Saturday, July 9, 2011

Adventures in Fermentation

Say hello to my little friends...

I've been culturing raw milk into yogurt for about a year now but as I've been reading more about the benefits of traditionally fermented foods, I wanted to diversify.

Let's get the health stuff out of the way first.  Why should we eat fermented/traditionally cultured foods?  I've just started reading  Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck.  Here is what Ms. Planck has to say about cultured/fermented dairy...
Traditional cultured milks are not only digestible but also nutritious.  According to Harold McGee, beneficial bacteria found in "traditional, spontaneously fermented milks" take up residence in our guts and promote health all over the body.  The bacteria secrete antibacterial agents, enhance immunity, break down cholesterol, and reduce carcinogens.  The bacteria added to industrial yogurt don't necessarily do the same good work.
The immune system (which protects our bodies from everything from common colds to vile cancers) is inextricably linked with the digestive system, you simply can't have a healthy body without a healthy digestive system!  That is why we *need* traditionally cultured foods.  Think of it as an inexpensive health insurance policy.

Now on to the fun stuff.  Over the past few weeks I have dabbled in kefir, kombucha, villi yogurt and lacto-fermented mayonnaise and pickles.  It has been quite fun, though not everything has been a smashing success.

Lacto-fermentation is an ancient process of preserving vegetables.  Think of traditional saurkraut.  Cabbage is put in a crock with water, salt and spices.  Lactic acid is formed and the good bacteria and enzymes preserves the cabbage into something healthful and delicious.  No heat or refrigeration needed.  Nourishing Days has a lovely four part series on fermenting.  I used her method for making these pickles.

These turned out absolutely delicious; crunchy, tangy and not too salty.  I am going to branch out as the summer season goes on.  Since these pickles turned out so well, I made the investment in a dozen quart size wide mouth mason jars.  I really want to pickle perfect summer peaches to enjoy in the dead of winter.

I once tried to make my own mayo.  It would not emulsify, no matter how much I beat, whipped, how slowly I dribbled and streamed.  And cried.  All those eggs and good olive oil gone to waste.  It would be a long time before I tried again.  But I'm not one to bow down from a challenge in the kitchen.  Armed with my trusty blender, farm fresh eggs and this method, I tried again.  This time adding whey to make it lacto-fermented, upping the nutritional value as well as making it keep longer.

Success!  It turned out thick and lovely.  Having everything at room temperature is a must and the blender made it so easy.  Although the fermentation is supposed to make it keep, tell that to Rob, who is slathering it on everything he can get his hands on.

I purchased some cultures and starters from Cultures for Health.  Specifically milk kefir grains, kombucha tea starter culture and villi yogurt culture.  Villi yogurt is meant to culture on the counter top. I followed the directions to the letter, it turned out thick and lovely looking but was so sour it was completely inedible.  But it wasn't all wasted.  I strained out the whey to keep for other uses like soaking brown rice and making more lacto-fermented goodies.

The kombucha (read more about kombucha here) starter culture needed to be rehydrated with starter tea, which is fresh brewed tea, sugar and vinegar.  It's been sitting on my counter undisturbed for almost two weeks.  It's not doing anything at the moment, but it can take up to four weeks to come back to life.  I'm watching and waiting...

The kefir grains (read more about kefir here) needed to be rehydrated also.  Place the grains in a little milk and let sit for 24 hours.  Strain and repeat daily for about a week until the milk starts to sour and thicken.  Then they are ready.

Add the kefir grains to a larger quantity of milk let sit on the counter for up to 24 hours.  After 12 hours start sniffing and checking the texture.  The longer it sits the thicker and more sour it gets.  My favorite batch was cultured for about 16 hours.  Strain out the grains, cover the jars with their lids and refrigerate for 6 hours to finish the culture.

The finished product is wonderful!  The dairy kefir is thick and sour but very tasty.  Richer and tangier than the store bought kind.  I find that pushing the dairy kefir through a fine mesh strainer before refrigerating results in a super silky and smooth tangy drink which is perfect for making protein shakes and smoothies or just sipping on its own.

My favorite of all my fermented goodies is the coconut kefir.  IT IS INSANE!!!  I bought good quality organic coconut milk.  The full fat kind.  There is no sugar, no water, just pressed organic coconut meat.  I used the kefir grains the same as with dairy milk.  Just put grains and coconut milk in a jar, cover loosely with a coffee filter and rubber band and let it sit on the counter for up to 24 hours.  Fish out the grains, cover and refrigerate.

The result is almost indescribable...

Thick enough to defy gravity!  But also fluffy, creamy, sweet and tangy at the same time, coconutty and totally rediculicious.  Yes, it's so good it is inspiring nonsensical descriptors.  I have used it in chocolate protein shakes, plopped on top of blueberries and bananas, stirred into hot coffee and straight out of the jar.  I have another batch culturing this very minute.

There is very little hands on time when making cultured products but like a pet goldfish, you need to keep your kefir grains alive by changing the water in their bowl, as it were.  When not in use just keep them in a little jar of milk on the counter, loosely covered.  Change the milk every day or two.  I mix the milk with filtered water to make it more cost effective.  It hasn't changed the effectiveness of the grains.  You can store the grains in the fridge if you need a rest, be sure the follow the instructions of the grains you purchase to be sure you keep them in tip top shape.

If you made it to the end of this novel, congratulations!  I'd love to hear your results with home fermentation and if you haven't tried it, give it a go.  Fermented foods are most definitely nutritious and delicious.

Weekend Blog Carnival


  1. OMG, I am speechless over that coconut kefir! It looks as delicious as Marshmallow Fluff!

  2. I'm re-inspired now! I bought the jars with the airlocks, the starter culture and all. Then I failed miserably at fermenting garlic scapes. No action whatsoever and I followed the directions faithfully. Your kefir sounds fabulous and I can't get over that coconut kefir.