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Category: Food and History

Best Fermented Foods from Around the World

Fermented foods have become popular again in recent years, largely due to health conscious individuals.

While Kimchi and Kombucha may have developed a new following in the west, fermented foods have been an integral part of communities across the globe.

Archeological evidence points out to fermentation being one of the oldest methods of food preservation. Its history dates back to the beginning of agriculture. From China and Fertile Crescent to Africa and Americas, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy, grains and fruits have been fermented into food and beverages.

Fermented processes were likely developed by women through trial and error. Food was not just preserved for winter, droughts or migration, but because these were considered as healing medicine beneficial to the body.

Fermented foods play an important role in gut health and growth of good bacteria. A study in Tanzania showed that gruel made with fermented grains reduced incidence of diarrhoea in children by 33%.

When you ferment grains and certain tubers, you reduce anti-nutrient compounds and increase absorption of vitamins. Active bacteria, yeast and mound cultures turn these foods into rich sources of Vitamin K, A, B12, thiamine, niacin, and protein-building acids like lysine and methionine.

Every region has at least one unique dish as a part of its cultural heritage. This food guide brings you unfamiliar foods other than yoghurts, sauces, pickles and cottage cheese.

Fermented foods from Asia

 

1. Kimchi – Korea

A Korean meal is incomplete without kimchi. Considered a national heritage, this fermented food has been prepared by families from the 7th century. Cabbage and other vegetables are cultured in their own juices/brine along with spices for 4-15 days.

2. Cheonggukjang/Doenjang – Korea

Source: James

Fermented soybean is blended into paste which is used to add flavour to different dishes. Cheonggukjang is a thinner paste that contains whole soybean, while Doenjang is a thicker and smoother paste.

3. Natto – Japan

This popular Japanese fermented dish is made with soybean and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

4. Miso – Japan/Korea

When a fungus (koji) meets soybean, salt and brown rice/barley, you get miso. This is said to have anti-ageing properties. Drink up your miso soup next time you’re at an Asian restaurant.

5. Tempeh – Indonesia

When live mold is added to soybean and left to ferment for 1-2 days, the resultant food is the cake-like tempeh.

 

6. Nem Chua – Vietnam

Source: Ron Diggity

Parts of lean pork are finely ground or boiled. These are mixed with roasted and powdered rice, salt, spices and covered with herbs. The mixture is then tightly wrapped in banana leaves and allowed to ferment.

7. Douchi/ Doubanjiang/Mianchi – China

Source: Food Mayhem

Douchi is a culinary paste made with fermented black beans, while Mianchi is fermented white beans. Doubanjiang is widely used in Sichuan cuisine and is made from fermented broad beans. This spicy paste also contains soybean, rice, salt, spices and sometimes, red chili.

8. Bagoong – Philippines

Source: Helga Webber

The fish sauce is made by fermenting salted fish or shrimp. When salted anchovies are fermented, you get Bagoong monamon.

9. Puto – Philippines

Source: Krista

This is steamed cake is made with fermented glutinous rice. Rice is soaked in water for 1-3 days and blended to a smooth batter. There are many variations of Puto which is usually eaten with coconut and butter.

10. Chin Som Mok – Thailand

Source: Takeaway

Pork (with skin) is fermented with glutinous rice. This is then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled.

11. Idli – SriLanka/ India

Source: Sakurako Kista

This south Indian breakfast dish has become popular across India. Rice and black bean are ground into a smooth batter. Batter is fermented overnight, steamed in special plates, and served with chutneys and sambar.

12. Dhokla – India

Source: Deapesh

Another steamed dish made with fermented batter, Dhokla is an essential breakfast food in Gujarat. Fermented batter contains chickpea flour, salt, spices and rock salt. The steamed cakes are served with hot and sweet chutneys,

13. Cahgem Pomba – India

Source: E-Pao

This healthy and delicious curry from Manipur is made with greens like spinach, mustard, dill, fenugreek, herbs like cilantro, and fermented soybean.

14. Jalebi – Pakistan/Nepal/India

Source: Risabh Mathur

This deep-fried dessert is made with fermented wheat batter. The translucent jalebis have a sweet-sour taste thanks to the sugar and bacteria culture.

15. Kombucha – Russia/Ukraine/Vietnam/Korea/Japan

A fermented concoction originated in Russia and Ukraine and is made with black tea, sugar and bacteria and yeast cultures. Sugar sources include honey, cane sugar or fruits. Use the same Kombucha starter to create fresh batches. The longer you ferment, the better the beverage.

