It has become more and more common in this recent day and age for younger people, particularly millennials, to take a more critical look at what is being put into their bodies. Veganism is becoming more common, health conscious and non-gmo foods are also becoming the norm. As people begin to protest the consumption of unhealthy foods that have been so prominent in our culture for decades, they begin to usher in an era that includes fermented, pickled, sprouted, and spoiled foods.

What are some of the main reasons for the fermented food craze?

    • Fermenting creates an acidic environment, often changing our normal food into a tangy, more vinegar-like tasting evolution of what was previously there.
    • Lactobacillus (the friendly bacteria) stay present in the end product of what is fermented, so when you consume said product, you add millions of tiny beneficial bacteria into your stomach. These will aid in fighting off unfriendly organisms that cause ailments.
    • Some of the proposed benefits of eating fermented food include: reduced risk of infection from pathogenic microorganisms, reduced constipation or diarrhea and improvement of inflammatory bowel conditions (Chron’s, IBS), reduced urinary tract infections, improvement of and reduced risk for atopic dermatitis (eczema) and acne (1).
    • Allows the fermenter to make use of any and all leftover foodstuffs that may not have been cooked and are likely to be thrown out. Why not throw it into a jar for fermentation and preserve not only your food but your wallet’s health?
    • Absorption of nutrients – it has been seen that the bacteria that are ingested when eating fermented foods make eating other foods easier. The bacteria break down these foods and make it easier on the gut to handle, as well as making the nutrients more readily available to absorb.

Can we blame the younger generations for wanting to delve into this untapped resource of health? Civilizations have been fermenting food for hundreds of years, but we have seen fermentation become rarer as we settle into the world of mass produced overly processed food. We made food cheaper, easier to produce in large quantities, sugary and calorically dense, but in doing so have eliminated many nutritional benefits we used to see with an old world and natural outlook on food. Our ability to produce goods in this way has made an immense amount of money for our country, as well as making food and sustenance more widely available for a cheaper cost. While this is beneficial, we can see millennials trying to find a balance between consuming what will make their wallet’s gut health increase and what will make their personal gut health increase.

1. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/07/18/health-benefits-fermented-foods.aspx

Over the past few years, drinking vinegars have been popping up here and there in grocery stores, often alongside kombucha and water kefir. I was surprised to learn that not only are drinking vinegars incredibly tasty and refreshing, they have a long history and potential health benefits. They’re also perfect for sipping on a hot summer day! 

Shrubs and switchels are both vinegar-based drinks that came about in the eighteenth century America, with switchels being more common in the hotter parts of the country. Traditionally made with vinegar, molasses, ginger, and water, switchel was often drank while working the farm on hot days, earning it the name Haymaker’s Punch. Shrubs are slightly different as they contain fruit and were traditionally made by pouring vinegar over fruit that had been reduced with water and sugar, left to sit for a couple days, then strained and drank. Fire cider is a common folk remedy; a sweet and spicy vinegar infusion commonly made out of apple cider vinegar, honey, spices, and herbs, which could vary depending on what was available during the season. The ingredients are mixed together and left to infuse for a month! It was named by the celebrated American herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, who is attributed with creating a standardized, enhanced version of the original remedy. Fire cider is said to stimulate the digestion, enhance the immune system, and warm you up on a cold day. It can be taken as an undiluted spoonful, diluted with water or juice, or even tossed into your meal.

Interesting facts:

  • The ancient Greeks first developed “oxymels” which are a concoction of honey and vinegar; Hippocrates, called the father of modern medicine, considered oxymels to be powerful health elixirs
  • The word shrub comes from the Arabic words “shurb” and “sharbat”, both meaning “to drink”; it’s thought that shrubs may have originated in the Middle East
  • Throughout history, vinegar has thought to have a cooling effect on the body and was often used to reduce fevers
  • During the 1800s, switchel was very popular among Harvard students as a cocktail mixer
  • While vinegar is very acidic, it becomes alkaline once it’s digested; it’s believed that having a more alkaline body chemistry is preferable and can prevent many health conditions
  • Both switchel and shrubs gained popularity during the temperance movement, being touted as an excellent alternative to alcohol.
  • Many colonial-era sailors drank switchel, believing it prevented scurvy
  • In eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, ice water was looked on suspiciously as something that could cause indigestion and other ailments, making vinegar a refreshing alternative
  • Once refrigeration came about, shrubs lost popularity but started to see a resurgence around 2011 among American bars and restaurants

Intrigued yet? Make a shrub or switchel for yourself, and be sure to check out the next episode of Fermentation Road, featuring Liber vinegar!

 

Cherry Strawberry Shrub

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

Mix together occasionally on low heat until dissolved.

Add 1 ½ cups chopped strawberries and cherries

Turn heat up to medium – medium high and then reduce heat and simmer until the liquid has taken on the color of the fruit and the fruit looks slightly bleached.

Add 1 cup Liber Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Vinegar

And 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Mix; remove from heat when just starting to simmer

Drain the fruit from the mixture. Once cooled, store the shrub mix in the fridge in an airtight container. Sip by itself, add seltzer water, or add to salads in place of a salad dressing.

