Ice cream gone wild

Added on by Avery McGuire.

by Avery McGuire

Here at the lab where a myriad of cultures merge, each one of us bring a bit of our own culinary heritage that we can’t shake loose. Whether it is a belief about the way cheese should be cut, the idea of what ingredients do and do not pair well together, or the love for an iconic dish from home, within each of us is a set of foodways that have been ingrained at a very young age. We each light up with  fond memories and joy when we think of a comforting dish from home. It is these dishes that we are always excited to share with the others to,  in a sense, welcome them into our home.

For those of us from North America, last summer we realised that our love of the iconic ice cream sandwich has not yet translated across the Atlantic. When I presented that first ice cream sandwich of the summer to the team, half of us (those from the US and Canada) were filled with childlike glee as memories flooded our minds from summers spent chasing down the ice cream truck, being handed that cold treat in exchange for a few hard-earned coins, peeling back the wrapper and biting thought the brownie-like cookie to reach the sweet vanilla ice cream, while the others marveled at the beauty and surprising brilliance of the novel treat.

Things are rarely ‘normal’ here at Nordic Food Lab, so the classic ice cream sandwich we know and love had to get a little wild.

Wild edible plants are everywhere, yet many people walk through life not noticing their abundance. As a way to familiarize Danes (or any passer-by) with the great diversity of wild vegetation growing right here in the city, I spent most of the warm summer days picking wild plants such as beach roses (Rosa rugosa), pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea), elderflowers (Sambucus spp.) and bullace (Prunus domestica sbsp. insitita), and turning them into delicious ice creams. Each ice cream flavour was sandwiched between a complementary cookie, packaged in a brown bag, and served around Copenhagen from our Nordic Food Lab bicycle.

Below you will find some recipes to inspire you to look to the edible plants growing wild in your neighborhood and think of them as ingredients rather than just a garnish, or even worse, a weed.


Elderflower and Lemon Ice Cream with Sugar Cookies

Ice Cream
600g milk
400g cream
120g sugar
300g egg yolks
20g glucose
200g elderflowers on the stem that have been soaked in lemon, sugar and water (these were left over from making the elderflower wine for our elder vinegar)
Heat milk and cream in a saucepan until just below a boil (about 85°C). In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, egg yolks and glucose until pale and sugar has dissolved. Add warm milk/cream mixture one spoonful at a time to egg mixture, whisking continuously. Return custard mix to stovetop and heat gently until it reaches 80˚C and thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Allow to cool in Pacoject container. Add elderflowers and allow to infuse overnight in refrigerator. Freeze with elderflowers in, and spin in pacojet when ready to serve.

Cookie
67g granulated sugar
155g all-purpose flour
80g butter (cut into cubes)
4g salt
1-2 egg yolks
Mix together the sugar, flour, salt and butter with hands until it becomes a breadcrumb-like texture. Add a yolk or two to moisten. Form into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 mins. Roll out dough, cut into circles, and bake at 160˚C for 10 minutes.

 

Dulse Ice Cream with Molasses Cookies

Ice Cream
600g milk
30g dulse
100g cream
89g trimoline
35g sugar
24g Thick and Easy, or 4 g of Iota (a hydrocolloid isolated from carrageen algae, also known as Irish Moss or Chrondus crispus)
Infuse dulse in milk at 50 for 1 hours. Either strain dulse or puree it and add it back to the milk. Gently warm the cream to dissolve sugar and trimoline (if using iota, add it and bring mixture up to 70˚C). When cool combine all ingredients and pour into pacojet container. Freeze. Pacojet. 

Cookie
145g all-purpose flour
4g baking soda
4g salt
200g brown sugar
110g butter
1 egg
85g black bakery syrup, or molasses
Whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl cream together butter and sugar, then add egg and molasses. Mix dry ingredients into the wet. Scoop cookies onto a baking sheet and bake at 175°C for 8-12 minutes.

 

Pineapple weed Ice Cream with Oatmeal Cookies

Ice Cream
600g milk
400g cream
120g sugar
20g glucose
~2.5L blanched pineapple weed
citric acid to taste
Infuse blanched pineapple weed in milk overnight. Strain (but save plants). Warm milk, cream and trimoline just below boiling (about 85°C). Whisk together sugar and egg yolks. Slowly add warm milk and cream mixture. Return to pot and bring up to 82°C. Cool. Add pineappleweed back to mix and blend in a thermomix or high-powered blender. Pour into pacojet container. Freeze. Pacojet when ready to serve.

Cookie
125g all-purpose flour
90g oats
150g sugar
30g brown sugar
75g hazelnut or almond meal
4g baking soda
57g butter
2 tbs honey
3 tbs water
Mix together dry ingredients. In a small saucepan gently heat together butter, honey, and water. Pour over dry mixture. Scoop dough onto cookie sheet and bake at 162˚C for 8 minutes.

 

Bullace Ice Cream with Almond Butter Cookie

(the lighter ones are the elderflower)

(the lighter ones are the elderflower)

Ice Cream
300ml double cream
150ml milk
6 egg yolks
60 grams sugar
300ml bullace syrup*
Heat milk and cream to just below a boil (about 85°C). Meanwhile whisk together egg yolks and sugar until the yolks turn a pale yellow and the sugar has dissolved. Slowly add (one spoonful at a time) the hot cream and milk to the egg yolks while whisking continuously. Return mixture to the pot and heat over a water bath until it reaches 78˚C. Strain mix through a mesh sieve, cool and then add syrup. Churn in ice cream maker.
*bullace syrup: mix equal parts bullace fruits, sugar, and water in a pot and simmer for 40 minutes. Actively pass through a fine sieve or cheesecloth.

Cookie
125g almond butter
45g milk
25g brown sugar
35g all-purpose flour
25g oats
4g baking soda
pinch salt
Whisk together the nut butter, milk, and sugar. In a separate bowl whisk together flour, oats, baking soda and salt. Add dry to wet. Mix until well combined. Scoop onto baking sheet and bake at 162˚C for 8 minutes.

Avery on her ice-cream bike

Avery on her ice-cream bike

Wild ice cream season is starting again – and we're ready for it.

 

ed. – We’re very proud that Avery is pursuing her passion for wild plants, now working as a full-time forager with Forager Ltd. In the UK.

Gravlax – a buried salmon

Added on by Guillemette Barthouil.

by Guillemette Barthouil

One of our great sources of inspiration are the food cultures of East Asia. Our exploration of umami taste, for example, has made us rediscover the wildness of our own region’s fermentations. The bridges between these cultures are not only contemporary, but can also be traced down through history.

While looking into these foodways, an unexpected similarity arose between gravlax and sushi. These two preparations are nowadays eaten raw or lightly cured. Through looking at their etymology we understand that both were once fermented fish. ‘Gravlax’ means ‘buried salmon’ or ‘grave salmon’. It is part of the wider family of the Scandinavian fermented fishes which includes Swedish surlax (‘sour salmon’) and Norwegian rakfisk (‘soaked fish’) [Falk and Torp, 1906]. Harold McGee explains that these techniques were used in remote places where huge quantities of fish were caught in a short period of time and where (and when) salt was a rare good [McGee, 2004]. The solution was to bury the clean and lightly salted fish in a ‘grave’ dug into the earth, add some carbohydrates (bark, whey or malted barley) and some antioxidants (pine needles or berries) [Levin and Al., 1964]. This traditional method creates the conditions for the lacto-fermentation process that preserves the fish. Enzymes and bacteria from the fish flesh would break down protein and fat to produce a buttery texture with a cheesy, ammoniated smell. An ‘acquired’ taste as one would say, though not so pleasant to most of us nowadays.

Sushi literally means ‘preserved fish’, revealing its fermented roots [Mouritsen, 2009]. As with gravlax, sushi in its original form, called nare-zushi, had an added carbohydrate – rice in this context – to favour the lactic acid bacteria. During this process enzymes would also break down proteins into amino acids, developing an umami taste coming mainly from glutamic acid and aspartic acid [Hariono, 2005]. Even though some regional sushi in Japan is still fermented, like funa-zushi from the shores of Lake Biwa north-east of Kyōtō, this method is no longer used for most sushi. Haya-zushi, quick sushi, appeared at the end of the 17th century during the Edō period and since then sushi became a quickly-prepared and quickly-eaten food that urban people could eat standing on a street corner [Barber, 2011]. Even though the technique has changed dramatically, some patterns of taste remain: the sourness of the lactic acid fermentation is reproduced by adding vinegar to the rice, and the umami notes of the fermented fish are replaced by soy sauce.

In the Nordic countries, there are few if any modern adaptations of this traditional buried salmon. And while there are fermented fish products, like the pungent, sulphuric and ammoniated Swedish surströmming [Skara and Al, 2015; Valeri, 2010], it isn’t buried but rather sealed in a tin.

The challenge of this experiment was to reproduce a gravlax, in its old fermented version, that is delicious to us now – or let’s say, for this first trial, at least palatable.

So we got a whole salmon, scaled it, filleted it and cut it into 2cm-wide slabs.

Barley kōji proved a great source of not only carbohydrates but also enzymes and, of course, flavour. During fermentation, kōji, Aspergillus oryzae grown on grains and/or legumes, serves as a source of a variety of enzymes which catalyse the degradation of solid raw materials to soluble products that provide fermentable substrates for yeast and bacteria in the subsequent fermentation stages [Mheen, 1972]. This catalysis speeds up the fermentation process and also allows specific flavours to develop – flavours that seem to be more pleasant than those made by the historical autolytic method [Kaoru and Al., 2006]. The main taste pattern we have found in most of our kōji-based fermentations are nuttiness, pineapple, tropical fruit and undergrowth.

Barley kōji

Barley kōji

Our first 2 recipes made on 25 may 2013:

Scale, gut and fillet a whole salmon. Cut fillets into 2cm-wide slabs.
Layer in a food-grade plastic container 2kg of salmon, 400g of pearled barley Kōji (15%),  200g of salt (7.5%), and:

RECIPE 1: + 1 handful of spruce shoots
RECIPE 2: + 1 handful of cranberries and 1 handful of blueberries

Press them so they are covered by their own brine.
Leave them to ferment slightly cooler than room temperature (15-20˚C).

IMG_0092.jpg
IMG_0098.jpg

We started the first experiment with low salt content (from 5 to 7%) as the original recipes seemed to have. We checked on them after a month. They were very challenging taste- and texture-wise. We decided to take a bit more freedom from the original gravlax and increase the salt content for a product more adapted to nowadays’ taste buds.

After a few trials, 15% of salt gave better results.

The following February we decided to make some new trials. Coming back to the Nordic tradition, we experimented with different batches: adding 2% of dried blackcurrant to one, 2% of juniper wood to another and a different kōji to the last (made with sunflower seeds and an heritage barley variety called Nøgen Byg, or ‘naked barley’).

trials 3-6, left to right

trials 3-6, left to right

Recipes 1 February 2014:

Scale, gut and fillet a whole salmon. Cut fillets into 2cm-wide slabs.
Layer in a food-grade plastic container 2kg of salmon, 615g of pearled barley Kōji (20%),  460g of salt (15%), and:

RECIPE 3: nothing (basic rakfisk)
RECIPE 4:
+ 60g (2%) dried blackcurrant
RECIPE 5: 
+ 60g (2%) juniper wood
RECIPE 6. instead of pearled barley koji, Nøgen Byg and sunflower seed kōji

We layered all these ingredients, fit an identical food-grade plastic container overtop and pressed them overnight at room temperature to extract the brine. It is important that the fermenting substrates are immersed in their own brine both for ideal fermentation conditions and also to reduce rancidification of the fat from contact with oxygen in the air.

Once the brine covers the salmon we can remove the weight in the container on top, and add a little water to keep it down.
Leave to ferment in a cold room (ours was 8˚C) for at least 4 months.

We also did an underwater version of Recipe 3 to see how the extra pressure might alter the fermentation. We kept it in a hard-sealed vacuum bag 7m under 2˚C water off of the boat deck. But then a big storm came and broke the string. I tried to dive down and find it on the harbour floor, but it was too deep.

The four batches gave pretty different results, but all had amazingly a mellower and nicer smell than we expected.

Tasting notes – 3 June 2014

3. Salmon, Koji, Salt: Beautiful and soft texture. Significant layer of fat on the top. Quite sour and really umami, the salmon is not pungent at all and has developed a mushroomy/morel taste. Salmon-like and clean aftertaste.

4. Salmon, Koji, Salt, Blackcurrant: Tougher texture, it looks like the surface has been over-dried by the salt. The smell is stronger and more like Swedish surströmming. Taste-wise it also has developed a similar character to surströmming but softer and more balanced with a light salmon aftertaste.

5. Salmon, Koji, Salt, Juniper wood: Soft and melty texture. The wood has brought unpleasant notes such as bitterness, mouldy, cleaning product and astringent. We suppose that this may be from juniper and will try the same recipe replacing it with inner birch bark.

6. Salmon, Heritage koji, salt: Nice texture similar to 1). The smell is incredibly fruity/ tropical fruit. The taste is quite sour but very complex. Very nice aftertaste, clean mouth.

Recipe 6

Recipe 6

Trials 3 and 6 turned out best. An umami, salty, sour and sweet fish with nutty and fruity notes and mellow salmon taste. A cleaner and softer version of Swedish surströmming. And as in the ancient Japanese nare-zushi tradition (particularly with nama-zushi, or ‘raw sushi’, which had a shorter fermentation time of only month [Mouritsen, 2009]), the grain (here kōjied barley) can be eaten. A taste of another time. « I don't know anymore if I like it or not » as Josh said, but great to understand the limits of our contemporary concept of deliciousness.

In the middle of June last year I left the lab. A couple weeks after, Josh and Roberto threw together a snack with the gravlax to try to figure it out a bit more, find a context for it and wrap up this stage of the research into something appetising.

Recipe 27.6.14: Rye-birch cracker, gravlax, viili, pineapple weed

Cracker
400g rye flour
50g inner birch bark flour
15g salt
150g butter

Combine ingredients into dough, roll out thinly, punch out small discs (~3cm diameter), bake at 150˚C for 12 min.

Gravlax
We used trial six (with nøgen byg and sunflower seed koji). Make a brunoise of gravlax. Mix in minced pineappleweed heads (Matricaria discoidea) to taste.

Assembling
Plate gravlax mixture into ring mould on cracker to form a little bowl that reaches the cracker in the middle. Fill the hole with mature viili. Top with hand-pulled buds of pineapple weed.

 

References

Barber, K. (2011), Hishio, taste of Japan in humble microbes, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. Oxford, England.

Falk and Torp: "Etymologisk ordbok over det norske og det danske sprog", 1906

Hariono, I and al. (2005), Use of koji and protease in fish sauce fermentation, Singapore J Pri Ind 32: 19-29.

Kaoru, I and al. (2006), Comparison of characteristics of fermented salmon fish sauce using wheat gluten Koji with those using soy sauce Koji, Food Sci. Technol. Res., 12(3), 206-212.

Levin, MG and Potapov, LP. (1964), The people of siberia, The university of chicago press, USA, p 595

McGee, H. (2004), Food § Cooking: an encyclopedia of kitchen science, history and culture, Hodder and Stoughton, UK, p235

Mheen, T I (1972), Korean fermented foods. Selected paper from the UNESCO Work Study on Waste Recovery by Microorganisms, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Mouritsen Ole G. (2009), Sushi, food for the eye, the body and the soul, Springer, New York

Skara and Al, (2015), Fermented and ripened fish products in the northern European countries, Journal of Ethnic Foods, 2 (1), 18-24

Valeri, R. (2010), Surstromming, Sweden's famous fermented herrings, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. Oxford, England.

 

 

Beyond 'New' Nordic

Added on by admin.

For a while now, discussions around the lunch table or the spontaneous hours of the afternoon have revolved in and out of a web of topics we might call ‘what makes Nordic food Nordic?’

In our work at the lab, for example, we wonder if it should satisfy us to take some raw materials which grow here, stick them into a formula of technique (however connected it may already be to another region or cuisine of the world) and christening the resulting hybrid ‘Nordic x’ or ‘Nordic y’. 

Similarly, when we engage with the work of our colleagues and friends in kitchens and workshops around the region, we wonder if it should satisfy us to refer mainly to commonly agreed-upon ideas of what our cooking is and should be, without necessarily digging more deeply into the questions at its roots: why do we work with the ingredients we do, why do we choose to work with them in the ways we do, and are these decisions, taken together, a ‘cuisine’?

Take, for example, the tomato. Why do we reject it, or at least, why are we hesitant about it?

Is it that ‘it cannot survive in this climate’ – though there are farmers and gardeners producing tasty and suitable varieties of tomato in the relatively short growing season of Denmark, and even further north

Is it that it does not have an ‘established tradition of use’ here – even though most contemporary Nordic people are more familiar with tomatoes than many of the other ingredients now prized by the New Nordic Cuisine (NNC), which either have a long history of use and were shunned at some point along the way, or have never been used here at all?

Is it that its symbolic attachment to other cuisines is already too strong – being, for example, an edible icon of Italy or Mexico?

Is it that it is indigenous to another part of the world? If so, why then are potatoes acceptable, when both nightshades have by now become naturalised to Europe and have continued variegating according to different regions’ constraints – even those of Greenland – and different breeders’ interests?

As a counterpoint, why do we embrace lemon verbena, a plant indigenous to Brazil, which, perhaps even more than tomatoes, requires in our region at least a covered if not heated hoophouse or greenhouse to grow? Is it because we have already eschewed the lemon, that blunt, ubiquitous image of exotic necessity, and must look elsewhere to replicate its flavour? 

Or take, for example, dill.
It is unanimously (though no exclusively) Nordic, in the hands of our chefs and home cooks alike.
And what if it is grown in Israel or Spain? 

Our cooking shows some tasty incongruities. It is a good time to re-examine our system of ideas, the principles of our ideology, to acknowledge what this movement has made so far and identify what it has not yet figured out. From this re-examination our cooking can only get better, our thinking stronger, our visions for what it means to cook and eat and live in this region more clear.

Let’s start at the cited beginning.

“NEW NORDIC KITCHEN MANIFESTO
As Nordic chefs we find that the time has now come for us to create a New Nordic Kitchen, which in virtue of its good taste and special character compares favourably with the standard of the greatest kitchens of the world.

The aims of the New Nordic Kitchen are:

1) To express the purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics we wish to associate to our region.

2) To reflect the changes of the seasons in the meals we make.

3) To base our cooking on ingredients and produce whose characteristics are particularly excellent in our climates, landscapes and waters.

4) To combine the demand for good taste with modern knowledge of health and well-being.

5) To promote Nordic products and the variety of Nordic producers - and to spread the word about their underlying cultures.

6) To promote animal welfare and a sound production process in our seas, on our farmland and in the wild.

7) To develop potentially new applications of traditional Nordic food products.

8) To combine the best in Nordic cookery and culinary traditions with impulses from abroad.

9) To combine local self-sufficiency with regional sharing of high-quality products.

10) To join forces with consumer representatives, other cooking craftsmen, agriculture, fishing, food, retail and wholesales industries, researchers, teachers, politicians and authorities on this project for the benefit and advantage of everyone in the Nordic countries.

