Friday, 31 July, 2009

Due to the summer’s higher temperatures, we perspire more in this time of the year, losing water and mineral salts and we feel like refreshing, light foods, like the Spanish gazpacho, a vegetable cold soup typical from Andalucía, the south of Spain. Gazpacho is a very healthy dish, full of vitamins, fiber and minerals and low in calories (35 Kcal/100 mL). It is prepared with tomato, cucumber, green pepper, water, virgin olive oil, Sherry wine vinegar, bread, salt and garlic.

This healthy dish has also a very high gastronomic interest because it is very old, probably pre-Roman. In the Roman period wine was very expensive and easily turned into vinegar: so, a common drink of the poor people and the army was the posca, a mixture of water and vinegar. The roman legionnaires used to have this drink, which is very good to fight against thirst. This was also a way to ensure that water was drinkable, for vinegar has antiseptic properties. An example of how popular this drink was can be found in the Bible: this was the drink that the soldiers gave to Christ on the cross. The addition of garlic, olive oil, bread and salt to the posca turned it into gazpacho. Green or red peppers were added later and gazpacho adopted its characteristic reddish color in the XIX century, with the addition of tomato.

Traditionally gazpacho was the food of the poor peasants. It was looked down till the XXth century, when modern dietetic science discovered its excellent nutritional properties. Today it is one of the most famous dishes in the world and can be found on the menus of the best international restaurants. The latest gastronomic trends in gazpacho are about serving it in original glasses and including many new ingredients, such as lettuce, spinaches, mozzarella or anchovies, all of them from special geographic locations. Some of the recipes incorporate water melon instead of tomato and are flavored with mint, basil and even ginger. The ‘new gazpacho’ (or cold soup?) has become a field for creativity.

Interestingly, this product has been successfully adapted to the mass market. gazpacho can be found in the form of pasteurized products in tetra-bricks, sterilized soups in jars and even frozen.

Open-Senses has analyzed 14 different gazpacho samples from the Spanish market, including the market leaders, private labels, premium brands and a home-made one. Prices ranged from 1.3 €/L to 10.3€/L, with an average of 3.0 €/L among the mass market products. We have performed a sensory test in blind with all samples.

The home-made gazpacho was identified among the best quality samples and it is of course the one that provides the best quality with the lowest price (you just need to have the 20 minutes it takes to prepare it!). Price and quality tend to be correlated: some of the more expensive samples were perceived among the ‘best quality’ in a blind test, and some of the cheapest, among the ‘lowest quality’ samples. The following off-flavors were identified: rotten/boiled/frozen-vegetable, packaged-soup-like, boiled-onion, boiled carrot, canned tomato and sweet-vanilla-like. And the following positive flavors that bring richness, naturalness and complexity:bread, natural tomato, olive oil and vinegar. In a couple of samples from premium brands we found complex flavors of grilled red peppers that, though not necessary for a classical gazpacho, they bring a delicious complexity and distinctive personality.

Only a balanced level of vinegar is suitable and brings a bit of sparkle to gazpacho taste. Too low vinegar level results on a flat taste and too much vinegar makes the gazpacho sharp and aggressive. ‘Naturalness’ of home-made gazpacho is identified because of the delicate flavor of natural (not boiled) tomato; the complexity of bread scent, taste and texture; and the smooth texture and post-taste of olive oil. Garlic flavor is not present in any of the commercial samples, probably to avoid consumer’s rejection, and it is therefore a distinctive characteristic of the home-made gazpacho.

Aproper classic gazpacho has an orange-reddish color that can be peach-, carrot- and red-tomato-like. Brown colors suggest oxidation and low quality: all samples with the darker brown colors have also lower perceived sensory quality. Although a proper gazpacho is not necessarily thick, premium-positioned mass-market gazpachos tend to show a differentiating thicker and lumpy texture.

At Open-Senses we are passionate about sensory innovation. If you share this passion, you can contact us at