Nixtamalisation: the secret of the tortilla

Added on by Santiago Lastra.

Researcher: Santiago Lastra
Start date: 20 April 2015
End date: 25 June 2015

Overview

My goal was to find a formula for Nordic people to be able to use different local grains and seeds for making tortillas, opening another dimension of flavour and texture using this alkaline cooking process from Mexico.

The basic recipe for making nixtamalised corn involves cooking the kernels in a 1% calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) solution at 80˚C for 1h, removing from the heat and steeping for 16–18h in the same solution, then rinsing and grinding/blending into the dough, or masa. The cooking and steeping times will vary according to the size and structure of the chosen seed/grain/legume, but the resulting flavour and texture will be unmistakably tortilla-like.


It was said thousands of years ago that the Indians of Mexico were made from corn. Appropriately then, the corn tortilla has been and is my home country’s staple food.

Traditional Mexican cuisine, as many other cuisines of the world, is based on survival, taking advantage of what is available in the environment in ways that make sense in the local geography and culture. Among the animals that are eaten in Mexico, for example, we tend to use all of its parts, even those less valued ones like heads, tongues, cheeks, eyes, ears, testicles, lips, tails, intestines. These ‘undervalued elements’, along with others like some wild plants and insects, are the essence of what the world knows as the taco.

The writer Jorge Ibargüengoitia is often attributed with imagining the creative process of the possible inventor of the taco:
"I want to invent something without plate, spoon, napkins and tablecloth, which is not necessary to wash and which carries the assurance that whatever is put in the mouth has never gone through another’s lips.”

The taco is a concept that, like the sandwich, pizza, sushi, and kebap, has become global. Yet, similar to these other foods, the general concept becoming available everywhere has led its particular forms to change. Many tacos made around the world use corn tortillas, but these tortillas are often made from low-quality industrial flour, frozen or dried or otherwise preserved to ship long distances, with the result of expensive, bad quality soulless Mexican food. A few people are making the extra effort to import good corn flour from different parts of Mexico, but this is difficult and not necessary realistic for everyone to do. 

The funny part is that while the corn is the traditional ingredient for the tortilla, the technique might be more important to its identity. The ancient process of nixtamalisation is not only how we can make corn more nutritious and what allows us to turn it into a dough for tortillas, but also what gives them their distinctive flavour.

Forcing something like a corn tortilla taco, which evolved over a long period of time in specific geographic and cultural conditions, to work anywhere in the world is a difficult thing, and maybe not the way to make it taste its best. For example, cacahuanzitle, the particular type of corn used for tortillas, is common in Mexico but difficult to find other places, which has also led to using other, less suitable varieties for making tortillas storable and transportable as a global food. When it comes to flavour, we might be better off searching for other, locally appropriate ‘corns’ rather than forcing corn tortillas to exist everywhere but poorly. As we say in Mexico, “a fuerza ni los zapatos entran" – “not even the shoes enter by force”.

I chose to investigate the nixtamalisation process with the aim of finding a formula for people in the Nordic region – and other regions of the world – to be able to use different local grains and seeds for making their own fresh, tasty tortillas, and maybe less ‘authentic’ but more delicious versions of the taco concept.

Nixtamalisation

‘Nixtamalisation’ comes from the Nahuatl words nixtli (ash) and tamalli (dough). Harold McGee describes how different societies used different alkaline substances: “The Mayas and Aztecs used ashes or lime; North American tribes, ashes and naturally occurring sodium carbonate deposits; and a contemporary Mayan group burns mussel shells for the same purpose.” (McGee, p.478)

One can imagine the process being discovered accidentally in steps. Perhaps weakly alkaline ash from a fire got into the pot where the corn was cooking and made it more digestible. The discovery of stronger alkalis like quicklime (calcium oxide, CaO) made from burning calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in limestone or seashells, and then that of calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) by ‘slaking’ or mixing CaO with water, could have made the process more effective and consistent, yielding corn with the ability to be made into a healthy and fast-cooking dough.

CaCO3  CaO + CO2

CaO + H2O  Ca(OH)2

Here is a standard method, based on the traditional way: to nixtamalise corn, cook the kernels in a 1% calcium hydroxide solution at 80˚C for 1h, then remove from heat and steep for 16–18h in the same solution (Lopez, E.P. et al.).

After steeping, wash the corn a few times to remove excess calcium and the dissolved pericarp. Now the corn is ready to be ground by hand with a big stone hand blender called metate, which literally means ‘hand stone’. The water content of the dough should be around 55% (ibid.), so sometimes a bit of water is added during grinding. The resulting dough is called masa.

Let’s talk about the reactions happening during the process. In this case, it’s hard to describe it better than McGee already has:

“One of the major glue-like components of plant cells walls, hemicellulose, is especially soluble in alkaline conditions. Nixtamalisation softens the hull and partly detaches it from the rest of the kernel so that it can be rubbed off and washed away… and it releases much of their bound niacin so that we can absorb and benefit from it.” (p.478)

“During the steeping [in the alkaline solution after cooking], the alkalinity softens the hull and cell walls throughout, causes the storage proteins to bond to each other, and breaks apart some of the oil of the grains and emulsifiers (mono- and di-glycerides). After steeping, the soaking solution and softened hulls are washed away, and the kernels, including the germ, are then stone-ground to produce the dough-like material called masa. Stone-grinding cuts the kernels, mashes them, and kneads the mass, mixing together starch, protein, oils, emulsifiers, and cell wall materials, and the lime’s molecule-bridging calcium. With further kneading, this combination develops into a cohesive, plastic dough.” (p.481) In addition to the degradation of the pericarp, the partial gelatinisation of the starches in the kernels during cooking further facilitates the later formation of the elastic dough.

Other seeds

Based on this initial recipe (Lopez, E.P. et al.), I started to experiment with other types of seeds, grains and legumes, using different cooking and soak times according to the structural differences between them. Several tests yielded the following table of cooking time, soaking time and useful applications.

Table 1. Variations in cooking time and soaking time for nixtamalisation of different seeds, and possible applications.

Table 1. Variations in cooking time and soaking time for nixtamalisation of different seeds, and possible applications.

The nixtamalised linseed became quite slimy and goopy

The nixtamalised linseed became quite slimy and goopy

Masa trials

Masa trials

Tortilla trials

Tortilla trials

After this experiment with different types of seeds I realized compared to the non-nixtamalised controls that the calcium bath definitely helps to form a cohesive mass and give a certain tortilla flavour.

That distinctive tortilla smell

The characteristic aroma comes largely from the “alkaline processing [that] gives rise to [a] set of distinctive aroma molecules, including one that is a breakdown product of the amino acid tryptophan, and a close chemical and aromatic relative of a characteristic note in concord grapes and wood strawberries (aminoacetophenone, related to the fruits’ methyl anthranilate).” (McGee, p.479) This process can also yield “violet-like and spicy notes (from ionone and vinylguaiacol).” (ibid.)

Because the characteristic flavour and texture of corn tortillas are largely due to the nixtamalisation process, it is therefore possible to make high-quality tortillas rom grains of the Nordic region, or anywhere in the world.

We decided to put this hypothesis into practice, using the taco as a concept to connect the flavours and values of traditional taco culture on the streets in Mexico’s cities and towns with the raw materials and products of the Nordic region. On the surface it might look and taste different from what I’m used to in Mexico, but the sensation is the same. Wherever in the world it might be, a good taco is a good taco.