[originally signed by the following chefs:]
Hans Välimäki, Finland
Leif Sørensen, Færøerne
Mathias Dahlgren, Sweden
Roger Malmin, Norway
René Redzepi, Denmark
Rune Collin, Greenland
Erwin Lauterbach, Denmark
Eyvind Hellstrøm, Norway
Fredrik Sigurdsson, Iceland
Gunndur Fossdal, Færøerne
Hákan Örvarsson, Iceland
Michael Björklund, Åland”

- newnordicfood.org

Certain points of the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto are ripe for discussion.

‘Purity’, for example, probably refers originally to a sense of cleanliness or unadulteratedness of raw materials and ingredients. It also, though, can generate overtones of political or ethnic purity, which are some of the likely causes for receiving allegations of xenophobia or ‘culinary fascism’ (even in light of the interest in ‘impulses from abroad’ in point 8). What does it mean to us that our food is ‘pure’? 

‘Self-sufficiency’ is an even more convoluted idea. At its simplest we can understand it as a shorthand for ‘making do with what one has at hand’, which must probably be part of any kitchen ethos in general. It becomes provocative when it shifts soundlessly from heuristic to absolute ideal, a kind of impossible disconnectedness and independence from cultural and biological others, and a fantasy of mastery over one’s environment by directing its processes for one’s sustenance. The fantasy of self-sufficiency is exposed bluntly in the Spanish dill; and if not there, then in the Dutch equipment for indoor propagation of herbs we can use to grow our own dill, outside our season; and if not there, then certainly in the raw materials used to make this growing equipment, originally extracted and refined in China, Australia, Brazil.

Yet we are primarily concerned with the regional epithet itself, the ‘Nordic’, and to what degree these principles are specific to it. Most of the principles of the Manifesto describe many of the attitudes already implicit in existing traditional food cultures around the world that have undergone centuries or millennia of evolution. ‘Self-sufficiency’, for example, has been less a choice so much as a predominant fact of trying to eke out an existence in a particular place. Similarly, the principles described in the Manifesto could be reapplied to try to reinvigorate gastronomic development other places in the world where humans have managed to organise their sustenance. The current application of these principles in the Nordic region has yielded something apparently new – though the principles themselves are not.

Drawing the ‘Nordic’ line

The booklet ‘New Nordic Cuisine’ published by the New Nordic Food Programme by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2008, despite its primary purpose as a promotional tool, acknowledges this openness and empirical, descriptive methods for developing an image of what New Nordic Cuisine (NNC) is:

“New nordic cuisine can’t be defined by what it should not include. Exotic spices were introduced to the region more than a thousand years ago. The potato only arrived a couple of centuries ago, but is now an integrated and characteristic element of our cuisine. Instead of defining Nordic Cuisine by what it is not, we should look at the activities of the people who enjoy and develop New Nordic Cuisine.”

Cuisine, or at least a way or system of cooking, emerges from what and how people produce, cook, eat and share food. The manifesto crystallised a moment when many hands and minds were converging on something, perhaps a shared desire to develop an identity around food and cooking, and helped drive its development forward. Yet these hands and minds have also continued making food over the past ten years or more, and have grown in number and scope. The goal of the NNC is not, has never been and cannot be to draw a clear and non-arbitrary line separating what Nordic food is from what it is not – such an act would be neither productive nor possible.

The principles of the Nordic culinary ideology lay value on tasting locality, seasonality, ecological mindfulness, and diversity of the region’s climates and cultures. These ideas are as relevant to our cooking and our goals for a better food system as they were in 2004 when they were outlined on paper – even if what the cooking looks and smells and tastes like has developed since then. These principles also stretch back much further in time than 2004 and to many other parts of the world than only here. They are principles which have emerged in their own form in almost every traditional food culture, and are probably those that will continue to drive food cultures committed to taste as an emergent property of celebrating diversity, resourcefulness and ecological mindfulness – in short those food cultures that are also committed to their own future. This could be why certain other food cultures have viewed the recent gastronomic flourishing of our region skeptically – bemused by the Northerners who have so lost touch with the foundations of a strong food culture that they believe in drafting a manifesto they have made anew not only their own cuisine but the very idea of ‘cuisine’ itself.

We must now pose the unyielding question at the conversation’s root: what is a cuisine, and can our current cooking constitute one?

Many generally recognised cuisines of the world share some common features, aside from some of the principles also described by the Manifesto. The popular understanding of cuisine has been what happens when many people in a certain region come to develop a shared concept of how they cook and eat. This process has often begun in people cooking day to day with what they have, when they have it – the everyday interactions between choice and limitation. It is also a process that has taken place over long periods of time – and perhaps necessarily so – with many turns along the way.

The shift to individual practices united by a shared concept of cuisine can happen for different reasons – yet is has often developed in order to distinguish one group from others, from within and/or without, for regionalist, nationalist, and/or other purposes. The concept of ‘French Cuisine’, for example, was largely constructed as a bourgeois Parisian concept leading up to and after the French Revolution, centralising choice parts of the different regional cuisines in the capital (Grimod, 1803-1813; Freedman, 2007; Pinkard, 2009). Similarly, the concept of ‘Italian cuisine’ was developed throughout the nineteenth century alongside the incremental process of Italian unification, which was one of the main forces leading each region to “defin[e] a culinary identity in competition with the identity of other regions” as well as the crystallisation of ‘Italian Cuisine’ as a tool to cultivate both internal national unity and a strong outward national identity during Italian Fascist rule from 1922 to 1943 (Montanari, 2003, pp.26-34)

Yet when asked, how many French or Italian people think of their daily food as contributing to or emerging from a ‘French Cuisine’ or an ‘Italian Cuisine’, and how many think of it simply as ‘food’? The concept of a cuisine may emerge from the similarities between certain ways of cooking and eating, and it may certainly be useful for the nationalist with an agenda or the foreigner without a clue. Yet what happens when we make such a concept before the cooking already happens in daily life? Is the concept alone enough to constitute a cuisine, or does it need people and time – and if so, how much of each to reach its critical mass of practice to justify the concept? If cuisine emerges out of limitations we do not choose, can choosing our limitations ever achieve an adequately similar result? Does it matter?

Cuisine vs. culinary ideology

Last year we at Nordic Food Lab received a request from a Turkish restaurateur to help him open a ‘New Nordic’ restaurant in Istanbul. We imagine he envisioned a restaurant that would make food like that of many of our region’s leading restaurants today. We imagine he also might not have realised that if we had gone to help him unpack the tools of the Nordic culinary ideology in Turkey, the food on the plates would likely have looked, smelled and tasted very different from the food here. This difference should be explored and celebrated, for its contributions to ecological and cultural diversity, to resilience and to deliciousness. Which is why we said no. His request made sense, but in the context of our purpose it did not make sense to us.

Here we can make a potentially useful distinction. We can understand this culinary ideology as ‘the New Nordic Kitchen or ‘the New Nordic approach to cooking’ (which, as described, is not unique), as compared with the cooking this ideology has given birth to in this place at this time, which we could call ‘Nordic cooking’ or ‘Nordic cuisine c.2015’.

If our mission were to share Nordic cooking, it would entail trying to facilitate Nordic restaurants and Nordic cooking as a cultural export in as many regions of the world as possible. This may well be a fine aim but we believe most of us share a different pursuit. We are committed to Nordic cooking not primarily because of its value as a cultural export, but because of its value as an exploration of our own identity and identities in an increasingly globalised world culture. Nordic cooking, here and now, looks and smells and tastes the ways it does in part because it is what emerges from applying the ‘New Nordic’ culinary ideology in this place at this time. It is historical, contingent, and engaged in its own processes of mutation and evolution.

Sharing our terrain

This distinction perhaps allows us to start to understand the mild discomfort some of us feel with the idea of a ‘New Nordic’ restaurant in Istanbul, New York, London, or any other place outside the region of its name. Such a restaurant refers to and relies on the ideology, but uses all the trappings of our cooking without the system of ideas which gives birth to it. They take the wood sorrel without the woods. Which is also fine, because no one owns wood sorrel. But then comes the question: what makes a cooking Nordic – is it the use of certain ingredients, or certain techniques, or terroir, or some combination thereof? Is it even worthwhile to venture into the murky discussion of ‘authenticity’? Can we with straight faces wonder, for example, why there are not more and better Korean or Vietnamese or Mexican restaurants in Copenhagen, and at the same time decry ‘Nordic’ restaurants popping up in other cities around the globe? Perhaps, though, this is the fate of any cuisine which gains an audience outside of its birthplace: that it becomes essentialised, tokenised even, emptied of its historical context, rendered internally consistent and packaged neatly for foreign consumption. Let us not forget that the very concepts of ‘French’, ‘Italian’, ‘Korean’, ‘Vietnamese’ or ‘Mexican’ cuisines might only make sense in the imagination of the foreigner. 

Our external audience – certain global media, diners, food-obsessed, entrepreneurs – have shown our fledgling project intense interest. And we should consider that if we are truly interested in having our efforts take root, it may all be too much interest too quickly. This intense attention has conflated the ‘New Nordic’ culinary ideology with the current version of Nordic cooking, obscuring the contingency of its development to the point where it may be impeding its evolution. We may all, in different ways, be smothering this sprout before it has its chance to firmly grow. We should also recognise that we ourselves, the cooks, chefs, sommeliers, producers, researchers, journalists and other industry folk working in and committed to this region, have been complicit in this precocious exporting. Certainly this attention has been a big part of what has brought so much success to our endeavours, and so sometimes we actively perpetuate it. We have a complicated relationship with our own success – which is why now is precisely the time to wake ourselves up to our complicity, and our complacency with it, and really ask: is this how we want to move forward? Should we be satisfied that not only our efforts but increasingly the very content of our work are being shaped more and more by this audience, rather than ourselves, each other and those who comprise our Nordic community? We acknowledge that once we put things – tastes, techniques, products, dishes, concepts – out into the world, they take on their own life we can no longer guide and significances we cannot dictate. What is more interesting and important, then, is engaging proactively in this exchange, for it is how we can negotiate the stewardship of the ‘Nordic’. We should participate proactively in this dialogue, rather than simply ‘letting it play out’, for otherwise the ‘Nordic’ will likely continue to become more and more commodified, eventually alienating us entirely from what we want our food culture to be.

We have worked hard to carve out a shared ideological and culinary territory – now, we are met with the struggle for its sovereignty. Many of us have become tired being labelled ‘New Nordic’ by observers many of whom have little or no sense of what it means to cook and live in the Nordic region today. It is hardly surprising that even many of the chefs and key figures who were originally involved in codifying the NNC ideology have since tried to shake off the term, often even disavowing it completely. Perhaps ‘New Nordic’ has been going on long enough that now we can make just Nordic food – its current iteration circa 2015 sitting in a series of versions that stretches back long before 2004 – and maybe even someday, make just food.

Unlike what some framings of the NNC movement may suggest, there was no revolutionary break with history in that year; and similarly, now, what we need is not a revolutionary break with the ‘New Nordic’. To the contrary, the vision laid out in the NCC Manifesto is still applicable when it comes to improving our agricultural practices, developing our ecological relationships, cultivating food-literate eaters and leaders, and broadening and strengthening our everyday food culture. But the culinary vanguard has reached many of its borders and is ready for what lies beyond them: new territory to explore and chart so that the main forces can also advance towards a more robust, resilient regional gastronomy with parts of the path already paved. 

How can we make sure that our cooking keeps digging deeper into what it means to live and eat in the Nordic region today, rather than becoming stagnant, satisfied with its own images reflected back to us in the mirrors (and sometimes through the smoke) of the Media of the World? They have raised us to the crest of fortune’s wheel, but we would do well to remember it is a wheel that always turns. And whether on its rise or fall, we must still eat and feed each other well.

A final crucial question is: how do we think about the series of gastronomic developments that comprise our history and, we hope, our future? Does it necessitate establishing a dramatic but somewhat preposterous ‘post-New-Nordic’ approach, or rather the acknowledgement of an evolution more subtle and incremental and true? Our most constructive way forward probably has little use for the total ‘death’ of New Nordic Cuisine or the Manifesto. Instead, it requires learning from the last decade and more to clarify and refresh both our sense of purpose and also, absolutely, what and how and why we cook – here, now, this.

 

 

Thanks to Matt Orlando, Edith Salminen, and our recent interns Jason Ball, Johnny Drain and Meradith Hoddinott for sharing valuable conversations around these ideas. We would also like to thank Kelly Donati and Guillemette Barthouil for their critical feedback on drafts of the text.

 

References

Dahlager, Lars. ‘Nordisk er ved til at blive et pøbel-brand for storindustrien’. Politiken. 11.11.2014. 14.5.2015. <http://politiken.dk/mad/klummer/ECE2446191/nordisk-er-ved-at-blive-et-poebel-brand-for-storindustrien/>.

Drouard, Alain. ‘Chefs, Gourmets and Gourmands’. In Food: The History of Taste, ed. Paul Freedman. London: University of California Press, 2007.

Grimod de la Reynière, Alexandre Balthazar Laurent. L’Almanach des Gourmands. Chartres: Menu Fretin, 2012.

Holm, Ulla. ‘Noma er facisme I avantgardistiske klæ’r’. Politiken. 8.5.2011. 14.5.2015. <http://politiken.dk/debat/kroniken/ECE1275730/noma-er-fascisme-i-avantgardistiske-klaer/>.

Lersch, Martin. ‘Has molecular gastronomy reached the plateau of productivity?’ Khymos. 26.1.2009. 14.5.2015. <http://blog.khymos.org/2009/01/26/has-molecular-gastronomy-reached-the-plateau-of-productivity/>. 

Marx, Karl  [1867]. Capital, Volume I. trans. Ben Fowkes. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

Montanari, Massimo. Italian Cuisine: a cultural history. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Nobel, Justin. ‘Farming in the Arctic: It Can Be Done’. Modern Farmer. 18.10.2013. 14.5.2015. <http://modernfarmer.com/2013/10/arctic-farming/>.

Nordic Council of Ministers. ‘New Nordic Food’. Ny Nordisk Mad. 2008. 14.5.2015. <http://nynordiskmad.org/fileadmin/webmasterfiles/PDF/Ny_Nordisk_Mad_Low.pdf>. 

Pinkard, Susan. A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine, 1650-1800. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Salminen, Edith. ‘Do we all live in a New Nordic Food world?’ Norden. 3.2015. 14.5.2015. <http://www.norden.org/en/news-and-events/articles/do-we-all-live-in-a-new-nordic-food-world>.

Scrutton, Alastair. ‘Tomatoes, peppers, strawberries in Greenland’s Arctic valleys’. Reuters. 26.3.2013. 14.5.2015. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/26/us-greenland-climate-agriculture-idUSBRE92P0EX20130326>.

Verheul, Michèl J. ‘An efficient method for organic greenhouse production in Norway’. Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research. 14.5.2015. <http://archive.northsearegion.eu/files/repository/20140911101843_30PosterBioforskMV2013OP.pdf>.

 

We have a radio station!

Added on by Josh Evans.

Well, maybe a podcast is more accurate, but hey we do what we can. 

Check out our new Nordic Food Lab Radio (NFLR) section where we'll be broadcasting stories every two weeks for the foreseeable future.

For all you RSS feed junkies out there, you can subscribe via the url:

http://nordicfoodlab.org/nflr?format=rss

Happy listening!

- the NFL team

Su Nenniri

Added on by roberto flore.

by Roberto Flore


Overview

Intentionally germinating seeds can yield a range of new flavours. Here we experiment with sprouting a purple wheat, which yields a flavour like fruity young olive oil when sprouted.

Germination occurs in the presence of water, oxygen and a temperature between 4 and 37˚C (Spilde, 1989). Under ideal conditions the kernel will absorb up to 45% of its weight in water and double in volume (Evans et al, 1975). The bran becomes soft, allowing the roots to protrude and anchor the plant to the ground, and to search for water. At the same time, a complex enzymatic process begins inside the endosperm, with enzymes transforming the tissue into readily available nutrients used by the germ to sprout – a property harnessed in malting and fermentation processes.

To sprout the wheat, place 150 g of seeds into 300 ml of filtered water for 24 hours, allowing them to expand and create the necessary moisture for germination. Then, lay the seeds out on a tray and rinse them every day for the next few days. The sprouts can be used after a week or ten days, depending on their application, though two weeks is recommended for full development of the grass.


Last April, with spring around the corner, I became obsessed with sprouting grains. I come from Sardinia, an ancient island in the Mediterranean, where we have certain rituals associated with this time of year. It is when Adonis, Greek god of vegetation, beauty, and rebirth, comes back to life, and we leave wheat grains to germinate in large jars to represent this renewal. The act is purely ritualistic – we do not eat the sprouts. Together, the jars and the sprouting wheat within is called Su Nenniri in the Sardinian language, Sardo . There are similar traditions all around the Mediterranean: for the gods Isis and Osiris in Egypt, Tammuz and Astarte in Babylon, Aphrodite and Adonis in Greece. There are also similar myths and rituals in civilizations further to the east.

It is a special time of year for me and I wanted to share a piece of my culture with my colleagues at the lab. So I went down to our pantry in the bottom of the boat, and came up bearing every type of grain we had on board. I was going to investigate the biodiversity of Scandinavian rye, wheat, barley, and other grains in their stage of newest growth.

IMG_9701.JPG
sprouting Scandinavian grain diversity

sprouting Scandinavian grain diversity

Tasting all of the different sprouts in their different stages of development, I decided it was time to update our appreciation of wheat grass, as well as its juice. The extract is rich in vitamins and minerals, and widely used in natural medicine as a potent prevention against cancer. The juice is also full of chlorophyll. Because of its similar molecular composition to hemoglobin in human blood (Smith, 1944), chlorophyll is also sometimes known as ‘vegetable blood’. The presence of iron in haemoglobin is similar to the magnesium in chlorophyll.   

sprout juice test

sprout juice test

credit: Afton Halloran

credit: Afton Halloran

Of all the sprouted grains, by far the most particular and interesting was the purple wheat. The sprout has the flavour of a fruity young olive oil, and the grain has an incredible sweetness for something so small. In addition, it also germinates quickly and has good root development.

Seeds and germination 

To talk about germination we need to talk about seeds. Plants that produce seeds are called Spermatophytes (from the Greek spérmatos for seed and phyton for plant), in contrast to other plants such as ferns, horsetails, and mosses which use other means of self-propagation. The seed is formed after the ovule is fertilized by pollen, develops on the mother plant and then detaches when mature. 

The wheat seed is composed of three parts: the germ, the endosperm and the bran. The germ contains all the genetic information for the plant to develop, the endosperm is the nutritive tissue that nourishes the new plant in the early stages of its development, and bran acts as shield to protect the vital parts of the seed.

Germination occurs in the presence of water, oxygen and a temperature between 4 and 37˚C (Spilde, 1989). Under ideal conditions the kernel will absorb up to 45% of its weight in water and double in volume (Evans et al, 1975). The bran becomes soft, allowing the roots to protrude and anchor the plant to the ground, and to search for water. At the same time, a complex enzymatic process begins inside the endosperm, with enzymes transforming the tissue into readily available nutrients used by the germ to sprout. This process is important because it gives the sprout sufficient energy to emerge from the soil. Depending on the species, the seeds have the ability to remain viable up to 30 years in a dormant state, waiting for optimal conditions.

Germination and other processing techniques like fermentation have been used by many agricultural civilizations to make the nutrition of grains more bioavailable (Poutanen et al, 2006). For example, it forms the basis of malting which is used to turn the starches into sugars and thus make them available for brewing beer. Soaking grains can also remove phytates that can block the uptake of certain vitamins in the body (Lestienne et al, 2006).

