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Fermented foods have been having a moment in the spotlight lately. If you’ve been experimenting with fermenting your own foods chances are you’ve started out with options like saurkraut, kimchi and have maybe even sourced your own kombucha SCOBY.
But if you’re itching to expand your repertoire it is good to know these foods are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the world of cultured cuisine. From soybean-based natto to the African milk drink Amasi, there’s a whole universe of lesser-known fermented foods out there waiting to be discovered. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most interesting and unique fermented foods from around the world, and why they’re worth adding to your diet. Whether you’re a seasoned fermenter or just starting to dip your toe into the world of probiotics, these lesser-known fermented foods are sure to surprise and delight.
Rejuvelac is a fermented beverage made from sprouted grains, typically wheat or barley. It is a non-alcoholic, probiotic drink that is often consumed for its health benefits.
The process of making Rejuvelac involves sprouting the grains, then fermenting them in water for a period of time, usually 2 to 3 days. The resulting liquid is then strained and consumed as a drink. Rejuvelac is often described as having a tangy, sour flavor and is sometimes used as a base for other fermented drinks, such as kombucha.
The origins of Rejuvelac are somewhat unclear, but it is believed to have originated from the natural health and wellness movement in the United States in the mid-20th century, a relatively modern origin compared to many other fermented foods. It was popularized by Ann Wigmore, a health educator and advocate of raw foods and natural healing, who claimed that Rejuvelac was a powerful and rejuvenating tonic that could improve digestion and support overall health. The practice of making and consuming Rejuvelac has since spread and is now popular among many health-conscious individuals, particularly those following a raw food or plant-based diet. Although the name sounds vaguely Scandinavian in origin, it is actually derived from the Latin word “rejuvenare,” which means “to rejuvenate,” reflecting Wigmore’s belief in the beverage’s ability to restore health and vitality.
Rejuvelac is believed to offer several health benefits, including:
Amasi, also known as “maas,” “amaasi,” or “uhu,” is a traditional cultured milk beverage from many areas of Africa. It is made by fermenting fresh milk with a mixture of lactic acid bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms, which gives it a tangy, slightly sour flavor. Amasi is a staple food in many households in many African countries and is consumed by people of all ages.
Amasi has been made and consumed for centuries. The exact history of amasi is not well documented, but it is believed to have been made by indigenous people for many generations and has been an important source of nutrition and sustenance in many communities.
Amasi is typically made from cow’s milk, but it can also be made from goat or sheep milk. The milk is left to ferment for several hours or overnight, resulting in a thick, creamy beverage with a consistency similar to yogurt. The flavor of amasi is slightly sour and tangy, with a slightly yeasty aroma. It is often consumed on its own or used as a base for soups and sauces.
In addition to its delicious flavor, amasi is also known for its health benefits. Like other fermented foods, amasi is rich in probiotics, which can help to improve digestive health and support a healthy immune system. The lactic acid produced during fermentation also helps to preserve the milk and increase its shelf life.
If you’re interested in trying amasi, it can sometimes be found in specialty food stores or African markets, or you can make your own by fermenting fresh milk with a starter culture. However, unlike the more commonly known cultured milk beverage kefir, that required specific grains, the types of yeast used to create amasi are much more varied. It is possible to make amasi using yeast purchased from the store. However, the yeast used in amasi production should really be specifically formulated for dairy fermentation, as this will help ensure a consistent and desirable result.
Using a general-purpose yeast or a yeast that is not formulated for dairy fermentation may result in a final product with an off-flavor, an inconsistent texture, or other quality issues.
Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans. It has a strong, nutty flavor and a sticky, stringy texture that is often described as unique and acquired. Natto is typically served over steamed rice and is often eaten for breakfast in Japan.
The fermentation process for natto involves boiling soybeans and then mixing them with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. The mixture is then allowed to ferment for several hours or overnight, and the resulting product is a sticky, pungent food that is rich in nutrients and enzymes.
