Fermented goodies are showing up on menus all over the world, and it’s made it to menus in SA as
well. Traditionally, fermenting preserved seasonal vegetables, but the process also creates a new
and beneficial nutritional profile filled with probiotics, as well as a delicious taste. Chefs are using
fermented elements to add a new flavour dimension and an item of interest – here are four fermented
products to get you started.
The bacteria culture that’s used in kombucha is admittedly pretty weird looking. The SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) is a round jelly-like disk that sits on top of the kombucha mix, slowly consuming sugar and producing CO2 and ethanol. The kombucha starts off as sweet tea mixture and, after 7 – 10 days tastes a little like vinegar. Once the SCOBY’s removed and the drink is bottled, it’s allowed to sit for a couple of days outside the fridge, and develops bubbles. The result is a refreshing, slightly sweet and slightly vinegary drink. You can experiment with the type of tea you use, and add fruit juice to the finished product before its second ferment.
Fermenting, South African-style! In her recent cookbook, Eat Ting, Mpho Tshukudu details how South Africans have been fermenting their carbs for generations. Ting is a fermented sorghum porridge and it’s relatively simple to make. First, mix together coarsely ground sorghum with water in a container, seal it up and leave in a warm place to ferment for 5-7 days. To prepare the porridge, bring salted water up to the boil while mixing maize meal and the fermented sorghum together, then adding the mixture slowly into the boiling water, whisking to keep it smooth. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes – the longer you cook it, the thicker it’ll be.
The one that started it all. Or at least, it seems that way – kimchi first entered mainstream menus a few years ago, crossing over from Korean cuisine, where it’s been as staple for centuries. Kimchi can be made with many different base ingredients, but the most traditional one is cabbage. Sliced cabbage is mixed with salt and water, and left to stand for a couple of hours until softened slightly. The cabbage is then rinsed and dried thoroughly, before being mixed with a paste of garlic, ginger, sugar gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes), and sliced radishes and spring onions. The kimchi is then packed into a jar, leaving space at the top for the product to move, sealed and left to its own devices for a week or two.
Historically, most condiments were fermented as a preservation method, and while that’s obviously not necessary now in the age of refrigerators, fermenting ketchup gives it a pleasant sour taste. Start with a base of tomato paste, add sugar or honey (about an ⅛th of the amount of tomato paste), a little vinegar and then spices. Add a starter culture in the form of fresh whey drained from yoghurt, kefir or raw milk, mix thoroughly, place in a jar and top with more starter culture before sealing it up and leaving it outside of the fridge to ferment for 3 to 5 days.