Plating early versions of the taco

Plating early versions of the taco

Pork cheek taco with nixtamalized Øland wheat tortilla and koji-chovy (10 portions)
Tacos de cachete con Øland nixtamalizado y anchoas fermentadas

Nixtamalised Øland wheat tortilla
Øland wheat is one of our favourite grains at the lab, and it was one of the most successful with the nixtamalisation process. It gives an aroma particularly similar to corn masa dough, with hints of nuts and caramelized roasted grain, a slightly chewy texture, a fine reddish brown colour with hints of yellow, and a surface resistant enough for any type of filling.
100g   whole Øland wheat grains
500g  water
5g     calcium hydroxide (we got ours here)
5g       salt
Mix the water with the calcium, add the wheat and cook in a pot for 45 minutes at medium heat. Remove from the stove and leave in the solution for 6 hours. Wash a few times until they are clean of calcium, strain and grind in a molcajete, the Mexican mortar and pestle of volcanic rock (or, if without, then blend in a food processor), until obtaining a smooth dough. Put the masa in a bowl and mix with salt. Weigh out balls of 10g and press between two sheets of parchment paper sprayed with oil. Cook the tortilla in a hot pan for 45 seconds on each side, and a final 45 seconds on the first side, until the tortilla is nice and cooked but not dry or brittle. Reserve in a damp towel.

Sauerkraut
Anaerobically lacto-fermented white cabbage. The acidity functions similarly to that of fresh lettuce dressed with lemon juice, but with added aromatic complexity and the cabbage’s mustard spiciness mellowed by the fermentation.
500g  winter cabbage
5g       seaweed powder
2%(w/w) salt
Slice the cabbage finely with a knife or mandolin. Mix the ingredients together and vacuum seal. Leave fermenting at room temperature for 3 weeks. Deflate and reseal the bag during the process if necessary, store in the fridge.

Koji-chovy cream
This element contributes the creamy, fatty, cheesy notes which are crucial to many tacos, as well as an underlying umami which helps to support the other flavours and round out the mouthfeel. In the process of working with our batch of koji-chovies begun in June 2014, we also realised that the aged orange-coloured fat provides a satisfying spicy accent, analogous to the chili in a traditional taco.
160g   cream
3g       koji-chovy passed through a sieve
1g        grasshopper garum
2         green juniper berries, finely choped
Reduce cream by half over low heat. Cool down cream, mix the ingredients and pour in a piping bag.

Pork cheek
On the streets is where we have always eaten tacos. It is a street food that has emerged with the need to do business and nourish people with parts of the animals that normally the rich people didn’t buy: offal, heads etc. The pork cheeks have a firm texture that falls apart in the mouth and a rich animal flavour that, when seared in the pan, unleashes all the wealth that anyone could want in the best of meats.
100g   pork cheeks
10g     olive oil
1          bay leaf
2         black peppercorns
3g       salt
Vacuum-seal the cheeks with the other ingredients. Cook for 12 hours at 72˚C. Sear in a very hot pan on both sides and slice before plating.

Herbs
Herbs give freshness that balances the fatty and rich elements of the taco. In Mexico we normally use coriander and quelites, though as long as they are fresh and seasonal and clean the palate there are no rules for the specific flavour. In our tacos we have used wild pea shoots, bronze fennel, ramson flowers, cow parsley, and others, depending on what’s growing.

Cucumber vinegar
This quick spray of vinegar just before serving the dish reminds me of the fresh lemon aroma that you get in every taqueria with the lemon beside the plate. In this case it’s not for giving sourness, which is coming from the cabbage – instead it’s for giving an incredible refreshing impression to the eater. We made the vinegar using the active aeration method.

Plating
Heat the tortillas in a hot pan on both sides until they are soft again.
Sear the cheeks very fast with oil in a hot pan to give them a quick browning.
Plate the taco with a few dots of cream, some slices of cheek, a bit of sauerkraut and finish with the herbs and a spray of cucumber vinegar.

Sharing the taco

In June we had a couple opportunities to serve our taco to the wider public. One 12 June we were giving a presentation at Folkemødet, a festival for Danish political life, on the island of Bornholm, through our participation with other universities and civic organisations in the Smag for Livet project which focusses on taste education for kids and youth. We used the taco as a focal point to discuss different areas of the lab’s work, like the pursuit of umami, fermentation, foraging and wild plants, the exchange of cultures, and other techniques that give flavour like nixtamalization. I was glad to see that the participants liked it a lot, and the event described it on their website as a bite of heaven (Himmelsk!).

Plating up the taco on Bornholm

Plating up the taco on Bornholm

The following week, I joined Roberto at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, where he was cooking for the students and faculty as part of their Tavole Accademiche program. On one of the days we presented the Øland taco but this time, we used tongue instead of cheek, representing the exchange of cultures between me and Roberto – a cheeky multi-lingual play on the fact that the words for ‘language’ and ‘tongue’ are the same in both Spanish (lengua) and Italian (lingua) – along with herbs and flowers gathered from around Pollenzo. The cooks told me they were excited to try a real taco, which they hadn’t before, and the students told me that though they knew the concept, they had never appreciated it like that. I was happy to describe my project and how it developed in the lab, and afterwards when some students came to ask me the recipe, I was convinced that they would try to do it.

the author plating up the taco

the author plating up the taco

the author describing the dish

the author describing the dish

the chefs share a taco!

the chefs share a taco!

Conclusion

There is still much to explore about the nixtamalisation. But we can now say that using it to treat other grains not only allows us to create different types of masa and a certain particular tortilla taste, but also gives us the opportunity to exchange cultures, share techniques, and use the products we have in our environment to explore this old concept in new ways. Now that you know the secret of the tortilla, I invite you to try local grains and the products that you like to make delicious tacos, tostadas or even other preparations that you imagine will be delicious.

Acknowledgements

Roberto for the unconditional support he has given me since I started my project, giving me trust for making it big, and teaching me that things are not always what they seem.
Josh for his patience that has kept me going, because I am a little more crazy chef than a scientist, and above all for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this great team.
Jonas for the incredible bread, good sense of humour, his reviews and his always very interesting point of view.
Michael for making everything possible.
And the entire NFL team – everyone has had a very important part in my project: chemistry by Bernat; photographs by Rosemary, Charlotte and Afton; sauerkrauts by Rosemary.
And personally to my country to leave as a legacy to the world Nixtamalisation.

Santiago Lastra Rodriguez.

 

References

Buttery, R.G., Ling, L.C., 1995. Volatile Flavor Components of Corn Tortillas and Related Products. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 43: 1878-82.

López, O.P., Lara, F.G., Bello Pérez, L.A, 2008/9. La Nixtamalisación. Ciencias 92-93: Octubre 2008 - Marzo 2009. <http://www.alumno.unam.mx/algo_leer/nixtamalizacion.pdf>.

Lopez Nuñez, K.M., et al., 2015. Producción Industrial de Alimentos. <https://www.clubensayos.com/Ciencia/Nixtamalizacion-Vs-Extrusion/2582209.html>.

McGee, H., 2004. On Food and Cooking: an encyclopedia of kitchen science, history and culture. Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton, 2004.

Phillips, G.O., Williams, P.A., 2009. Handbook of hydrocolloids. Woodhead Publishing Limited, 2000.

 

Jellyfish

Added on by Youngbin Kim.

Researcher: Youngbin Kim
Start: July 2014
End: August 2014

Overview
Jellyfish, especially Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), are overpopulating the Baltic and North Seas. Last summer we began investigating the culinary potential of this neglected but quite delicious species. This post outlines some existing cultural practices of using jellyfish as food in the world, and some of our attempts at giving it gastronomic context in the Nordic region.