The germination and sprouting process takes more or less seven days. I put 150 g of seeds into 300 ml of filtered water for 24 hours, allowing them to expand and create the necessary moisture for germination. Then, I laid the seeds out on a gastro tray and rinsed them every day for the next few days. This is a particularly crucial moment, because excessive water facilitates the development of mould, which can cause rotting of the seed and a bad odor, while too little water can affect plant development, and can cause the death of the plant. It is important to take good care of the seeds in this period. I did not germinate the seeds in soil because from the beginning of the project my idea was to experiment with all parts of the plant.

sprouts after 10 days of germination.

sprouts after 10 days of germination.

While reading more about this particularly delicious purple wheat, I discovered it has ten times more anthocyanins than other types of wheat. Anthocyanins, polyhydroxylated polyaromatic compounds, are able to react with oxidizing agents such as molecular oxygen and free radicals, and thereby reduce the damage these molecules cause to cells and body tissue. They are what gives the wheat its purple colour; similar compounds are found in other purple-tinted foods, like red cabbage, beets, and some berries.

Purple-grain tetraploid wheats (Triticum turgidum L.) have been grown traditionally in the highlands of Ethiopia (Belay et al., 1995) and used in both food and beverages. German botanists were the first to record the purple traits in wheat during travels in East Africa in the late 1800s. Samples were collected and brought back to Europe, and then later hybridized with European bread wheat varieties in the first part of the 20th century. Such crosses were carried out to transfer genes such as disease resistance and winter hardiness. The first commercial production of purple wheat (also called PurPur wheat industrially) was in New Zealand, followed by Europe and Canada (Jafaar et al., 2013).  

We got our purple wheat from a friend of the lab, Ida. She plays the double bass and lived on a boat next to us a couple summers back, and her parents have a biodynamic farm called Østagergård in the middle of Zealand. They raise Angus cows, grow grain like this wheat and other vegetables, and operate a school for mentally handicapped people teaching about grain production and processing. It’s a good place, and we have since also been working with their meat, which is of great quality.

I was so inspired by the incredible flavour of these sprouts and the connection between Sardinian “Nenniri” and my project at the lab in Copenhagen, that I had to make a dish. It was springtime, with all the new life starting again, so I wanted to explore the different applications of these sprouts by following the web of life that emerges from it.

While the inspiration for the dish is the sprouted purple wheat, the core of the dish is spring lamb. For me, taste is not the only element of a dish I love; I also pursue a dish’s power to evoke memories. In this case, I was reminded of my grandfather, who was a shepherd. When I was young he gave me a lamb to take care of every EasterThis was always a very special moment of my childhood. I knew I had to find a very special lamb in Denmark

the author's grandfather/nonno in 1973.

the author's grandfather/nonno in 1973.

the author (7 years old) with his Easter lamb

the author (7 years old) with his Easter lamb

I found my lamb on a farm close to Vadehavet National Park in southwest Jutland. This breed of sheep is a careful selection of two native breeds (Marsk and Texel) adapted to live in an environment close to the ocean where the grasses and herbs are salty and full of minerals. The sheep consume the grass, which gives their meat a particularly mineral taste and a natural seasoning. It is a beautiful product.

Although the meat was already very flavourful, I wanted to bring out even more of its aromatic complexity. So I used brined stems of sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) in order to enhance the balance between the taste of the meat and the herbal taste of the sprout juice.

After making the juice from the wheat grass, we were left with the sweet germinated seeds. To use the whole sprout and show of their contrasting parts I blended the sweet grains with sheep’s milk and dried the mixture into a crisp.

The other essential element of the dish is an ancient cheese called ‘Cazu de Crabittu’. It is produced in Sardinia and dates back to Neolithic times (Fancello, G., pers. com., 5 May, 2014). It is made directly in the fourth and final stomach, or abomasum, of a suckling goat, because it contains many enzymes responsible for the digestion – or in this case the coagulation – of milk.

Traditionally, just before killing a goat kid, the shepherd leaves it to suckle its mother milk. He then separates the abomasum from the other parts of the intestines, which are used for other purposes.

The abomasum is emptied, and the milk is filtered with a simple net then returned to the stomach. The stomach is rubbed on the outside with salt and hung to dry (in a cellar, for example) for some months. After the maturation, we slice open the stomach and spread small amounts of the cheese onto ‘pane carasau’, a traditional flat bread which is very thin. In pastoralist circles, the cheese is even referred to as ‘Sardinian viagra’, or ‘faede arrettae’ in Sardo. The taste of the cheese is different every time, because the milk is raw and because the goats live freely eating many wild plant species. The result is a super tasty and strong creamy cheese with different nuances, spicy, sweet, sour, and bitter all combined with a persistent wild animal aroma. When you taste ‘Su Cazu de Crabittu’ you will never forget the taste.

Our Cazu de Crabittu (literally 'rennet of baby goat') was made by my friend Mario Manca, a well-known producer of this style of cheese in Sardinia, which he sent to me in Copenhagen as a gift for Easter.

So, the dish: Tartare of spring lamb from Vadehavet, Cazu de Crabittu, juice of purple wheat sprouts, sprouted purple wheat chip.

credit: Afton Halloran

credit: Afton Halloran

For one plate

Lamb tartare
35 g raw Vadehavet spring lamb filet
2 g brined sweet clover stems (3% salt brine, vacuum-sealed, 15 h), finely chopped
2 g chopped purple wheat grass
2 ml of purple wheat sprout juice 

One hour before serving, chop the meat into small pieces with a knife. Close in a vacuum bag and keep cold.
Just before serving, mix meat with finely chopped sweet clover stems, chopped purple wheat grass and sprout juice.

Purple wheat sprout juice
50 g wheat grass
2 ice cubes
10 ml filtered water 

Cut the grass with scissors. Place in thermomix with the ice cubes and water and blend for 50 seconds.
Filter through a superbag or other fine filter, squeeze remainder through filter and seal in a vacuum bag. Keep cold. 

Purple wheat crisp
100 g germinated purple wheat seed
100 g sheep’s milk
3 g salt 

Boil the germinated seeds and reduce the milk to 1/3 of its original volume. Place all in a pacojet container and freeze in blast chiller.
Process with pacojet and freeze again. Repeat this step twice more then brush the mixture on oven paper and dehydrate at 100˚C for 25 minutes.

Onion seeds
Grind into a powder. 

Plating
Take a mat of whole sprouts with seeds and roots attached, place in a dish and put a small amount of Cazu de Cabrittu onto one of the sprouts, as if it were a spittlebug.
Chill another plate. Place a small spoon of tartare off-centre, followed by a spoon of wheat grass liquid in the centre indentation and five whole sprouts with seeds and roots. Sprinkle onion seed powder around the edge of the juice, and place a purple wheat crisp on top of the tartare.
Serve the sprout with Cazu de Cabrittu first, and then the tartare.

When I finished the dish, I took it to Saturday Night Projects to share with the chefs at noma.

the final test. credit: Afton Halloran

the final test.
credit: Afton Halloran

purple wheat sprouts, after 10 days. credit: Afton Halloran

purple wheat sprouts, after 10 days.
credit: Afton Halloran

the finished dish. credit: Afton Halloran

the finished dish.
credit: Afton Halloran

our Casu de Crabittu. credit: Afton Halloran

our Casu de Crabittu.
credit: Afton Halloran

plating at projects. credit: Afton Halloran

plating at projects.
credit: Afton Halloran

tasting. credit: Afton Halloran

tasting.
credit: Afton Halloran

It was a good time.

 

References

Belay, Getachew, et al. "Natural and human selection for purple-grain tetraploid wheats in the Ethiopian highlands." Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 42.4: 387-391 (1995).

Evans, L.T., Wardlaw, I.F. & Fischer, R.A. Wheat. In L.T. Evans, ed. Crop physiology, p. 101-149. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press (1975).

Jaafar, Syed, et al. "Increased anthocyanin content in purple pericarp× blue aleurone wheat crosses." Plant Breeding 132.6: 546-552 (2013).

Lestienne, Isabelle, et al. “Effects of soaking whole cereal and legume seeds on iron, zinc and phytate contents.” Food Chemistry 89.3: 421-425 (2005).

Poutanen, Kaisa, Laura Flander, and Kati Katina. "Sourdough and cereal fermentation in a nutritional perspective." Food Microbiology 26.7: 693-699 (2007).

Smith, Lawrence. “Chlorophyll: An experimental study of its water-soluable derivatives.American Journal of the Medical Sciences 207.5: 647-654 (1944). 

Spilde, L.A. Influence of seed size and test weight on several agronomic traits of barley and hard red spring wheat. Journal of Production Agriculture 2: 169-172 (1989).

Salone del Gusto – the trials and tribulations of Novel Foods

Added on by Josh Evans.

by Josh Evans

On the last Sunday in October, we got a reality check. A nice big one with lots of drama.

We had been planning a tasting workshop at Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy, as part of Terra Madre, the biennial Slow Food event devoted to celebrating the diversity of food products and cultures around the world. Our goal was to share the taste diversity of this largely undervalued and misunderstood (in The West, at least) class of foods. We were going to serve some tasters and use them to illustrate some of the principles we have learned on our field work, techniques we have brought into our kitchen and different strategies for engaging with these different organisms as ingredients in their own right, rather than just novelty food.

We came up with the original idea for the workshop back in May, which was to gather the most delicious insects we had tried on our field work around the world, along with the producers who procure them, and cook them in both traditional and more experimental recipes to show how delicious and versatile some insects can be – and how they are already a well-established delicacy in many places around the world.

Then, in the summer, we were informed by Slow Food that we would no longer be able to bring insects from outside the EU (Ebola scare maybe?). This was a minor setback but we rolled with it and embraced the constraint, trying to find the best insects we could in Europe and using ideas from the field work to incorporate different insects into a European culinary context.

On Thursday, three days before the event, with all of our mise en place (including special paperwork for the insects) in order, we flew to Torino to make our final preparations.

After a couple long days of coordinating the last pieces, we started the day on Sunday by having to protect our mise en place from being forcibly thrown away, There were lots of hysterics and no explanation.

Eventually we found ourselves in a calmer context, where some of the Slow Food organisers explained the situation. Apparently, the day before, there was supposed to have been a tasting of insect dishes made by a chef from France, which had been shut down by Slow Food in anticipation of the arrival of the notoriously restrictive Italian health authorities. Moreover, despite Slow Food’s skittishness, an impromptu insect tasting had also been held at the Ark of Taste – a huge repository of endangered edible species and products from around the world – with edible insects from Mexico that had gained import approval only as objects for exhibition. Both incidents had gained some attention and the following day, Sunday, had seen an article published in the city newspaper of Torino describing the course of events. This publicity was enough to cause Slow Food an understandable degree of alarm, for if our workshop were to also attract such attention it would be possible for the city police to shut down Salone del Gusto completely. And so our workshop as we had envisioned it became impossible to deliver, even to a self-selecting group of enthusiastic participants from around the world.

We began discussing alternatives with the Slow Food organisers. They proposed we could do the workshop just without the servings, or serve the tastings just without the insects. Both options seemed to us sort of silly, as the whole point of the workshop was to illustrate and talk about the actual insects. We proposed perhaps getting around the legislative risk by not ‘serving’ per se, but simply making the dishes and letting the participants decide for themselves if they would eat them (an area still too grey for their liking), or holding the workshop off-site altogether to not risk total shutdown.

In the end, since we could not share our work the way we needed to, we decided the best thing would be to cancel the workshop. It was disappointing and frustrating for most people involved. We came to the workshop room with all our participants ready, and had to tell them the news. The Slow Food folks were very good, explaining their responsibility and the situation, and offered reimbursement as well as a free book by Carlo Petrini. Roberto and I explained what we had hoped to share in the workshop, and at the request of the participants we described what the menu would have been and what we were trying to illustrate with each serving.

Here is the menu as we would have served it:

Aperitivo   
Anty Gin and pure ant distillate.
Red wood ants (Formica rufa) and Smelling carpenter ants (Lasius fuliginosus) with celery and chili

Salad
parsely root, cream, kombucha and fried bee larvae (Apis mellifera)

Soup
dashi of house crickets (Acheta domesticus) with grasshopper garum (Locusta migratoria) and Kenyan termite mound mushrooms (Termitomyces sp.)

Bread and Cheese
casu marzu (Piophila casei), pane pistoccu, cannonau

Mont Blanc
chestnut paste, bee larvae cream (Apis mellifera), acacia honey 

We will post more information on each dish and the research behind them in the new year.

After this fateful Sunday, we felt the need to dig deeper into the EU Novel Foods Legislation to understand a bit more how it had led to this unfortunate series of events, and what all of us who are working ‘on the frontier’ of what is considered legal are dealing with.

Novel Foods

The grounds upon which the workshop was shut down seem to revolve around the European Commission law EC 258/97 on Novel Foods. The Commission signed the law into effect in 1997, stating that “foods and food ingredients that have not been used to a significant degree in the EU before 15 May 1997 [are] novel foods and novel food ingredients” and that “they must be safe for consumers [and] properly labelled to not mislead consumers.”[EC 258/97]

The impulse behind the legislation seems noble enough – probably a desire to protect EU lands from an onslaught of untested, potentially harmful new food additives. Yet going a little deeper into the legislation reveals a more complex situation. The Review of Regulation (EC) 258/97 describes itself as related “in particular to food produced using new techniques and technologies, such as nanomaterials.” [EC 258/97 Review] Furthermore, there are relevant areas which the Novel Food Regulation nonetheless explicitly does not cover – “food and ingredients for which an approval exists, [namely:]

§  Food additives within Regulation EC 1333/2008;

§  Flavourings for use in foods within Regulation EC 1334/2004;

§  Extraction solvents used in the production of foods within Directive 2009/32/EC - approximating EU countries' laws;

§  GMOs for food and feed - Regulation EC 1829/2003;

§  If foods and/or food ingredients were used exclusively in food supplements, new uses in other foods require authorisation under the Novel Food Regulation e.g. food fortification require authorisation.”

Morever, particulary since 2009, the Novel Food Regulation seems to concern itself strongly with cloning and food from cloned organisms (ibid.).

All this had us wondering: shouldn’t a class of foods as diverse, as widespread, as traditional and as celebrated as insects be treated under slightly different legislation than that which concerns itself primarily with food additivies, artificial flavourings, extraction solvents, clones, and GMOs?

One year ago, in December 2013, the Commission adopted new proposals to the legislation, among which were “special provisions… made for food which has not been marketed in the EU but which has a history of safe use in non-EU countries. This creates a more balanced system and a positive environment for trade.” One would expect certain insect species to be included in these provisions – but perhaps only in the event one submits an application for authorisation.

This authorisation is given by individual EU member states. Our situation occurred in the grey area when member states have different standards for authorisation – and different attitudes towards the same ‘novel’ food product. These different standards are further complicated by the large cultural variation in the legislative criteria for establishing “a history of human consumption to a significant degree,” such as valid types of documentation, geographical scale of consumption, ‘appropriate’ quantity of use, intended purpose (eg. crossover with medicinal and cosmetic functions), methods of processing, different properties among parts of the same organism, prevalence in private vs. public domains, and commerical value, among others.

All of this variation in criteria standards means that despite the goals of the legislation to provide safe foodstuffs and transparent information to consumers and businesses, there is still a lot of room for misinformation and unfounded cultural biases to generate fear of ‘novelty’ where there is no need for it.

There does exist a centralised “Novel Food Catalogue”, which “lists products of plant and animal origin and other substances subject to the Novel Food Regulation, after EU countries and the Commission agree in the Novel Food Working Group.” However, “it is non-exhaustive, and serves as orientation on whether a product will need authorisation under the Novel Food Regulation. EU countries may restrict the marketing of a product through specific legislation. For information, businesses should address their national authorities.” 

The salient point in Torino was the different ways that different member states respond to foods that are not explicitly authorised by the Novel Foods Regulation, but that have compelling evidence for their consideration – such as widespread, culturally and ecologically contextual, and safe use for centuries in other places in the world. In Denmark, for example, no insect species are officially authorised but we have never encountered such pushback. Nor have we in the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Germany, or the UK, where we have also shared some of our work.

It was of course a disappointment to be shut down – but it was also fruitful, opening our eyes again to the challenges of this work and bringing us to commit ourselves again to the battle of diversifying food systems through taste. We saw the depth of the psychological barriers to such unknown foods in action, and experienced firsthand the necessity for better, more informed legislation and its execution. We need to give this support not just to insects but to all sorts of traditional, wholesome foods with the potential to diversify our taste and our food systems, which are prevented from doing so in part due to unclear legislation and its misapplication.

But we didn’t let the day get us completely down. We still had almost all of our mise en place (we had managed to salvage and stash most of it from those who would have thrown it away) and ended up arranging an impromptu dinner party tasting for about fifteen of our friends. Gold stars for the evening go to our newfound Salone friend Steven Satterfield, chef of Miller Union in Atlanta, Georgia, who let us use his rented apartment in Torino and cooked with us, and Enrico Cirilli, Roberto’s good friend from Sardegna and our unfailing sous-chef for the whole weekend. We couldn’t have made it happen without them.

The menu from the evening ended up looking something like this.

Grapes, ants, anty gin

Cured tuna heart, olive oil, grasshopper garum

Culurgiones (Sardinian ravioli with pecorino, potato and mint), broth of house crickets and termite mound mushroom 

Chestnut soup, bee larvae, fermented pollen

Poached egg and grits, country ham and redeye gravy
Radicchio, Kale, Savoy cabbage with orange and grana padano
(the Southern flair from Steven)

Casu marzu
 

Here are some photos:

It was a cozy night and we were happy to be able to do what we came to Italy to do, even if it ended up a bit differently than we had planned.

Incidentally, a few weeks later, right after we had returned from some field work for our insect research in Japan, there came out an article recounting the complete shut-down of a restaurant in Milan that was also trying to serve insects.

Food safety is very important for sure – but so is acting on proper information and supporting responsible experimentation. There is still a ways to go. The fight is on, and so we do what we know best: we cook.

Anty Gin

Added on by Jonas Astrup Pedersen.

Finally, it's here. After its debut at last year's Pestival tasting and following a long development process to ready it for market, we're excited to share Anty Gin with the world.

Our first commercial run is ninety-nine bottles. Here it is, on sale.
And here, the official Press release.
All the info below.
Let us know what you think.

The NFL team

--

Anty Gin

A joint venture between experimental Copenhagen-based Nordic Food Lab and the world’s first gin tailor, The Cambridge Distillery, is introducing a new and somewhat different gin to the market.

Formica rufa, the red wood ant, are found in forests around the Northern Hemisphere, and are inspiringly sophisticated creatures. They communicate using a host of chemical pheromones, which allow them to form immense colonies housed in large mounds, and they defend their complex communities by producing formic acid in their abdomens and spraying it in the direction of any invader. Luckily for us, these very compounds hold great delicious potential. Formic acid (the simplest organic carboxylic acid, with the chemical formula HCOOH) is a very reactive compound in alcohol, serving as an agent for producing various aromatic esters. Furthermore, many of their chemical pheromones are the same volatile molecules we perceive as aroma. Through distillation of these wood ants, we can explore the tasty universe of these naturally occurring molecules and reactions, capturing the flavours of this fascinating species.

