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- Title: The Noma Guide to Fermentation (Foundations of Flavor)
- Autor: René Redzepi
- Publisher (Publication Date): Artisan (October 16, 2018)
- Language: English
Foundations of Flavor
The Noma Guide to Fermentation
René Redzepi & David Zilber
Photographs by Evan Sung
Illustrations by Paula Troxler
This book would not have been possible without the countless chefs and enthusiasts who have taken part in our never-ending quest of discovery. So many people have contributed small pieces to the great puzzle that has made Noma’s world of fermentation what it is today. Notably, Dr. Arielle Johnson, Torsten Vildgaard, Lars Williams, Thomas Frebel, Rosio Sanchez, Josh Evans, Ben Reade, Roberto Flore, and all those involved in the Nordic Food Lab. If we have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
About This Book
Lacto-Fermented Fruits and Vegetables
Misos and Peaso
Black Fruits and Vegetables
About the Authors
Noma in its new home on the outskirts of the Christiania neighborhood in Copenhagen. Opening week, February 2018.
Our story with fermentation is a story of accidents.
In the very early years of Noma, we were caught up in a search for ingredients, looking to stock our larder with things that could keep our cooking interesting through the colder months of the year.
I remember one day in the early summer when our longtime forager, Roland Rittman, walked through the door with a handful of odd little flower buds, round but also somehow triangular, perfectly juicy, with a flavor like ramps—not garlicky, exactly, but with that same punch and depth. We’d never tasted anything like it. Roland mentioned that these ramson “berries” used to be quite common in Nordic cuisine, and that people would preserve them for use through the winter.
And so we set out to make our own caper-like pickle of ramson buds. If you’d asked us what we thought was happening to the tiny garlicky orbs as they sat in a jar packed with salt, we would have described it as “curing” or “maturing.” If you’d mentioned the concept of lactic acid fermentation, we would have cocked our heads and looked at you quizzically.
The ramson capers were a revelation. Suddenly we had this ingredient at our disposal that could bring little bursts of acidity and saltiness and pungency to any dish. And we didn’t have to import it from somewhere else. It had grown in our own backyard and become something more, merely through the addition of salt.
One accidental success led to another.
I can’t remember whose idea it was to salt gooseberries, but it was around 2008, so it must have been Torsten Vildgaard or Søren Westh. They were messing around with all kinds of things on the boat that was anchored in front of the restaurant.
No larger than a fishing vessel you might take out for a day on the ocean, the boat housed something we called the Nordic Food Lab. Its purpose was to investigate what could be done with the food in our region and share that knowledge freely with anyone interested. It was a place for long-term investigation, rather than a test kitchen for tinkering with next week’s dishes. One of our chefs, Ben Reade, used to sleep among the ferments on that boat—that’s the sort of character we had working in the lab.
One day, Torsten put a spoon in front of me with a slice of gooseberry that had been salted, vacuum-bagged, and fermented, then forgotten for a year. I tasted it and I was completely shocked. I know that probably sounds like an exaggeration—after all, we’re talking about a spoonful of pickled berry. But you have to try to put yourself in my frame of mind: You’ve grown up in Scandinavia eating gooseberries your whole life, and now there’s this thing in front of you. It tastes familiar but also like nothing you’ve ever had before, like an old comfortable sweater with bright new colors woven through the original fabric.
Today when I taste a pickled gooseberry, I recognize the unmistakable effect of lacto-fermentation, but that first time really changed everything for me and Noma. It was the beginning of a decade in which we would study fermentation with intense focus and enthusiasm.
Garlic Flower, Noma Japan, 2015
The origami-like petals are a puree of black garlic cloves that have been passed through a tamis and dried to the texture of a fruit leather before being folded and dressed with a paste of ants and rose oil.
I’ve forgotten so many details. I regret not taking more notes in those early days. Every week held a revelation of some sort, reached by the same basic train of thought: We need more things to cook with. We have these seasonal ingredients. What can we do to make them better? What can we do to make them last? At first, we had no idea how fermentation worked or when we were doing it. But year by year, as more ideas worked out and more smart people came into our orbit, we learned how to talk about what we were doing, and began to see the larger tradition we were part of.