Jellyfish is defined as A free-swimming marine coelenterate with a jelly-like bell- or saucer-shaped body that is typically transparent and has stinging tentacles around the edge’ (Oxford dictionary online). Jellyfish live in all the world’s oceans, from the surface to the depths (Wikipedia). Their size varies from a few millimeters to 2-3 metres in diameter. All jellyfish are carnivores, and different species feed on different foods such as zooplankton, fish eggs, fish larvae, small fish, and even other members of the same species – all of which, if excessive, can lead to the endangerment other species of marine animals (Darumas, 2013). 

Jellyfish populations are blooming recently in many ocean environments where they haven’t been before. This phenomenon is resulting from the complex interactions of oxygen depletion, increase of plankton by eutrophication, extinction of jellyfish predators and feed competitors from over-fishing, temperature changes, water contamination, and other factors (Mills, 2001). Especially in the North and Baltic Seas, unusually high and increasing numbers of jellyfish have been reported. Some species are becoming invasive in the Baltic Sea, for example Aurelia aurita (moon jellyfish) and Mnemiopsis leidyi (comb jellyfish/sea walnut) and are causing diverse upsets in the existing ocean ecology (Kube et al. (2007), Møller & Riisgård (2007)). 

In some Asian countries, particularly China, Japan, Korea and Thailand, jellyfish is eaten as a food for special occasions (Hsieh et al., 2001). Usually it is a cold dish, often a sort of salad with different vegetables, mustard sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil. In China especially, jellyfish has been regarded as an effective medicinal food for curing arthritis, bronchitis and lowering blood pressure (Hsieh & Rudloe, 1994). The traditional way to preserve the jellyfish is curing them with salt (NaCl) and alum (KAI(SO4)2) to lower their water content and pH, and giving a desirable crunchy texture (Hsieh et al., 2001). The edible jellyfish species of Asia are usually in the order Rhizostomae, however there are also other species which could be used as food shown in Table 1 (Omori & Nakano, 2001).

Table 1. Identified species of edible jellyfish in the world. Modified from Omori & Nakano, 2001.


Table 1. Identified species of edible jellyfish in the world. Modified from Omori & Nakano, 2001.

We know of no tradition of eating jellyfish in Denmark, nor in Europe in particular. If some new jellyfish species are becoming invasive and it results in different environmental and economic problems, then why don’t we eat them? Bringing jellyfish into our cuisine can be one way to help our local ecologies balance and to use natural resources in a more diverse way. But first, we have to figure out what species of jellyfish are in the Nordic seas, if they are edible, how they can be preserved, and how we can find their delicious side.

Jellyfish bloom in Roskilde

Jellyfish bloom in Roskilde

During my holiday last summer, I found a bloom of jellyfish in Roskilde fjord just west of Copenhagen. Literally, ‘BLOOM’. It covered the whole surface of the sea near the harbour so I couldn’t even see the bottom. These jellyfish were quite small, approximately 5-15 centimetres in diameter, with a transparent body and four distinct pinkish rings. Later, with help from Dr. Peter Gravlund who works in Danish National Aquarium, I figured out these jellyfish to be ‘Moon jellyfish’ (Aurelia aurita) which is increasing in many fjord areas around Denmark. This type does not sting people and is not toxic – so we could touch it, but were not certain if we could eat it.

Moon jellyfish caught in Roskilde

Moon jellyfish caught in Roskilde

the author on the jellyfish hunt

the author on the jellyfish hunt

netting A. aurita in Roskilde

netting A. aurita in Roskilde

captured prey

captured prey

So, in the middle of last summer in Roskilde, we caught a bunch of Moon jellyfish. I divided them into two groups: in the first I separated the tentacles from umbrella part, and in the second I left them whole just to see how they might differ. To preserve them, I divided them in subgroups with different brines: NaCl in 3%, 10%, and 15%, the same three brines with 0.5-1% of calcium sulfate added (expecting different texture), and one in sea water as a control group.

Within 4 hours, the jellyfish had already started to dissolve in the brine and within 3 days they had all completely dissolved and disappeared. The water was extremely slippery like a huge bunch of mucus and smelled horrible like a rotten animal or seafood. The 3% brine and sea water ones in particular were terribly stinky even from their sealed boxes.

Jellyfish dissolved in brines

Jellyfish dissolved in brines

On the same day near our boat, we caught another jellyfish which was quite big and had a yellowish rigid body. Again, with the kind help of Dr. Gravlund, we figured out that this species was likely a ‘lion’s mane jelly fish’ (Cyanea capillata). I separated the tentacle and umbrella part and preserved them separately in 10% brine. After 3 days in the brine, the umbrella part looked fine, had shrunk a bit and smelled like fresh ocean. The tentacle part had almost dissolved in the water which turned the brine brown. Though the umbrella part seemed fine, we decided not to eat it because this species stings people which can cause rash or itchiness. I personally had a rash after catching it, and had some itchiness for a few days after.

Lion's mane jellyfish just off our boat

Lion's mane jellyfish just off our boat

The lion’s mane brought aboard

The lion’s mane brought aboard

Lion's mane mantle preserved in 10% brine

Lion's mane mantle preserved in 10% brine

Lion's mane tentacles dissolved in 10% brine

Lion's mane tentacles dissolved in 10% brine

Lion's mane mantle, close up

Lion's mane mantle, close up

After this unsuccessful preserving experiment, however, we caught quite a large moon jellyfish with a nice rigid body just off the houseboat. We decided to experiment with the fresh jellyfish in the kitchen, not try to cure it because we wanted to keep the fresh oceanic flavour. Since another of my concurrent projects was on Kimchi, we used this Kimchi for making some dishes with the jellyfish. Through some preliminary trials of cooking the jellyfish, we realized that it was not possible to deep-fry or pan-fry the jellyfish due to its high water content. We also knew that moon jellyfish doesn’t sting the people and is not toxic. We ended up eating it raw and making four simple dishes with different applications of Nordic Kimchi.

Recipes with moon jellyfish

1. Jellyfish with Kimchi turnip and nasturtium stem
50g fresh jellyfish
1 turnip
Nordic Kimchi juice
2-3 nasturtium stems
Slice the turnip very thinly, full-seal in a vacuum bag with some Nordic Kimchi juice to impregnate flavour and make transparent. Wrap a slice of fresh jellyfish (~5cm) and a nasturtium stem with the thinly-sliced turnip.

2. Jellyfish with romaine Kimchi and turnip Kimchi
50g fresh jellyfish
1-2 pieces of romaine Kimchi
20g turnip Kimchi
Finely cut turnip-sandleek-Kimchi in a small dice and full-vacuum in Kimchi water to give the transparency. Put one piece of romaine Kimchi and place the diced turnip. Put the sliced fresh jellyfish on top. Decorate with nasturtium leaves.

3. Jellyfish with mackerel garum
50g fresh jellyfish
5ml mackerel garum
Cut the fresh jellyfish into small chunks. Place in a spoon kept over ice, and pour over the mackerel garum. Keep cold.

4. Jellyfish swimming in white Kimchi sea
50g fresh jellyfish
200g cold 'Nordic’ Kimchi juice
1 small radish
1 turnip
Keep Nordic Kimchi water very cold. Make very thin slices of small radish and turnip, and full-vacuum them in a moon jellyfish shape with a small amount of Kimchi water to impregnate the flavour and make them more transparent. Slice a fresh jellyfish slightly larger than the turnip slice. Pour the Kimchi water into the bowl and let the jelly-radi-fish float in the Kimchi sea.