Over six thousand Formica rufa have been foraged and preserved by Forager, a team of wild plant specialists led by Miles Irving in the forests of Kent, UK. Each bottle of Anty Gin will contain the essence of approximately sixty-two wood ants. To support the distinctive flavour of the wood ant distillate and the characteristics of Bulgarian juniper berries, we have selected a handful of prime-quality, wild springtime botanicals to add complexity to the final blend: wood avens (Geum urbanum), nettle (Urtica dioica), and alexanders seed (Smyrnium olusatrum). In order to ensure exceptional quality of base alcohol, only 100% organic grown English wheat has been used for the spirit, and every distillation is carried out just one litre a time.

Our first commercial batch of Anty Gin will produce only ninety-nine bottles, at a retail price of £200 GBP (€250) per bottle. From foraging to bottling and labelling by hand with The Cambridge Distillery’s 1924 typewriter, every step of the process has been done with a dedication to craft. And to share our excitement for the unique flavour of the Formica rufa, each bottle of Anty Gin will come with a 50 ml bottle of pure wood ant distillate.

We look forward to sharing it with you. 


Nordic Food Lab is a non-profit, open-source organisation that investigates food diversity and deliciousness. We combine scientific and cultural approaches with culinary techniques from around the world to explore the edible potential of the Nordic region. We work to broaden our taste, generating and adapting practical ideas and methods for those who make food and those who enjoy eating. 

The Cambridge Distillery is the world’s first gin tailor, using unique methods to create bespoke gins for individuals, organisations and institutions. Approaching the traditional craft of gin distillation from a modern, scientific angle, we experiment continually to discover and apply the best methods of extraction and distillation for each botanical and flavour we work with.


Available this week in limited numbers from:
www.cambridgedistilleryshop.co.uk

700ml Anty Gin
+ 50ml Ant Distillate dropper 

£200 / €250 


For more information, please contact:

Nordic Food Lab                                                       The Cambridge Distillery
Jonas Astrup Pedersen                                            Will Lowe
+45 61711531                                                          +44 07970 339015
jap@nordicfoodlab.org                                             will@cambridgedistillery.co.uk


New crew

Added on by Josh Evans.

The past few months have seen a series of transitions here at the Lab. Ben, who's been leading the team as Head of R&D for the past two years, left us at the end of June to start his own projects. We wish him all the best in his return to his hometown of Edinburgh after ten years on the road, leading restaurant kitchens, skiing the Alps, studying in Piemonte and captaining a crazy crew in Copenhagen. He'll be doing very tasty things, so keep an eye and a tongue out.

One of our very long-term intern Researchers, Guillemette Barthouil, also left us at the end of June. She'll be returning to her family business in the French Basque country as a fourth-generation foie gras producer, but only after sailing the Baltic, opening up a garden restaurant in the Netherlands, and spending some time in Ecuador.

They have both contributed an immense amount to the Lab and we are grateful for them.

These two send-offs also coincide with two welcomes to our permanent team.

Robbe plating up some lamb tartare with sprouted purple wheat. photo credit: Afton Halloran

Robbe plating up some lamb tartare with sprouted purple wheat. photo credit: Afton Halloran

Roberto Flore now officially joins us as our Head Chef, after starting with us on a stage in February and being brought on as interim Head Chef in June. Ben and I first met Robbe last October, when we traveled to Sardinia to research casu marzu, one of the few existing European traditions of entomophagy. Robbe is from Seneghe, a small town of about two thousand people in the hills north of Oristano on the western coast of Sardinia. He took us everywhere, introducing us to shepherds, producers, and eaters and facilitating our research with a splendid intensity. He joins us from being Executive Chef and Management Partner at Antica Dimora del Gruccione, an acclaimed inn and gastronomic learning centre in Santu Lussurgiu, Sardinia, where he did everything from running the restaurant to collaborating with producers to leading workshops with visitors from around the world. He has been making food in the Canary Islands, Sardinia, and across Italy, cooking in restaurants such as Metamorfosi in Rome and the Four Seasons in Milan and working directly with butchers, bakers, cheesemakers, and other producers of all sorts. Robbe has also studied agronomy, and holds a diploma in Management of Marine Parks, Forests and Nature Reserves. We look forward to his broad experience with both chefs and producers helping us build our community in Denmark and the Nordic region, and his commitment to advancing our kitchen, his love of the edible landscape, and his background bringing a new perspective to our work.

Jonas on the boat.

Jonas on the boat.

Jonas Astrup Pedersen has been a familiar face around the Lab for a couple years. He has spent time with us already, first as an intern conducting research on kombucha in winter 2012/2013 for a Project in Practice as part of his MSc in Food Science and Technology at University of Copenhagen, and then returning in Spring 2014 to write his Master's thesis, entitled 'Disgusting or Delicious: Utilisation of bee larvae as an ingredient and consumer acceptance of the resulting food'. Aside from his work with us, he has been heavily involved in food and gastronomy in Denmark, consulting for Estate Coffee, developing a tea program for Chokolade Compagniet, teaching baking at Meyers Madhus, and making regular appearances as a food science expert on Danish news television. Jonas brings a lot of knowledge and skills to the team and will work with us primarily as a product developer, in addition to project managing our contribution to the newly-begun Smag for Livet project ('Taste for Life'), which focusses on the taste of food as a driving force behind health, learning, development, and life satisfaction especially of children and adolescents.

We're excited about the new crew and have already launched into new projects to push our exploration further. Here's to even more deliciousness!


- Josh

Slime dies hard

Added on by Edith Salminen.

by Edith Salminen

How hard can it be, I told myself. The thought of Nothing is impossible until it’s tried kept me going. Possibilities are endless and the sky isn’t the limit. Nevertheless, there I stood, scratching my head, clueless. Seeing my reflection in the window, I sure looked like someone in the know, someone creative. After all, I was in chef’s whites with the whole lab kitchen at my command. I had made this childhood favourite, extremely banal Finnish food, viili, because I wanted to give it new life. Now what? I wanted to prove to myself that just because things have always been done a certain way doesn’t mean they can’t be altered and adapted. But truth be told, when it came to this Finnish food that is so normal to me as to be completely banal, I faced a dead end. I felt I should just hang up my white jacket. As a Finn, I should be the most qualified to experiment with my own food traditions – yet instead I had a hard time tackling such a familiar food from a new angle.

Traditional way to serve viili, with berries (here strawberries, though technically an aggregate fruit and not a 'true' berry) and cinnamon – a summertime lunch or snack. Photo Outi Rinne.

Traditional way to serve viili, with berries (here strawberries, though technically an aggregate fruit and not a 'true' berry) and cinnamon – a summertime lunch or snack. Photo Outi Rinne.

C-R-E-A-T-I-V-I-T-Y – ten innocent letters in the Roman alphabet. When placed after one another in the right order they form a delightful yet pressuring monster of a word. Big news: creativity doesn’t happen on command. Yet, when the pressure is on, miracles can and do happen. But the balance is delicate. In hopes of getting my mojo back I looked up the definition: “Having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas”. New, new, new. Think new. The burden of novelty was eating me from the inside.

Not to be afraid of failure and to play like a child without set goals or defined objectives is the best medicine when in creative standstill. I decided to go for the good old exclusion strategy – reaching for the best solution by trying everything then excluding what doesn’t work. Every time someone at the Lab asked me whether I had tried this or that, I made sure to do so.

Can you make viili ice cream? Let’s see. What about a viili panna cotta? Exciting. Viili butter? The mould would probably add nice flavour. Viili foam? We might lose the ropiness but bring it on. Have you smoked it? Let’s do it. Try using it to cure or inoculate other foods? Why not. And so the list went on. I had the scent. I started to understand what to do and what not to do, gradually excluding options. Creativity was flourishing in an ever-expanding scope of possibilities.

Yet each new endeavour generated some degree of growing pains. This amused me. I can’t do that with viili. My culturally-constructed culinary grammar saw mistakes everywhere. But the child in me kept on playing, against the rules. Funnily enough, I never thought I was being conservative, or stuck in foodways determined by tradition and food-related ‘codes of conduct’. Usually I’m the first one to question commonly accepted ways of preparing classic dishes and handling classic food products. In countries like France and Italy where traditions and family recipes have the toughest roots to pull up and interrogate, I enjoy provoking people by asking why they never try to do grandma’s recipe differently. The default comeback “Because it’s perfect like this” never satisfies me, even though I sometimes end up agreeing. It was time to take my own medicine.

All my new viili applications pleased me, and it was fun to see some of the Lab crew-members find their personal favourites. I was excited again. The viili ice cream was fresh and acidic. I simply poured viili is a PACO jet tube, added some organic sugar, froze it and spun it down. It was more of a granité than an ice cream, but worked nicely on the side of a sweet piece of pie. The panna cotta idea made a lot of sense in principle, but the outcome wasn’t much to celebrate over. I tried both with and without gelatine, added and no added cream, and it was good, but not great. I didn’t manage to both get the thing out of its mould and keep the slimy ropiness. The butter was a favourite. I inoculated cream with viili and let it ferment 24h. Then I simply whisked it like one would when making butter. The mould as I expected added some depth and character to the flavour – a light mushroomy, foresty aroma. Since I have been making this Finnish squeaky cheese called leipäjuusto (an oven-baked, fresh raw cow milk cheese) I thought I could make a Finnish white mould cheese. Sounded easy enough. All I did was to make my cheese and smear it with viili and wait. The texture of the cheese broke down and softened a bit. It tasted like a cheap bloc of Brie. Not bad but definitely would need more work. Then there was the curing – it wasn’t my idea, but Roberto’s. He wanted to cure fish with viili, thinking something in line with surströmming. We jarred some raw cod with viili and sealed it up. A few weeks later, he approached me with the jar. “Would you volunteer to taste?”. Of course. It smelled very fishy but tasted quiet nice. Fishy but fresh. The slime from the viili together with the fishy aroma was a bit challenging I must say. But I swallowed it with no problems. But the foam was the absolute winner (at least that’s what Josh, Alicynn and I thought). Combine 1 part cream and 2 parts viili, and whisk on. The exopolysaccharides ensured the foam whipped up nicely and retained its texture, the ropiness transformed into an ethereal but stable substance through the simple introduction of air. Either sweet or savoury it tasted lovely: light and fresh, acidic and clean.

Viili foam (down-right) was a welcome element at NFL family meal.

Viili foam (down-right) was a welcome element at NFL family meal.

By this time Josh had become the number-one viili fan and encouraged me to share some of my viili work at noma’s Saturday Night Projects – a weekly gathering after Saturday night service introduced by René to encourage the team at the restaurant to present each other with new, creative and though-provoking ‘projects’: a technique, a flavour combination, an ingredient, or a full-blown dish. Some chefs work on their respective projects for weeks, some for days; some simply end up pulling it together at the drop of the hat. The modest and shy Finn in me wasn't convinced. Josh however remained affirmative. It was set. I was shitting my pants. Luckily though, we are a team here at the Lab and people are happy to help out a friend any time. Roberto – a talented chef with great gusto from Sardinia who had showed great interest in viili – would be my partner in crime. A great opportunity was ahead of us. To have the noma team taste and critique a flavour and texture I had spent so much time and energy on would be the best reward.

Roberto and I preparing on project night. photo Afton Halloran

Roberto and I preparing on project night. photo Afton Halloran

Together with Roberto, we wanted to tell the story of viili on a plate. There had to be sauna and spring present in the final dish – two very important parts of the Finnish cultural identity. It also seemed ideal to find ways to combine our two very different food cultures, or at least put them in dialogue: we needed our dish to be delicate and subtle, yet expressive and effusive. After a few days of twisting and turning, tasting and savouring, we ended up choosing elements and techniques that would pay homage to both Roberto’s Sardinian heritage and my Finnish roots.

Ironically, after all the experimenting, we chose to keep the protagonist – viili – in its expressive, unadulterated form. Whether it was the newly-found conservative in me or Roberto’s respect for tradition that led to that, I don’t know. Probably a combination. What I do know is that viili is fundamentally Finnish: simple, modest and pure. Sometimes an ingredient just won’t get any better by applying advance cooking techniques to it. I knew this in principle, but it is a lot different to come face to face with this realisation with a product you know and love, and is duly humbling.

Finding the right flavours.

Finding the right flavours.

We chose to accompany it with a personal favourite of mine, the parsnip. Roberto had a brilliant idea to cook the humble root vegetable in ash – an ancient technique much used in Sardinia, “old school sous-vide” as he calls it. We would only use the peel though, dehydrate it into a crispy, sweet chip. The juicy inside would be incorporated elsewhere. The parsnip skin looked exactly like tree bark. Ashes and bark. Sauna. Bingo! Baby nasturtium leaves rising from an icy nasturtium granité would speak to rebirth and spring – another great idea by chef Roberto. I felt the dish just wouldn’t be complete without some salmiakki (Finnish salty liquorice) which marries incredibly well with parsnips. Salmiakki has variants across the Nordic region, though the common principle is liquorice flavoured with ammonium chloride. We wanted the liquid salmiakki to look like the thickest, deepest traditional balsamic vinegar. A few shiny drops of it on the parsnip bark made it resemble sap, yet another sauna allusion. 

Parsnip bark. photo Afton Halloran

Parsnip bark. photo Afton Halloran

Nasturtium granité. photo Afton Halloran

Nasturtium granité. photo Afton Halloran

After selecting the right plate for our creation, we needed to make it look as beautiful as it tasted. Trials and errors. Splashing, drizzling, dripping, painting, gently placing tiny leaves with a millimetre focus. Intense, all right. For Roberto this is his job, he handled it like a pro and had nerves of steel. For me, each step along the way was a revelation of flavour combinations that viili either enhanced or became enhanced by. And yes, it was also extremely nerve-wracking, for me at least. It made me relentlessly emotional. Roberto made fun of me, but in the most loving way. He understood my exaggerated emotional reactions – he’s Sardinian and Italian, after all. 

The creative process.

The creative process.

On D-day, ten minutes before we were to enter the culinary dragons’ den, I felt confident. We were ready, we had been working hard. Still, I needed a good luck charm. Fast, Edith, think. A week earlier I had been curious and ordered a viili seed all the way from the States. It arrived dehydrated, complete with an adoption certificate.

Adopted American viili.

Adopted American viili.

That would work perfectly. I placed the tiny plastic bag in my pocket. “Showtime buddy,” I whispered to my new Finnish-American friend. With the support of all the crew members, we stepped off the boat, onto land and entered the restaurant.

"Everything okay guys?" head chef Dan at noma. photo Afton Halloran

"Everything okay guys?" head chef Dan at noma. photo Afton Halloran

Robbe plating. photo Afton Halloran

Robbe plating. photo Afton Halloran

Presenting my slimy friend. photo Afton Halloran

Presenting my slimy friend. photo Afton Halloran

We continued working together like a true dream team. I did most of the talking, the academic mumbling of a presentation, introducing all the curious chefs to the slimy mouldy Finn. Roberto was right beside me making sure our dish would be spot on and delicious. Like clockwork, when I wrapped up my introduction, Roberto served the dishes to the hungry and curious cooks. Tasting, laughter, confusion, below-the-belt jokes. We were ready for the toughest of questions. Final pH? Heat resistance? Why? How? When? We kept assessing the questions until both minds and taste buds were satisfied.

The scrutiny. photo Afton Halloran

The scrutiny. photo Afton Halloran

There were many interesting thoughts that arose in the discussion. Roberto and I had designed our viili dish as a refreshing and appetite-stimulating starter. Of course there was certain sweetness to the dish as a whole, mostly derived from the dehydrated parsnip. Nevertheless we sensed that viili would work perfectly as a palate-cleanser to begin a long tasting menu, a bit like wiping your hands with a hot or cold wet towel before eating. The green, subtly spicy and slightly sweetened nasturtium granité would support viili in this. René & Co. had another vision though: dessert.

photo Afton Halloran

photo Afton Halloran

I guess this made sense, especially from the noma-perspective. The aversion to synthetic sweetness in the New Nordic cuisine is a known fact. But for Roberto the dish wasn’t sweet. For me, regarding viili as dessert seemed odd (no surprise there), but in this setting and with this dish I could understand it. What really flirted with my nerdy academic mind was the debate on the degree of sweetness of not the viili, but the granité. I have always regarded the perception of sweetness as extremely socio-culturally modulated, and therefore it was a fascinating topic of discussion that revealed a lot about the differences in taste perception between southern and northern Europe emerging from their different landscapes. When fruit ripens in the Nordic region, it can get sweet but it usually retains quite a bit of acidity, like its many apples and berries. Sources of saccharine ripeness are rare, which translates into a palate here that tends to be pretty sensitive to sweetness – though this does not mean that you can't find some really sweet things here, like classic Danish baked goods drømmekage and brunsviger. But in southern Europe, plants get lots of sun for a long growing season, and much more sugar tends to develop in fruits. Could this be part of the reason why René tasted the dish sweeter than Roberto? Or is it simply individual preference uncorrelated with geography?

Rosio with the refractometer. photo Afton Halloran

Rosio with the refractometer. photo Afton Halloran

Head of pastry, Rosio, was even asked to come forward with the big guns, the refractometer used to measure dissolved solids (and thus sugar) in aqueous solutions like, for example, wine. One degree Brix translates to 1 gram of sucrose in 100 grams of solution and represents the strength of the solution as percentage by weight (% w/w). Roberto was baffled by all this, and so was I –  Roberto because he didn’t think it was sweet at all, and me because of all the technical precision. “It must be at least 23,” the chefs mused. It turned out to be 9°Bx! “The device must be broken,” they said. They couldn’t believe it.

But that didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the dish, wherever in a meal in might come. “As a dessert, who fucking loves this?!” René said, raising his hand as he looked around at his brown-aproned team. It was a room of hands in the air. The verdict was in.

Breaking habitual patterns is among the toughest things for human beings to accomplish.  My slimy childhood friend had confronted me in very concrete terms with the paradox of being omnivorous: we like and seek comfort in the familiar, yet we simultaneously yearn for the new. I ended up presenting viili as viili, my old friend. But the way we combined it with other flavours and techniques fed my inner raging neophile. There are different types of experimenting – trying to turn viili into something it’s not didn’t really work, but developing a dish with it revealed other aspects to its character that I didn’t know before. Sometimes you need to try it all to realise that the most obvious and simple solution works best. The difference is that now I know why it does, and how to go from there. And I think, in the end, I managed to do my slimy friend and my culture’s culinary traditions proud.


photo Afton Halloran

photo Afton Halloran

Sauna & Spring
for one dish

Viili
15ml, serve cold (from a 4˚C fridge)

Parsnip bark
1 parsnip, burned with blowtorch, cooked under ash of a fire for 50 minutes, then peeled and skin dehydrated at 50˚C overnight until crisp.

Sunflower seed crumble
Sunflower seeds, toasted in pan, blended together in thermomix.
Salt to season.

Nasturtium granité
25g nasturtium leaves and stalks
500g water
35g white sugar
2 ice cubes
All blended in thermomix 1 minute maximum. Filtered through fine mesh net. Put in blast freezer in shallow gastro. Scrape the ice down every three minutes.
It is important to create sufficiently small ice crystals. The more sugar, the smaller the crystals will freeze, but this can also be achieved through more frequent and faster scraping. Best prepared about 50 minutes before plating the dish – when made hold in bowl on a larger bowl of ice until ready to plate.

Spinach powder
Spinach, dehydrated at 50˚c until dry, then powdered by hand. Filtered through fine mesh net. 