Natto is considered a superfood in Japan and is believed to have numerous health benefits, including improved digestion, stronger bones, and a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers. It is also a good source of protein and contains high levels of vitamins B and K, as well as antioxidants.
While natto is popular in Japan, people trying it for the first time can find the flavor and texture to be unappealing. Natto has a strong, pungent flavor that can be unappealing to some people who are trying it for the first time. The texture is also often described as slimy and sticky, which can be off-putting to some people. Additionally, the smell of natto is sometimes described as overpowering, which can also make it difficult for some people to enjoy.
Making natto at home can be a bit challenging, as it requires a specific type of bacteria to be present and a precise fermentation process. However, it is definitely possible to make it at home if you have the right tools and ingredients.
To make natto, you would first need to purchase soybeans and a starter culture of natto bacteria, which can be found online or at some Asian grocery stores. Then, you would need to soak the soybeans, steam them, and add the natto bacteria to start the fermentation process. The soybeans would then need to be kept in a warm, humid environment for around 24-48 hours until the natto has developed its characteristic slimy texture.
Kvass is a traditional fermented drink that originated in Russia and is also popular in other Eastern European countries. It is typically made by fermenting bread, often rye bread, with water and sugar, and sometimes flavored with fruits or herbs. The fermentation process produces a slightly tangy, slightly sour, and slightly sweet beverage that is low in alcohol content.
Kvass has a long history in Russian cuisine, dating back to the Middle Ages when it was often consumed as a refreshing and nutritious drink. Today, it is still a popular beverage in Russia and other countries, and can be found in stores or made at home.
In addition to its refreshing taste, kvass is also thought to have some health benefits. It is a good source of probiotics and other beneficial bacteria, which can aid in digestion and support gut health. It also contains some vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and iron, although the nutrient content can vary depending on the ingredients used.
Kvass has a unique taste and texture compared to other popular fermented drinks like kombucha or kefir. While kombucha is often described as slightly tart and fizzy, and kefir is often described as tangy and slightly sour, kvass has a distinctive slightly tangy, slightly sour, and slightly sweet taste that can vary depending on the ingredients used. Another difference is the alcohol content. Kvass is generally low in alcohol, with less than 1% alcohol by volume, while kombucha and kefir can contain slightly higher levels of alcohol due to the fermentation process.
It is relatively easy to make kvass at home with just a few simple ingredients and tools. To make kvass, you would typically start by mixing rye bread (or another type of bread) with sugar, water, and any desired flavorings such as fruit or herbs. The mixture is then left to ferment for a few days, until it reaches the desired flavor and level of carbonation.
While the process of making kvass is relatively straightforward, it does require a bit of patience and attention to detail. It’s important to use high-quality ingredients and to follow the recipe closely to ensure that the kvass ferments properly and doesn’t spoil.
While Japan may not be as well-known for its fermented foods as its kim-chi making neighbor Korea, Japan also has a rich tradition of fermenting foods, including nukazuke, a type of pickle made by fermenting vegetables in a mixture of rice bran, salt, and water.
Nukazuke has a long history in Japan, dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868). During this time, Japanese farmers discovered that they could preserve vegetables by fermenting them in a mixture of rice bran, salt, and water. The resulting pickles, known as nukazuke, were a tasty and nutritious way to preserve vegetables for long periods of time.
Over time, nukazuke became a popular snack and side dish in Japan, enjoyed by people of all ages. In fact, many Japanese households have their own nukadoko, or rice bran bed, where they ferment their own nukazuke at home.
In addition to being a tasty and convenient way to preserve vegetables, nukazuke is also known for its health benefits. The fermentation process breaks down the vegetables’ complex carbohydrates into simple sugars, making them easier for the body to digest. Nukazuke is also rich in lactic acid bacteria, which are beneficial for gut health.