Further Ideas

Fresh jellyfish does not last long. So every time we need to catch the jellyfish to have it fresh. Fresh jellyfish tastes amazing – like eating the blue-green oceanic gel – but it will be very useful if we can develop a curing or preserving method for the jellyfish in the Nordic seas to keep them for longer periods. Traditional ways of preserving jellyfish in Asia do not seem applicable in the same way to moon jellyfish because they are quite small and their skin is too soft, which dissolves in the brine very quickly.

Though none of us died after eating the moon jellyfish on the boat, there is still a great need for more scientific knowledge on the edibility and safety of the edible jellyfish around Nordic region, for example research on possible parasites or any other doubts should be clarified.

Personally I have a strong interest in using edible jellyfish in cultures that have not yet eaten it. I do believe there is great potential in using jellyfish in cuisine as a new ingredient, which can bring us a unique crunchy, slippery texture and a fresh oceanic flavour.

To end, some bonus photos:

And finally, a video of moon jellyfish swimming around.

 

References

Darumas, U (2013), Is the Presence of Jellyfish Problematic or Beneficial?, Walailak J Sci & Tech 2013; 10(3): 209-226

Hsieh, Y-H. P., Leong, F. M., Rudloe, J. (2001), Jellyfish as food, Hydrobiologia 451: 11–17

Hsieh, Y-H. P., Rudloe, J. (1994), Potential of utilizing jellyfish as food in Western countries, Trends in Food Science & Technology July 1994 IVol. 5

Kube, S., Postel, L., Honnef, C.,  Augustin, C. B. (2007), Mnemiopsis leidyi in the Baltic Sea – distribution and overwintering between autumn 2006 and spring 2007, Aquatic Invasions (2007) Volume 2, Issue 2: 137-145

Mills, C. E. (2001), Jellyfish blooms: are populations increasing globally in response to changing ocean conditions?, Hydrobiologia 451: 55–68

Møller, L. F. & Riisgård, H. U. (2007), Impact of jellyfish and mussels on algal blooms caused by seasonal oxygen depletion and nutrient release from the sediment in a Danish fjord, J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 351 (2007) 92–105

Omori, M. & Nakano, N. (2001), Jellyfish fisheries in southeast Asia, Hydrobiologia 451: 19–26

Oxford dictionary online, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/jellyfish , accessed on 5th Aug 2014

Wikipedia online, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jellyfish , accessed on 5th Aug 2014

 

Cooking with Alkali

Added on by Alec Borsook.

Researcher: Alec Borsook
Start: June 2014
End: August 2014; ongoing

Overview
Alkali cooking techniques are largely underexplored in contemporary kitchens. This post is a basic overview of what alkalis are, what they do, and how they can be useful.
A notable fact is that calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2), one common alkali, can be made quite easily in kitchens by burning eggshells, whose calcium carbonate is then converted into calcium oxide (quicklime, CaO), which can be ‘slaked’ with water to become calcium hydroxide.


Acidity comes in many delicious forms. Much of the research performed here at the Lab concerns our unending search for them, from our exploration of sour wild things to our investigations of the possibilities of lactic and acetic acid fermentations. Acids can balance flavours, providing brightness and cutting through richness, or they can make you pucker your lips in a delight bordering on pain. But what about their chemical opposites, the alkalis?

In continuation of some previous forays into the subject, last summer we conducted a survey of alkaline cooking methods. Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate (NAHCO3), is probably the most frequently found alkali in the kitchen, used in conjunction with an acid as a leavening agent. Other alkalis, such as quicklime (CaO, calcium oxide) and potash (encompassing various salts of potassium), are generally less frequently encountered, and not without reason: they can taste bitter and soapy and even inflict chemical burns on the incautious. But when used deliberately and with care, alkalis comprise a versatile culinary toolkit, capable of altering the flavour, texture, and appearance of foods to delicious effect.

The basics – what is an alkali?

In any aqueous solution, water (H2O) exists in equilibrium with its ionized forms, the protonated hydronium ion (H3O+, often written as simply as a proton, H+) and the deprotonated hydroxide ion (OH–). Acids are those substances that shift this equilibrium toward the hydronium ion. Alkalis, or bases, favour the hydroxide ion.

The pH of a solution is a measure of its acidity or alkalinity, calculated as the negative logarithm of the hydronium ion concentration. The pH scale is centered at 7, at which hydronium and hydroxide ions are present in equal concentrations. Lower pH values correspond with acidity and greater hydronium concentrations, higher pH values with alkalinity and greater hydroxide concentrations. Common food molecules like proteins, carbohydrates, and fats may exhibit different properties in different environments, and adjusting the pH of a food is one way to significantly alter its sensory qualities.

Alkalinity and proteins

Proteins consist of long chains of amino acids, or polypeptides, folded into a specific three-dimensional shape. This shape is determined largely by the amino acids’ interactions with each other, the aqueous solution surrounding them, and by the action of enzymes that modify the folding process following synthesis. A protein tends to fold into a conformation that minimizes the energy of the system – that is, the protein and its environment. For example, positive charges move as far away from each other as possible, and the bonds between positively and negatively charged chemical groups are maximised.

Lowering the pH of a food by, say, marinating it in vinegar, involves surrounding its proteins with hydronium ions, which can donate positively charged protons to parts of amino acids along the chain, among other effects. Chemical groups in the protein and the surrounding solution rearrange themselves accordingly, and the protein changes shape – it becomes denatured. This process can alter the texture and appearance of foods, as occurs in seafood ‘cooked’ in acid in a ceviche.

Proteins can just as easily be denatured by adjusting the pH in the opposite direction – by marinating food in an alkaline solution instead of an acidic one. Whereas acids donate protons to various chemical groups within proteins, alkalis tend to pull them away, which can have a different but comparable effect on protein structure.

Alkaline brines and marinades are frequently employed in Chinese cuisine to alter the texture of meat or seafood. Before cooking, shrimp are soaked in a mixture containing a weak alkali, such as sodium bicarbonate, or egg whites, which are naturally alkaline. Shrimp prepared in this manner develop a firm, almost crunchy texture, yielding between the teeth with a satisfying pop. A similar marinade containing baking soda or egg whites can be applied to slices of meat in a technique called ‘velveting’, yielding a downy soft cooked product (Wang, 2011). To know what effect alkaline treatment might have on a specific protein seems to require a bit of experimenting: our sodium bicarbonate-treated shrimp were firm and delicious, but we found no such success in applying this treatment to scallops, which grew soft and developed a faint odor of ammonia when cooked.

Our trial involved three brines and two soaking periods:

Brine 1 (control): 40 g salt in 1 L water; pH ~6.5. 
Brine 2: 40 g salt, 40 g sodium bicarbonate in 1 L water; pH ~8.0; 
Brine 3: 40 g salt, 2 drops 33% potassium carbonate in 1 L water; pH ~9.4

Each brine was used to marinate shrimp for 1.5 hours or 15 minutes. The shrimp were then sautéed in butter and served. In direct comparisons, there was a noticeable difference in texture between the alkali and non-alkali brined shrimp, with the alkali brine imparting a 'bounce' or almost crunch to the flesh of the shrimp.

Trials of alkali-treated shrimp

Trials of alkali-treated shrimp

Stronger alkaline treatments can increase the chance of breaking down fats and developing soapy flavours, but they are applied to great effect in developing the characteristic flavours and textures of delicacies like the Nordic lutefisk and the Chinese pidan, or century egg.

Alkalinity and Maillard reactions – interactions between carbohydrates and amino acids

Alkalis can also be used to increase the rate of Maillard reactions, the group of chemical reactions between amino acids and sugars responsible for the deep brown colour and complex flavour of many of our favourite foods. Perceptible Maillard flavours may emerge in seconds, as in a seared piece of meat, or more slowly when temperatures are lower – over a period of weeks in the case of black garlic.