Salmiakki reduction
10ml salmiakki (salty liquorice liquid) : 1ml apple cider vinegar
Reduced to the consistency of aged balsamic vinegar.

Nasturtium leaves
Small, to garnish 

Plating
Make sure to pre-chill your plate. Be creative!

Best viili duo.

Best viili duo.

Big thanks/grazie mille to my partner in crime, Roberto!

Ants and flukes

Added on by Ben Reade.

As part of Nordic Food Lab's insect project, we are lucky enough to work alongside Jørgen Eilenberg and Annette Bruun Jensen. These clever folks are specialists in insect pathology at Copenhagen University and they have been helping us figure out some complicated aspects of insect eating. So, since starting our research they have begun to uncover some details about a parasite that may or may not be a problem for humans. So although we don't have very much information at this point, we wanted to share what we had in this mini-post to keep everyone up to date. Here is a brief excerpt from Annette:   

 

"The Lancet liver fluke, Dicrocoelium dendriticum, is a trematode parasite that inhibits the bile duct of its terminal host, normally a grazing animal. To fulfil its life cycle, it needs to complete its developmental stages in intermediate hosts: first terrestrial snails and then ants. In Denmark we know that the red wood ant, Formica rufa, is infected by the Lancet liver fluke. Ants infected with fluke cercariae don’t usually die from the infection, but as a 'body-snatcher' the parasite causes a change in the ant's behaviour: at daytime, they climb up vegetation to some elevated position and bite the leaf or grass blade with their mandibles. The parasite-manipulated ants then have a much higher chance of being eaten by the fluke’s terminal host.

"Human infections are rare because it comes along with ingestion of a live infected ant. So if you want to taste ants foraged from nature, don’t eat them raw. This rule is recommended not only for ants, but for other insects in general, as we don't always know what other parasites they may be carriers for.

"As for eating live or raw insects foraged from nature, it should only be done on insects that have been researched, either by researchers, or by locals who have explored the eventual risks in their traditional cuisines."

 

So from what Annette is saying, it is best to steer clear of most raw wild insects, especially if there is no existing widespread tradition of eating them. Now, she is a scientist and we (some of us) are cooks. We recognise that scientists recommend a whole host of things which chefs like to disregard, like, for example, deep-freezing of fish before making sashimi (deep freezing almost certainly kills the ant fluke as well). We also recognise that ignoring such processes is often not out of negligence but out of a desire to maximise sensory experience of the product, and it should to some extent be up to the well-informed individual what they choose to do. Josh and I for example, well in the knowledge of this, have been eating a bunch of raw insects on our field work, because it is most important to try everything – and often they are part of an existing culinary tradition. So, we supply with the facts, you choose to do with them as you will.

photo credit: the internet.

photo credit: the internet.







Roasted Locusts

Added on by Josh Pollen.

Recipe development for our Pestival menu, by Josh Pollen – one half of Blanch & Shock and one third of London Research Kitchen

Schistocerca gregaria

Schistocerca gregaria

Roasted grasshoppers are simple to make and eat, and also pretty accessible – many people have tried them already when traveling. We wanted to present this idea with the quite beautiful desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), an elegantly spotted creature of green and yellow and black, paired with an emulsion of common wood ants from the forest (Formica rufa) and wild garlic that was just coming into season.

Roasted desert locust

These are quite easy to make. We prefer to use the sub-adult (3rd) instar of the desert locust. Remove the legs and wings. Roast in an oven with butter and salt at 170˚c for 12 minutes, or until gently browned and crisp.

Wild garlic and ant emulsion

130g neutral oil, (grapeseed, sunflower etc.)
20g egg yolk
5g wood ants (Formica rufa)
52g wild garlic (ramson) leaves
10g water
0.75g salt

Blanch the wild garlic leaves in water, seasoned with 2.5% salt for 10 seconds. Shock in iced water and drain. Squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible, and freeze in a Pacojet container. Spin in the Pacojet. Pass the ground, frozen herb paste through a very fine screen, resulting in a stiff, smooth paste. Refrigerate.

NFL INSECTS WEEK 3-9768.jpg
NFL INSECTS WEEK 3-9771.jpg

Cook an egg for 45 minutes at 65C˚ (this step results in a more stable emulsion and the pasteurisation means it can be eaten by anyone who is unable to eat raw eggs). Cool in iced water, and remove the yolk. Using a tall beaker and an immersion blender, start the emulsion by blending the egg yolk with the water and salt. Add the herb paste and ants while blending, and then add the oil one third at a time until the preferred texture is achieved. Pass the emulsion through a very fine sieve or silk screen, removing the miniscule ant parts, and serve with the roasted desert locusts.

IMG_9658.JPG
residual ant particles

residual ant particles

An early iteration, with legs intact.

An early iteration, with legs intact.

photo: Nowness. Serving at Pestival.

photo: Nowness. Serving at Pestival.

Ramson and friends

Added on by Avery McGuire.

by Avery McGuire

 

Spring is upon us. The sky is a vast and brilliant blue. The sun is bright and blinding, and lingers longer each evening. Flowers speckle the first grass with yellow, white and periwinkle. The air is sweet with new life.

The city is awake. People are out, their cheeks blushed, wrapped in blankets with hot coffee or cold beer in hand, soaking up every golden drop of sun no matter how chilly it may still be.

Step out your front door and watch the world budding. There are new shoots and buds, delicate young leaves, and the very first flowers – many of which are not only safe to eat, but healthy and delicious!

ramson. photo credit: Afton Halloran

ramson. photo credit: Afton Halloran

Ramson

Over the last few years, ramson (Allium ursinum), a variety of wild garlic, have (re-)entered into mainstream food and become quite popular. You can find ramson pesto, soups and oils on restaurant menus across Europe. You can even find fresh ramson being sold in higher-end grocery stores and food markets. A similar resurgence has been happening in the US and Canada with ramps (Allium tricoccum), the eastern North American wild garlic. But why buy it when you can forage it for free?

Ramson grow abundantly and are easy to identify, making it a great plant for beginner foragers. They favour semi-shady areas and grow mostly in wooded areas or along riverbanks – usually in large colonies, often covering 100 square meters or more (Irving 2012). Here in Copenhagen you can find them all over Assistens Kirkegård, Amagerfælled, Kalvebod and Kongelund – just to name a few spots.

Ramson have long elliptical leaves that taper to a point. The leaves are slightly ribbed and brilliant green. As the season progresses the plants will produce a tight, rounded cluster of small white, 6-petalled flowers. At their root is a small bulb which looks like a clove of garlic. When the leaves are crushed they smell strongly of garlic.

ramson botanical illustration. photo credit: http://mybotanicalgarden.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/allium-ursinum-and-low-genetic-variability/

ramson botanical illustration.
photo credit: http://mybotanicalgarden.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/allium-ursinum-and-low-genetic-variability/

Miles Irving, a professional forager in the UK, has some words of advice for how to distinguish ramson from lookalikes:

The leaves are the easiest part of the plant to harvest – however they can be confused with other plants. Two of the most important potential lookalikes are Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majus) and Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum). Lords and Ladies often grows in amongst ramsons so it can slip into a bag if you are not picking carefully.

Both of these plants are highly poisonous, so it is important to be fully familiarised with them before harvesting ramsons. However, neither of them smells of garlic so if you think you have found ramsons always crush a few leaves and smell them, as part of the wider identification process.
— Irving, 2012

Rasmon are extremely versatile in the kitchen. They have strong garlicky characteristics yet are also quite herbaceous and floral.  They are great in pesto, infused into oil or vinegar, mixed into butter, blended into soup (nettle season is here as well!), incorporated into pasta dough, eaten fresh by the handful…

ramson close-up. photo credit: Afton Halloran

ramson close-up. photo credit: Afton Halloran

The ramson season only lasts a month or two so one had better act fast. By now, they are producing flowers and in some places, will have already begun producing fruits – small three-lobed fruits with an intense garlic flavour, delicious and powerful fresh and perfect for pickling and lacto-fermenting.

Yet ramson are just one of many tasty wild plants available at this time of year. Here are some other plants you might find walking though a park, in the forest or along the beach:

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) – this succulent ‘weed’ is somewhat crunchy with a slight lemony taste. It can be tossed into salad or used in place of spinach in many recipes.

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) –  You can eat the roots, leaves and flowers of this common ‘weed’. Toss the leaves in a salad or cook them into a quiche. Roast or boil the roots as your would parsnips. Add the bright yellow flowers to your next salad for a pop of color and an added zesty flavor. Or dip them into batter and fry them.

Violets (Viola odorata) – These delicate purple flowers are often used as decoration on cakes and other confections. They can be infused into cream for custards and ice creams, or infused into spirits. They can also be brewed into tea or added to lemonade for a refreshing floral summer drink.          

Lambs quarters or goosefoot (Chenopodium album) – The leaves of this plant are a bit bland but highly nutritious. Use them as you would spinach. Sauté them in garlic and oil, use them as pizza topping or turn them into soup. Although they are not the most interesting wild plant, they grow abundantly in many areas of the world, and are one of the most common agricultural ‘pest’, growing quickly between crops and along fields and hedgerows. More interesting then the leaves of this plant are the seeds, which can be dried and ground into flour to be incorporated into bread or other baked goods. The seeds have a very tannic and earthy taste (they are in the same genus as quinoa) and a bit of a coarse texture.

Nettle (Urtica dioica) – Make sure you wear gloves while harvesting this plant. The leaves cause an uncomfortable stinging sensation. Do not worry though, this defense mechanism will disappear after just 30 seconds of cooking the leaves in boiling water. Alternatively, sauté them in olive oil or butter for three to six minutes. Use them in a similar way to spinach in curries and stews, risottos, baked omelettes, gnocchi and pies.

Purple Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) – Though a member of the mint family, the purple deadnettle tastes nothing of mint. This plant can be easily recognized by its long square stalk (indicating its mint family identity), delicate purple flowers and fuzzy spade-shaped leaves. It’s best to add the young leaves and flowers to salads or gentle sautés.

Blackberry leaves (Rubus fruticosus) – Although the fruits of a blackberry bush are not ripe this time of year, do not overlook the other parts of this surprisingly versatile plant. The young leaves of blackberry bush have a distinct coconut/fig leaf aroma, and can be dried and turned into tea which for has been used as a digestive aid for centuries. They make a delicious drink regardless of whether you are feeling healthy or a bit under the weather.

Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) – Another common garden ‘weed’, the young shoots of this plant with their folded leaves make excellent herbal additions to both raw and cooked food. Use as an herb in salads, a garnish for meat, fish, and eggs, or along with other cooked greens as above for a fresh, somewhat celery-like flavour without the bitterness.

Garlic mustard or onion cress (Alliaria petiolata) – Here’s another one that likes hedgerows, woodland edges, and unused soil in the garden. The leaves have some of the aroma of garlic and the pepperiness of mustard at once. Excellent in salads and tossed through pastas at the last minute. The white flowers are currently in bloom and have a lovely garlic/mustard flavour with floral notes, sometimes faintly of bitter almond.

Sea Beet (Beta vulgaris maritima) – This costal plant is a relative of beetroot, chard and perpetual spinach. Much like its relatives, sea beet has pointed leaves and firm stems. The glossy, fresh leaves are an excellent vegetable and can be served in just about any recipe that calls for cooked spinach or chard.

sea beet.

sea beet.

Sea Kale and Sea Kale Broccoli (Crambe maritima) – This hearty vegetable can be found growing in the sand, on rocky shores and along the coastline. The firm stalk grows about 1 meter tall and produces thick fleshy leaves with a deep purple vein and wavy edges. Before the sea kale blooms, the flower head is reminiscent of broccoli.

sea kale.

sea kale.

Sea Arrow Grass (Triglochin maritima) – Cilantro of the sea. Sea arrow grass can be found growing along the waterline, on rocky shores, and in seashore meadows. The tender lower tip tastes of salty, yet slightly sweet cilantro. It is advised not to eat too much of the upper green leaf, although it is not dangerous to consume in small quantities.

Many of these plants can also be excellent in beer. We recently made a spring brew with our friend and master brewer Morten using some of these herbs, like nettles, violets, and blackberry shoots. It turned out nicely – complex, herbaceous, and well-balanced.

But before you set out to explore the edible world just beyond you front door, prepare yourself wisely and remember not every plant is safe to consume. Below you will find a guide to ease the fear of the unknown and make foraging fun, safe, accessible and sustainable.

ITEM!

Identify – Be sure you have confidently identified the plant you are looking for. If you are not 100% sure, do not eat it until you are. In other words, “when in doubt, don’t pull it out.” Smell the plant, observe its leaf shape and arrangement, its stem’s shape, and type of flowers. For more information on plant identification in Denmark check out this site.

Time of year – Know what plants are available at the given time of year so you have a rough idea of what you can expect to find.

Environment – Know what kind of plants grow in a given habitat. Be aware of the ecosystem around you and know how certain plants fit into that habitat.  

Method of harvesting – This includes both location and technique. Be sure it is legal to take plants form the land and make sure the land has not been sprayed with harmful pesticides. Harvest plants sustainably. Only take as much as you need, and familiarize yourself with the appropriate harvesting technique for each plant based on the part you want to consume and how to propagate its future growth. For more information on best foraging practices, check out some of our guidelines for sustainable foraging.

Happy hunting. 

 

References

Irving, Miles. The Forager Handbook: a guide to the edible plants of Britain. UK: Ebury, 2009. 

Moth Mousse

Added on by Nurdin Topham.

Recipe development for our Pestival menu, by Nurdin Topham – now Head Chef at NUR in Hong Kong

The juicy larvae of the wax moth simply blanched in water for a minute has a naturally sweet taste, but both the texture and appearance are barriers to consumption. 

We pureed the larvae and passed it through a very fine mesh to remove the unpleasant stringy fibres. Once passed, we tied the puree into a roulade using cling film and poached it at 65˚C for 8 minutes.

The result had a delicate ‘insect’ sweetness that was not totally unpleasant, however owing to the lack of integral protein (about 10%) the purée did not quite set. The flavour was vaguely similar to a light sea scallop mousseline, a recipe from the classic French kitchen with the addition of cream.

We wondered, could we use this larva to create a super-light mouse – as an expression of the lightness of a moth and its pursuit towards the light.

We experimented with the use of setting agents and found a small amount of chicken puree incorporated in with the larvae worked most effectively, when blended with a little cream.

Some early trials, before finding the right setting agent.

Some early trials, before finding the right setting agent.

We began experimenting with flavour pairings and textures to accompany what was developing into a silky smooth mousse. The month was April and things were just turning into spring, so were thinking green – we tried raw cucumber juice with verbena, asparagus juice with pine oil, grilled asparagus juice, grilled cucumber juice, each time with an assortment of vegetable preparations, wild herbs and flowers. While the dishes looked attractive they lacked cohesion in terms of flavour.

Initially we worked with cream in the mouse; then we tried smoking some skyr, which didn’t work as its acidity produced a grainy split paste instead of the silky-smooth, just-set cream we were after. The smoke, though, was very pleasant. We continued to smoke cream with juniper wood which was delicious, interesting and rich.

Then we moved into a range of nut creams, and tested a few with the larvae. We decided finally on hazelnut as the best pairing with the wax moth larvae, and when smoked it really worked. The smoke, the nuts, and the delicate sweetness of the wax moths worked well with a simple mushroom sauce made from dried morels, a little mushroom stock, some hazelnut cream and infused with some lemon verbena at the end.

Click through to see some different iterations of the dish throughout the creative process:

Moth Mousse, hazelnuts & morels & ‘faux foie’

Yield: 10 x taster portions / 4

Ingredients

1. For the smoked hazelnut cream:
200g  Hazelnuts, skins removed            
400g  Water, filtered                                            
0.4g    Xanthan gum
5g       shaved Juniper wood & Polyscience smoke gun 

2. For the moth mousse:
200g  Wax moth larvae, blanched 5 seconds in boiling water, refreshed in iced water, drained and dried
200g  Smoked hazelnut cream from the above preparation
75g     Passed chicken puree* (passed through a very fine sieve)
2g       Sea salt
5g       Faux foie seasoning (optional, but recommended – recipe to come)

3. Morel & hazelnut cream:
100g   Morel mushrooms, dried, rehydrated in 600ml water overnight
600g  Chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced 1mm
60g     Unsalted butter
60g     Shallots, finely sliced 2mm
300g   Smoked hazelnut milk
60ml   Mead, dry not too sweet
10g      Faux foie (optional)
3g        Fresh lemon verbena
Sea salt

4. Morel crisp
30g     Morel puree
30g     Egg white
5g       Koji extract (optional but excellent)
3g       Faux foie (optional)

5. Ingredients to garnish and plate:
20g     Unsalted butter
150g Fresh / rehydrated morels, small, well washed and dried
15g     Dry mead
3g       Lemon verbena, fresh leaves
10no Garlic flowers 

Method

1. To make the smoked hazelnut milk:

Blend the hazelnuts and the water together for 2 minutes on high power in the thermomix. Leave in the fridge overnight. Squeeze the liquid through a fine superbag to separate the pulp from the cream. You should be left with a yield of 440-450g. In a blender on high  power incorporate the xanthan gum with the hazelnut milk.

Decant the hazelnut milk into a large bowl and cover with cling film. Using the smoke gun fill the bowl with juniper smoke and allow to infuse, covered for 10 minutes. Repeat this process to develop a pronounced smoky flavour.

 

2. To make the moth mousse:

In the chilled jug of a thermomix blender, Blend the wax moth larvae with 100g of the smoked hazelnut cream on full power for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the blender jug and repeat 3 times. Pass this puree through a very fine mesh you should yield 140g, reserve on ice.

Return the passed wax moth larvae puree to the chilled jug of the thermomix blender. Add the passed chicken puree, 100g smoked hazelnut cream and seasonings. Blend to achieve a silky smooth mousse.

Prepare a tester by wrapping 30g of the mouse mix in a cling film boudin and poach at 65˚C in a water bath for 10 minutes. Taste to adjust the seasoning. the mouse should be light and delicate with gently smoky flavour. Once satisfied with the seasoning wrap in cling film and reserve on ice until ready to cook.

NFL INSECTS WEEK 1-42.jpg

*It is important to keep the temperature cool to ensure the mechanical action of the blade does not generate heat which could begin to coagulate the chicken protein, resulting in a grainy texture in the finished mousse.


3. To make the morel & hazelnut cream:

First make the mushroom stock: in a large frying pan, caramelize half of the sliced chestnut mushrooms in 30g unsalted butter until golden and crisp. Separately soften the remaining mushrooms in a dry pan. Strain the soaked morels, passing the soaking liquid through a fine mesh to remove any grit. Add the caramelized mushrooms and morel soaking liquid to the softened mushrooms. Simmer for 20 minutes, skim and remove from the heat and allow to rest for 20 minutes before pressing and passing the mushroom stock to extract all the liquid.

For the sauce, soften the finely sliced shallots for 8 minutes on a low heat until  translucent, with no colour. Stir in the morels and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the  hazelnut milk, boiled mead and mushroom stock, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lemon verbena sprig, cover to infuse and allow to rest for 20 minutes before blitzing for 10 seconds with a hand blender and passing through a fine sieve. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding the faux foie if using.


4. To make the morel crisp

Mix the ingredients together and spread in a fine layer on a silpat mat. Place in a dehydrator at 55˚C for 5-6 hours until dehydrated and crisp. Break into shards and store in an airtight container, with a packet of silica gel to keep dry if available.


