Japan: Takii brings umami flavor to the West with Momotaro tomatoes
If you had to choose between the two tomatoes below, which would you pick?
When it comes to Western tastes, the vast majority of consumers would choose the redder one on the right - a preference Rogier Laurens of Takii Seed Europe B.V. is trying to shift in the other direction.
"In Russia, the Ukraine and in Eastern Europe people know this color and they associate it with quality and taste - and it's the same in Japan and South Korea - but the rest of the world thinks that a red color is a ripe fruit with a better taste," Laurens told www.freshfruitportal.com during Fruit Logistica in Berlin.
The Momotaro group of tomato varieties were developed in Japan during the 1950s, and Takii Seed has become the country's market leader in the category with 60-70% of the market.
"We think this is a real taste tomato," Laurens said.
"What’s special about this is the texture, the thin skin and the very elegant balanced taste, so there is no really strong sweetness or strong acidity.
"It’s got a good combination of flavors, hitting the umami taste that is well-known all around the world."
A key feature is also the tomato's color, which can range from a deep pink to almost red, while markings can be made out when you turn it upside down. Once the tomato is cut, or even as it's being cut, there are even more differences that can be seen.
"You don’t have a lot of water coming out of it. The gel where the seeds are is very firm, and then with the fleshy structure it’s very easy to cut nice slices," he said.
"Normally red tomatoes are quite firm, and crispy and crunchy – you really have to bite through. But with this one, because of the delicate structure it’s much easier for example to put it on a burger."
Laurens said tomatoes with this type of color were gaining a strong market share in some countries outside of Asia, such as the Ukraine and Russia. In some areas, tomatoes that look similar to the Momotaro are gaining 5-10% of the total tomato market.
"But in my opinion they’re lacking some flavor. This one has much better flavor and texture than the others, because the breeding concept of the others is different to our breeding concept," he said.
"You see big demand in Russia, Ukraine and the Eastern European countries, and now it’s slowly moving to other countries; in Greece we get demand, in Spain they’re asking for it, and we are now trying to bring it to the Dutch and northern European market for glasshouse cultivation."
He said most EU production at the moment was taking place in Almeria, Spain, and added the crop also had a lot of versatility in how it could be grown.
"The thing with Momotaro is that if you make short plants and a short crop you can have very large fruits," he said.
"But and if you keep it a bit longer and set up your crop in a different way, putting some stress on the plant and you have a high EC (Electrical Conductivity) level, then you can reduce the size of the tomato and the taste is so intensified.