Alkaline conditions facilitate Maillard reactions because they pull protons away from the nitrogen-containing amine groups in amino acids, making them more likely to react with sugars. The distinctive flavour and deep brown colour of pretzels, for example, is achieved by a dip in an alkaline solution before baking in a hot oven.

A traditional preparation in Sephardic Jewish communities calls for eggs to be simmered overnight, by the morning yielding egg whites with a light brown tint and some of the nutty, meaty qualities generated by Maillard reactions. Although the temperature of these ‘Sephardic eggs’ or huevos haminados never exceeds 100ºC, an impressive reaction can be produced within hours due to the natural alkalinity of the egg white, promoting reactions between the amino acids and sugars in the white. By this method, a complexly flavoured egg can be produced while retaining some of the desirable qualities provided by lower cooking temperatures – Harold McGee specifies a range between 71 and 74ºC (McGee 89).

We attempted preparing Sephardic eggs at a lower temperature, 66ºC, but even after 24 hours, this temperature resulted in a barely visible reaction and imperceptible Maillard flavour. A couple of weeks later, however, an event left us with a silly number of extra eggs, and we tried again – this time the process worked. As eggs are stored, carbon dioxide, which is weakly acidic, diffuses out of the egg, and the pH of the white steadily increases from about 8.5 at one day old to as high as 9.4 at ten days (Scott and Silversides, 2001). An egg a couple of weeks after being lain, then, should be primed for browning. 24 hours at 66ºC produced a custardy, sandy-coloured egg, buttery and mineral and already beginning to taste like chicken.

Sephardic eggs

Sephardic eggs

These trials with eggs have prompted us to consider other foods that might benefit from slow cooking under alkaline conditions. While naturally alkaline foods are somewhat unusual, adjusting the pH of foods with an alkaline brine before cooking may prepare them to quickly undergo Maillard reactions even at relatively low temperatures, creating possibilities for new combinations of flavour and texture.

pH and colour change

Variance of anthocyanin pigmentation by pH. 

Variance of anthocyanin pigmentation by pH. 

pH can affect the colour of food much more than just the range of Maillard browns. The colour of many anthocyanins – compounds that give foods like red cabbage and blueberries their brilliant colours – changes with pH, such that red cabbage juice can be used as a pH indicator. A drop of anthocyanin-rich cabbage juice will appear red in a low pH solution, blue in a higher pH one, and eventually green and yellow in even more alkaline solutions. Another example of naturally occurring, pH-sensitive pigments can be found in litmus, a dye extracted from lichen that follows a similar progression from red at low pH to blue at high pH.

More recently, this summer we observed that onions soaked in an alkali solution turn bright yellow and developed a distinctive aroma, very much like corn chips. Originally we thought this might be due to polymerisation of sulphurous compounds in alliums facilitated by the physical and chemical breakdown of the allium tissues due to exposure to the alkaline solution, though subsequent trials point towards other compounds – perhaps quercitin, an antioxidant flavonol responsible for over 85% of onion's flavour and with yellow pigmentation which becomes enhanced when it polymerises. Thanks to Karsten Olsen at the Department of Food Science at Copenhagen University for helping us track down this specific mechanism – we look forward to publishing more information on this process and its culinary potential in a future post.

L to R: shallots, white onions, and shallots treated with Ca(OH)2; shallots in the righthand sample were cooked after alkaline soak.

L to R: shallots, white onions, and shallots treated with Ca(OH)2; shallots in the righthand sample were cooked after alkaline soak.

Sources of alkalinity

Alkalis, like acids, are highly variable in both strength and their suitable applications in the kitchen. Baking soda is a pantry staple, a mild alkali and convenient chemical leavening agent due to the carbon dioxide released by the bicarbonate ion’s reaction with acid. However, it is too weak of an alkali for certain applications.

Potassium carbonate (K2CO3), quicklime/calcium oxide (CaO), and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) are all stronger alkalis that can be purchased as solids or in solution for food use, but they are not necessarily easy to find or convenient to keep on hand, being highly caustic and easily mistakable for, say, salt. Following traditional methods, it’s a relatively simple matter to prepare alkaline solutions of comparable strength as needed, often using materials that might otherwise be thrown away.

The shells of eggs and bivalves like mussels or oysters are composed largely of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), a weak alkali. Calcium carbonate is not highly soluble in water, but the shells, heated briefly in a flame to burn away the residual membrane and its eggy odour, can be crushed and mixed with water to produce a solution of around pH 8.5, similar to what we can make with baking soda. When the shells are heated very strongly, until they turn black, ideally red hot, then white or grey, their calcium carbonate is converted to quicklime, or calcium oxide (CaO), which forms calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) when ‘slaked’ or mixed with water. Applying this procedure to eggshells, we produced a highly alkaline solution of pH 12.2. Quicklime is suitable for nixtamalising grains for tortillas and tamales, being a relatively strong alkali and containing the calcium necessary to form a cohesive masa (a topic on which Dave Arnold has produced an excellent resource, and on which we will be sharing some of our own results soon).

Wood ash also consists largely of calcium carbonate, with smaller quantities of potassium salts and other minerals. We punched some small holes in a container, lined the bottom with small stones, and filled the container with sifted ash from our grill. By repeatedly filtering water through the ash, we obtained a transparent, yellow-tinted solution of pH 12.6, which, for our purposes, is as strong as we need.

A note on safety

Despite their interesting applications, it’s important to be aware that alkalis are hazardous chemicals, and certain safety precautions should be observed in their use. Strong alkalis in solid form or in solutions with a pH of around 10.5 or higher are caustic and can corrode skin and other tissues. When handling these strong alkalis, gloves and goggles should be worn. If a strong basic solution splashes on a person’s skin or eyes, the exposed area should be flushed with cool water for several minutes. Spills should be neutralized with vinegar or another acid before being cleaned up.

Unlike some other classes of chemicals, however, alkalis are non-toxic at low concentrations and don’t pose a risk of accumulating in the body, so alkalised foodstuffs carefully prepared are safe to eat. Where strong alkaline treatments are applied, rinsing and/or soaking alkalised foods in water seems to be the general practice preceding any final steps in preparation – nixtamal is rinsed after the alkaline boil and soak and before being ground into masa, for example, and lutefisk is soaked in several changes of water before cooking.

More

We have been conducting more research on several specific applications of alkalisation, so stay tuned as we delve into some extensions of this fundamental aspect of cooking.

 

References

Block, Eric. Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and The Science. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2010.

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. New York: Scribner, 2004.

Silversides, F.G., and T.A. Scott. 2001. Effect of storage and layer age on quality of eggs from two lines of hens. Poultry Science 80 (8): 1240-5.

Wang, Chichi. “Seriously Asian: Velveting Meat.” Serious Eats, 1 April 2011. 

Kimchi Journey

Added on by Youngbin Kim.

Researcher: Youngbin Kim
Start Date: April 2014
End Date: July 2014

Overview

Kimchi is the most typical and essential fermented dish in Korea, comprising a range of ancient and diverse traditions. The goal of this project was to try to model traditional Kimchi recipes by their functional components and use this knowledge to make 'Nordic' analogues based on these principles. We include our most successful trial below, as well as some further applications of the pickles and the brine.