 

Fermented foods from Africa

 

16. Injera – Ethiopia/Eritea

Source: Serene Vannoy

This national dish is fermented bread made with an ancient grain and a gluten-free alternative – Teff. The spongy bread with a tangy flavour is dunked into stews and eaten.

17. Togwa/Mahewu/Mabundu – Tanzanian/Zimbbawe/Africa

This fermented beverage or watered-down gruel is made with sorghum (chimera), finger millet, maize and cooked cornmeal (sazda) in a clay pot. The porridge is covered and placed in the sun for 2-3 days to ferment. It is drunk plain or with a little sugar.

18. Furundu/Ogiri– Sudan/Nigeria/West Africa

Source: Chnez blog

Sesame seeds are fermented with salt and water and pressed into cakes with a texture similar to tofu or miso. In Sudan, red sorrel seeds and Kawal leaves are fermented in the same way.

19. Garri/Gari – Nigeria/Ghana/Cameroon/Sierra Leone/West Africa

Source: David Hdez

Peeled and cubed Cassava roots are crushed into a pulp and excess water is drained out. The dried pulp is cooked in a large pot without or without palm oil to become the granular Garri. This is also pounded into a flour

20. Kenkey/Koneke/Dorkinu- Ghana/Guyana/benin/Togo/Jamaica

Source: Juxtapose^esopatxuj

This staple dish is essentially a sourdough dumpling made with corn or maize. Flour is fermented for a few days before the dough is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Other items like plantain, sweet potato, cassava, coconut or pumpkin are added to fermented dough in local variations of the recipe.

21. Dawadawa/Iru -Senegal/Uganda/Nigeria/West Africa

Source: Carsten ten Brink

Locust beans, fruit pulp and seeds, of the native tree, are fermented. These are pressed into balls or cakes (Dawadawa) and add to soups or a condiment. Iru is dried dawadawa flattened into discs.

 

Fermented foods from Americas

 

22. Sourdough Bread – USA

Different flours are mixed with wild yeast and water and baked into spongy breads with a distinct sour taste.

23. Poi – Hawaii/Polynesia

Source: Wikipedia

This fermented food is made from plant stems of taro. This is mashed and steamed or cooked into a thick liquid or dough-like paste.

24. Atole agrio – Mexico

Source: Marden Nolasco

A dough made with black maize is fermented for 4-5 days before becoming a tasty porridge. Bread is made from fermented maize dough in Peru(Tochos) and Brazil (Jamin-bang).

25. Curtido – El Salvador

Source: DLC

This is similar to kimchi and sauerkraut. This is a relish made with fermented cabbage, onions, carrots and, sometimes, lime juice.

Fermented foods from Europe

 

26. Kefir – Eastern Europe

Source: Wikipedia

A healthy beverage is obtained by adding kefir grains to milk and allowing it to ferment for 12 hours. Kefir grains are yeast and bacteria cultures that resemble clumps of cooked rice.

27. Sauerkraut – Germany/Europe

This fermented food, similar to Kimchi, is said to originate in China, but is a part of German and East European cuisine. One of the oldest traditional foods in which fresh cabbage pieces are left to ferment in its own juices or brine (salt water) for 3-4 weeks. The relish is added to many national dishes like Polish Bigos and Croatian Vepřo-knedlo-zel.

28. Crème fraiche – France

Sour cream is obtained by fermenting with lactic acid bacteria. Crème fraiche is used in hot or dessert sauces, as salad and soup toppings, and in desserts.

29. Smetana – Central/Eastern Europe/Russia

Source: Iban

This sour cream is similar to crème fraiche. Milk cream is cultured by naturally occurring or introduced lactic acid bacteria. It is used as garnish in dishes like Borscht, Blini, salad and dumplings.

30. Kisela repa/ Sauer ruben – Croatia/Eastern Europe

Source: Chef Mema

Turnip shreds are fermented in a mixture of salt and water. This is eaten either as a side dish or added to soups and salads.

31. Kiviak – Greenland

Source: Orrazz

This Inuit food is made by fermenting auks (small birds). These birds are preserved in the hollowed out body of a dead seal and buried in the ground.

32. Hakarl – Iceland

Source: Audrey

This is a dish made with shark meat. The meat is fermented, hang up and left to dry. It is cubed and served with other food.

