Category Archives: Fermentation

Fermentation

Fermentationfer-men-TAY-shunnoun – Any of a group of chemical reactions induced by living or non-living ferments that split complex organic compounds into relatively simple substances. The anaerobic conversion of sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol by yeast.

Fermenting things is one of my passions. I believe that fermenting food is not only a good practice for food storage, but for good health.

Louis Pasteur was a french chemist and is credited with discovering how fermentation takes place. Pasteur was approached by a gentleman who was at that time fermenting sugar and beet juice to create alcohol. He used very large vats in this process, and was puzzled to find that many of his vats were producing alcohol well, but there would always be some in which the beet juice would turn to a slimy sour mess, and yield no alcohol at all. This was costing him hundreds of francs for each batch he had to discard. In an effort to find a solution for his problem, he turned to Pasteur, who examined the vats, and collected samples from some which were producing alcohol, and from some which were not. Pasteur carefully examined the samples, and found that the vats which were producing alcohol contained yeast, and the vats which were not, contained black rod-shaped bacteria. These bacteria were instead producing lactic acid, which is the substance that sours milk (and alcohol). While he was not able to tell the man how to prevent this bacteria, he was able to tell him about the yeast which was required to produce alcohol.

“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal; my strength lies solely in my tenacity” ~Louis Pasteur

The standard North American diet is lacking in fermented foods. Even the traditionally fermented foods that are being produced today for mass consumption are not fermented, but pickled, usually in vinegar. Examples of these foods are pickles and sauerkraut. The fermented versions of these foods are considered by many to be far superior to the vinegar pickled versions we are accustomed to.

Some examples of fermented foods are sourdough breads, wine, beer, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut and fermented vegetables. There are also a variety of fermented condiments such as ketchup, salsa, kimchi and cream cheese.

One of the benefits of fermentation is that it does not rely on pasteurization or high heat canning methods. These methods have their place, but the process kills many perfectly healthy enzymes and bacteria in the foods they are preserving.

Fermentation helps to replenish the good bacteria we need in order to properly digest and assimilate nutrients. We live in a world that has declared war on bacteria. The use of anti-bacterial soaps, sprays, wipes and obsessive sterilization of everything remove much of the good, as well as bad bacteria in our lives.

 “Molecular biology has shown that even the simplest of all living systems on the earth today, bacterial cells, are exceedingly complex objects. Although the tiniest bacterial cells are incredibly small, weighing less than 10-12 gms, each is in effect a veritable micro-miniaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of one hundred thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machine built by man and absolutely without parallel in the nonliving world.” ~ Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory In Crisis

 

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Kombucha

Po-tion – n; A liquid or liquid mixture, especially one that is medicinal, poisonous, or magical.

Kombucha is a fermented beverage that is made with tea, sugar and the kombucha culture.

The kombucha culture itself is a colony of yeasts and bacteria living in a cellulose structure. It is sometimes referred to by the acronym “Scoby”, meaning symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The scoby resembles a pancake, and varies in color from white to beige, depending on the type of tea it has been living in. It feels rubbery to the touch, and varies in thickness from paper thin to a couple of inches. During each batch of kombucha, a new scoby is created and grows on the top of the brew. These extras can be tossed into the next batch, used to create a batch of their own, or passed along to friends who wish to brew their own kombucha.

 

 

Kombucha has been around for a very long time, some say thousands of years. It is believed to have originated in China, and then made its way to Russia, India, Japan and further through trade routes. It has been touted as a miracle cure for a very wide variety of illnesses and conditions, though most of the proof seems to be anecdotal. Panacea or not, kombucha is delicious, and easy to make at home.

Kombucha is made in glass or lead free ceramic vessels. It is acidic and will leach chemicals from plastics and metals. To begin, boiling water and tea bags are combined with sugar, in various quantities depending on the size of the vessel. The sugar dissolves and the tea steeps. After a few minutes the tea bags are removed and the resulting sweet tea is left to cool to room temperature.

It is very important that the mixture cools completely before the kombucha culture, or scoby, is introduced. Heat will kill the yeasts and bacteria. Once cool, the scoby is placed in the sweet tea and a cup or two of kombucha from the previous batch is added. This helps to create an acidic environment which discourages molds.