Introduction

Kimchi is the most typical and essential fermented dish in Korea. Koreans eat Kimchi at every meal every day, which along with the broad variety of vegetables used contributes to Koreans' intake of beneficial nutrients and enjoyment of diverse Kimchi tastes. Koreans say that they feel something is missing if there is no Kimchi on the table and it is very normal to have two or three different types of Kimchi at one meal. Every household in Korea has a separate fridge only for ‘precious’ Kimchi, so-called ‘Dim-chae’, which keeps Kimchi at a constant temperature – usually between 5-10˚C though the user decides based on the maturity level they wish to prolong its period of edibility. Making Kimchi is one of the biggest and the most important family events. All family members gather to make Kimchi on ‘Kim-jang’ day and share their life stories and news. The mother and aunts teach the daughters how to make Kimchi under the instructions of the grandmother with their life-long experience for delicious recipes and techniques. Everyone has their own recipe or additional ingredients, so every home-made Kimchi has its own flavour depending on the unique family preference, where they live or when they made it. When Koreans travel abroad, they never forget to carry several packs of Kimchi in their luggage, as well try to find a Korean restaurant in the foreign country because Koreans cannot imagine the meal without Kimchi. Therefore, I dare say that Kimchi is a cultural icon of Korea and the core of Korean cuisine which is one of its most precious assets.

History

It is believed that Kimchi originated from the salted vegetable preparation called ‘Jeo’ (菹) in China, whose first written record dates to about 2000 years ago (Han et al., 2012). However, there is no written record of Jeo or Kimchi in Korea until the 10th century. It was first described in ‘Dong-guk-i-sang-guk-jip (동국이상국집, 東國李相國集, Collected Works of Minister Yi of Korea)’ from the 12th century that salted radish, turnip, and cabbage was made to be able to consume vegetables throughout the winter (Lee, 2000). This source indicates that the initial form of Kimchi was salted vegetables with or without grains and spices, which is quite similar to ‘Jang-a-jji’ (fermented vegetable with salt) in contemporary Korean cuisine (Lee, 2000). Since then or maybe before (it is not clear from the historical record), Kimchi was developed to include the condiments such as garlic, ginger, Chinese pepper, madder (Rubia tinctorum)windflower (Anemone spp.), and others, and then fermented (Park, 2005). The Chinese cabbage was first introduced to Korea much later, around the 17th or 18th century. Cultivation of red chili pepper started in the end of 16th century during the war against Japan, but it was first used in Kimchi only in the late 18th century (Han et al., 2012). The use of red chili pepper in Kimchi mainly began in order to reduce the amount of salt which was very expensive at that time (Lee, 2000). As well, it was also due to the practical property of chili which increased the edible period of Kimchi by slowing the fermentation, and likely also the appetising red colour it contributed. It was only around the late 19th or early 20th century when Kimchi settled into its current form made with Chinese cabbage and red chili pepper, which is the most famous and prototypical form of Kimchi nowadays (Park, 2005).  

Figure 1. Typical Kimchi made of Chinese cabbage and chili pepper

Figure 1. Typical Kimchi made of Chinese cabbage and chili pepper

Brief overview of how to make Kimchi

1) Soak the Chinese cabbage in brine for few hours to reduce its water content and to kill undesirable microorganisms. Then, wash them thoroughly and strain.
2) Prepare all the spicing ingredients (garlic, ginger, red chili pepper, etc.) and grind them to make a sauce with rice or wheat porridge.
3) Chop the daikon and spring onion, and mix with the ground vegetables. It is common to add some fish sauce or other ingredients such as oyster sauce by one’s preference. 
4) Fill each leaf of cabbage with the sauce, and put them into a container. Seal the container thoroughly, and store it at a proper temperature for the fermentation.

There are more than 200 kinds of Kimchi differing according to the types of vegetables and the addition of specific ingredients such as fish or meat. As previously mentioned the most common type of Kimchi is made mainly with Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage), however, it varies by the seasonal main ingredients, geographical characteristics and processing method.  

The Kimchi seasons

Korea has four distinct seasons, which also influences the Kimchi culture. Kimchi made of Chinese cabbage is common to prepare at the end of autumn before winter comes when the cabbage is harvested. In winter, white radish (daikon) is used to make watery white Kimchi which is called ‘Dong-chi-mi’. Newly-harvested cabbage, water parsley and mustard leaf are the main ingredients for spring Kimchi. Due to the high temperature in summer, it is usual to make short-term Kimchi with cucumber, young small radish stems and chives (doopedia). All year round, wild plants from mountainous areas are also one of the most common ingredients for making Kimchi. For example, ‘sesame leaf’ (Perilla spp.; unrelated to Sesame, Sesamum indicum), balloon flower root (Platycodon grandiflorus), pumpkin leaf, and other plants are used for making Kimchi according to the season.

Regional variation

As the northern part of Korea is colder, Kimchi in the north is less salty and less spicy because the fermentation happens more slowly and not as much salt/spiciness is needed to control it. The fishing in northern areas is stable throughout the year, therefore, there are many types of Kimchi fermented with fish such as cod, pollack, and flat-fish. Also it is common to pour more water in Kimchi, which explains why Dong-chi-mi (watery white radish Kimchi) is one of the most famous types of Kimchi in the north. The southern part of Korea is warmer and all sorts of seafood are abundant since it is surrounded by sea on three sides. There are many different types of fermented seafood in the south, which are also used to make Kimchi. These influences along with the higher temperature in the south have led to saltier and spicier Kimchi with strong and intense flavours, which helps to preserve the Kimchi longer in these conditions (doopedia).

The 'vital trio' and other ingredients

As additional ingredients, different sorts of vegetables such as radish, spring onion, and chives can be selectively used. For spicing, garlic, ginger and red chili powder (the vital trio of Kimchi) are now essential. It has been indicated that garlic’s antimicrobial properties help to prevent the spoilage of Kimchi, and its allicin improves the intake of vitamin B (Han et al., 2012). Capsaicin from red chili powder inhibits microbial metabolism which slows the acidification of Kimchi, which also helps to keep the good tastes of the amino acids (Kim et al., 1996). Fermented fish sauce called ‘Jeot-gal’ is regarded as a necessary ingredient in Korea, however, as mentioned above, it differs according to the region or family taste whether Jeot-gal is used in Kimchi or not. Jeot-gal itself is the product of lactic acid fermentation of seafood, so it is full of umami and accelerates the fermentation of Kimchi (Kim et al., 1996). 

Kimchi microbiology and the 'fermented taste'

Kimchi is mainly fermented by Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB), which contribute to its distinct pungent tangy flavour. Lactobacillus spp. and Leuconostoc spp. different from those found in dairy products or in the human gut are, along with Weissella spp., the main genera responsible for the fermentation in all types of Kimchi (Ko et al., 2013, Jung et al., 2014). Chang et al. (2009) have shown that some strains of LAB in Kimchi are able to survive in the acidic conditions of the stomach, so they reach the intestine which promotes gut health and boosts the immune system. Therefore Kimchi has recently gained attention for its likely pro-biotic activities.

The flavour and texture of Kimchi is significantly determined by the fermentation conditions – for instance, the temperature, fermentation period, and storage materials. It is now common knowledge that Kimchi fermented at lower temperatures (5-10°C) shows less acidity than one at higher temperatures (15-20°C), and also has a longer edible period (Noh et al., 2009). This is why winter Kimchi has a longer period of good taste than summer Kimchi. Of course, the Kimchi stored for a long time is also more sour and shows a softer texture with a strong tangy flavour compared to the ones stored for a short period which have a less mature, more raw taste.

