Literature review

The literature review shows there is an emphasis in food safety and foodborne parasites in the published research concerning ceviche. That is to be expected, given that it is a dish with raw ingredients served in hot climates. A Scopus search on the keyword “ceviche” between 2004 and 2021 returns 30 publications, most of which deal with foodborne diseases and parasitosis, three with a complex event framework named CEVICHE, one with migrant adaptation, one with cultural appropriation, and only a handful provide a gastronomic viewpoint. Due to this dearth of academic sources, gray documentation and press articles were included as sources. We approached Web recipes with care, because they are not considered trustworthy as a whole [28].

Relative search interest

Ecuador is the second country in the world after Peru in its interest in ceviche, as measured by Google Trends relative search volume (RSV). On a relative scale where 100 is the most popular search term, the order of the first five most interested countries remains unchanged: Peru, Ecuador, Belize, Costa Rica, and Chile. The interest and its variation are detailed in Table 3. In the topmost 10 countries, the interest in ceviche, which is measured by Web searches, is increasing.

Table 3 Interest in ceviche measured by Google Trends, by country. Relative search volumes

Local interest

Within Ecuador, the relative interest for ceviche in the twenty-four provinces has been changing when comparing the last 5 years with the last 17 years. The average interest in ceviche has increased from 68.75 in the last 17 years to 72.21 in the last 5 years. A breakdown of the search interest is presented in Table 4.

Table 4 Search interest in Ecuador, by province

These variations may reflect the increase in household Internet connection availability, which increased from 22.5% in 2012 to 53.2% in 2020, with different increase rates in urban and rural areas [29, 30]. The widest changes in interest are seen in the provinces of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo (both mountain provinces, far from the sea) with an increase in 11 places, and of Santa Elena, a coastal province, with a decrease in 11 places.

Ecuador is marketed for tourism as the “country of the four worlds.” Mapping the interest in ceviche to the four regions in which Ecuador is divided [31], we find that Galapagos has the most interest in ceviche (100), followed by Amazonia (73.3), the Pacific coast (72.3) and the Andes region (68.7).

City-wise, the places in which there is more interest in ceviche are Manta, Machala, Quito, Riobamba, Guayaquil, Loja, Santo Domingo, Cuenca, Ibarra and Portoviejo (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2
figure 2

Search interest for ceviche in each province as a color scale, and the location of the 10 cities in which the search interest is highest. Galapagos islands not to scale

Main ingredient

The RSV analysis shows that the main searches related to ceviche in Ecuador are as follows (search place in parentheses, grouped for conciseness): shrimp ceviche (1, 2, 10); ceviche recipe (3, 4); fish ceviche (5); how to make ceviche (6); Ecuadorian recipe (7); chicken ceviche (8); and Peruvian ceviche (9). The two main searches have a popularity rating of 100, with the next search in popularity coming at only 47, decreasing from there.

Our survey response data agrees with Google Trends concerning shrimp and fish. Almost 83% of the responses consider that Ecuadorian ceviche is either shrimp or fish (Table 5). Figure 3 shows the popularity of main ingredients. Clam (black shell) and lupin (lupini beans) make another 10% of the responses; and crab (2%), chicken (1%) and others (4%), such as pig’s skin, hearts of palm, chiton, canned tuna and others, complete the remaining ingredients.

Table 5 Responses for main ingredient, in descending order
Fig. 3
figure 3

Main ceviche ingredient. Shrimp is the most popular ingredient, followed by fish. Together, they make 83% of the responses

Chicken ceviche is more represented in Web searches than in the survey responses. This may suggest it is a novelty preparation and not.

Grouping the “four worlds” regions and comparing the main responses, greater variety is apparent in the Andes than in the Pacific coast or Amazonia. The two most common main ingredients shrimp and fish make up 90% of the responses in the Pacific coast (208 respondents, error margin 7%) but 74% in the Andes (168 respondents, error margin 8%) and 79% in Amazonia (24 respondents, error margin 20%). Galapagos has a single respondent. Table 6 shows the cumulative percentages of main ingredients per region. The most diverse main ingredient responses are from provinces in the Andes region, where non-seafood ingredients are used the most. This can be attributed to ingredient availability.

Table 6 Main ingredient choices per region. Galapagos not included

Less frequent main ingredients

The most common mains by far are fish and seafood, but there are several other popular ceviche main ingredients in Ecuador, particularly away from the coastal region. Beef ceviche is typical fare in Macará and Zapotillo, in the inland Loja province close to the Peruvian border [15]. It is prepared with lightly cooked meat instead of seafood, and it is similar to the Persian dish sikbaj, proposed as an ancient ancestor to ceviche by Jurafsky [5, 32]. Pig’s skin and ear ceviche is common in the central Ecuadorian Andes, especially in the city of Riobamba, which is also the chocho (Lupinus mutabilis) ceviche capital of Ecuador [33]. This lupin ceviche is not only Ecuadorian but shared with Peru and Bolivia [34]. The Peruvian capital of lupin ceviche is Ancash. Cevichocho (shortened name) is an appreciated, nutritious, inexpensive snack.

