Nosh Box: A Cause for Ferment
Tasting like strong cheese with a chewy texture, natto is a popular Japanese food made from steamed, fermented, and mashed soybeans.
Beer, wine, sourdough, and yogurt are Bay Area household words; tempeh, natto, koumiss, and filmjölk, not so much so. Yet all share a commonality essential to the beverages we drink, the foods we eat, and the digestive process within our gut: fermentation.
A recent dietitians’ survey claimed fermented foods are the leading superfood group for 2018. You can buy them at Lunardi’s Markets, Whole Foods, or The Food Mill in Oakland—or you can make some yourself.
August marks the heart of the East Bay’s warm season, from early June to late October. While you can taste a new fermented edible any time, August is an ideal time to experiment with DIY fermentation.
But a word of caution: The descriptions of these fermented health foods in aggregate claimed the following accolades: countering allergies; improving immunity—as well as cardiovascular and digestive health; speeding muscle recovery; increasing bone health and density; reducing cholesterol and menopause symptoms; aiding digestion; detoxing the body, killing candida; reducing the risk of diabetes, obesity, gastric ulcers, and malignancy; maintaining healthy skin; reducing joint pain; promoting a healthy nervous system; and preventing cancer.
If all that sounds too good to be true, remember this citation on health foods from Wikipedia, “In general, claims of health benefits for specific foodstuffs are not supported by scientific evidence, and are not evaluated by national regulatory agencies.”
That said, in alphabetical order, here are some of the principal fermented offerings for your consideration in August.
Kefir—Originally made with camel’s milk in the Caucasus Mountains, it’s now fermented from cow, goat, or sheep milk. Kefir might be called drinkable yogurt in a glass, rich in calcium, magnesium, biotin, and folate. With a sour taste, and 2.5% ABV, it’s available in bottles and cartons.
Kimchi—Dating back to the Seventh century, kimchi is a traditional, spicy-hot, fermented and aged Korean condiment or side dish. It’s made from vegetables, including cabbage, bok choy, turnips, hot peppers, plus spices and seasoning. This Korean mainstay accompanies every meal, and keeps indefinitely in the refrigerator.
Kombucha—This ancient Chinese beverage is fermented from black or green tea and a sweetener. Kombucha contains bacteria and yeast responsible for starting fermentation when combined with sugar. During this two-stage process, the product is refrigerated to limit carbonation and alcohol production. PepsiCo added Kombucha to its product portfolio in 2016.
Miso—Available in a variety of flavors and colors, all miso comes from fermenting soybean, barley, or brown rice, with a koji fungus. Often called bean paste, miso can be thick as peanut butter, and is a major ingredient in Japanese soups, stocks, marinades, and salad dressings. Along with soy sauce, miso is a principal contributor of the savory taste we call umami.
Natto—Tasting like strong cheese with a chewy texture, natto is a popular Japanese food made from steamed, fermented, and mashed soybeans. Used as a flavoring or condiment, it is immensely popular over rice for breakfast, or mixed with other condiments, like chives, soy sauce, or mustard.
Pickles—Domestically, pickled cucumbers come to mind when we think of pickles. Both the sweet and dill varieties have lots of vitamins and minerals. While all fermented foods are pickled, not all pickles are fermented. Only when they’re left to sit out ten days or more, while lacto-fermentation bacteria converts sugars in the food to lactic acid, as happens with half-sours.
Sauerkraut—It’s one of the oldest preserved foods, rich in fiber and vitamins A, B, C, and K. But many folks disdain sauerkraut—usually because they’ve only tasted commercial varieties straight from the jar or carton. There’s a world of difference between homemade and store-bought, and the former is easily made. To be properly appreciated, commercial types should first be soaked in fresh water, squeezed, rinsed, squeezed again, then cooked with white wine, meat stock, and seasonings added.
Tempeh—Originating in Indonesia, tempeh is a brown, sweet, earthy soybean cake fermented by the addition of a live-mold starter, then rested for a day or two as it solidifies. Compared with tofu, tempeh is a little higher in calories, and contains more protein and fiber. It is sold in 8-inch long rectangles from a refrigerated case.
Yogurt—With a tart and tangy taste, yogurt is the most popular fermented dairy product in the U.S. today. Most is made from cows’ milk, but sheep’s milk and goats’ milk varieties are not only popular, but also considered premium varieties. Yogurt is also the most popular probiotic, a food that claims to stimulate the growth of beneficial organism within the gut.
Crème Fraiche—A European favorite for topping savory foods, fruits, and desserts, crème fraiche is heavy cream thickened with an active bacterial culture. And it’s simple to make. In a non-reactive container (stainless steel, ceramic, glass, plastic, or enameled metal), combine a cup of whipping cream with 2 tbs. buttermilk. Cover and hold at room temperature until thickened—usually overnight, or up to 24 hours. Stir, then refrigerate until served.
Once you’ve earned your merit badge for crème fraiche, progress to Sauerkraut in a Mason Jar, another, two-ingredient, homemade wonder. So don’t just sit there, get fermenting!