The storage material also matters. In Korea, Kimchi has traditionally been stored in Ong-gi (옹기) which means earthenware. Ong-gi is buried under the ground in wintertime to prevent the Kimchi from freezing and to keep a constant temperature. One study about Ong-gi (Jeong et al., 2011) revealed that there are the differences in Kimchi stored in Ong-gi compared to plastic containers, steel boxes and glass bottles. The structure of Ong-gi has micro-scale porosity, which helps the gas permeability of Kimchi and increases the multiplication of LAB. This facilitation enhances the antioxidant and anticancer properties of Kimchi, and stabilises its sour taste at a good level (Jeong et al., 2011).

Figure 2. Kimchi in Ong-gi, buried in the ground [http://www.asanonggi.com/]

Figure 2. Kimchi in Ong-gi, buried in the ground [http://www.asanonggi.com/]

Fermentation can last more than one year, up to 3-5 years, then the whole taste and flavour are totally different from the beginning with lots of fermented taste harmonized between all the ingredients. It is said that this fermented taste (it’s called ‘삭은맛 (감칠맛)’, or the sixth taste in Korea) is a typical Korean taste, where all different ingredients are integrated and thus create a new special taste. It is very much alike Korean cultural philosophy, emphasizing the harmonization of different people and groups, which further strengthens the union of the whole nation (Kim, 1996).  

'Nordic' Kimchi

Now we have better understanding of Kimchi. It is tasty, healthy, and efficient for preserving vegetables with lots of variety. As a Korean, I have been interested in making different types of Kimchi based on the cultural and geographical circumstances in Europe. I have seen many of my foreign friends try Kimchi, but they didn’t enjoy it because it was too hot-spicy or its funky fermented taste was too unique or strong. Therefore, the goal of my Kimchi project was to make Kimchi adapted to the Nordic region, not only with the ingredients but also for the cultural and flavour identity. I believe also that there must be potential for Kimchi in Central or Northern Europe since Sauerkraut and Kimchi share some kind of identity based on their roles in cuisine, their taste, and the fact that both are made by lactic acid fermentation of vegetables.

Red Kimchi made of chili powder is the most well-known worldwide, however, there are also white watery Kimchi made of radish with lots of garlic, ginger, and spring onion and no chili powder. Rice porridge (or wheat) is added to make sauce thicker so that it can cover all the ingredients well and stimulate the fermentation process. As chili powder, ginger and rice are not typically Northern European, we considered other ingredients with similar pungency and anti-bacterial properties. It was also important to find the best spicing trio for Nordic Kimchi like the essential three spicing ingredients of original Korean Kimchi – garlic, ginger, and red chili powder. Since the image of white Kimchi for me was watery, I started to make watery Nordic Kimchi, which means that all the ingredients are prepared and kept all together in a special brine for the fermentation. Several first trials turned out good and tasty, so I continued this way for making Nordic Kimchi. In addition, substituting the rice porridge was easily solved by using barley porridge.

Figure 3. Nordic Kimchi – Romaine, horseradish, and fruits

Figure 3. Nordic Kimchi – Romaine, horseradish, and fruits

For about 4 months between April and July 2014, I tried many different prototypes of Nordic Kimchi with broad varieties of vegetables, fruits, wild plants, and algae. The main ingredient was decided by the season in Denmark. I made variations on Chinese cabbage, daikon, beetroot, white cabbage, red cabbage, pointed cabbage, butter-head lettuce, romaine, turnips, young radish, kohlrabi, and others. Among these, pointed cabbage and romaine turned out to make the best Nordic Kimchi. The texture was very crisp and crunchy, and it lasted quite a while with a consistent flavour and texture.

Figure 4. Many early trials

Figure 4. Many early trials

Figure 5. Early trials with red cabbage

Figure 5. Early trials with red cabbage

To find the most delicious pungent ingredients, I explored horseradish, mustards, white pepper, onion seeds, ramson, sand leek, garlic, and different types of onion. I made many attempts to find the best combinations of these different spices. Horseradish fit very well with Kimchi and it gave a great refreshing and pleasant flavour. When the controls without horseradish were compared to the trials with horseradish, it was obvious that the horseradish Kimchi had a longer edible period and kept a constant flavour, probably due to its anti-microbial property. It was a good substitute for the red chili powder of original Kimchi, and culturally in the Nordic region, it is quite common to use horseradish in cooking.  

Figure 6. 'Nordic' Kimchi – White cabbage, horseradish, onion seeds, and ramson berries

Figure 6. 'Nordic' Kimchi – White cabbage, horseradish, onion seeds, and ramson berries

Several pungent wild plants were also tried. We foraged some ramson leaves and berries, and sand leek seeds from around Copenhagen. Ramson leaves and berries in particular added a fresh and pungent flavour, and they harmonized well with the horseradish. They also contributed to the tanginess of the Kimchi, which gives the fresh bubbling sensation on the tongue. The sand leek seeds contributed to the beautiful pink colour in Kimchi and the taste was good in the beginning of the fermentation; however, it became too bitter to eat after 3-4 weeks and they had a negative effect on the texture of the leafy vegetables. With the root vegetables like radish or turnip, the edible period was bit longer with an even more beautiful colour. Kelp and elderflower were also added to some trials. Kelp didn’t really affect the flavour which was different from the initial expectation that they would help increase umami in the Kimchi. Elderflower Kimchi was very floral and interesting, but after two weeks it became very bitter.

 Figure 7. Nordic Kimchi – Turnip, horseradish, sand leek

 Figure 7. Nordic Kimchi – Turnip, horseradish, sand leek

Figure 8. Elderflower Kimchi trial

Figure 8. Elderflower Kimchi trial

After we began gaining a picture of the best ingredients to use, the trickiest parts of the experiments were to find the best salt level and time duration for soaking the vegetables, the most proper salt level for the fermenting brine, the percentage of each ingredient added, the ideal fermentation temperature and time. From many different trials, I found the best recipe with romaine salad spiced with horseradish, ramson berries, and garlic. Additionally, onions and some fruits were used from the style of Korean summer Kimchi. So, here goes our best recipe of 'Nordic' Kimchi from among different versions.

Figure 10. 'Nordic' Kimchi - Romaine, horseradish, and ramson

Figure 10. 'Nordic' Kimchi - Romaine, horseradish, and ramson

Romaine Kimchi

300g romaine lettuce leaves
100g sliced horse radish
5-6 cloves of garlic
10-15g of ramson berries or leaves
1/2 white onion
2 apples
2 pears
30g barley flour
~100-120g sea salt 
~4-5 L water 
1. Wash the romaine thoroughly, and soak it in 5% brine for about 2 hours (need to check every 30 min the texture of the leaves, if the green part is softened and the stem part is softer than before but still snappy, then it's ready).
2. Wash the romaine to remove all the salt and strain it until it is no longer dripping water but before it begins to dry out.
3. Boil 100g of water with 30g of barley flour to make a light porridge for about 6-8 minutes until it forms bubbles, and cool it down.
4. Peel all other ingredients (onion, garlic, apples and pears), blend them together in a thermomix, filter it through a very fine net (superbag) and reserve only liquid part (it is better to filter passively for a clearer liquid). Reserve the pulp for another purpose.
5. Make 2L of 2.5% brine (50g of salt + 1950g water) and mix with 50g of cooled barley porridge, and 100g of veg&fruits liquid.
6. Put all salted romaine, sliced horseradish, and ramson in the vacuum bag, pour in the prepared brine and seal.
7. Store at a cool temperature (10-15°C) for 3-4 days until the vacuum bag expands, which means the fermentation is active. Remove the air inside of the bag, seal it again, and move it to the fridge (4-5°C).
8. Store Kimchi in the fridge for about a week then it is ready to eat. Store for less time for less fermented taste, and longer time for more fermented and more sour taste – but then be careful of the leafy vegetables becoming soggy and too wilted.

