Added on by Youngbin Kim.

Researcher: Youngbin Kim
Start date: 03.04.2014
End date: 28.08.2014

Sik-hae is a Korean traditional fermented fish product with flounder, cooked grain, red chili powder, garlic, and sometimes with vegetables and malt extract. I experimented with developing a similar technique for flounder here in Denmark. I used a mixture of cracked barley and cracked rye for the cooked grains, horseradish and garlic for spicing, and 10% salt of the whole weight of fish for initial salting treatment. The final result is versatile, for example providing a different topping for the classic Danish smørrebrød.

Sik-hae is a Korean traditional fermented fish product with cooked grain, red chili powder, garlic, and sometimes with vegetables and malt extract. In Korean, it is written as ‘식해’, which could be written in Chinese as ’食醢’. ‘食’ means ‘eat’ or ‘grains’ and ‘醢’ means ‘salted or fermented seafood’ (Lee & Cho, 2004). This type of seafood fermentation originates from South East Asia (Thailand, Laos, Myanmar) where fish is abundant and the staple is rice (Lee, 1983). Fermenting seafood provides a way to preserve it and gain stable access to a protein source, and this fermenting technique for proteinous substrates needs less salt than some others which helped to save expensive salt in these regions (The Academy of Korean Studies). In addition, it fits well with plain rice as a salty side dish.

It is believed that fish fermentation with cooked grains was introduced through China to Korea, where it came to be made with red chili powder, possibly to have similar properties as Kimchi (Lee, 1983). The Korean province of Ham-Kyung on the north-east coast of the Korean peninsula is the most famous area for Sik-hae, where it is typically made with small flounder and cooked millet (Suh, 1987). Due to the local climate conditions, fish was available all year though it was a challenge to maintain a constant supply of salt. Therefore cooked millet was used to reduce the amount of salt needed to preserve the fish (Suh, 1987). Millet is the most typical grain with which to make Sik-hae in Korea, however rice or a mixture of rice and millet is also used in southern areas (Suh, 1987). Flat fish are the most common types of fish used to make Sik-hae, though other types of fish such as cod, pollack and hairtail can be also used, and even octopus and squid are used in some parts of Korea (Suh, 1987). 

Traditional Sik-hae in Korea, online source (reference)

Traditional Sik-hae in Korea, online source (reference)

Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and the enzymes on and in the fish begin the fermentation process (Lee & Cho, 2004). Cooked grain is a source of carbohydrates for LAB and as the fermentation develops lactic acid increases which lowers pH and prevents spoilage (Katz, 2012). Malt extract is also added in some areas in Korea and plays a role in saccharifying the cooked grains so that the LAB gain more access to these nutrients and the fermentation progresses more quickly. Fermentation temperature differs by region, but occurs mostly around 15-20°C (Lee & Cho, 2004). In general, the fermentation takes around 5-7 days, at which point it can be stored in the fridge to keep from becoming too strong.  

Danish flounder

Danish flounder

To explore new tastes from fish fermentation beyond just pickling in vinegar, and since flounder is an abundant flatfish in Denmark, I began to ferment these flounders with this Korean fish fermentation technique. However, it was quite tricky to find the proper salt level, the time for salting the fish in the first treatment, the proportion of fish, grains, other ingredients, and the ideal substitutes for millet, chili powder and ginger. The recipes I could find in Korean references were very different from each other, so it was hard to compromise. Therefore, to figure out these essential questions, I tried several experiments mainly differing in salt amount, type of grains, and the addition of spicing. The proportion of all ingredients was adjusted in each prototype but it didn’t change a lot from the first trial.

Early salt optimisation trials

Early salt optimisation trials

For the final recipe, I used a mixture of cracked barley and cracked rye for the cooked grains, horseradish and garlic for spicing, and 10% salt of the whole weight of fish for initial salting treatment. 

Trials with barley, rye, and barley and rye

Trials with barley, rye, and barley and rye

Ready to be fermented – flounder, barley and rye, horseradish and caraway

Ready to be fermented – flounder, barley and rye, horseradish and caraway

'Nordic' Sik-hae

1. Remove the head and organs of the flounders, and salt them whole for about 24 hours with 10% salt of the fish weight.
2. Wash off the salt from the fish and cut into pieces (4-5 pieces per each flounder), then dry for 3-4 hours in direct sunlight.
3. Boil cracked barley and cracked rye separately in water until they get like firm boiled rice.
4. Prepare all the ingredients:

600g fish, after being salted and sun-dried
100g cooked cracked barley
100g cooked cracked rye
100g ground vegetables (20g of each of garlic, ginger, onion, apple, pear. Grind with thermo-mix until it becomes a puree)
70g horseradish
10g malt extract
10g barley malt
10g caraway

5. Mix all the ingredients with the fish and seal in the vacuum bag. Store for more than 7 days in cool temperature (about 8-12°C) without direct sunlight, then move to the fridge (4-6°C)

Flounder sun-drying for a while after being salted overnight

Flounder sun-drying for a while after being salted overnight

Caraway can be substituted by other spices depends on one’s preference. Among several trials, mustard seeds and white pepper were also good and harmonized well with the horseradish flavour. 