33. Kvass – Russia

Source: Bernt Rostad

This non-alcoholic beverage is made from rye bread that is stale. Loaves are added to a container with salt, water, yeast and sugar and left to ferment for 2-3 weeks. It is popular in Russia as a digestive tonic. In Ukraine this is made with beet and used in soups and vinaigrettes.

Fermented foods from Middle East

 

34. Kushuk/Tarkana/Tarhanas – Iran/America/Greece/Central Asia/Eastern Europe

Source: MRG90

The dried fermented food is made with cracked wheat flour, sour milk or yoghurt, salt, spices, tarhana herb, and groats. After fermentation, the mixture is dried and coarsely ground. Cooked vegetables are added in variations. Kushuk is turned into a nourishing soup with addition of water, stock or milk.

35. Torshi /Tursu – Iran/Turkey/Morrocco/Middle East

Source: Baha’i Views / Flitzy Phoebie

Vegetables are fermented in brine that also contains aromatic herbs, spices and vinegar. The ingredients include celery, carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers, cabbage, aubergines and green tomatoes. This is then paced in glass jars and stored in a cool place for 2-3 months.

36. Doogh – Iran/Syria/Lebanon

Source: Jason Lam

This cold fermented drink is basically yogurt, salt and water. It is also a national drink of Turkey and called Ayran there. You’ll find variations of this beverage in Armenia, Afghanistan, Balkan regions, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

37. Shanklish/Surke – Syria, Lebanon, Egypt

Source: Charles Haynes

This fermented cheese is made from cow or sheep’s’ milk. It is turned into balls, covered with spices like aniseed, red chilli, Aleppo pepper and za’atar, and then dried and aged. The hardened cheese is eaten as a side dish, added to eggs, or as pita bread topping.

 

How many of these traditional fermented foods have your tried? Do you have a fermented food story to share with us?

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Natural Food Coloring – Healthy Alternatives from Traditional Kitchens

Mother nature, the original painter and chemist, has inspired countless humans with her vibrant coloured plant and animal life.

Our ancestors imbibed these qualities and borrowed from her treasure trove to create their own natural dyes. Their search for colours had a simple goal – to hide food imperfections, and turn plain meals into something attractive and appetising.

While they used safe ingredients like flowers, fruits, spices and vegetables as food colour, some harmful ores and minerals were also added to food in the ancient world.

With the discovery of synthetic dyes, natural ingredients lost their colourful place in the food table for over a century. Health concerns have once again forced people to search for better alternatives to artificial and toxic food dyes. While natural colours aren’t as vibrant as artificial food colours, they are safer.

If you want to imitate traditional food practices and enjoy associated health benefits, you’ll find many natural colouring agents from spices to flowers.

Vegetable Dyes

Carrot

Carrot juice or pulp provides a rich yellow or orange hue to soups, smoothies, desserts, curries and baked food. The sweetish flavour makes it an ideal food colour for pastries and desserts. Are you longing for some carrot cake?

Beet

Another root vegetable with a sweet flavour, beet adds a red tinge to cooked food and a pinkish hue to baked goods, including cupcakes. To add a bluish shade to your dish, mix beet with milk.

Red Cabbage

Red cabbage has been traditionally used by the Chinese to add colour to their dishes. When red cabbage is boiled in water, this juice adds a rich blue colour to your food.

Purple Yam/Ube

Image Courtesy – Adventure girl horizons

This tuber is used in Philippines to colour everything from ice creams to baked goodies in varying shades of purple. The slightly sweetish tasting vegetable makes a good addition to desserts and pastries.

Spinach and parsley

Thanks to their mild flavour, the greens are used as natural colourants in a variety of spicy, tangy or savoury foods. While you can use other leafy greens to get the bright green tint, the strong flavours can be overpowering.

Fruit Dyes

 

Pomegranate seeds

Pomegranate juice provides a vibrant shade of red to dishes ranging from smoothies to salads and soups.

Lemon

This citrus fruit doesn’t impart a colour on its own. When combined with other natural foods, the acidic content in lemon helps preserve the red colour in baked foods.

Orange and Tangerine

The rinds of these citrus fruits are used to give foods a reddish-orange hue.

Purple Grapes

Apart from their use in wines, this grape variety add a rich purple shade to many foods from desserts to jams.

Berries and cherries

With their vibrant colours, berriesin their cooked, blended or baked avatars are perfect natural colourants for different dishes. Use blackberries, mulberries and blueberries to get purple or violet shades, strawberry and cranberries for pink, or raspberries and cherries for red. The berry colours are best represented in juices, smoothies and no-bake desserts.

