Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Search search challenge (12/12/12): What's the connection?

We think of highly processed foods as being a relatively recent phenomenon.  But you might be surprised.   Here’s a photo I took on a recent trip.  

This is a view of an ancient food production site somewhere in the Mediterranean, a place where byproducts were heavily processed into something that was pure yummy goodness.  This pic shows several vats side-by-side.  They're pretty big--maybe 6 feet across and 4 feet deep.  

When I first learned about this, I couldn’t believe it was real, the processing they used seemed to be unsanitary at best, and just weird at worst—but then I actually tasted some and… well, I now have some of this stuff in my fridge (although mine was made more recently).  

On the far left of the top picture is a container that this substance would have been shipped in.  Some places (especially one of those connected with the volcano shown above) were famous for making this stuff.  

Making this stuff was a pretty aromatic process.  Most of the production facilities would have been kept outside the city walls.  But it was such an unexpected and strange production process that I KNEW it had to become a Search Challenge. 

Today’s question (especially for you history buffs):

Q:  What is the connection between a huge & dramatic volcanic eruption in the Mediterranean,  this food-production facility, and the professor shown in the picture above? 

It’s a tasty question, sure to get you salivating! 

Search on!


  1. Looked familiar - I was at Pompeii a couple years ago and remember hearing about the food markets on the audio tour.

    Did an image search for vesuvius, and limited it to black and white photos to find the same one on the banner. This confirms that the volcano is Vesuvius, and the site was probably Pompeii (maybe the Herculaneum?).

    After that I did a search for [pompeii processed food], and the third item in the search results was titled "FOOD TECHNOLOGY IN THE ANCIENT URBAN CONTEXT" ( Reading that I got to the section on fish sauce, and thinking that might be the processed item in question (since it was also kept in jars), did a little more searching using [fish sauce pompeii], and was led to this site ( which showed very similar jars to those in the header, and indicated that the process was done outside of the city due to its smell.

    Finally, I had to figure out the connection to the professor. I did a search initially of [garum fish sauce pompeii] - garum being the formal name for the fish sauce, but couldn't find anything. The articles that I was reading about it kept bringing up the word "umami", so I added that to the search terms for [garum fish sauce pompeii umami], and as the third item on the search results for that was the wikipedia entry for umami, I went there on a whim, and found the picture of the professor just "below the fold" - his name was Kikunae Ikeda and he's the one who first scientifically identified umami as a distinct flavor in 1908 in Tokyo. They are related because umami is the taste that garum/fish sauce has!

    The first two parts (where, and what) took about 2 minutes-ish total. Finding the professor added on another 5 minutes for about 7 minutes total.

  2. Pompeii, Garum Jug, Kikunae Ikeda discovered umami taste.

    Very interesting!

  3. Glutamate has a long history in cooking. Fermented fish sauces (garum), rich in glutamate, were already used in ancient Pompeii & Rome. Umami was first scientifically identified in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a professor of the Tokyo Imperial University. He found that glutamate was responsible for the palatability of the broth from kombu seaweed. He noticed that the taste of kombu dashi was distinct from sweet, sour, bitter and salty and named it umami.

    About 10 minutes, once 'garum' was identified searched for 'garum' & 'Japanese professor' identified Kikunae Ikeda.

  4. It will be easier to do the answer first.

    Garum (fermented fish sauce) was used to date the ruins of Pompeii which was destroyed during a Mount Vesuvius eruption << connected to>> the production facility that was used to produce garum <> Professor Kikunae Ikeda who identified umami as taste different from sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Garum is a product featuring the umami taste.

    How I got it.

    Image search of the first grouped image gave me Vesuvius for the volcano.

    Image search for the second image told me it was used to produce garum.

    Search [garum vesuvius] to get

    I took a screen shot of just the professor and dragged it into a google Image search to get Professor Kikunae Ikeda.

    Search [Professor Kikunae Ikeda garum] to get the umami references.

    Time 10 minutes.

  5. Great search challenge. The connection is that Pompeii (destroyed by Mt Vesuvius) had a large facility for producing garum, a fish sauce high in glutatmate which is the chemical responsible for the flavor "umami" discovered by Kikunae Ikeda. The professor also patented the production of MSG.

    Search took about 10 minutes. Knew the volcano photo was Vesuvius, so searched "food container Pompeii" - I later found out that there was a good result on that page (#5 maybe), but I missed it. Image search with a screen cap of the container led me to a page in Spanish that talked about the production of garum and mint sauce. Image search on the professor's photo clinched the connection.

