I am sitting here with thirty pages of research printed off, a dozen other studies open in my browser, and another blogger’s research article opened. It can be information overload when researching this topic! That’s what I don’t want to do with you all. So I will be taking one aspect of fermented grains at a time. Today I wanted to answer the question, “Is fermenting (sometimes called soaking) grains really a traditional practice?”
After I was first introduced to fermented (or soaked) grains, I began to notice traditional fermented bread products, such as the delicious and hearty traditional dark sourdough rye breads, and the injera served at the Ethiopian restaurants. I found these tangy breads intriguing and delicious.
When I started trying to research this subject in earnest, I quickly found one resource helpful in learning more about the history of fermented grains as well as getting overall information on the topic. Fermented Cereals: A Global Perspective has a lot of information both on the history and the topic in general. It’s long, but it makes a great starting point if you are interested in the topic.
One of the topics they discuss are the fermented grains that are currently being made still in underdeveloped countries (yes, there are some places that wonder bread hasn’t quite reached yet!). It was interesting to read the different methods and recipes for fermented grains.
They also have outlines of the process went through to ferment the grains and it can be quite the production! You have to ask yourself, why were people so willing to put so much work into preparing their grains (and legumes)? It’s not as if they didn’t have better things to do! The care, time and work they put into fermenting their grains is very interesting to me. Also interesting to me is the fact that they mill (or remove the bran and even the germ and endosperm) in some of the grain ferments. Sometime to mull about for sure!
But let’s look at some of the grain and legumes ferments mentioned in this article and elsewhere.
- The fermentation culture “chu” is used in the Asia Pacific area to ferment cereal based wines, soy sauce, fish and meat sauces, sour breads, and fermented porridges and snacks.
- Many “acid leavened” breads and flat breads are consumed on a daily basis in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet as well as other neighboring countries. A few examples include Idli, which is a fermented batter made from legume and rice flour and fried into a thin “pancake” and Dosas (very similar to Idli). There are Korean and Philippine fermented rice flour doughs that are similar except they don’t contain legume flour. Brem is a special snack in Indonesia which is a solid cake made from fermented rice.
- Mungbean Starch noodles and Thai rice noodles are traditionally made with fermented batters as well.
- Soy sauce, Miso and Natto are all fermented products (also made with starters)
- Ogi is a traditional weaning food in Africa and is made from fermented maize, sorgum, or millet.
- Kenkey is a fermented maize dough made in Ghana and the end product sounds somewhat similar to tamales. The dough is steamed wrapped in plantain leaves.
- Banka is made from maize and cassava and is also fermented.
- Other fermented products include: Bogobe, Koko and, Mawe, Mahewu (magou), Uji, Kisra, Enjara
- Acupe -Beverage based on germinated maize, fermented and sweetened Arroz requemado- Fermented rice grains
- Cachiri -Fermented beverage based on maize, manihot or fruits. It is produced in clay pots
- Jamin-bang -Bread based on maize fermented for 3-6 days and cooked as a cake.
- Toco- Dessert based on maize fermented for 2-3 months and cooked
- Swiss Rye Breads (Dr. Price was impressed with the health of the Swiss who ate a sourdough rye bread daily)
- American Sourdoughs have a long tradition in our country.
- Beers-Traditionally many beers were very low alcohol, but full of important enzymes (more like a kombucha!).
- Tolokno-soaked oats, dried, cooked with milk or broth
- Oat kisel’, a soured oat dish. The oats were sprouted, fermented and dried and then cooked and strained. This made a kind of sour gelatin.
I think that it goes without saying that fermented grains were and are an important part of food production in the past and present. And to emphasis the care that went into these ferments, I wanted to give the description of two Russian ferments, Tolokno and Oat Kisel.This is quoted from Against the Grain by Katherine Czapp published by the Weston A Price Foundation.
Tolokno is oat flour made by an old Russian folk method. Whole oats were soaked for 24 hours (sacks of oats would be submerged in a pond or river) and the swollen grains then set overnight in the Russian oven–a large masonry oven for cooking and home heating. The oats would be taken out, the oven refired and the oats placed inside again to gently roast until completely dry and smelling of malt. The oats would then be pounded or ground, and the resulting sifted flour was called tolokno from the verb “to pound.” It would be cooked with milk or meat bouillon to make a thickened soup which–in contrast to modern grain products–was very easy to digest, considered good for stomach or intestinal ailments and deemed an excellent food for convalescents and children.
Oat kisel’ is another old Russian delicacy made from soured oat gelatin. Whole oats were sprouted, gently dried in a warm oven and then set in warm water for 24 hours at the back of the oven where they started to ferment. The oats and the soaking water, now containing many nutrients from the oats, were slowly heated to just the boiling point while a patient cook stirred constantly. The kisel’ was then strained and the liquid poured into a dish, where it would gelatinize, becoming thick enough to cut with a knife. It was pleasantly sour (“kis” is related to “kvas” and means sour) and was traditionally served with milk and honey. Kisel’ could also be made with rye or peas, and in the latter case was served with meat bouillon.
Is it just me, or does that seem like a lot of work and care? I mean these were people often two steps away from disaster. To put so much work and care into food preparation speaks to me that they viewed this process as very important.
A quick overview of global grain preparation habits seems to demonstrate that grains were fermented for daily consumption and that a lot of care and work went into fermenting the grains properly. The methods vary, and there is a lot of information to absorb from this history and much still to learn and glean from the information already gathered, but I am certain that claims that fermented grains are traditional must be true! I am also convinced that traditionally these methods must have been held in high esteem for so much work to be invested into them.
Stay Tuned for more!