Figure 11. Another trial of our white Kimchi based on savoy cabbage

Figure 11. Another trial of our white Kimchi based on savoy cabbage

The time for soaking the vegetables differs depending on the type. For example, if the vegetable has more rigid body such as white cabbage, then it needs more time to soak in the brine. The amount of spices is adjustable according to one’s taste. If you want more pungent flavour, add more horseradish or ramson. Make sure the barley flour is fine enough to not make the brine too cloudy. For more fresh sweet flavour, you can add extra sliced apples or pears. I haven’t tried with other types of container for fermenting Kimchi, but whatever the container you use I would recommend making sure that all vegetables are submerged in the brine as they are fermented. 

Figure 12. More Nordic Kimchi – Radish or Turnip, horse radish, ramson berry or sand leek

Figure 12. More Nordic Kimchi – Radish or Turnip, horse radish, ramson berry or sand leek

Further applications of 'Nordic' Kimchi

In Korea, Kimchi is used in many different ways in cooking, and especially the Kimchi juice is applied in various food preparation techniques. We put noodles in the Kimchi juice as a typical winter dish or we make a soup out of red Kimchi juice. Since the liquid part of Nordic Kimchi is also very refreshing, sour, salty, and also full of umami, we wanted to apply it in different ways.

I think this is where the project got really interesting. First, we tried to pickle different vegetables and fish in the Nordic Kimchi juice. Small vegetables such as baby carrot and baby cucumbers were pickled in Kimchi juice and stored in the fridge (4-5°C) for about 3-4 days, and baby cucumbers turned out very refreshing and tasty. It wasn’t too salty or too acidic, it was just right to eat in the salad or as a side dish of meal.

Figure 13. Pickling baby cucumbers in different Kimchi juices

Figure 13. Pickling baby cucumbers in different Kimchi juices

Figure 14. Kimchi-liquid-pickled baby carrots

Figure 14. Kimchi-liquid-pickled baby carrots

When mackerel was in season, we picked it in Nordic Kimchi juice with little bit of raw apple vinegar and onion. It was a good way to smooth any overly fishy smell and to soften the flesh of mackerel with acidity. At an event we did last summer called ‘Science at Sea’ held on the main harbour as part of the Science in the City festival organised by the City of Copenhagen, we served this dish as part of our menu: mackerel pickled in Nordic Kimchi juice with green apples and channelled wrack seaweed. The few hundred people we served enjoyed eating it even though most of them hadn’t tried Kimchi before. It could make a nice appetizer or also good snack on top of the bread, like Smørrebrød.

Figure 15. Pickled mackerel in Kimchi juice, green apples, seaweed – for Science at the sea event

Figure 15. Pickled mackerel in Kimchi juice, green apples, seaweed – for Science at the sea event

Then I tried dehydrating the Nordic Kimchi leaves and the juice. To minimize any changes on flavour and colour, the leaves and the juice were dehydrated below 35°C. Within a week, the leaves were still not totally crispy which was probably due to the low temperature, so the texture was still a bit chewy. But the flavour was very interesting. It was intensely salty but still sour with a good fermented taste of Kimchi. We fried some of the dehydrated Kimchi leaves and radishes and they were very savoury. We easily ate them just as a snack. I can see the potential of these dehydrated Kimchi as a beautiful and tasty garnish for a dish.

Figure 16.

Figure 16.

Figure 17. Dehydrating the Nordic Kimchi made of small radish and sand leek

Figure 17. Dehydrating the Nordic Kimchi made of small radish and sand leek

Figure 18. Kimchi finished being dehydrated

Figure 18. Kimchi finished being dehydrated

Figure 19. Fried dehydrated Nordic Kimchi leaves made of white cabbage and horseradish

Figure 19. Fried dehydrated Nordic Kimchi leaves made of white cabbage and horseradish

But the most interesting finding from dehydrating the Kimchi was actually the dehydrated Kimchi juice. It was also dehydrated below 35°C, but it seemed like some sort of caramelization was happening which made the colour, texture, and taste very different. Of course, these changes were also due to concentrating the juice, which already had many different contents. We called this dehydrated Kimchi juice ‘Kimchi salt’ since it was extremely salty with powerful umami and sourness. The flavour was very meaty and reminded us of wild mushrooms from the forest. The structure of it was also beautiful, a mixture of regular and irregular crystals. Looking at it through the sunshine was astonishing. We could easily imagine having a little bit of this Kimchi salt on top of vegetable salad or on bread with a soft layer of butter. It could also be a useful seasoning to give a powerful complex umami taste to a dish, especially one without meat.

Figure 20. Dehydrated Nordic Kimchi juice salt

Figure 20. Dehydrated Nordic Kimchi juice salt

Conclusion

Kimchi has great potential. It not only has beneficial impacts for our health, it is delicious with a balanced taste of saltiness, sourness and umami, and it can be applied many different ways in our cuisine. There are also many different ways to make Kimchi, just like this Nordic Kimchi which we created with certain geographical and cultural traits in mind. I am confident that we can also make all different types of Kimchi everywhere in the world with their own ingredients and adapted to their own conditions. Of course, every Kimchi won’t taste the same, which is the best part. I personally believe it is meaningful to share the identity of food between different cultures and it is interesting to re-create the taste and flavour of an existing food in other cultural and environmental conditions. So, if you are a big fan of Kimchi or any type of vegetable fermentation, I would like to recommend that you make your own Kimchi with your own bright ideas and little bit of craziness. It will make you surprised with joyful fermenting activity and unexpected great taste!

 

References

Chang, J.H., Shim, Y.Y., Cha, S.K., Chee, K.M. (2010), Probiotic characteristics of lactic acid bacteria isolated from kimchi, J Appl Microbiol.; 109, 220–230 

Han, Y. S., Park, I. S., Bum, B. S., Kang, M. W., Yoon, J. A., Park, H., Park, H. N., Gwon, G. H. (2012), Fermented Food (발효식품), Ch. 3 Kimchi (김치), 파워북 (Powerbook), Seoul, Korea

Jeong, J. K., Kim, Y. W., Choi, H. S., Lee, D. S., Kang, S. A., Park, K. Y. (2011), Increased quality and functionality of kimchi when fermented in Korean earthenware (onggi), Int J Food Sci Technol., 46, 2015–2021

Jung, J. Y., Lee, S. H., Jeon, C. O. (2014), Kimchi microflora: history, current status, and perspectives for industrial kimchi production, Appl Microbiol Biotechnol.; 98(6): 2385–2393.

Kim, M. J., Lee, K. T., Lee, A. R. (1996), Kimchi: The Taste of Thousand Years (김치 천년의 맛), Design House (디자인하우스), Seoul, Korea

Ko, K. H., Liu, W., Lee, H. H., Kim, I. C., (2013), Biological and Functional Characteristics of Lactic Acid Bacteria in Different Kimchi, J Korean Soc Food Sci Nutr (한국식품영양과학회지), 42(1), 89~95 

Lee, H. J. (2000), A Study on Kimchi, or Korean Traditional Dishes, Culture, 비교민속학 제18집 (2000. 2) pp.85-99 1598-1010 KCI

Noh, J. S., Kim, H. J., Kwon, M. J., Song, Y. O. (2009), Seasonal Changes in Quality of Chonggak Kimchi Fermented at Different Temperatures, J Korean Soc Food Sci Nutr (한국식품영양과학회지), 38(6), 742~749(2009)  

Park, C. L. (2005), 한국의 김치문화와 김치의 문화적 특성 (The Kimchi Culture in Korea and its Cultural Characteristics), Food Preservation and Processing Industry, Vol.4, No.1,

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.