 

Simple Switchel

5 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup chopped, fresh ginger root

Combine the water and ginger, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the water looks slightly reduced and yellowish in color. Strain the ginger root out of the water and set aside to cool slightly.

Add in 1/2 cup of molasses (you can also use honey or maple syrup if you prefer) and stir to mix.

Add 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar

Pour into a sealable jar and set in the fridge to cool for several hours. Shake well before enjoying, and add a squeeze of lemon if you like- I found it really enhanced the flavors! Enjoy!

Have you ever heard of koji? Many people haven’t, yet chances are you’ve had at least one food that owes its flavor to it. Miso, soy sauce, sweet rice vinegar, and sake- to name a few- all contain koji. So what is it?Koji’s considered a hallmark of Japanese cuisine and is found in many different foods. Elizabeth Andoh, the director of the Taste of Culture culinary arts program in Tokyo, calls koji a “fermenting agent of change.” The name koji can be referring to either a mold or a food ingredient.  Tane koji, which translates to “seed koji”, are the actual spores from either the Aspergillus oryzae or Monascus purpureus molds, although the Aspergillus is the more commonly used species. The ingredient known as koji is made by adding the mold to steamed grains and allowing it to cultivate. The mold releases enzymes that break down the starches, proteins, and fats, resulting in foods that are more tender and flavorful. In English, we tend to refer to all types of koji-inoculated grains collectively as koji; in cultures like Japan, where it’s commonly used, there are names and distinctions made between the different kinds. With sake, for example, koji used in regular versus premium sake is considered distinct; the difference lies in the type of rice that is initially inoculated with the koji seeds.

The first step in making foods containing koji is to add the Aspergillus culture to steamed grains. The mix is placed in a warm, humid area for up to 50 hours, and during that time the Aspergillus feeds on the grains and breaks them down. After the culture has had a chance to grow, it’s then added to larger quantities of grains and mixed with brine or alcohols and allowed to ferment.

Sake is one of the most well koji products. When making sake, rice is mixed with koji, allowed to sit while the koji breaks down carbohydrates and sugars, and then fermented with yeast. Koji, for sake, is said to be the equivalent of what malt is to beer; both break starches down into sugars, allowing the sugars to ferment into alcohol. Rice, barley, and soybean kojis are all used to make different types of misos.  Whole soybean koji is used to make traditional Chinese soy sauce and fermented black soybeans (also known as Hamanatto or Daitokuji natto). One of the most common uses of koji among chefs outside of Japan is utilizing koji as a tenderizing agent for meat. The meat is rubbed down with the koji-inoculated grains and left to sit in the fridge for 48  hours or so, creating a dry cured meat that is similar to traditional salt-cured meats that can take as many as 45 days to cure. Koji-cured meats are said to have a distinct, semi-sweet, miso-like flavor. One of the great things about koji-curing is that you can take a cheap piece of meat, cure it, and then have meat that tastes like a much more expensive cut! Some other uses are adding koji to marinades, sauces, dressings, and pickles. The flavor is said to be uniquely umami, although the taste differs depending on the kind of grain or legume used.

We decided koji sounded so intriguing that we decided to experiment with it ourselves. I found some at Asiana Market in Cotati, in the refrigerated section alongside kimchee, pickles and other fermented foods. I brought it home, opened the container, and was surprised to see that the rice looked fairly normal, just very dry and very white. It didn’t have much of a smell either; just a faint aroma that smelled slightly different than normal dry rice. Now that I had some, the hard part was deciding how I was going to use it! I decided to try dry curing some meat, as I’ve done this with just salt in the past, and was curious to see how it differed.

 When trying to find information on how to koji dry-cure meat, I discovered that it appears to be fairly experimental still; as such, it was hard to find a consensus on the exact process. I patted the excess moisture off one rib eye steak with paper towels, and then rubbed approximately 1/2 cup of ground koji rice powder all over it, making sure to cover the meat well. I then sprinkled 1/8 tsp of salt between both sides of the meat, set on a rack, and left it in the fridge for 48 hours.

After 24 Hours 

The meat definitely changed a lot over those 2 days! The first photo above was after 24 hours; the second photo was after 48 hours. It became darker red in color and had dried out spots that looked a lot like a meat that had been curing for longer. After the two days of waiting were up, I took the beef out of the fridge and washed the koji powder off; if you don’t do this, the koji will burn and your meat won’t cook. The meat was very dark red, and the marbling was more visible than it was originally.

I patted the moisture off the beef, and then cooked it in a saute pan on medium heat in canola oil, for about 4-5 minutes per side. The meat turned very grayish white, which was a little intimidating, to say the least.

   

After letting the steak rest for about 5 minutes, it was time for the moment of truth! I cut into the meat and took a bite… wow. The texture of the meat was super tender and incredibly juicy. The flavor was strangely buttery; my husband said it tasted like someone had boiled a steak in movie theater popcorn butter, which to be honest, wasn’t far off. It was incredibly flavorful, enough so that it was hard to believe there were no additional seasonings added. Needless to say, we ate it all! I could see this flavor working really well with other meats also. Final thoughts: I would certainly try this again, and I look forward to experimenting more with koji in the future! Have you done any experimenting with koji? Let us know in the comments!