5. To garnish and serve

Poach the moth mousse boudins blancs as with the testers at 65˚C for 10 minutes. In a little unsalted butter, sauté the morel mushrooms briefly with a little sea salt and a splash of dry mead. Remove from the heat add a sprig of verbena, the faux foie if using and cover. Reheat the morel and hazelnut cream, blend to emulsify and lighten. Lift the boudins blancs from the water bath, cut to remove the cling film, portion and place the moth mousse in warm bowls. Spoon over the morel and hazelnut cream, top with the sautéed morels, morel crisp and a few small leaves of verbena and garlic flowers.

photo: Nowness. Serving at Pestival.

photo: Nowness. Serving at Pestival.

There will be slime

Added on by Edith Salminen.

by Edith Salminen


Overview

Nordic people love fermented milks, with an average intake per person of 100g a day. We have in the Nordic region a distinctive subfamily of fermented milk and cream products sometimes referred to in English as the “ropy milks of Scandinavia”. These ropy milks are rather similar in flavour and acidity, but differ in consistency and mouthfeel. The Finnish one is called viili and it is a traditional fermented milk product involving lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that enjoy ambient temperatures between 17 and 22 °c, as well as a surface mould which makes the product unique in taste, aroma and appearance compared to all other Nordic fermented milks. The mould growing on the surface is Geotrichum candidum (the same mould which plays a crucial role in the development of certain cheeses). It feeds on the cream and forms a tasty, slightly fuzzy upper layer.

The slimy ropiness of viili is created by a specific strain of LAB called Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris. Other LAB strains used in industrially produced viili are Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis biovar diacetylactis (contributes to flavour) and Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris. These LAB strains produce long chains of exopolysaccharides. Exopolysaccharides are long chains of many (‘poly’) sugars (‘saccharides’) that are excreted from the cell (‘exo’) as part of its metabolism. Other, more known exopolysaccharides commonly used in the food industry are Xantan and Gellan gum.

Viili was traditionally made in wooden barrels, often made of alder wood. Nowadays, one doesn’t need to carve a barrel of alder: making viili is a no-brainer. If you have full fat, good quality, unhomogenized cow’s milk, a 200ml plastic or glass jar and a viili seed you’re good to go. Go ahead and try it for yourself. Let there be slime!


Our viili gets its own fridge drawer.

Our viili gets its own fridge drawer.

Nordic people love their fermented milks, with an average intake per person of 100g a day. Finns and Danes rank highest in the bunch with a ravishing 41 kg per person per year (Fondén & et al. in Tamine 2007)! Yet what is perhaps less known is many people’s proclivity for a bit of slime in their fermented milk.

We have in the Nordic region a distinctive subfamily of fermented milk and cream products that Harold McGee refers to as the "ropy milks of Scandinavia" (McGee 2004, 50). These yoghurt-like substances are known under different names depending on their geographical origins: långfil in Sweden, tettemelk in Norway and viili in Finland. These ropy milks are rather similar in flavour and acidity, but differences in consistency and mouthfeel are noticeable even to a non-Nordic palate.

I am Finnish so viili is my bread and butter. Let me tell you a story of viili.

 

Viili

Viili is a traditional Finnish fermented milk product involving mesophilic bacteria[1]. In some scientific papers it has also been classified as a “mould-lactic fermentation product” (Tamine & Marshall in Law 1997). Viili is the modern version of old-school filbunke traditionally produced in Sweden, from where it made its way to Finland when the two countries were one roughly from the 12th century up to the year 1809 (Fondén & et al. in Tamine 2007). It is hard to say how long viili has existed, but there are records of it being produced and consumed in Finland since the 19th century. Somewhere along the way, distinct from its Swedish ancestor, viili gained a mould growth on the surface, which makes it unique in taste, aroma and appearance compared to all other Nordic fermented milks (Law 1997). Beautiful, delicious surface mould.

1-2-3-VIILI.

1-2-3-VIILI.

Today, viili is mostly considered as breakfast or a snack, whereas back in the days it was regarded as a full meal, especially in summertime (Linquist 2009, 79). Nowadays viili is most often consumed topped with sugar and cinnamon, or served with fruit. To give viili a modernising face-lift, fruit-flavoured and -coloured industrial viili called Viilis was introduced to the market in the 1980s and continues to be popular among children (Tamine & Robinson 1988).

The reason why I decided to get to know my beloved slimy friend more deeply is because I have been taking it for granted all these years. Available in any little kiosk or food store in Finland, viili is no longer an artisan product as it used to, the viili seed passing from mother to daughter. I want to change that.

 

Once upon a time…

The first commercially sold viili was produced in a sauna hut by a riverbank close to the town of Sipoo in South-eastern Finland in 1929 (Ingman 2013; Wallén 2003). A young man called Hjalmar Ingman made his first trip to Helsinki to sell his viili – thirty 1-liter wooden jars of it to be exact – on June 23rd of that year. Safe to say his efforts paid off. Ingman’s viili was a succulent success. Except for a brief halt in business from spring to October 1941 due to WWII, Ingman’s viili business kept growing. In 1960, he founded Hj. Ingman Ky, a public organization owned by a group of municipalities. That is also when his viili would become available in the first milk shops such as Wickström, HOK and other Finnish supermarkets (Wallén 2003, 220).

Determined and young Mr. Ingman (Wallén 2004).

Determined and young Mr. Ingman (Wallén 2004).

As mentioned above, viili was traditionally made in wooden barrels. According to old sources, the best wood to use was alder wood. Whether the wood added some important aromas or flavour to the final product or had some other particular function is uncertain, but one could guess it did. When time to eat, the viili barrels (hence the Swedish name filbunke, or 'viili bowl/barrel') were placed in the middle of the table for shared consumption. The unwritten eating rules were common knowledge: one should always keep to one's own corner of the barrel and one was never to only skim the creamy surface that for many was the most delicious part. From the 1920s onward the wooden barrels were gradually replaced by single serving glass jars (Lindquist 2009, 78). Nowadays, viili is sold in plastic single-portion-sized (250g) containers sealed with an aluminium foil cap.

 

It’s all in the slime

What is so precious and exciting about viili is its distinctive ropy and gelatinous consistency, which gives it its characteristic mouthfeel. Other Nordic fermented milk products with mesophilic bacteria have this to some degree, but viili is downright the slimiest I’ve encountered. Slurp a spoonful of viili and you can feel how it holds together firmly but softly. In fact, viili is so cohesive that if some of the viili spills out from its container the rest of it will most probably be dragged out of the container too. It’s like a dairy slinky. As a kid I remember thoroughly enjoying and playing with this feature.

Ropy viili.

Ropy viili.

The slimy ropiness is created by a specific strain of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) called Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris. Other LAB strains used in industrially-produced viili are Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis biovar diacetylactis (contributes to flavour) and Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris (Meriläinen 1984). These LAB strains produce long chains of exopolysaccharides at the correct fermentation temperature to create the characteristic consistency and also contribute to the aroma and flavor profile of viili (Kahala & Joutsjoki 2012, 177).

Exopolysaccharides are long chains of many (‘poly’) sugars (‘saccharides’) that are excreted from the cell (‘exo’) as part of its metabolism. They have multiple applications in various food industries, as their properties are almost identical to different plant and algal gums currently in use (e.g. xantan gum, gellan etc.). In general, the various exopolysaccharides are increasingly used to attain certain wanted textures and consistency as well as to improve physical stability in food items (Giavasis & Bilideris 2007). To give you a concrete and more familiar example, Gellan gum (E number E418) forms soft, elastic, transparent and flexible gels, but forms hard, non-elastic brittle gels once de-acylated. Xanthan gum (E number E415), another common exopolysaccharide and often used in gluten-free baked goods, hydrates rapidly in cold water without lumping to give a reliable viscosity, encouraging its use as thickener, stabilizer, emulsifier and foaming agent.

[1] Gellan gum molecule. Source: Water Structure and Science, Martin Chaplin, 2012.

[1] Gellan gum molecule. Source: Water Structure and Science, Martin Chaplin, 2012.

[2] Xantan gum molecule. Source: Water Structure and Science, Martin Chaplin, 2012.

[2] Xantan gum molecule. Source: Water Structure and Science, Martin Chaplin, 2012.

Moreover, the naturally-occurring exopolysaccharides that give rise to sliminess also prevent syneresis (the expulsion of water from a gel) and graininess, resulting in a pleasant natural thickness in the product (Macura & Townsley 1983). According to Sundman, It is thanks to these exopolysaccharides that the Nordic ropy fermented milks, and viili in particular, keep longer than many other fermented milk products under the same conditions (Sundman 1953). 

[3] Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, bar: 1 µm. Photo by Bart Weimer, Utah State University.

Certain LAB strains, but also yeast and fungi, excrete exopolysaccharides as part of their metabolism. Research shows that these molecules have beneficial effects to human health, being antitumorous, immunostimulatory, hypocholesterolic and hypoglycemic (Giavasis & Bilideris 2007.) The exopolysaccharides do not interact directly with the pathogenic agent, but they do stimulate the immune system to respond and are therefore referred to as “biological response modifiers” (Giavasis & Bilideris 2007).

(For more on lactic acid fermentation, read this article on the blog and listen to this podcast of one of our talks for noma stagiaires and staff.)

 

Delicious mould

Often, moulds and fungi tend to not tolerate lactic acid bacteria very well, that is why you rarely find, for example, green mould on your yoghurt (unless its very old) (Frisvad 2014, personal communication). But what distinguishes viili from its other Nordic counterparts is in fact its delicate mouldy surface. When making viili, the milk cream rises to the surface (a normal occurrence when unhomogenized milk is left to stand). Many Finns consider this upper layer the most delicious part of viili, as do many of us at the lab. This deliciousness is not only because it is composed of cream (duh) – the mould Geotrichum candidum (which plays a crucial role in the development of certain cheeses, particularly small-format goat’s cheeses from the Loire Valley) feeds on the cream and forms a tasty, slightly fuzzy upper layer (Kurmann et al. 1992). 

[4] Geotrichtum candidum x1000 LPCB stain. Photo by George Barron 2013. 

[4] Geotrichtum candidum x1000 LPCB stain. Photo by George Barron 2013. 

The G. candidum also contributes to viili’s overall flavour formation giving it some fruity and mushroomy notes. Like most other moulds, G. candidum is aerobic and therefore only develops on the surface of the viili (Frisvad 2014 personal communication). This mould also consumes lactate (any salt or ester of lactic acid). This process lowers the acidity in viili resulting in a mild and delicate, slightly acidified milk flavour – less acidic than the similar Swedish långfil, for example. As moulds consume oxygen and produce carbon dioxide, an airtight viili jar bought from the store can be slightly carbonated when opened – totally fine, and totally tasty (Kahala et al. 2008,105). Some of this carbonation could also be due to heterofermentative LAB. In addition to G. candidum, traditional viili also contains the yeast strains Kluyveromyces marxianus[2] and Pichia fermentans. In industrially-produced viili, however, these two yeast strains are considered contaminants.

 

All for slime and slime for all

Making viili is a no-brainer. If you have full fat, good quality, unhomogenized cow’s milk, a 200ml plastic or glass jar and a viili seed you’re good to go (unless you happen to be located in a very warm climate). When in Finland, one can walk into practically any little food store or kiosk and find viili next to milk, butter and yoghurt. In Denmark on the other hand, viili is nowhere to be found, but that’s what kind mothers are for. A quick call to Finland and I had both a viili seed and my mother in Copenhagen a week later. That’s what I call a special delivery.

But do not worry, fellow viili-lover – there is another way to get your viili going if you don’t happen to have a mother in Finland. To my delightful surprise while reading Sandor Katz, I discovered that a viili seed, a real traditional one, was transported dried in a piece of cloth to the United States over a 100 years ago. The family with Finnish origins, now American, run a webstore called GEM Cultures selling various microbial cultures that have been in their family for ages, and among them a viili culture. Similar online stores selling viili seeds are Happy Herbalist, Cultures for Health, and Yemoos Nourishing Cultures. I tried the latter, just out of curiosity and because they send you the seed dried. I also discovered a woman from Norway named Eva Bakkeslett, an artist and cultivator who as a part of her artistic work uncovers forgotten or rejected practices, concepts and cultures which she then cultivates and shares with others. Eva has made a whole anthropological art project on my beloved slimy milk! Check out her work here.

It never ceases to amaze me when, concentrating on one single esoteric subject, one finds leads and connections all over the world. We often become so used to our distinctive cultural food items that we forget their peculiarity and their beauty. Stumbling upon these viili lovers all the way in the United States really made me appreciate this odd Finnish dairy product even more.

This is not a drill.

This is not a drill.

As we speak, there are containers of different sizes all over the lab breeding slimy deliciousness. Though I have to admit that stepping outside of my culturally constructed box when it comes to viili has been challenging. What to do and what to create with something that is already so good and special as it is? How to give a new angle to it without losing its essential character? Luckily this is what we do here at the lab and I’ve got a great team pushing me to rethink viili and all its potential. The full results of my viili experiments remain to be seen, but what I know without a doubt is that I have an important mission to spread the seed. Getting the sporadic visitors and curious passers-by to take home a few tablespoons of viili is my immediate aim. So far viili seeds have travelled to Norway, Austria, Greece and back home to Finland. Slowly but surely, my humble Finnish ropy milk will take the world over. There will be slime –

to be continued...

 

Footnotes

[1] Mesophilic bacteria are medium temperature bacteria, a group that grow and thrive in a moderate temperature range between 20°C and 45°C. The optimum temperature range for these bacteria in anaerobic digestion is 30°C to 38°C.

[2] This yeast is also produced commercially as a nutritional and bonding agent for fodder and pet food, and as a source of ribonucleic acid in pharmaceuticals.

 

Images

[1] http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/water/hygellan.html (Accessed March 24th 2014).

[2] http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/water/hyxan.html (Accessed March 24th 2014).

[3] http://www.magma.ca/~scimat/science/Leuconostoc.htm (Accessed March 18th 2014).

[4] https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/handle/10214/6084?show=full (Accessed march 18th 2014).

 

References

Fondén R. et al. “Nordic/Scandinavian Fermented Milk Products” in Fermented Milk, Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.

Frisvad, Jens Christian, personal communication at the Lab on March 12th 2014.

Fuquay et al. Encyclopedia of Dairy Sciences 2nd Edition Second Edition, Academic Press, 2011.

Giavasis I. & C. G. Biliaderis “Microbial Polysaccharides” in Functional Food Carbohydrates, Eds. Biliaderis & Izydorczyk, 2007.

Kalaha et al. “Characterization of starter lactic acid bacteria from Finnish fermented milk product viili”, Journal of Applied Microbiology, vol 15, 2008: 1929-1938.

Kahala M. & V. Joutsjoki “Traditional Finnish Fermented Milk “Viili”, Handbook of Animal-Based Fermented Food and Beverage Technology, Second Edition, Eds. Y . H . Hui, E . Özgül Evranuz,  CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2012.

Kurmann, J. et al. Encyclopedia of Fermented Fresh Milk Products: An International Inventory of Fermented Milk, Cream, Buttermilk, Whey, and Related Products, Springer, 1992.

Linquist, Yrsa Mat, måltid, minne – Hundra år av finlandssvensk matkultur, Svenska litteratursällskapet, Helsinki, 2009. 

Law, B.A Microbiology and Biochemistry of Cheese and Fermented Milk Second Edition, Chapman & Hall, London, 1997.

Macura D. & Townsley P. M. “Scandinavian Ropy Milk – Identification and characterization of endogenous ropy lactic streptococci and their extracellular excretion”, Journal of Dairy Science, vol. 67, 1984: 735-744.

McGee, H On Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2004.

Meriläinen V. T “Microorganisms in fermented milks: Other Microorganisms”, Bull. of Int. Dairy. Fed., vol 179, 1984: 89-93.

Sundman V. “On the protein character of a slime produced by Streptococcus cremoris in Finnish ropy sour milk”, Acta Chem. Scand., vol 7, 1953: 558-560.

Tamine A. Y. Fermented Milks, Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.

Tamine A.Y. & Robinson R.K. “Microbiology of yoghurt and related starter cultures”, Yoghurt: Science and Technology. Eds. Tamine A.Y., Robinson R.K. Cambridge, Woodhead Publishing Ltd. 2007, 468-534.

http://viiliculture.wordpress.com

Wallén, B  Juusto-Uusimaa: Itä-Uudenmaan kadonnut juustonvalmistusperinne/Ostnyland : Den försvunna osttillverkartraditionen i Östra Nyland, ETC-consulting, Finland, 2004.

 

 

 

 

Vinegar Science pt. 5: Recipes

Added on by Arielle Johnson.

by Arielle Johnson


Overview

What follows in our last post in this 5-part miniseries on the hows and whys of vinegar making are some of the recipes we developed using the previously discussed techniques and methods. There are three recipes: one for celery vinegar using the ethanol addition method and single (acetic) fermentation; one for strawberry vinegar using a double (alcoholic and acetic) fermentation and aquarium bubbler; and one for roasted koji ale vinegar, using a triple fermentation (fungal saccharification, alcoholic, and acetic), and passive aeration.


Young Celery Vinegar:

1. Juice celery in a juicer – you should get a yield in juice of approximately 50% of the initial weight.

2. Add high-proof alcohol to the celery juice until the mixture has an ethanol concentration of 6-8%. If you're using 80 proof liquor to do this, only 40% of what you're adding is ethyl alcohol so plan accordingly.

3. Add 20% of a raw, unpasteurized vinegar you like the flavour of – either a previous batch of homemade vinegar, a commercial vinegar, or vinegar mother.

4. Submerge an aquarium air pump and airstone in the vinegar, cover the container with something air-permeable, like cheesecloth with a fine weave or a side towel ­(you'll want to keep fruit flies out but let the air you're pumping in escape) and aerate the mixture until it tastes strongly of vinegar, approximately 3-8 days.

Alas, a Dane wrote the names, in whose language celery has two 'l's (bladselleri)

Alas, a Dane wrote the names, in whose language celery has two 'l's (bladselleri)

Strawberry Vinegar:

1. Juice strawberries.

2. You want juice with 12.5-15% sugar to reach 6-8% alcohol post-fermentation. Your juice alone will probably not have this much sugar. Split the juice into two even volumes, reduce one on the stove by about 3/4, then combine them to attain this range. This method assumes you have about 8% sugar in your strawberry juice to begin with. If you have a refractometer, take measurements and calculate; or, cowboy it by taste and let us know how it turns out, we're curious.

4. Add champagne or white wine yeast to your strawberry juice, seal it with an airlock, and let it ferment until it stops bubbling (it should taste dry and alcoholic), somewhere around 7-14 days.

5. Rack the strawberry wine off the yeast lees, add raw unpasteurized vinegar at 20%, and either aerate or let stand for 2-4 months.

Roasted Koji Ale Vinegar (with botanicals)

(Makes 25 L of beer, 30 L of vinegar)

1. Make Koji: Soak 1.5 kg of pearled barley overnight, steam it for 1.5 hours, cool to 35˚, inoculate with 1.5 g koji spores (1g/kg dry grain if using pure spores; 20g/kg if using koji-kin), spread into a 2cm layer, cover with a damp towel, and incubate in a humid room at 30˚. Stir and turn after 6, 12, and 18 hours. The koji is ready when a fuzzy white mycelium binds the grains together; if it has started turning green, use these parts for spores but don't cook with them. Roast the koji at 175°, mixing frequently, until it is dark golden brown.

