes

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    Professor Koziol demonstrates the Maillard reaction
    While the seafood in the ceviche, which is popular in Ecuador as well as its native Peru, is not cooked, the acid in the citrus juice reacts with the flesh so that it is not raw in the same way as Japanese sashimi is. During the tasting session, Toshiro san and Prof. Koziol provided additional information about the various ingredients to deepen understanding among participants. One experiment they tried was adding kombu dashi to the cerviche, which resulted in a milder flavour. This is because the acidity of the citrus juice in the cerviche is balanced out by the umami of the dashi, and the experiment highlighted the importance of umami in providing a balance among the five basic tastes in a meal. Next, Professor Koziol demonstrated another property of umami rich foods. Glutamate, which is one of the main providers of the umami taste, is an amino acid, and when amino acids are heated and react with sugars they turn brown, in what is known as the Maillard reaction. The Professor demonstrated this by frying some pieces of onion with added umami seasoning, and some without. The seasoned onion browned in 5 minutes, compared with 8 for the unseasoned.

    Umami with a local flavour

    Towards the end of the session, Toshiro san discussed with the audience the role of umami in the cuisine of the Andes region. In particular, he cited fermented potato dishes, dried salted meats such as charque or jerky, and the maize beer chiqua de jora. The presence of these indigenous umami rich dishes again proves that although the word itself may be new to Ecuador, the taste has been enjoyed there for centuries.

  • Professor Koziol oversees a demonstration

    The seminar gets underway

    Dr. Beauchamp

    Dashi Tasting

    Mr. Toshiro Konishi

    Professor Koziol demonstrates the Maillard reaction

  • The seminar gets underway

    Dr. Beauchamp

    Dashi Tasting

    Mr. Toshiro Konishi

    Professor Koziol demonstrates the Maillard reaction