Sik-hae trials with different seasonings

Sik-hae trials with different seasonings

The overall taste of the fermented fish is sour, kind of sweet, and refreshing from the horseradish and caraway. It is very savory so that it fits as a snack or meal with rice or bread. The texture gets softer as time goes on. Fermenting for 3-4 weeks gave the most interesting and enjoyable taste and texture. In Korea, we eat it raw as a cold side dish, but the Nordic version tasted too raw to eat as it was. We cooked the pieces of fish in a pan with a small amount of vegetable oil. It was very good, crispy outside and soft and moist inside with harmonized horseradish and caraway flavour. 

Once we had a Danish visitor on the boat – she tasted this Nordic Sik-hae and said she could imagine eating it with a slice of rye bread like pickled herring. So, I tried several times to make a dish inspired by ‘smørrebrød’, the Danish traditional open-faced sandwiches. One day for lunch we used the pan-fried sik-hae flounder to top some smørrebrød, along with kimchi made with turnip and sand leek, fresh puffball mushrooms brushed with mackerel garum, a few sand leek seeds, crème fraîche and dill. There was a balance between the sour and fermented fish flavour, the crisp fish skin, freshness from kimchi, fresh savouriness from the mushroom and round creamy flavours from the crème fraîche.

I can also imagine eating little bit of cooked Nordic Sik-hae on top of Kimbap which could taste similar to sushi. But for this there should be further investigations for balancing the flavours.

Different types of Sik-hae with Kimbap

Different types of Sik-hae with Kimbap



Katz, S. E. (2012), The Art of Fermentation, Ch.12 Fermenting Meat, Fish, and Eggs, p.355-356, Chelsea Green Publishing, United States of America

Lee, C. H., Cho, T. S., Lim, M. H., Kang, J. W., Yang, H. C. (1983), Studies on the Sik-hae Fermentation Made by Flat-fish, Kor. J. Appl. Microbiol. Bioeng., Vol. 11, No.1, 53-58

Lee, M. W., Cho, K. Y. (2004), Salted fish, Part 6. p.104-106, Gimmyoung-sa, Paju, Korea

Suh, H. K. (1987), A study on the Regional Characteristics of Korean Chotgal – the ways of preservation of chotgal - , Kor. J. Diet. Culture., Vol.2, No.2 

The Academy of Korean Studies (한국민족문화대백과), online terminology search,, accessed on 6th Aug 2014

DIY Agar

Added on by Justine de Valicourt.

Project: Agar extraction from Gracilariaceae spp.
Start date: Summer 2013
Researcher: Justine de Valicourt
Goal: To extract agar from Gracilariaceae spp. and compare the results of two techniques by clarity, yield, strength and ease of method.

Working with algae was one of the lab’s first projects, and it gave a lot of results: from developing further applications for Nordic species of kelp and dulse to a scientific paper published in Flavour Journal on seaweeds for umami taste. In addition to aroma and umami, some species also exhibit interesting textural properties – indeed many commercially available hydrocolloids are derived from algae species.
In the summer of 2013 I wondered if we could take our seaweed research further and develop our own agar at the lab. Agar is found naturally in species of Gracilariaceae – a family some species of which grow in some of Denmark’s fjords. We obtained some of ours, Gracilaria vermiculosa, from Holckenhavn Fjord on the Danish island of Fyn, and also made trials with dry one from a local hydrocolloid company CP Kelco and a fresh salted one from Roland Rittman, a local forager based in southern Sweden.


1. Simple extraction by heat (Neutral Agar/NA)
a) Rinse the algae in clear water a few times until the water stays fresh (clear and unsalty).
b) Cook in a pressure cooker at 15kPa (~120°C) for 2 hours.
c) Pass through a sieve and press so the algae are puréed through it.
d) Let it gel.
e) Freeze.
f) Thaw.
g) Decant and discard the clear water.
h) Dehydrate in fine layers. Conserve in a dry environment.