2. For easier fermentation and improved beer flavour, make a yeast starter. Make 2L of wort the day before brewing by diluting malt extract or dried malt in boiling water to about 12-13% sugar, let cool, and add a packet of dried yeast or, better, a tube of yeast culture like White Labs California V Ale Yeast, and let it grow for 24 hours before you brew. Adding this larger amount of yeast to the 25 L of wort stresses the yeast less.

3. Grind 4500 g of Maris Otter Pale Malt or another similar malt, and 1900 g of roasted barley koji.

4. Pre-heat a large insulated container such as a large thermal drink dispenser or cooler by pouring boiling water into it. This container is your ‘Mash Tun’. It will make your life much easier if it has a tap at the bottom out of which you can drain liquid, and even more so if you attach a piece or a cylinder of wire mesh to the opening as a filter)

5. Heat 15 L of filtered water to 72°C. This is your ‘strike water’, and you want it at a temperature so that when you mix it with your grain, they will be at 65°C. Use this calculator for a more precise estimate.

6. Combine the grain and the heated water in the pre-heated insulated container, make sure the temperature of the mixture is about 65°C, stir it, put a lid on it, and let it sit for an hour. Right now you've activated amylolytic enzymes in the malt which are converting starches into sugars, and these sugars as well as other flavour compounds are being extracted into the water. The extracted grain is your wort.

7. Heat another 15 L of water to at least 72°C; it can be boiling.

8. After an hour, slowly drain the wort off the grain with the tap on your mash tun. This is called lautering. Minimizing exposure to air, for example by covering the spout with tubing, will prevent oxidative flavors. Your wort will probably be fairly cloudy. If the mash tun has no tap, you can pour all of it through a strainer to separate the spent grain from the wort.

9. To filter the wort further and extract more sugar, slowly pour the drained wort over the grain bed again one or two times, preferably through some kind of perforated plastic so the wort trickles over the whole surface and contacts all the grain.

10. Pour the second batch of 15 L of water slowly over the mashed grain and collect it. Mix the original wort with this second batch of wort. [i]

11. Let the wort cool and take a sample to measure its sugar content by specific gravity. This is done with a hydrometer, which floats in the wort and measures its density by how high or low it floats. Assuming you'll have a small amount of sugar and other dissolved solids left when the yeast have finished their fermentation, you want an original gravity of about 1055-1060, which means that the wort has a density that is 1.055-1.06 times that of water. A higher gravity means higher sugar, and either a sweeter or higher-alcohol beer. You can add water or boil down to adjust the gravity. You can also check the sugar content with a refractometer, which measures degrees brix, or percentage of dissolved solids calibrated to sucrose.

12. When the wort is at about room temperature, add yeast. We recommend White Labs Burton Ale Yeast, WLP023, as a starting point.  Put the yeasted wort in a sealed container with an airlock and let it ferment until you like the sweetness-alcohol balance; for vinegar you may want to stop it before it gets completely dry. This will take about 1-2 weeks. Either at this point or at the next step when you add vinegar starter, add 0.5-5% by weight of botanicals, depending on intensity and desired aromatic balance. We have used juniper berries, juniper wood, pine needles, liquorice root, and kelp.

13. Add 20% of the volume of beer of unpasteurized raw vinegar to the beer. Cover the container with an air-permeable cover, like a clean kitchen towel or muslin, and let it sit in a relatively warm place for 2-4 months, tasting every 2-4 weeks, until it reaches an acidity level that you like.

 

[i]            At this point, if you want to turn it into beer, you'd take hops, and boil some of them in the wort for an hour and then add the rest to boil for a short amount of time- the long boil transforms some of the hop compounds into bitter-tasting isomers, and the short boil will provide more hop aroma. Hopped beer can be made into vinegar, too.

 

Cricket Broth

Added on by Nurdin Topham.

Recipe development for our Pestival menu, by Nurdin Topham – now Head Chef at NUR in Hong Kong

NFL INSECTS WEEK 1-43.jpg

As part of our own learning process we tried making some simple stocks to taste the inherent flavour of these different creatures, and to determine which was the optimal proportion of insect to use to impart the flavour.

After trying 10%, 20%, 30%, 40% we found that 20% was sufficient.

Once determining our basic ratio, we began adding a few more variables with the following recipes cooked sous vide at 85˚C for 1 hour.

NFL INSECTS WEEK 1-48.jpg

White stocks

1. Cricket
60g     20%    Crickets
0.5g    0.1%     Sea salt
300g   100%   H20

2. Cricket & Kombu
60g     20%    Crickets
0.5g    0.1%     Sea Salt
2g       0.6%    Kombu
300g   100%   H20

3. Meal worm
60g     20%    Meal worms
0.5g    0.1%    Sea Salt
300g   100%   H20

4. Meal worm & Kombu
60g     20%    Meal worms
0.5g    0.1%    Sea Salt
2g       0.6%   Kombu
300g  100%    H20

Brown stocks

5. Cricket
60g     20%    Crickets, roasted 12 minutes @ 160˚C w/ 5g rapeseed oil
0.5g    0.1%     Sea Salt
300g   100%   H20

6. Cricket & Kombu
60g     20%    Crickets, roasted 12 minutes @ 160˚C w/ 5g rapeseed oil
0.5g    0.1%     Sea Salt
2g       0.6%    Kombu
300g   100%   H20

7. Meal worm
60g     20%    Meal worms
0.5g    0.1%    Sea Salt
300g   100%   H20

8. Meal worm & Kombu
60g     20%    Meal worms
0.5g    0.1%    Sea Salt
2g       0.6%   Kombu
300g   100%   H20

NFL INSECTS WEEK 1-49.jpg
NFL INSECTS WEEK 1-51.jpg

Tasting notes:

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 1.09.17 PM.png

Conclusion

The brown stocks were on the whole better than the white. With the browning masking some of the ‘unpleasant insect’ flavours. Cricket stocks were the more pleasant, naturally sweet and reminiscent of a prawn with a rounded biscuity savoury flavour. The Meal worm flavour was distinctively unpleasant – the aroma and flavour was hidden and improved with roasting which gave rise to chicken skin flavours and a crispy texture.

During a research visit to the Copenhagen zoo we learnt that often crickets’ diet is based on 1/2 cereals and 1/2 fish feed. We wondered to what extent the fish feed influenced the flavour of the crickets – more work could explore the effects of different feeding regimes on flavour. After speaking to different suppliers, we found crickets fed on grasses, not on fish food, and this improved the flavor dramatically.

NFL INSECTS WEEK 1-44.jpg

Cricket Broth

After these initial trials we decided to pursue a broth as a concept to present the pure taste of insect. So we continued to investigate how to best obtain this purity of flavour. 

Our first task was to try testers of different stock cooking methods – in a pan, sous vide, and in the pressure cooker. We found sous vide to provide the cleanest flavour. 

Some notebook diagram notes:

fig 1: cricket broth trials

fig 1: cricket broth trials

fig 2: broth 2 - production batch

fig 2: broth 2 - production batch

Final broth recipe

Base brown cricket stock
1000g            100%             Water
200g             20%               Crickets roasted, preheated Rational 160˚C for 18 minutes
4g                  0.4%              Sea salt        

Combine in sous vide bag and cook @ 85˚C for 1 hour, then chill.

For the clarification & final broth

500g             100%             Brown cricket stock, reduced by half, cold
165g              33%               Crickets roasted in a preheated oven at 160˚C for 18 minutes
50g               10%                Carrot, finely sliced 2mm 
50g               10%                Shallot, finely sliced 2mm            
50g               10%                Leek, finely sliced 2mm                          
80g               16%                Chicken breast
50g               10%                Egg white
10g                 2%                Grasshopper garum

Method

Puree chicken breast and egg white together at full power for 20 seconds. Mix ingredients together in a vacuum bag and seal under full vacuum. Cook at 85˚C for 1 hour, pass through a fine super bag, taste and adjust the balance of seasoning with a little grasshopper garum if necessary.

When preparing for larger numbers we cooked the clarification traditionally in a large stock pot.

At the Pestival event, we served alongside the roasted desert locusts.

photo: Wellcome Images

photo: Wellcome Images

Vinegar Science pt. 4: Slow Malt Vinegars with Nordic Flavours

Added on by Arielle Johnson.

by Arielle Johnson


Overview

Traditional malt vinegar, most commonly doused on fish and chips, is not regarded with much culinary interest. In our quest for developing Nordic vinegar, we found this widely produced, commercial malt vinegar as a source of inspiration for developing beer-base vinegars that held the potential for more complex and interesting flavors. The experimentation consisted of two types of malt-beer bases. For one, we mashed and fermented pale ale barley malt in a style similar to home-brewed beer. For the other, we brewed a koji-beer by creating a mash as if koji were malt. This method of brewing and fermenting koji proved unsuccessful, so we tried using another type of grain-based alcohol as our base. We created barley koji sake, which yielded much better results. To these malt vinegar bases we added flavourful foraged Nordic botanicals and allowed the vinegars to continue to slowly ferment for another 3-4 months.


After our descriptive analysis, we wanted to experiment further, especially with approaches to alcoholic fermentation and flavour addition. Could we better incorporate Nordic flavors like pine, liquorice, and juniper, as well as things like seaweed, which we have used at Nordic Food Lab for other flavour and functional purposes, into robustly-flavored, well-rounded vinegars with stability and aging potential?

The obvious next step was to explore a 3-stage process: a sugar-to-alcohol yeast fermentation, followed by the addition of non-fermentable, highly-flavoured ingredients (either during or after fermentation), and then a slow (3-4 month) passive fermentation into vinegar following the addition of raw vinegar as a starter culture.

Sugar and Alcohol

Initial ideas for sugar sources that could contribute a pleasant but not overpowering flavour to a vinegar, that would be available in the winter (in keeping with our interest in seasonality), and that would ferment nicely were apple juice and birch syrup. Apple juice could be reduced into a syrup through boiling, and then mixed with uncooked juice to reach a sugar level that would yield a relatively mild vinegar. Similarly, birch syrup, which has a much fruitier flavour than maple syrup, could be diluted to a comparable level. Both of these sugar sources, we reasoned, should provide, if not a blank canvas, then at least a foundation to begin showcasing other aromatic ingredients.

We were separately but simultaneously experimenting with an insect-hopped ale, and realized that beer malt was another near-perfect base for new vinegars. Relatively inexpensive, plentiful, covering a huge range of flavours (all beers, by definition, involve malt; the flavour range between, say, lagers, lambics, pale ales, baltic porters, and quadrupels speaks to the versatility and diversity of malting as a process), and fairly easy to work with, malt also allowed us to begin exploring vinegars made from more specialty beers. Traditional malt vinegar is one of the most widely-produced commercial varieties of vinegar, but despite its ubiquity on fish and chips, the commercial versions are not so interesting culinarily. This next-stage project would focus not on getting the cheapest vinegar out of malt, but exploring malt’s potential for producing and supporting complex and delicious flavours.

malts!

malts!

We mashed and fermented pale ale barley malt (augmented with a variety of other malts) in batches of 8 to 30L with techniques likely familiar to home brewers. Using some handy online calculators, we figured out how much malt we needed to obtain a certain sugar content. About 80% of malt mass can be converted into sugar, and somewhere between 60-90% of this sugar can be extracted out of the grain – which in turn yields a particular alcohol level and, after acetic fermentation, a particular concentration of acetic acid. We ground the malts in a grain-grinder, small enough for an efficient extraction but not so fine that the particles would mix with water and cause a ‘stuck’ or slow fermentation.

our mash tun

our mash tun

The malt and hot water were mixed together in an insulated container and held at a temperature between 64 and 69°C, where the amylase enzymes in the malt are most active, chopping long starch molecules into small sugars which yeast can metabolize into ethyl alcohol. At the lower end of this range (64-65°C), beta-amylases are more active, leading to higher proportions of disaccharides (called maltose), which are wholly digestible by yeast. At the higher end (67-69°C), a different form of the enzyme called alpha-amylase becomes active, and this indiscriminate digester of starch yields maltose molecules as well as many other larger oligosaccharides, called dextrins, which can contribute viscosity, body, and sweetness but are not digestible by yeast. As such, a slightly cooler mashing will yield a drier, higher alcohol beer, while a hotter mashing will produce a sweeter, more viscous, and less alcoholic beverage. For most of our batches we stuck to the lower range, but for a few we heated the mash up to higher temperatures at the end to get a bit more body and sweetness in our resulting vinegars.

Many times, projects that may seem new actually end up being reinterpretations of long-held traditions. In taking malt through the brewing process, for example, the question of to hop or not to hop invariably came up. For vinegars with a distinctly beer-like taste it would make sense to hop the beer, but we also wanted to make at least some vinegars whose flavours expressed the other aromatic ingredients along with the malt. A little research into the history of brewing shows that the un-hopped beers we made were actually much closer to the medieval and pre-early-modern version of ale, which didn't contain hops until somewhere between the 11th and 16th centuries. Totally unhopped, alcoholic malted grain beverages, at least in England, were called ales, to differentiate them from hopped versions imported from Holland, which were called beers. In fact, adding things like pine needles, juniper wood and berries, and other foraged herbs to the fermenting or finished wort actually reflects a much earlier style of brew called gruit (which often also included bog myrtle, mugwort, yarrow, and/or heather), or the still-popular Finnish beer sahti, made with juniper berries and filtered through juniper twigs.

At the same time that we were developing beer vinegars, we also started playing with roasting koji, which caramelizes the sugars in the koji and creates new flavours, similar to coffee or chocolate but definitely its own creature. Our friends at the Noma test kitchen put this to excellent use in a mole dish (a diverse group of sauces in Mexico, some of which involve cacao), and we collaborated on different ways to get roasted koji into vinegar – making alcoholic teas out of it, pine-vinegar-1.0 style, and also adding it to a beer mash with regular malt. By exploring different roast levels, ratios, and fermentation routes, we made koji-beers in a variety of colours, strengths, and flavours that then slowly, with the addition of foraged botanicals, continued on their way to becoming vinegars. For the recipe for Ben's first roasted koji pale ale, check out our post on roasting koji.

roasted barley koji

roasted barley koji

It seemed logical to also try brewing with barley koji directly, rather than as an adjunct to a malt fermentation. Treating the koji like a malt – mashing it with water at pro-amylolytic temperatures (64-68°C) – was unsuccessful, as it had quite a low yield and also seemed to induce some proteolytic action, producing a funky taste that wasn't altogether pleasant. Making a barley sake, on the other hand, worked quite well, and we're excited to see what acetifying this will lead to. Unlike the sugar extraction through mashing and heat involved in beer-brewing, that in sake-making involves Aspergillus oryzae grown on grain (in our case, barley) to make koji, which is sweet and full of amylolytic enzymes, and then mixed with cool water, more steamed barley, and yeast. The koji will slowly convert the starch of the steamed barley into sugar, and the yeast will metabolize the sugar as it is transformed into alcohol. Then, the sake is strained off of the lees of grain, mold, and yeast, and these lees – which still have some enzymatic activity – can be used for pickling (as in the traditional Japanese kasu-zuke, sake-lee pickles) or other purposes.

After brewing and fermenting the beers/gruits with yeast under an airlock, we began splitting the larger batches and adding aromatic ingredients, as well as starter vinegar, which we kept at 20% in order to control our comparisons from batch to batch. Each vinegar batch gets a cloth lid so oxygen can get in, and we are keeping them in a safe place until later, when we are planning to do a more formal sensory analysis.

Next up: Recipes

 

 

A side of bee larva with your afternoon coffee?

Added on by Edith Salminen.

by Edith Salminen

Bee larvae straight from our freezer.

Bee larvae straight from our freezer.

When a fellow researcher here at the Lab asks me whether I’d like to give him a hand doing field work for his thesis, meaning feeding random Copenhageners bee larva soup, I say “Ja tak!” 

Could there possibly be a better way to spend an afternoon?

Jonas Astrup Pedersen is the Larva-man. Now an almost-graduated Master in Food Science and Technology at University of Copenhagen, Jonas has been in and out of this rocking houseboat for as long as some of the oldest ferments downstairs. He is passionate about sensory analysis and experimentation, coffee and sourdough bread – really everything gastronomy. Being one of the only Danes on board, Jonas has been a wanted man these days, requested to address various food-related topics on Danish national TV and radio. Blood and gluten are some of the more recent ones. When he’s not busy doing public appearances that is, Jonas is keen on discovering how neophobic – or neophilic – Danes are in their foodways. Ever since November, I’ve been sitting across from him at the Lab watching him meticulously busting his brain for his master’s thesis on unravelling how people perceive and accept novel foods, using bee larvae as a case study.  The Lab for him – as for us all – is both his playground and safe-zone for quirky and delicious experimentation. Stepping out from this inspiring and encouraging cradle can sometimes get rather knotty. 

Almost ready for service.

Almost ready for service.

“If we manage to get 70 people to try the soup today, that would be great,” he says with his characteristic grin, as we start prepping the vegetable and bee larva soup in the morning for our first service. It says ‘VISIBLE LARVAE’, ‘INVISIBLE LARVAE’, ‘NO LARVAE’ on a sheet of paper next to the cutting board on the stainless steel island. Three soups, one base recipe with three slightly different variations. Will people want to see the larvae as they savour the soup, or is ignorance bliss? Will the bee larva flavour be a sought-after twist to a perfectly acceptable but otherwise banal veggie soup? Let’s see.

By now, two months into my internship at the Lab, I’ve learned to recognize the very distinctive smell and flavour of the fatty little creatures: nutty and buttery, sometimes even mushroomy, and to me much like this ubiquitous Swedish “liver” paté that comes in a tube (super addictive). I’ve only had them straight up deep frozen and in Jonas’ soup, but Josh describes fresh and alive bee larvae as something close to fish roe in texture, very delicate and “fucking delicious” in flavour. Listening to Josh’s description, I got the oddest urge to pop one of those alive babies in my mouth. Deranged? Totally, but also far from it. Talking about how bee larvae burst against one’s palate… I can but smile, stir the soup and see how the tasty little suckers float around in creamy veg stock together with carrots, celeriac, leek and onions. The whole boat smells of sautéed bee larvae. Yup, very distinctively bee larvae indeed. And we love it.

 

Off to the larva-mobile!

The Larva-man has chosen to do his guerrilla soup tasting at three different locations in order to reach the maximum variety of people. This excites me. Not only do I get to see Copenhagen’s many sides, but I’ll also get the chance to observe different people accepting or refusing insects as an edible food item. The socio-anthropologist in me is on alert. 

Jonas working his charm on one of our first guests at Spinderiet.

Jonas working his charm on one of our first guests at Spinderiet.

First up, a suburban square by Spinderiet mall in Valby, a 15 minute bike ride away from the centre of Copenhagen. Valby is a kind of grudgy neighbourhood further west from the hipster central Vesterbro. Second stop, the humongous shopping centre Field’s erected in the middle of nowhere, on a field, hence the (not very original) name. At Field’s you get all kinds of people, students, teenagers, families, locals and foreigners: a mish-mash of people living in Copenhagen for different reasons. Last stop, Torvehallerne right by Nørreport station. This bourgeois-bohème indoor market is where the well-off Copenhageners buy their (very expensive) food. It’s also a favourite amongst tourists. Of all three locations this is surely the most foodie-like of them. Our presumption is that the higher socio-economical status might correlate to an increase of the acceptance of our experiment. 

