photos by Visual Cuisines
Have you ever tried ogi, a traditional African millet porridge fermented with salt for 36 hours and cooked over a slow flame until it settles into a thick porridge with hints of cheddar and nutmeg?
During a recent visit to the Orlando Farmers Market at Lake Eola, I sampled an extensive array of fermented foods such as ogi. From Farm Boy Kombucha to Jamaican sour spicy vegetables, the range of Florida value-added products tempered by time and lactic acid stretches far beyond sauerkraut.
Before refrigeration, fermentation was an essential part of culinary repertoires from Greece to Korea. In many of these countries, it still remains a staple preservation method. Its current renaissance in the U.S. local food movement stems from the fact that fermented foods enhance simple staples like grains, meats, vegetables and beverages with flavor and flair unique to their creator.
Proof positive: Sandor Katz, master fermenter and author of a 400-page tome, The Art of Fermentation, is teaching fermentation workshops across the country. According to Katz, virtually anything can be fermented to improve its digestibility, enhance its flavor and lengthen its shelf life.
In fact, fermentation is a cornerstone of local gastronomic traditions. From the sourdoughs that leaven artisan breads to the bubbling carboys of craft beers, Florida is creating cultures that range from spicy kimchi salad to deliciously fermented honey wine.
For centuries, humans worldwide have used lactic acid fermentation to preserve their vegetables, dairy products, beverages and meat. Since the advent of industrial food production, these foods have nearly disappeared. It is easy to revive this traditional knowledge and thrive thanks to the healing qualities of lacto-fermented foods.
Natural fermentation makes the nutrients in foods more readily available to us. It breaks down phytates, which block mineral absorption. One study in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry found significantly better absorption of iron by humans from a mix of lactic acid fermented vegetables as compared to the same mix of fresh vegetables.
Lactic acid, which is the primary by-product of fermentation, supports the growth of our essential intestinal flora, normalizes acid levels in the stomach, helps the body to assimilate proteins and iron and stimulates cell metabolism. If you are passionate about cabbage, read more in Klaus Kaufmann’s The Cultured Cabbage.
Rich in active cultures and enzymes, fermented foods such as traditional pickles, kefir and kombucha support proper digestion, contribute to healthy metabolic function and inhibit harmful microbes in the intestinal system.
Heart of Christmas Farms is a raw milk dairy offering cow and goat yogurt and kefir. The gut is considered the “second brain” because it’s home to 95 percent of your “feel good” hormone seratonin. With more than 100 million neurons, a healthy gut helps manage stress and reduce depression and anxiety. Bacterial imbalances in your gut can alter brain chemistry. Kefir, a fermented dairy drink much like liquid yogurt, is a powerful probiotic, which contains fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K for brain health.
Kombucha is a healthful beverage offering anti-microbial activity against a range of pathogenic bacteria, thereby promoting immunity and well-being. This lightly fermented tea, dating back to ancient China, consists of yeasts and acetic bacteria living symbiotically (SCOBY). It is a living culture that looks like a jellyfish or placenta pancake in a jar. The Florida School of Holistic Living offers kombucha-making classes. Learn more here: holisticlivingschool.org.
When we make our own fermented foods or purchase them from a local producer, we ingest the bacterial cultures that occur naturally in the air to make a lacto-fermented food. An inter-relationship develops between our internal eco-system and that of the surrounding air. Thus, the more we savor these cultured foods, the more we create “culture,” which makes us even more local to where we live.
Are you curious about making your own kombucha or sourdough starter? These guidelines will get you started.
6 to 10 days
Ingredients for 1 gallon of brew:
Kombucha SCOBY—ask your friends or the folks at Farm Boy Kombucha for one
6 tea bags or 6 grams loose-leaf tea
1 cup sugar
3 quarts water
1 gallon mason jar (available at most hardware stores)
Clean cotton cloth
Rubber band or string to secure cloth
A warm quiet spot (it does not need to be in the dark!)
Vinegar or alcohol to clean utensils (Do not use bleach, soap or tap water)
Add tea and steep for recommended time dependent upon tea. Remove tea bags. Some people only seep their tea for a few minutes; others allow it to steep overnight.
Choose organic green, black or white tea. Flavored teas will add that flavor to the finished brew.
Add sugar and stir to incorporate.
Cool to room temperature and pour into a mason jar.
Add the kombucha “mushroom” to the tea. Make sure that the tea is not hot! The kombucha will grow to fit any size container. The “mushroom” may float, sink or go on its side. This is not a problem.
Cover with cloth that is tight knit to prevent pathogens from contaminating the brew. Leave undisturbed for 6-8 days. Taste and enjoy in small sips! Dilute with water if you like.
Sourdough Starter and Bread
8 to 10 days
10 cups whole wheat or whole spelt flour
1 quart mason jar
Thin cloth or cheesecloth
Glass baking dish
Mixing bowl and sturdy spatula
To make the starter, mix 1 cup flour with 3 cups water in a mason jar. Cover with a thin cloth so that natural bacteria from the air can enter and help the mixture to ferment. Stir the mixture at least twice each day—I try to do so in the morning and evening. After about a week, the mixture will start to smell like yeast. Now you know that it is ready for baking.
Before you go to bed, pour half of it into a large mixing bowl. Add 2 cups flour and 2 cups water. Stir vigorously, cover with a dish cloth and set aside until the next morning.
Take the rest of the starter, add ½ cup each flour and water, stir well, screw on a lid and place in fridge until the next time you are ready to make bread.
The next morning, mix the batter; add more flour to create a dough-like consistency and enough salt to give it flavor (1-2 teaspoons).
Knead for a few minutes inside the bowl with floured hands. Cover and let rise for 2 more hours. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Knead dough again. Shape it into a round and place it on a greased glass baking dish.
Coat the top with a mixture of water and olive or sunflower oil to prevent cracking.
Bake for 20 minutes, turn, then bake for 20 more minutes.
You will know the bread is done when you take it out of the oven, lift it off the baking dish, tap the bottom and hear a hollow sound.
Let cool for 30 minutes, slice and enjoy! I like to experiment with adding cornmeal and/or sunflower seeds.