To make nukazuke, you’ll need a nukadoko, a special mixture of rice bran, salt, and water that is used to ferment the vegetables. The nukadoko is rich in lactic acid bacteria, which help to ferment and preserve the vegetables. To start the process, you’ll first need to mix the rice bran, salt, and water together in a container. Then, add any desired flavorings such as ginger, garlic, or chili pepper. The mixture is then left to ferment for several days, until it becomes rich and fragrant.
Once the nukadoko is ready, you can start making the nukazuke. Simply dip the vegetables you want to pickle into the nukadoko and let them sit for a few hours or overnight, until they have absorbed the flavors and become slightly soft
Nukazuke is actually quite easy to make at home with just a few simple ingredients and tools. All you really need is a nukadoko, which can be purchased online or made from scratch using rice bran, salt, and water.
Idli is a type of savory rice cake that is a popular breakfast food in southern India. It is made by grinding soaked rice and urad dal (a type of lentil) into a batter, which is then fermented overnight. The fermented batter is then steamed in special molds to create the characteristic shape of an idli.
Idlis are typically served with sambar, a spicy lentil soup, and coconut chutney. They are known for being light, fluffy, and easy to digest, making them a popular choice for breakfast.
In addition to being a tasty and convenient breakfast food, idlis are also a healthy choice. They are low in fat, high in protein, and a good source of carbohydrates. The fermentation process used to make idlis also increases the bioavailability of certain nutrients in the rice and lentils, making them more nutritious.
Idlis are a staple food in many parts of southern India, and they have become popular in other parts of the country as well. They are also enjoyed in other countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, where they are often served in Indian restaurants.
The exact origins of idli are uncertain, but it is believed to have originated in present-day Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. Idlis are mentioned in some of the earliest Tamil literature, suggesting that they have been a popular food in the region for centuries.
The earliest known recipe for idli dates back to the 10th century, in a Sanskrit cookbook called the “Manasollasa” written by the Chalukya king, Somesvara III. The recipe describes soaking rice and urad dal, grinding them together, and then fermenting the mixture for several hours before steaming it in molds.
Over time, idli spread to other parts of southern India and became a popular breakfast food. In the 1930s, a businessman named Ennai Krishnappa invented a machine to grind the rice and lentils for idli batter, making the process faster and more efficient. This helped to popularize idli even further and led to its widespread availability in restaurants and homes throughout India.
While making idli at home does require some preparation and planning, it is generally considered to be a relatively simple and straightforward process. The main challenge is in preparing the batter and ensuring that it ferments properly.
Gundruk is a traditional fermented vegetable dish from Nepal. It is made by fermenting leafy greens, typically mustard greens, spinach, or radish greens, with water and salt for several days or weeks until they are sour and slightly acidic. The fermented greens are then dried in the sun, which further enhances their flavor and preserves them for later use.
Gundruk is a staple food in many Nepali households and is used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, and curries. It is known for its tangy, slightly sour flavor and is often paired with rice or other grains.
In addition to its unique flavor, gundruk is also a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, iron, and calcium. It is also rich in probiotics, which can help to improve gut health and support overall health and immunity.
Gundruk has a long history in Nepal, dating back to ancient times. It was originally used as a way to preserve leafy vegetables like mustard greens and spinach for long periods of time, allowing people to have access to vegetables even during the harsh winter months. Over time, gundruk became a staple food in Nepali cuisine, enjoyed both for its taste and its health benefits.
Gundruk is such an important part of Nepali culture that it is even mentioned in some of the country’s traditional folk songs and stories. It has also become popular in other parts of the world, particularly among people who are interested in exploring different cuisines and trying new foods.
Making gundruk at home can be a bit time-consuming and requires some patience, but it is definitely doable if you have the right ingredients and equipment. The process involves picking and washing the green leafy vegetables, chopping them up, and letting them ferment for a few days. You can then dry the fermented greens in the sun or use a dehydrator to preserve them for later use.