  6. I started with food production in Pompeii (figuring that to be Vesuvius there) and discovered the product called Garum. Then I cheated a bit I guess and searched professor garum pompeii in image search and asked it to only find B&W photos. There I found the picture of Kikunae Ikeda who discovered one of the five basic tastes called umami. Umami is in large quantities in things like garum so I think that makes the connection complete.

  7. Good Day, Dr. Russell.

    Searched: Image 1. Found:

    Kikuane Ikeda discovered Umami ( in japanese Tasty) Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of L-glutamic acid, a naturally-occurring nonessential amino acid, which makes up about 10-25% of all food protein.

    Image 1 and Food processing. Found: What is MSG: and Vesuvius erupting

    Second Image (later found that is called: Dolia ceramic basin) with [Food Processing]
    Catalan Cultures Blog: Field Trip: The Romans

    The Romans also invented ways to prolong their food. One of their creations was garum, which was a type of fish sauce that was used on many different types of foods. One of the best things about Garum was its storability. The romans stored the garum in containers and it was able to last long periods of time.

    [garum] Found: Fermented fish sauce as a condiment. Wikipedia: In there [Vesuvius]

    [Kikunae Ikeda AROUND (3) Garum]
    Found. Wikipedia

    Q: What is the connection between a huge & dramatic volcanic eruption in the Mediterranean, this food-production facility, and the professor shown in the picture above?

    A: Glutamate. It has a long history in cooking. Fermented fish sauces (garum), rich in glutamate, were already used in ancient Rome. In 2008, archaeologists used the residue from garum found in containers in Pompeii to confirm the August date of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Glutamate was discovered by professor Kikunae Ikeda.

  8. Just to share another page with the connection. Umami (Glutamate) that shows the connection. Umami in a Bottle: Homemade Garum

  9. Answer: Garum; linked to Mt. Vesuvius by Pliny the Elder who was a fan of Garum and killed in Mt. Vesuvius eruption; Tokyo University Professor, Kikunae Ikeda who coined the term umami to describe the deep savory flavor found in seaweed broth and garum.
    first - image search with banner picture, returns Mount Vesuvius.
    second - google Mount Vesuvius stinky food production. Returns which describes the history of garum and includes quotes about garum from Pliny the Elder who was killed in the Mount Vesuvius eruption.
    third - image search garum professor, returns which describes the history of umami and notes that while the term, coined by Professor Kikunae Ikeda, is relatively new, umami-rich foods, such as garum have been around for centuries.

  10. The food is seaweed or konbu.
    The Japanese professor is Kikunae Ikeda, who did some research on it, and because of the volcano in Manorca, the seaweed grew particularly well there.

    Search took around 10 minutes. The key was searching for "Japanese professor" and filtering for black and white images in GIS. Initially I thought it was Anchovies, but once I found the professor's name the rest was easy !

  11. The substance is garum, a fish sauce. Pompeii was a center of production for this substance in the ancient world, hence the connection to Vesuvius. The container was the type used to store it. The ruins of the production facility appear to be from a museum in Barcelona with artifacts and ruins from the Roman occupation. Kikunae Ikeda was the scientist who first identified the principal taste substance of garum which he name umami.

    I found all of this principally with the image search. I was first led to wikipedia articles, but to confirm I search under Kikunae Ikeda, garum, and umani which took me to these website:

    I found the picture from Barcelona on a blog, but confirmed it with a search of the museum site and other picture sites.

    The whole search probably took about 45 minutes - mainly because I kept getting side-tracked by the interesting details!!

  12. The food in question is garum, a fermented fish sauce, which was manufactured in Pompeii, on Mount Vesuvius. The flavor came came from glutamate, a chemical which causes the umami flavor discovered by Professor Kikunae Ikeda, the man in the picture.
    This was an easy one. It took less than 5 minutes. I cropped the image you gave so that it only included the person, then did an image search, which brought me right to Professor Kikunae Ikeda's Wikipedia page, which linked to the umami page, which mentioned the Vesuvius connection. I already knew what the amphora was, since I was a classics major in college.

  13. The container on the left is an amphora or urceus (a pitcher or pot).

    The volcano is Mt Vesuvius (found by uploading a cropped picture into Google images).

    The Professor on the foto is Kikunae Ikeda (found by uploading a cropped photo into Google images). Kikunae Ikeda was a Japanese chemist and Tokyo Imperial University professor in Chemistry who, in 1908, uncovered the chemical root behind a taste he named umami. It is one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, bitter, sour and salty. (Wikipedia articles on Kikunae Ikeda and on Umami).