Chokeberry/Aronia Berry

This North American native fruit provides a pinkish-red or bright red colour to jellies, cookies, candies, and beverages.

Herb Hues

 

Galium Verum/Lady’s Bedstraw

Image Courtesy – Bjorn S

Flowering stems of this perennial plant were traditionally used to make both red and yellow coloured food dyes. Did you know that this plant can be used as rennet to make cheese or its seeds as a coffee substitute?

Bixa Orellana

Image Courtesy – Leonardo Ré-Jorge

Dried seeds of this bush were used by native American from Incas to Aztecs to add a yellow tinge to different foods.

Colourful Spices

 

Turmeric

This root spice has been used for centuries to impart a rich yellow shade to everything from curries and sides to pilafs and beverages. A little goes a long way whether you use turmeric in powder or root form.

Saffron

One of the oldest-in-use and expensive spices in the world, saffron imparts a brilliant yellow-orange tinge to food. Add a few strands to warm milk or water and let it stand for 5-10 minutes. Brighten up your rice dishes, creamy gravies, marinades. stews or desserts with saffron.

Paprika

If you’ve wondered how some Indian, Caribbean and Asian curries get their bright red colour, the answer lies with paprika. Depending on the amount used, this chilli colours your food in different shades of red.

Kashmiri chillies

Image Courtesy – aziatische

While the red effect is not as pronounced as with paprika, Kashmiri Chilli powder is natural food dye for sensitive stomachs. You can use a bit more than paprika as the heat content is much lower in this version of chilli.

Cinnamon

This spice has been used from ancient times by various cultures to provide a brownish shade and sweet flavour to plain foods.

Flower Power

 

Marigold/ Calendula

Use Marigold flowers for adding yellow, orange or red shades to continental foods. The petals are used as substitutes for saffron in colouring cheese, risotto and soups.

Safflower

This was often the common man’s alternative for saffron. The dried flowers provide a reddish hue compared to dark yellow-orange colour obtained from fresh ones.

Hibiscus

Another flower used as one of popular natural colourants, hibiscus gives a reddish tinge to beverages and teas.

Red Roses

Crushed red roses provide a vibrant pink-red colour to any dish of choice. This natural agent is mostly used in gourmet food and sweet dishes.

Animal Food Dyes

 

Squid Ink

To add a black colour to pasta and rice, many cooks continue to use squid ink.

Cochineal

Image Courtesy – Frank Vincentz

An ancient food dye used by Native Americans and Egyptians, this is derived from dried female insects – Coccus cacti. You can add red, pink or magenta shades to your food.

Orchella Weeds (Lichen)

This lichen variety provides a violet colour when boiled. Old French cookbooks mention this fungus as a natural dye for adding colour to wine and confectionery. When you combine this with an acid, you get a red shade. For blue hues, add an alkali.

Have you used any of these natural food dyes? Share your favourite recipes with us!

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Travelling Serbia through its Cuisine and History: Food Tours in Belgrade

Can a story of a place be told through food? May be at first it sound strange, food however is one of the most important elements of cultures. Local cuisines can tell more than any other medium about the region it comes from and its people, as well as reflect its social and economic changes. Learning about a cuisine of a country or even a certain historical period can be the best way to understand it and experience it to its fullest.

We met with Serbian food and travel expert Vladimir Gurbaj to learn more about local gastronomy and its place in Serbian culture and even history.

Vladimir Gurbaj

– Serbian cuisine is rather unknown abroad yet. What makes it special and why one should try it?

One of the main reasons for me doing my job – organizing cooking classes and food tours in Belgrade – is our food being so interesting yet still unknown and less recognizable on the world’s dinning table.

Serbian traditional cuisine contains a myriad of tastes and smells, much owing to the mixture of influences of various peoples who were just passing through or were living in this region. As is the case with the culture in general, this fusion of different influences resulted in originality, so that today a rich Serbian table offers unforgettable tastes that can only be enjoyed in Serbia!

– Serbia and the entire region has a fascinating and complicated history. How did it get reflected in the cuisine of the country?

Serbian cuisine can be roughly described as a mixture of Mediterranean, Turkish and Austro-Hungarian cuisine.

Our food is characterized not only of elements from Serbia, but of elements from the former-Yugoslavia as a whole. Peasantry has greatly influenced the cooking process. Due to numerous influences, Serbian cuisine has gathered elements from different cooking styles across the Middle East and Europe to develop its own hearty kitchen with an intricate balance of rich meats, cheese, fresh pastries and desserts.