While the steps may seem simple enough, there is some nuance to the process that can affect the final result. For example, the temperature and humidity in your environment can impact the fermentation process and the quality of the gundruk. Additionally, some types of leafy vegetables are better suited for making gundruk than others.
Laphet is a traditional Burmese food that consists of fermented tea leaves mixed with various ingredients such as nuts, seeds, garlic, and chili peppers. It is commonly known as “Burmese tea leaf salad” and is often served as a starter or side dish in Myanmar. The fermented tea leaves used in laphet are grown exclusively in Myanmar and have a distinct earthy and tangy flavor. The dish is often topped with crispy fried garlic and shallots, and can be enjoyed with rice or on its own.
The history of laphet dates back to the time of the Burmese kings, who used to offer the tea leaves to Buddhist monks as a token of respect and gratitude.
According to legend, the custom of making and consuming fermented tea leaf salad began during the time of King Bodawpaya, who ruled from 1782 to 1819. The king is said to have been fond of pickled tea leaves and encouraged their cultivation across the kingdom.
Over time, the tradition of pickling tea leaves evolved into a sophisticated culinary art, with different regions of Myanmar developing their own unique styles and variations of the dish.
Today, laphet is considered an essential part of Myanmar’s cultural heritage and is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. It is typically served as a snack or appetizer, and is often accompanied by other traditional Burmese dishes such as rice and curry.
Making laphet at home can be a bit challenging because it requires fermenting the tea leaves, and the process can take a few days. However, with some patience and attention to detail, it is definitely doable! To make laphet, you need tea leaves, water, salt, and sometimes spices like garlic and ginger. The tea leaves are first wilted and then fermented for a few days. After fermentation, the leaves are rinsed, drained, and mixed with salt and spices before being left to dry in the sun. Once dry, the leaves can be stored for later use or eaten immediately.
Tepache is a traditional Mexican fermented beverage made from pineapple, water, brown sugar, and cinnamon. The ingredients are combined and left to ferment for a few days, resulting in a lightly effervescent, tangy, and slightly sweet beverage. Tepache has a long history in Mexican cuisine, with roots dating back to pre-Hispanic times, when indigenous peoples fermented a variety of fruits and drinks.
In addition to its delicious taste, tepache is also believed to have numerous health benefits, such as aiding digestion and improving gut health. It is also relatively easy to make at home, with many variations and recipes available online.
It is believed to have originated in Pre-Columbian times and was consumed by the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The drink is made from pineapple rinds, spices, and brown sugar, which are mixed together in water and left to ferment for a few days. The resulting drink is slightly alcoholic, with a sweet and tangy taste.
Tepache was a popular drink among the Aztecs, who believed that it had medicinal properties. They used it to treat digestive problems and as a remedy for hangovers. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they brought with them the practice of distilling alcohol, and tepache became a base for the production of other alcoholic beverages.
Today, tepache is still enjoyed throughout Mexico and is also gaining popularity in other countries. Its history and cultural significance make it a unique and interesting beverage to try and learn more about.
Tepache is relatively easy to make at home with just a few simple ingredients. The basic recipe involves fermenting pineapple rinds, brown sugar, and spices like cinnamon and cloves for a few days, resulting in a sweet and tangy drink that is both refreshing and satisfying. While there are many variations of the recipe, the basic process is fairly straightforward and can be done with minimal equipment. With a little patience and experimentation, anyone can make their own delicious batch of tepache at home.
Whether you’re looking to try something new or expand your culinary horizons, experimenting with unique fermented foods can be a fun and rewarding experience. So why not try your hand at making some of the foods on this list and see how you like them? Who knows, you may discover a new favorite food that becomes a staple in your diet.
Remember, the key to successful fermentation is patience and attention to detail. Follow the recipes closely and don’t be afraid to experiment with different ingredients and flavors to create your own unique versions. Happy fermenting!