2. Extraction using heat, NaOH (lye water) and sun bleaching (Lye water Agar/LA).
a) Rinse the algae in clear water a few times until the water stays fresh (clear and unsalty).
b) Cook in a 5% solution of NaOH, with ~500mL of solution per 50g rehydrated or fresh algae, for 2 hours at 85°C.
c) Rinse and put in fresh water under the sun for 5 hours or more.
d) Rinse and conserve in cold water overnight.
e) Cook in a pressure cooker at 15kPa (~120°C) for 2 hours.
f) Pass through a sieve and press so the algae are puréed through it.
g) Let it gel.
h) Freeze.
i) Thaw.
j) Decant and discard the clear water.
k) Dehydrate in fine layers. Conserve in a dry environment.

3. Extraction using heat and sun bleaching (Sun Agar/SA).
a) Rinse the algae in clear water a few times until the water stays fresh (clear and unsalty).
b) Keep in the sun for 5 hours or more.
c) Rinse and conserve in cold water overnight.
d) Cook in a pressure cooker at 15kPa (~120°C) for 2 hours.
e) Pass through a sieve and press so the algae are puréed through it.
f) Let it gel.
g) Freeze.
h) Thaw.
i) Decant and discard the clear water.
j) Dehydrate in fine layers. Conserve in a dry environment.

Fresh Gracilaria soaking to remove salt

Fresh Gracilaria soaking to remove salt

Gracilaria in the process of sun-bleaching

Gracilaria in the process of sun-bleaching

early prototype of dried extracted agar, in sheet form

early prototype of dried extracted agar, in sheet form


Table 1. appearance, smell and yield of six different trials using the three tested techniques

Table 1. appearance, smell and yield of six different trials using the three tested techniques

LA technique vs. NA technique

LA technique vs. NA technique


The NA technique was mostly done with the salted fresh algae and the dry one, and the SA was tried only with the self-picked Gracilaria from Fyn. The LA technique was used with all the sources of seaweed as a base for comparison and because the LA result from the first experiment was the most prime – it looked and smelled the best. We tried to make a 0.7% gel from the dehydrated LA and the result was slightly less strong than the one from a commercially extracted agar powder. The NA worked too, with a gel almost as strong as the LA one; however, it was greenish with some seaweed taste, and a disturbing wet dog smell.

Next steps will be to try the technique on a bigger scale, and to see if we can improve the clarity and neutrality of the result obtained from the self-harvested algae.

Fresh Gracilaria harvested in Holckenhavn Fjord on Fyn.

Fresh Gracilaria harvested in Holckenhavn Fjord on Fyn.


I recommend the technique using lye water and sun bleach, both for the neutrality of taste and colour. The source of the Gracilaria has a big influence on the final result, and we want to work more on achieving a neutral taste and colour with the self-harvested seaweed. Our techniques for cleaning and bleaching it can be improved. Ultimately I was satisfied to discover that it is possible and quite easy to produce one’s own agar at home with very little equipment.

This technique has been adapted from:

Li, H. and J. Huang, Journal of Applied Phycology, Optimization and Scale-Up of a New Photobleaching Agar Extraction Process from Gracilariacea Lemaneiformis. April 2009, Vol.21 (2) p 247-254.

Nixtamalisation: the secret of the tortilla

Added on by Santiago Lastra.

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


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’ 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.

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 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.

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 tongue-in-cheek 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!


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.


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.



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. <>.

Lopez Nuñez, K.M., et al., 2015. Producción Industrial de Alimentos. <>.

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.



Added on by Youngbin Kim.

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

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.



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, , accessed on 5th Aug 2014

Wikipedia online, , accessed on 5th Aug 2014


Cooking with Alkali

Added on by Alec Borsook.

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

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.


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.



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


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.


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.


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 []

Figure 2. Kimchi in Ong-gi, buried in the ground []

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


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!



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.

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. 

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.

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.

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).


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)
+ 60g (2%) dried blackcurrant
+ 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

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.

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.

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.



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.

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”


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.



Dahlager, Lars. ‘Nordisk er ved til at blive et pøbel-brand for storindustrien’. Politiken. 11.11.2014. 14.5.2015. <>.

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. <>.

Lersch, Martin. ‘Has molecular gastronomy reached the plateau of productivity?’ Khymos. 26.1.2009. 14.5.2015. <>. 

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. <>.

Nordic Council of Ministers. ‘New Nordic Food’. Ny Nordisk Mad. 2008. 14.5.2015. <>. 

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. <>.

Scrutton, Alastair. ‘Tomatoes, peppers, strawberries in Greenland’s Arctic valleys’. Reuters. 26.3.2013. 14.5.2015. <>.

Verheul, Michèl J. ‘An efficient method for organic greenhouse production in Norway’. Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research. 14.5.2015. <>.


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:

Happy listening!

- the NFL team

Su Nenniri

Added on by roberto flore.

by Roberto Flore


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.

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. 

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

credit: Afton Halloran

It was a good time.



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:

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

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

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:

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                                   

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 Hall