– You have recently launched a fascinating Food Tour “Eat like Tito”. How do you manage to combine food and history? Can food really tell you stories?

You bet it can! Tito, dazzling scenery, great food, wine, digestive and a cigar for the end- a powerful, gorgeous, irresistible combination. We’ll take you to a journey to discover Tito’s favorite recipes and eats which he shared with international dignitaries including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, the Kennedys, Elisabeth Taylor, Richard Burton… Every meal went straight into history!

The story and the recipe of Karadjordje’s Steak is the key part of this experience. The “pre-cooking” experience includes some exclusive parts of Tito’s legacy interpreted by an art historian and stories from the people who cooked for him…

Food Market in Belgrade. Source: Annie Lambla

– Your tours are really unique! But how was your passion for cooking classes and food tours born?

My passion for cooking actually begins in my childhood with my granny who was a great home cook. She taught me how to make one of my specialties- plum dumplings.

Then, a couple of years ago, when I was traveling around Southeast Asia, I applied for a cooking class in Bangkok for the whole week, as I always adored Asian food, especially Thai. The experience was so interesting and addictive that I instantly got an idea to try initiate something similar in my hometown…

And that’s how the cooking experience was born! Of course, it took a lot of effort, work, patience and thinking… and a lot of support from family and friends.

– How do you plan a new food tour or a cooking class? What do you want to show or tell your guests first of all?

We want to infiltrate our guests into out food and social culture. We want them to get to know Serbian cuisine and tradition. Food preparation is a special part of the Serbian tradition and culture. In Serbian villages the kitchen was called “kuća” (house), while the center part of it- “ognjište”, was the hearth, which presented an important, cult place, next to which everyday-life took place and where the whole family gathered.

Plum Dumpling. Source: Tamara Polajnar

– Which food or drink is an absolute must-try in Serbia? What do you recommend to your guests?

Prebranac, kajmak, ajvar, čvarci, ćevapčići, rakija… For many of the Serbian national food specialties there isn’t a right word in the foreign language dictionaries, nor is there a taste they can be compared to. Therefore it is best that you come and taste them yourself! Or roll up your sleeves and learn to cook them with us!

An absolute must is a visit to a local old-style tavern, called “kafana”. Kafana is a term used in the former Yugoslav countries for a distinct type of local bistro which primarily serves alcoholic beverages and coffee, often also light snacks as well as other. Most kafanas feature live music performances. This is the place where locals are gathering to eat, drink and share their stories… This is what we always recommend to our guests.

Ćevapčići. Source: calixgrl

– Is food an important social affair in Serbia? Can you share some interesting Serbian tradition related to food?

Indeed! For example we have “Easter egg fight”. The rule of the game is simple. Each person grabs an egg and takes turns hitting the ends of each other’s eggs. The person whose end doesn’t crack wins the game. These eggs have a lot of symbolism. The red color symbolizes the blood Christ shed for our sins on the cross. When the egg is cracked and the insides are revealed, this symbolizes His resurrection.

The tradition is an important ethnic marker of Serb identity. Serbs usually regard “Slava” as their most significant and most solemn feast day. Slava is a Serbian Orthodox Christian tradition of the ritual glorification of one’s family’s patron saint. The family celebrates the Slava annually on the saint’s feast day.

Almost any other social or family affair is centered around food. We sit at the table, we eat, we talk, we enjoy, we share… And we raise many toasts. Živeli! Prijatno!

Bread with ajvar, Kafana. Source: Garrett Ziegler

About Serbia: Serbia, the country located in the centre of the Balkan Peninsula, in southeastern Europe, is one of the new tourist destinations, that becomes more and more popular every year. There are several reasons for it. Serbia has connected West with East for centuries – a land in which civilisations, cultures, faiths, climates and landscapes meet and mingle. The cultural and historical heritage of this country is rich with prehistoric archaeological sites and its legacy from classical antiquity and of course with famous mediaeval churches and monasteries, some of which are included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Serbia has a nice climate, close to Mediterranean, and has a lot of beautiful mountains, national parks, rivers and lakes, which are the perfect location for an active outdoor holiday – from hunting and fishing to extreme sports. And the last but not least tourist attraction is Serbian food – a unique mix of oriental, central European and local Balkan cuisines, it offers a great variety of unusual meals and interesting food traditions.

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