“These are places where we’ll find normal people,” Jonas explains. “Normal people” are a rare breed here at the Lab where the next person stepping on board this mad, floating research centre is probably somehow loonier than the previous one. We often forget about “those other types of people” who might not, with immense appetite and lust for umami, attack a container filled with more or less mashed and rotten edibles or, for that matter, a fragrant bowl of bee larva soup. We didn't really discuss this potential challenge beforehand, but we certainly expected to be confronted with it to varying degrees in the different locations.

Jonas and I head to the first location right after lunchtime, our car loaded up with our three steaming soup pots. I wonder how many Danes will choose a side of larvae over a kanelsnurrer with their afternoon coffee? As my Danish is not quite there yet, I told Jonas I’d do the people hunting and lure them in for him to feed them larva soup. Game on. 

(Click through the photos below of some of our intrepid participants)

How hard could it be?

The table is set.

The table is set.

Spinderiet. We definitely overestimated people’s will and courage in trying novel foods. “No thanks, I’ve got a chewing gum in my mouth”, “I just ate”, “I’m vegan”, “Why would I eat bugs”, “Are you crazy”, “ I have no time for such nonsense”, “No time, sorry”, “Oh no, insects, no, no, I thought it was free coffee”, “No thanks, I’ve got a girlfriend” were some of the reactions I got approaching our potential targets. At the Valby mall women especially did not like the idea of a bee larva soup dégustation on this crisp winter afternoon. On the other hand when I, as a woman, challenged young and middle-aged men to try Jonas’ soup, asking them if they’re “man enough”, they obviously couldn’t say no. It proved to be a good strategy and we got a decent number of hits with this method. Nevertheless, my utmost respect goes out to a mother of two boys, I’m guessing a 5- and a 9-year-old, who didn’t hesitate having a fun and educational pit-stop at Jonas’ soup shack. What a cool mum! And the boys loved it too. 

Field’s. Damn, even harder than the previous location. People at Field’s were on autopilot, wired to their smartphones, impossible to be reached and couldn’t be bothered to take part in our wacky arthropodan experiment. It seemed as though the “normal people” at Field’s that cold and grey afternoon had no interest in “new foods”, and as a matter of fact, using those two words in the first sentence of approach was not the way to go. Enquiring “Have you ever eaten insects before?” had a slightly better effect, but still didn’t do the trick. Frustrated, we had to face the obvious: people were just more neophobic in this part of town. Third time’s the charm, we thought. However well one prepares for such fieldwork, trying to reach out to a maximum number of people across the maximum range of a crowd is a real Rubik’s cube.

The Lab bike parked at Torvehallerne. 

The Lab bike parked at Torvehallerne. 

Torvehallerne. “Foodies” and gourmands pilgrimage here for quality food. Also a lot of tourists come here to savour the “chic and pure” taste of Copenhagen – the perfect crowd for our fieldwork. Of course, it had to be the coldest day so far this winter. Typical. With icy wind and snow freezing to the core, we had our doubts about how well it could go. We served the soup out of our very cool Lab bike right outside the entrance to the market. Whether it was the weather or the slow Monday, we didn’t have the same stamina in our approach. However, to our happy surprise, people actually came to us. The ‘Nordic Food Lab’-branded bike surely helped in attracting curious eaters. Not only did people want to try the soups, but they were keen on learning more about insects as food. We had the privilege of feeding an Austrian noma chef, a professor of landscape architecture (and his gorgeous 1 year old Samoyed doggie too), a group of business school exchange students from Australia, just to name a few. All in all, Torvehallerne was the most fruitful of the three locations.

 

(Don’t) Stop bugging me

Close to a hundred people accepted the challenge of tasting Jonas’ bee larva special, keen on trying a novel ingredient with potential for expanding cuisine. Unfortunately, at least the same amount, if not more, bluntly declined. For some reason, men were more prone to savour the soup than women were.  An observation that made us hopeful was that kids and teenagers seemed more curious and keen to eat the larvae. Could it be they are more open and have a different attitude to the future, or just a battle of gaining coolness points by doing something outrageous? Let’s be positive and go with the first idea. Quite a few elderly people proved to be gutsy too, even though most were hard to convince at first. They were definitely more open to spare us ten minutes out of their busy schedules than others. Yet if we only managed to hold people's interest while presenting our motivation in a few sentences, it opened up a window in most people’s minds for what they might consider food. It also proved easier to attract couples or small groups. Peer pressure and/or encouragement from loved ones also seemed to make it easier to accept and grasp what we were trying to do. 

"Normal people" at Field's.

"Normal people" at Field's.

(from R to L) Me, Jonas, and one of our most enthusiastic participants at Torvehallerne. Thanks for the photo, Alex!

(from R to L) Me, Jonas, and one of our most enthusiastic participants at Torvehallerne. Thanks for the photo, Alex!

Most importantly, these taste experiments in the field made us reflect on how crucial it is to not forget about all the “normal people” out there. Whether it’s about them having different tastes or a less-strong attraction to the new and unusual compared to the people in our immediate surroundings is a big question worth thinking about. What is usual here at the Lab is often weird and disgusting for many folks out there. Doing what we do is exciting and fun, at times both dippy and inspiring – but if we fail to reach out and convince others unlike us to at least give some of these foods a try, what is the point in the long run? After all, our ultimate aim is to share our food and ideas with everyone, not just preaching to the choir or worse, fuelling a load of foodie onanism.

In the car after our third and last guerrilla soup run, we drove in silence. I think both Jonas and I had a lot on our minds, many impressions and many questions without simple or straightforward answers. As we parked the car outside the Larva-cave, we glanced at each other and smiled. We both knew… we’re lucky to be where we are and this experience was a much needed reality check. We need reminders of the fact that there’s a whole world out there to reach in order to make people look at bugs – or seaweed, or microbes, or any other neglected or underutilised ingredient – and go, “Yum, I’ll have that for lunch." For us, it is the kick we need to give all of this madness a real purpose.

Hop into it

Added on by Justine de Valicourt.

by Justine de Valicourt


OVERVIEW

We did a lot of different things to hops. Some worked, some didn't. An exploration of the life of Humulus lupulus beyond beer.


When people ask, we say the lab is funded by independent foundations, private businesses, and government sources. This is true; though really, we should start saying producers, passion, and the sheer generosity of people.

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We recently asked a hops supplier from Germany to send us 2 kg of two kinds of fresh hops to experiment on the curing process and the effects on beer taste. Our aim was to investigate flavours in other ways of preparing hops than the conventional quick-drying method. Yet instead of 2kg, we received 12 kg of each variety. 24 kg of fresh hops is a lot. A – lot. We don’t think this was a mistake, because we received even more a few days after. Beyond the fact that the lab smelled like legal cannabaceae for days – as did our urine – this free flood of hops was a great creative challenge and pushed us to investigate not only the drying process, but also their molecular composition and culinary potential. For two weeks, we almost stopped every other project to be able to process and use this mountain of hops.

I will reveal the punchline up-front: hops are terribly bitter and most of our recipes turned bitterly bad. But gaining this knowledge is indeed the aim of trying.

Contrary to what many people think, Nordic Food Lab is small. The team currently varies between 4 and 8 researchers at a time, depending of the season and the day of the week. This small scale and loose structure permit us to impose few limits on our thoughts. The team is formed with people with different backgrounds and strengths, but we are all curious. And we like answers.

Receiving 24kg of hops, or 40kg of herrings, or 150kg of quinces fuels our drive for knowledge. What to do with all this? How to keep it? How to make it delicious? Sometimes it is not the quantity but the thing itself that poses a creative challenge. What should we do with a very smelly beaver or just a tail of one of its fellows? Or with kilos of green, unripe plums?

It's Christmas at every funky delivery. First, we look, then we smell, and, when possible, we taste it raw. For some ingredients, these first steps are enough to bring an idea that will take care of all of it. It was the case for the green plums: we tried different ways of curing them as if they were fresh olives. Some turned out awesome – a little acidic and crunchy, definitely delicious in a salsa verde or with a beer.

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The hops were more difficult. Before receiving them, we had never heard about hops in anything other than alcoholic beverages. Knowing that hops are in the same family as marijuana and hemp made things easier. There are a lot more how-to-get-stoned-with-cannabis recipes out there than ones that use hops beyond brewing. Part of our conclusion was to not use the hops as a main ingredient, but rather as a subtle spice. Hops give a lot of flavour even in very low concentrations. The bitterness is also easier to manage in fats than in water, partly because the α-acids are hydrophobic, so the essential oils containing all these acids cannot be washed from the tongue with water. Oils and fats bond with the bitter molecules, preventing them from interacting with the taste buds. In other words, if those acids are mixed in oil, they are going to have less interaction with the tongue cells because they will stay 'attached' to the fatty molecules, and so the taste won't be as potent as if they are in suspension in water.

We tried many many recipes.

A hop mayo was awful, as were all things involving infusion into water: soup, tea, etc.

We also tried to lacto-ferment some, as we do with almost every new ingredient we get. Didn't work. Hops, as we already knew, inhibit bacterial growth (Simpson, 1993), especially lactobacilli, the bacteria responsible for wild lacto-fermentation, and beer spoilage.

From our research on marijuana, we decided to try butter, but preparing from scratch, using the hops to both infuse and culture the cream. We tried cold and warm infusion at 10% w/v. Don't try the warm version. The cold infusion was fine, but nothing outstanding: a butter that tastes like hops.

We also found a recipe for hop and potato sourdough and made a bread from it. The result was a beautiful crusty bread with a nice texture – but the taste was the worst ever for a bread.

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Yet there were some recipes with real potential. One was a gravlax exchanging the traditional dill for hops – fragrant and complex. Another discovery was grapeseed oil cold-infused with hop for few minutes – it turned out to be very fruity, green and with a little pinch of spiciness at the back of the throat, similar to some extra-virgin olive oil. We tried this technique with a variety of hops called Herkules, an infusion of 30 minutes with a concentration of 10% (10 parts fresh hops, 100 parts oil). Better results could probably be obtained with other hop varieties with lower alpha-acid content. Next season we will try with the wild hops we foraged in Christiania (yes, it's hops, so nothing illegal).

We inoculated them with food-grade moulds: Aspergillus niger and Botryotinia fuckeliana. A. niger occurs in the process of making Pu-erh tea, but didn't bring anything interesting to the hops, just some oxidized aromas. Botrytis, however, gave us something worth talking about. B. fuckeliana is also called noble rot, the fungus that infects some grapes and permits the famous Sauterne wine, among others. On the grape, Botrytis concentrate the solids (sugars, minerals, fruit acids) by making holes in the skin, allowing some of the water to evaporate. On the hop, by unknown means, it developed fruity and citrusy aromas. Further investigation has to be done to use these nobly-rotted hops in different kinds of beverages and food.

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We had some leftover still sweet elderflower wine. We cooked it briefly to stop the fermentation and added hops (10%, cold-infused for 1hr) and kombucha mother. It turned out better than the wine by itself. We also made a hopped cherry wine, a hopped cider, a hopped malolactic fermented cider, and brewed a half apple juice half malt beer. All of these alcohols are quite interesting, some are even gaining some complexity with time, and even if they are not outstanding yet, they are a first step that could be taken further by others who know more about brewing and alcoholic beverages.

We brainstormed about how to make acceptable the strong bitterness that came with all our food trials, and decided to go for sweets. We made two types of toffees, both traditional recipes from Quebec. I guess we Quebecois have a sweet tooth. The first is called ‘Tire Ste-Catherine’ and is a smooth toffee made from sugar, molasses, water, vinegar, something alkaline and a few other things. It is pulled for a while when still warm and turns golden. We cold-infused the hops in water (10g of fresh hop/100mL of water) and the final flavour was interesting. Just hoppy enough to add some complexity to the taste and balance the sweetness.

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The second recipe is more hoppy. We cold infused hops in cream (10g of fresh hop/100mL of cream) and forgot about it for more than a week. We finally used that cream to make ‘Sucre à la crème’ or Scottish tablet. In Quebec, it is a toffee traditionally made from maple syrup, cream and butter. Without the maple syrup, it can easily be done with brown sugar. The recipe is 1 parts cream hopped cream, 1 part of fresh cream, 6 parts sugar/syrup and 1 part of butter. Cook it until it reaches 118°C, let it cool down without disturbing until 50°C, then whisk and pour into a mould. At the whisking step, one can also add some nuts. Cut before it cools down completely. The whisking process brings seeds of crystallisation and makes the final texture sandy and moist at the same time, without sticking to your teeth. Miam! Is it better with hops? I'm not sure, but it might be more interesting to pair with coffee this way. Doing the same recipe with proper maple syrup and cream a little less infused hops would probably turn out even better.

No more bitter-sweet for now. Further directions include exploring some of the more aromatic varieties from Australia, New Zealand, and the US, investigating different types of bitterness (co-humulone is often thought to give a more rough bitterness at the end, for example), and looking deeper into different techniques for oxidation. One of our collaborators at the Jacobsen brewery has even told us about an experimental German variety he has with 0% alpha acid – that’s exciting. In addition, in the coming months we hope to smoke food with the hops along with wood chips, make new trials with alcohol infusion, and perfect the hop oil.

And even with all these trials, our freezer is still full of dried hops. Any ideas are welcome.

Vinegar Science pt. 3: Sensory Analysis

Added on by Arielle Johnson.

by Arielle Johnson


Overview

With all of these techniques being put to the test, comparison is needed to to determine whether the different vinegars are interesting enough for future elaboration. In this third instalment of our 5-part miniseries on vinegar science, we detail the process of sensory analysis – including assembling a trained human panel, generating flavour descriptors, identifying reference standards, and conducting replicate sets of tests – that we used to qualify their specific characteristics and perhaps to reveal which processes had led to a tastier result. Overall, it seemed that the vinegars that had ended with some residual sugar and had undergone more stages of fermentation yielded tastier vinegars.


While we taste all our experiments carefully and mindfully, we decided for this vinegar-investigating project to use descriptive analysis to profile the flavours of the vinegars. This meant that we could get some hard data to work with, and also explore how best to incorporate sensory analysis techniques into our ongoing research and development. We performed descriptive analysis on our vinegars at the University of Copenhagen (KU) Faculty of Life Sciences in Frederiksberg, with the help of a trained panel of ten volunteers from the food science department. The goal of this analysis was to pinpoint specific flavours, fix their definitions to real references, and determine the intensity of each flavour in a set of products.

The key components of a descriptive analysis are:

- The samples in the experimental set: Are they very similar or very different from each other? Small differences will be more difficult to detect but may yield more specific and less obvious information about flavour. Our samples were somewhat similar as they are all vinegars, with many of their flavour differences coming simply from differences in their primary ingredients.

- The panel: Human beings used as analytical instruments, reporting on what flavours are present and at what intensities.

- Flavour descriptor generation: The panel is both the tool and the process by which sensory analysis determines what flavours are present and prominent in a set of samples. This begins with panelists tasting the samples blind, thinking about what they perceive, and discussing them with each other, which leads us to:

- Terms and references: For every flavour the panel says they perceive, it is our job to create a reference that captures a consensus definition for each aroma. For example, when a panelists says “citrus", does she mean lemon peel or orange peel? Or something that only exists as a mixture of different fruits? We need to figure out the ideal combination that will then serve as a reference standard to keep all panelists based in a shared olfactory vocabulary.

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Along with the taste descriptors sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami, we narrowed the list of flavours down to “red berry”, “strawberry”, “acetic acid”, “rotten fruit”, “chemical”, “green apple”, “liquorice”, “yeast”, “wine”, “tropical fruit”, “rhubarb”, “celery”, “earthy”, “green vegetable”, “citrus”, “pine”, and “blue cheese”. Creating references for some of these were pretty straightforward. Everyone agreed that the descriptor “strawberry” was perfectly captured by a ripe strawberry, cut in half.  But what about less precise terms? Rotten fruit – according to the panelists – did not smell like a fully rotten apple, but was more oxidized and fermented than just a bruised apple. Cubed, bruised, and yeast-sprinkled apples and pears, left to sit on a counter for a day, we finally agreed, captured the aroma the best. Dry yeast was too weak for the panel, but a cube of fresh yeast was perfect (since Danes tend to use this variety for baking, it was likely more familiar to our local panelists). For “red berry”, which the panel insisted was different from strawberry, neither red currants nor raspberries alone were quite right, but satisfied when combined together. The "chemical" aroma the panel was picking up on was probably ethyl acetate, a common by-product of vinegar fermentation formed from the reaction of ethyl alcohol and acetic acid; for this, nail polish remover was a good match. For “pine” and “earthy” references I gathered samples from the Assistens cemetery in Nørrebrø. Who knows, maybe they imparted a few molecules of Hans Christian Andersen, who is buried there, for good luck.

the references, with watch glasses on top to keep the smells from dissipating

the references, with watch glasses on top to keep the smells from dissipating

With the references prepared and agreed upon, we began the descriptive analysis proper. For 3 days in a row, the panelists smelled the references to reacquaint themselves with each aroma and its specific descriptor, and then went into isolation booths, where they smelled and tasted each of the vinegars and then rated the intensity of each of the reference flavours in the samples.

These pooled intensity ratings make up the flavour profile data we use to analyze the sensory characteristics of the vinegars. Certain statistical techniques we apply to this data determine which flavours are most useful for distinguishing samples from each other, while other techniques look at the sensory data holistically, and compare it to the flavour-active molecules present in each vinegar, to describe the sensory and molecular drivers of flavour across the dataset as a whole. This analysis will be made available in a forthcoming journal paper.

The sensory and chemical analyses we performed on our vinegars give us a glimpse into how their component flavours interact. By continuing to borrow analytical techniques from academic sensory and flavour chemistry labs, we look forward to building a molecular intuition about flavour to complement the intuition of our palates. But when it comes to the answers we seek, and their questions, the scientific process will only reveal so much. To fully understand food, we need also to listen to our palates in more aesthetic, less quantitative ways. For example, some of us around the lab, and some of the panelists, talked about differences in balance, complexity, and depth of flavour, which are difficult to measure analytically. We can develop our culinary empiricism to deal with these ideas faster and better not only by taking into account whatever hard data we might have, but also by contemplating and making decisions on the most compelling directions to pursue using our own senses.

Many of the most interesting questions that arose while we developed our vinegars had little to do with naturalist, analytical ideas of underlying flavour chemistry and more to do with practical concerns about what we can do with these ingredients, the best ways to work with them, and how to make products that are new and interesting and better than what we already have.

For example, it seemed like some of the tastier vinegars were more complex and had gone through multiple fermentations (for instance, a yeast fermentation followed by an acetic fermentation). On a molecular level, this theory makes sense: each fermentation step will generate more and different volatile molecules as by-products, leading to a greater potential pool of flavours. Furthermore, starting from a sugary mixture and fermenting it into alcohol with yeast means that some residual sugar might be left over – balancing some of the acid, giving a bit of body, and improving the overall flavour. At the same time, some of the tea-based vinegars had interesting flavour potential but at times seemed to lack complexity. We also wondered if the air-pump approach to running the acetic fermentation – which was especially good for rapid prototyping as it produced workable vinegars in under a week – led to any flavour differences, good or bad, compared to a slower, passive fermentation over the course of months.

Next up: Slowing down the process, and expanding from wine to beer.