    The connection between these three items is Garum, a fermented fish sauce used as a condiment in the cuisines of ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantium (Wikipedia articles on Garum and on Fisch Sauce).

    In 2008, archaeologists used the residue from garum found in containers in Pompeii to confirm the August date of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

    Just read this one article: “Umami and the foods of classical antiquity” ( to read all about this subject.

    Found with a Google search [umami Vesuvius]

    approx. 5 minutes

  14. I first searched Mediterranean volcanos in the hopes that I could find a pix of Mt. Vesuvius. Viola! Then, I did an image search on the second picture and found that it was a garum production facility. Garum is a Roman fish sauce. I assume that the facility is in Pompeii but cannot find proof of that. The picture on the web that looks like your picture seems to be from somewhere in Catalonia,Spain. But, that can't be right . . . can it? It is right . . . apparently in Barcino, a Roman town over which Barcelona is built, there was a garum production facility. "Museo de Historia de Barcelona at Plaça del Rei. Here you descend under the current street level and under the cathedral and palace to the excavations of the Roman town of Barcino."

    So, the importance of Mt. Vesuvius is that Pompeii was a big garum producer?

    The jug was used to contain garum.

    The photograph of the Japanese man is Kikunae Ikedo who "discovered" a fifth taste--umami. Professor Ikedo patented MSG, which became the first product of Ajinomoto, a Japanese corporation. The professor identified glutamate as the ingredient in fermented fish sauces that gave them their unique flavor of umami.

    All in all, this took me about an hour. I used google and goole images. Those search tools led me to Wikipedia mostly but a few other sites as well.

  15. The ancient food that was produced is Garum - fish sauce made from rotten fish intestines. Big producer of garum was found in Pompeii which is next to Vesuvius which eruption is shown in the picture. The professor in the picture is Kikunae Ikeda, who discovered the chemical reasons behind the taste of Umami - which is found in the garum.

    I've started from the volcano

    [vesuvius eruption]
    Picture search brought me to the middle picture. So the city needs to be Pompeii.

    [pompeii olive oil]
    [ancient olive oil vat]
    I was thinking about olive press, looking for pictures again, but nothing seemed right.

    [pompeii map]
    Did not find any significant facility here.

    [pompeii food production]
    Second result is speaking of a fish sauce. Reading through the descrition of the challange, and reading about garum - there's a match. That was 10 minutes

    Now for the Professor, he seems Japanese
    [vesuvius japanese researcher]
    [vesuvius japanese professor]
    [pompeii japanese researcher]
    Looking at many pictures, learned that picture search allows me to filter for black and white pictures, and for pictures of faces. Still none of those were of the professor.

    [garum production asia]

    Silk road might bring us to Asia - I recognize the word umami at the bottom of this page, might it be the key?

    Looking at the wikipedia item for umami - there's our guy! Job done.

    All in all, a bit over 30 minutes. Nice challange, thanks.

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  17. I might be inspired because this was the easiest challenge for me so far.

    1. Search by Image the first image. Realized it was a composite but anyway gave Mount Vesuvius as the answer, which is of course the volcano in the middle.

    2. Use Windows' Snipping Tool to extract the rightmost picture. Search by Image: it'ss Kikunae Ikeda. Wikipedia says he found the umami flavor.

    3. Try my chance with Search by Image on the pic you "took on a recent trip". Found the blog Catalan Cultures and an entry by Jenna Hrubes about a field trip to the Roman heritage of Barcelona which included the same image in color. (A museum postcard? A traveler companion?) Reading the blog entry: that's he dolia (container) where "garum" was prepared.

    4. Tried my chance at searching [garum umami vesuvius]. Bingo: the Wikipedia article on umami says it all.

    Less than 5 minutes.

    Now extra question for those who are really interested in food matters: what's the relation between garum and nước mắm? (This is the most amazing basic ingredient in a cuisine I know. When I knew this, I realized that the main ingredient of all Western cuisine is salt.)

  18. The facility in the photo was used to produce garum, a fermented fish sauce. Garum has been used to date the destruction of Pompeii ( The professor in the photo is Kikunae Ikeda. He first identified umami, one of the five basic tastes. Garum is umami, as it is high in glutamate.

  19. The connection is Garum.

    I started by cropping the top image to just the eruption using Snipping Tool. I uploaded this image to Search by Image and quickly learned it was Mt. Vesuvius. So what was Pompeii famous for producing?

    I then searched "pompeii produced" and scanned the document excerpts. The 6th said: "The garum produced at Pompeii was of the highest quality, much sought-after and exported throughout the Roman world".