 

 

The jar or bowl is then covered with a coffee filter, paper towel or dish towel with a tight weave. These are secured with an elastic or string, tightly to prevent contamination of the brew by fruit flies, ants or dust. The jar is placed in a warm spot, out of direct sunlight where it can rest undisturbed for approximately 7-14 days. The brew will begin to produce a new scoby on the surface within a day or two. The scoby will appear first as a thin film, and gradually thicken. The new scoby is always formed on the surface, but the mother culture may be found at the bottom of the mixture or floating near the top.

It is best to begin taste testing before you think the kombucha will be ready. When the scoby has consumed most of the sugar in the sweet tea, kombucha is created. It can range in taste from apple cider to champagne. Some describe the flavour as being similar to iced tea. Kombucha may be flat or carbonated. The brew can be tested with ph strips or taste buds, and will be ready when it has reached a ph of 3.0 or a pleasant taste that is not too sweet, but not yet vinegary. If left too long, kombucha turns to vinegar, which can be used the same way apple cider vinegar is used.

 

Once finished, the scoby is removed, and placed in a separate container with a cup or two of kombucha and the kombucha is bottled. It can be placed in wine bottles, grolsch bottles, mason jars or nearly any other glass or ceramic container you choose. It should then be refrigerated. As kombucha is often carbonated, the contents can become pressurized and eventually break the bottles if left in a warm place. Grolsch bottles and corked wine bottles are often favoured for this reason, as they can let the excess pressure out with less chance of breaking. Flavouring can be added to kombucha during the bottling process, by placing a few blueberries or some ginger or other preferred flavoring substances into the bottle. I prefer the natural taste of kombucha, so I do not add any flavouring to it. I prefer wine bottles for storing it, though when necessary, I store it in ball jars.

 

Kombucha takes a while to brew, but it is well worth the wait. It literally costs pennies per gallon. Each batch produces a new scoby, and so, I generally have lots of them kicking around. I often keep them viable by placing more than one scoby in a batch. Extras can also be flash frozen, dried, composted or stored at room temperature in sweet tea.

If you are interested in giving kombucha a try, or looking for a scoby of your own, email me at katie@wyldwomyn.ca

 

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Milk Kefir, My Cup Runneth Over

 

Po-tion – n; A liquid or liquid mixture, especially one that is medicinal, poisonous, or magical.

Milk kefir is a cultured milk product.  While kefir is consumed worldwide, it is generally agreed to have originated in the Caucasus Mountains. The name kefir is believed to come from the Turkish language. With the growing interest in probiotic bacteria, there has been a surge in the popularity of this beverage in North America.

Kefir grains are live cultures of symbiotic bacteria and yeasts, living in a matrix of proteins, lipids and sugars. There are more than two dozen separate species of micro flora at work in the grains, which resemble cauliflower.  Much research has been conducted on the health benefits of kefir, which has been found to contain beneficial bacteria and yeasts, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins B2, B12, K, A and D.

Finished kefir is similar to thin yogurt, but slightly carbonated. It’s creamy, fizzy texture and thickness, make it ideal for smoothies, salad dressings, creamy dessert toppings and just about anything else you can dream up. It tastes somewhat like plain yogurt, and can be substituted in place of buttermilk in recipes.

Kefir is made by placing kefir grains in milk (cow, goat, coconut, soy etc) and leaving the mixture at room temperature until it ferments. Depending on the temperature of the room and the amount of milk and grains used, this can take 24-48 hours. When the milk thickens and just begins to separate, the mixture is poured through a strainer and the grains are placed into the next jar of milk to do their work. The strained kefir is placed in the fridge where it will thicken even further, or consumed right away. It may be left out on the counter if cold storage is not available, but it will continue to ferment.

 

Kefir grains grow as they work, and so I usually have to divide them and remove some after every couple of batches. These extra grains can be dried, repurposed for making water kefir, passed on to friends, or placed in a cup or two of milk and stored in the fridge, for a week or so. After a week, they have slowly turned the milk to kefir, and must be strained and placed in fresh milk.

Some people, who are lactose intolerant, or sensitive to milk, find that they are able to consume kefir with no difficulty. Experts say that the fermentation process reduces the lactose content, and the probiotic bacteria present in the finished kefir aid digestion.

 

I was introduced to kefir over a year ago, by a friend who makes her own at home. I managed to get my first grains from a lady who has been making and enjoying kefir for several years.

These days I am nearly overrun. I have two jars of “back up” grains waiting to find new homes or be preserved and stored, as well as a set of grains in constant production on my kitchen counter.  Like many of the people I have met who also brew their own, I have become a tremendous fan, and kefir has become an important part of my daily routine.

 

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