Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fermented beverages

Believe it or not, I am not talking about wine, cider, or beer.  I want to mention the weird world of non-alcoholic ferments.  Some people believe them to be very health promoting.  Seth Roberts has a hypothesis that the umami sense is really a taste for complex fermented flavors / bacteria which are necessary to good health.

About a year ago I had a horrible antibiotic related tummy problem (c. dif?  by the time I went to the ER they couldn't find anything so it's hard to know, though they only did the quick test.)  I was able to make it mostly better by taking the strongest pro-biotic I could find every three hours, and drinking and eating every kind of fermented food I could get my hands on including kombucha.  I also took all of the mucilaginous seeds I could think of, like chia and flax.  C. diff. can also be treated with cholesterymine, and chia and flax have some of the same binding properties.  That and the change in antibiotics cured the problem.  Hardly scientific evidence, but it was pretty effective.  There is real scientific research that taking pro-biotics can resolve c. difficile infections, here is a nice meta-analysis.

But to be honest I am less interested in the health aspects than the taste aspects.  I don't drink soda or juice because of the carbohydrates.  I believe and research seems to show that artificial sweeteners actually cause weight gain, and any way they're gross.  Wine and cider are great, but you can only have so much.  We drink ice water with meals, and coffee and tea.  But sometimes you want a complex, flavorful, relatively low in carbohydrate beverage.  What then?

My introduction to non-alcoholic ferments was inauspicious to say the least.  I read about kombucha in my co-op newsletter and bought a bottle as I was driving to my friends house.  It's a longish drive and I was super thirsty.  Once I was on the free-way I opened the kombucha, tried it, and almost spit it out.  Gross!  As I drove I kept taking little sips to see if it was still gross.  I was really thirsty.  When I got to my friends house I tried to get her to try it by saying: "You have to try this, it's totally gross!"  Which, strangely, didn't work, she refused to try.

But for some unknown reason I kept sipping at it until it was gone.  And the next day I sort of wanted another one.  Eventually I developed a bottle a day habit.  A taste that grows on you.  Kombucha is sour, there are definitely vinegar notes.  Some flavors have fruity notes, I like the ginger and lemon flavors best.  I don't like the brands that aren't sour.  I tried making it myself once, but I let it go too long, it turned to very strong vinegar, and I just couldn't sustain my interest in gross looking slimy symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast.  It's a bit expensive, so I generally buy it as a treat these days.  A half bottle in a fancy wine glass is the perfect amount.

I tried beet kvass for the first time this week.  Kvass it a Slavic drink normally made with bread and thus gluten containing, but beet kvass is supposedly super healthy, a blood tonic, and who knows what all else, and it's gluten free.  It was good, more savory than sweet, it had that coppery slightly earthy beet taste, with the strong tang of lactic acid.  Also, it was crazy magenta.  How can you not love magenta food?  At 7.99 a 12 ounce bottle I won't be buying it often, but the recipe at the link above looks easy enough, so I may give it a try.

I have been intrigued by the coconut water kefir at the co-op, but I haven't been able to pull the trigger on $10.00 a small bottle.  If anyone has ever tried it let me know.  Though that does bring me to the much more common and way cheaper fermented milk category.  I was thinking I would start making kefir or yogurt, the friend I mentioned above makes her own yogurt and it tastes great.

In the mean time, here is a great recipe from my German/Finish host mother.  (She is from Finland, but was an exchange student to Germany and fell in love with my host father and stayed.)  I think this must be a Finish recipe, but I never know what of the things I learned from her were Finish and which German.

Buttermilk drink


The amounts of the above are not important, adjust to your taste.  Squeeze half a lemon into a tall glass, stir in a small spoon of sugar, or honey, or maple syrup to your taste.  I am not the biggest fan of sugar, but in this case sugar let's the lemon shine through, and I use less than a teaspoon.  Pour in some buttermilk and stir, add several ice cubes, top with more buttermilk to fill the glass, or mineral water if you want a lighter drink.  I like sour things, but you should make this sweet/sour.

I would love to try this with real buttermilk, the whey left over from making butter.  I bet the whey left over from making greek yogurt would taste great this way too.

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