Other ceviche dishes considered “original” by local TV channel Teleamazonas are “guinea pig, pineapple, chicken, avocado and even liver” [35]. This may be seen as extreme choices, but reflects the diversification (after de Albuquerque [36]) that the dish is undergoing when expanding from the original coastal regions to places where fresh seafood is not readily available and is adapted to local ingredients and taste, thus amplifying the available alternatives.

Ceviche de concha

A distant third main ingredient, ceviche de concha, is prepared with the mangrove bivalve Anadara tuberculosa, a vulnerable blood cockle species. It is very popular in the Pacific coast, particularly in El Oro and Esmeraldas, partly because it is considered an aphrodisiac, particularly in the provinces of Guayas and Esmeraldas where preparations bear suggestive names such as “mattress breaker,” “lay me down, black woman,” and others even more explicit [37, 38]. Purportedly, this aphrodisiac effect is due to the zinc content, but it has been established that aphrodisiacs do not really work [39].

Mangroves are endangered ecosystems, their loss driven by subsistence economies and the shrimp trade [40]; and in addition to habitat loss, A. tuberculosa is endangered by overextraction. Measures are being taken to sustainably extract A. tuberculosa, and progress is being made by establishing a minimum capture diameter of 45 mm, strengthening the value chain, applying best practices, and low-intensity aquaculture of the species, but there is still room for improvement [41,42,43]. The same situation arises for other protected species used to prepare ceviche, such as wild shrimp, lobster, blue and red crab, octopus, dolphinfish and hake [44], which have seasonal capture prohibitions. Also, fishing restrictions have been proposed for Chiton spp. in Galapagos [45]. Spondylus extraction is permanently banned since 2009, even though it is a symbol of the Ecuadorian coast and has historically been a dish fit for royalty: the “ceviche of the Gods” [2].

Another sustainability concern is mislabeling or even seafood fraud, which has been identified as a problem in neighboring Peru, in sushi and ceviche restaurants, and in Ecuadorian dolphinfish production [46].

Other ingredients and condiments

The condiments used can be divided into three groups, according to their mentions: a “holy trinity” in Ecuadorian ceviche made of onion, lemon or lime juice and cilantro, all of which have a usage of over 95%; frequent ingredients are tomato, tomato ketchup and orange juice, which were mentioned in the majority of the responses; and chili, mustard and bell pepper, less used ingredients, appearing in less than half of the responses with the least mentioned ingredient, the bell pepper, appearing in little less than one-third of the mentions. The chart shown in * MERGEFORMAT Fig. 4 details the condiment use and the percentage of mentions received.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Condiment use frequency in Ecuadorian ceviche. The “holy trinity” of ceviche is onion, lemon and cilantro, followed by tomato, ketchup, orange juice, chili, mustard and bell pepper

Sour lime (Citrus aurantifolia) is the preferred citrus for making ceviche, due to its acidity. Orange juice is used alongside lemon in Ecuadorian ceviche in 51.12% of the responses. Fish and shrimp cooking liquid is often used to add volume and flavor to the dish.

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is almost the only herb used in Ecuadorian ceviche, belonging to the “holy trinity” mentioned by almost 96% of the respondents. In the northern province of Esmeraldas, Chillangua (Eryngium foetidum) is used instead of cilantro as they have a similar aromatic profile, with both essential oils rich in aliphatic aldehydes, mainly E-2-dodecenal [47]. It is worth mentioning that both herbs have shared ethnopharmacological uses (antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic), presumably due to the similarities in phytochemical composition [48, 49].

Ecuadorian food is generally less spicy than its Peruvian counterpart, and ceviche is no exception. The use of chili (Capsicum pubescens) is less prevalent than other condiments, mentioned in 46.4% of the responses. The liberal use of tomato ketchup (62.53%) and mustard (41.69%) as condiments seems to be mainly Ecuadorian.