    The Wikipedia article on Garum let me know I had the right substance (surely people got sick from eating this stuff?) and that Garum jars look like the sample picture.

    Who then, is the professor? The Garum article didn't mention anything about a professor. Rather than crop the image again, I quickly searched Google Images with "garum professor japanese" and scrolled down until I saw the photo. I learned that he first described the Umami taste, which Garum has.

    Interesting challenge!

  20. google image search identified the volcano as vesuvius. that brought pompeii up, and a quick search of pompeii showed that a lot of garum, a roman fish sauce, was produced there. the comment about the putative unsanitary way it was made and the vat confirmed that garum was of interest. an additional link is that in 2008 they carbon dated a specimen of garum from pompeii to get a better date on the destruction of the city. a quick wikipedia check of garum showed that it was noted for containing a significant amount of umami (the so-called fifth primary taste). looking up umami and confirming it with an image search on the professor showed that he was kikunae ikeda, a japanese professor who identified glutamate as the chemical basis of the umame flavor. (he also patented monosodium glutamat - msg).

  21. VESUVIUS erupted in 79AD covering POMPEII, the location in the Mediterranean where you toured the GARUM production facility of Aulus Umbricius Scaurus. The contents of his vats of recently laid garum were used to date the moment of the eruption and confirm with little doubt (but still a bit) the date of the eruption to late August or early September as written by Pliny the Elder (as Aug 24, 74AD). Kikunae IKEDA is the Japanese chemist and professor who discovered the chemical roots of the taste now known as imami, which is the principal taste created by the fish sauce known to ancient Mediterraneans as garum or sometimes liquamen.

  22. pre-garum material:
    However, the similar word scarus means the wrasse, a kind of fish which the Romans cultivated and caught in huge quantities off Italy and it is difficult to believe that this convenient coincidence was lost on our Scaurus with his fish-sauce business. Scaurus may also be the man of the same name who appears as a character at Trimalchio’s cena in Petronius’ Satyricon, though this is uncertain.
    evidently the Romans engaged in aquaculture too as a means to supply their taste for what Seneca described as:
    “that expensive bloody mass of decayed fish.”
    these days we may be more familiar with similar items like Gentleman's Relish - used in Scotch woodcock - or Worcestershire sauce or Thai fish sauce... did note that (池田 菊苗 was the father of MSG. Condiments are all about expanding or enhancing taste - sometimes a limited success or one that is an acquired taste - back to my miso soup.
    took 46 minutes - the battery time I had left when I started the search... + putting this together once I got power back.
    Biggest search lesson was learning to use individual screen captures with Goo Image search... it also focuses the search results. Using color filters is good too.

  23. Search by image (of a screenshot, to avoid the multiple images) immediately got me
    Kikunae Ikeda
    Kikunae Ikeda was a Japanese chemist and Tokyo Imperial University professor in Chemistry who, in 1908, uncovered the chemical root behind a taste he named umami. It is one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, bitter, sour and salty.

    I didn't even need to click on any links.

    I recognized Vesuvius and confirmed that picture with an image search using the whole banner.

    I was too lazy (and uninterested in the results) to look for and find the fish sauce. I started the search thinking you were talking about beer, but when I saw that the topic was umami, I lost interest.

  24. 10 seconds - guessed it from general knowledge. :)

    Confirmed in 30 seconds with queries:
    "fish sauce pompeii"
    "msg chemist" -> images -> spotted picture of Prof. Ikeda in the results

  25. I did reverse image searches of the three images, you had put the three images together as one, for the last one I had to add the word professor (like you shown in the one minute search tip), and for the first image I had to take a screen shot of it and then put that in to the image search.

    Then I made this search [garum OR salsamenta "Kikunae Ikeda" Vesuvias], and got several websites that tied the three together.

  26. I actually recognized Mt. Vesuvius and so, from your clues, and because I am a bit of a history buff I knew you were referring to garum the fish sauce used by the Romans to preserve food. The whole process is described in a book called 'Salt' by Mark Kurlansky. A great read if you're into those kinds of books. The professor was a little more complicated. By downloading his image and searching by image I found him and the connection. Professor Kikunae Ikeda, discovered the modern process and patented it. MSG. Total about 10 minutes.

  27. Image search of Professor Ikeda, chemist, food tastes,umami term for a specific taste.
    Image search volcanoes in Med. Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii
    Image search for Pompeii vats, archeology, food and drink, fish sauce/garum.
    Web search Pompeii produce garum, savory but revolting smell of rotting fish.