Sides

Sides provide the starch in ceviche. Our survey shows that the most popular sides are chifles (fried thin green plantain slices), tostado (toasted corn), patacones (fried and smashed plantain slices), popcorn, bread, boiled yuca and rice. Chifles and popcorn are usual in the coast. Bread is a frequent side from Guayaquil (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5
figure 5

Sides for ceviche. The most popular is chifle, followed by toasted maize and patacones (fried plantain chunks). Popcorn, yuca, rice and bread come behind. Sweet potato is seldom used, unlike in Peruvian ceviche

Plantains (Musa x paradisiaca), from where chifles and patacones derive, are a lowland crop, cultivated in the coast and Amazonia; and corn, from where tostado and popcorn derive, is a typical Andean crop. Yuca is also a coast and Amazonia crop. Plantain provides 67% of the sides and corn provides 22% of the sides. Although sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas L.) is very popular in Peruvian ceviche, it is less popular in Ecuador.

A “typical” Ecuadorian ceviche?

Based in our data, the typical Ecuadorian ceviche would be a shrimp ceviche, with chifle as side and with onion, cilantro, lemon, tomato, ketchup and perhaps orange as other ingredients. The shrimp ceviche recipe published by Armendaris [50] is very close to what our data suggest. Its ingredients are cooked shrimp, red onion, lemon juice, mustard, cilantro, ketchup, black pepper, tomato, orange juice, chili, oil and salt. The suggestion is to serve it with popcorn and chifles in the coast and with toasted corn in the Andes. Shrimp ceviche is also the most frequent search term in our analysis, so there is an agreement between our data and Web search interest. Shrimp ceviche, though, accounts for 54% of the results, leaving ample space to other main ingredients, condiments and sides, and space for growth and adaptation (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6
figure 6

Shrimp and fish (Pacific cornetfish) ceviche garnished with chifles (plantain chips). Santa Elena province. Shrimp ceviche usually has more tomato and ketchup than fish ceviche and is redder. The authors

Ceviche derivatives

One of the flagship Ecuadorian dishes is Encebollado meaning “with onion.” It is a tuna (Thunnus albacares), yuca (Manihot esculenta) and onion soup that is the provincial dish of Guayas—the most populated province in Ecuador. It derives from ceviche de balde (bucket ceviche), a cheaper variety of ceviche sold by street vendors in enameled iron buckets, famous as a hangover cure [12]. As Ecuadorian ceviches have more liquid in them than those of other countries, and provided that fish in Ecuadorian ceviche is often cooked, this brothy, warm ceviche naturally found its way into a soup [12].

Another offshoot of ceviche is Volquetero (dump trucker). It references the truck drivers during the construction of the Amazonian Road. Being from other parts of the country, these drivers would want their ceviche, but there was no fresh fish, as they were away from the sea with no available cold chain. They developed a solution to satisfy the craving using canned tuna, lupini beans, onion, lime juice and chifles. Thus, the ceviche volquetero, shortened to Volquetero, was born, which is an important local dish in the province of Pastaza.

Status as traditional food

We consider Ecuadorian ceviche to be a proper traditional food as it satisfies the requirements set forth in Rocillo-Aquino et al. of place, time, know-how and cultural meaning [51]. The defined place of Ecuadorian ceviche comes from the Manteño culture, through the Inca domination and the Spaniards making landfall in the Ecuadorian–Peruvian border, and then to provincial and local varieties, often with defining ingredients. The 25 years, or one generation, needed to establish tradition are satisfied even with the more modern cases of encebollado and volquetero. Its “Know-how,” the “What?” (ingredients), the “How?” (techniques) and the “Who?” (persons making the dish) are satisfied. The cultural meaning is present since the pre-Inca times in which the Spondylus ceviche was the food of the Gods [2], and although it is now forbidden, ceviche recipes and main ingredients denote local identities.

Food safety

The acidic lemon or lime juice used in ceviche reduces the risk posed by certain bacteria such as Vibrio parahaemolyticus, but not all: Salmonella enterica is not affected by the acidic environment and can cause food-borne diseases [52]. Parasites, mainly zoonotic nematodes, are a common food-borne disease associated with the consumption of raw fish dishes, such as Japanese sashimi, Peruvian tiradito or ceviche [53, 54]. These are unaffected by acid environment in ceviche.

There is research concerning the food safety of Ecuadorian ceviche. Orden-Mejía et al. conducted a microbiological evaluation of shellfish ceviche sold in Guayaquil [55] in which they found no Salmonella but highlight the public health need for controlling Aerobic mesophiles, as these include most pathogens that can cause foodborne disease outbreaks [56] and total coliforms, which are a quality and hygiene indicator [57]. Salazar-Llorente [58] found varying levels of contamination, spoilage microorganisms and opportunistic pathogens in high-demand food—including ceviche—sold in the three major Ecuadorian cities: Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca. Ecuadorian ceviche, particularly shrimp, lupini, chicken, meat and some recipes of fish ceviche cook or at least poach the protein ingredients, helping reduce the risk of infection and parasites. This differentiates Ecuadorian ceviche from Peruvian or Chilean ceviche in which the protein is always raw.

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