In 2011, we decided to hold our first MAD Symposium (mad is the Danish word for “food”), a gathering of a few hundred people with a vested interest in seeing the food world get better: people from the restaurant trade, along with scientists, farmers, philosophers, and artists. We chose the theme “Planting Thoughts,” and we began thinking of potential speakers who could bring diverse thoughts about the plant kingdom.
I’ll be honest with you: David Chang immediately came to mind because of kimchi. He may not remember serving it, but I remember having an oyster topped with kimchi water at Momofuku Ssäm Bar and finding it absolutely incredible. He and his team were working a parallel track to our own, learning their way around fermentation and developing new products using age-old techniques. I asked him to come speak at MAD about fermentation. While onstage, he introduced the culinary community to the concept of microbial terroir.
Chang was referring to the largely unseen world of mold, yeast, and bacteria responsible for fermentation. They are omnipresent, transcending countless cultures and culinary traditions. What Chang was saying was that the microbes indigenous to any given region will always have their say in the flavor of the final product, in the same way that soil, weather, and geography affect wine.
At the time, people were talking about Noma as the restaurant responsible for defining modern Nordic cuisine. From our perspective, we felt saddled with a tremendous responsibility. How could we claim to be cooking Nordic food if we used techniques from abroad? The notion of microbial terroir helped change everything for us. Fermentation knows no borders. It’s as much a part of the cooking tradition in Denmark as it is in Italy or Japan or China. Without fermentation, there is no kimchi, no fluffy sourdough bread, no Parmigiano, no wine or beer or spirits, no pickles, no soy sauce. There is no pickled herring or rye bread. Without fermentation, there is no Noma.
People have always associated our restaurant closely with wild food and foraging, but the truth is that the defining pillar of Noma is fermentation. That’s not to say that our food is especially funky or salty or sour or any of the other tastes that people associate with fermentation. It’s not like that. Try to picture French cooking without wine, or Japanese cuisine without shoyu and miso. It’s the same for us when we think about our own food. My hope is that even if you’ve never eaten at Noma, by the time you’ve finished reading this book and made a few of the recipes, you’ll know what I mean. Fermentation isn’t responsible for one specific taste at Noma—it’s responsible for improving everything.
It was with that in mind that in 2014 I asked Lars Williams and Arielle Johnson to build a space dedicated to exploring fermentation. Lars was one of our longest-tenured chefs, and Arielle became our resident scientist in 2013 while finishing her PhD in flavor chemistry. The two of them were responsible for taking our efforts to the next level, turning fermentation into a pursuit of its own at Noma—almost completely separate from the day-to-day activities of running the restaurant.
I was inspired by what the chefs at El Bulli had done in separating the actual creative part of their work from the service kitchen. Research and development weren’t just activities to be done in between preparing mise en place and cooking for service. There was a team dedicated to them. That changed the game for creative cooking, and that’s what we wanted to do for fermentation at Noma.
During the summer break at Noma, Lars and Arielle began planning what their ideal fermentation lab would include (within reason, of course). Up until then, we’d been fermenting wherever we could—on the boat, in the rafters of adjacent buildings, in old refrigerators, under desks.
They came back after a week or two and said the cheapest and most efficient way to do it would be in shipping containers. Things came together quickly. One day, three huge containers came in by forklift and crane. The team insulated the interiors and put up walls and doors. Lars went to Ikea, bought the second-cheapest kitchen, and merged it with equipment we’d amassed over the past decade. We started planning in June or July, and by August we had our fermentation lab.
I mention all this because I don’t want to over-romanticize fermentation. It can be a pain in the ass to get everything up and running. It’s work, but it’s incredibly gratifying work. It’s actually an amazing feeling to wait for something to ferment. It runs totally contrary to the spirit of the modern day.
And once you have your first ferments, it makes cooking so much easier. I really mean that. Some of these ferments are like a perfect cross between MSG, lemon juice, sugar, and salt. They can be drizzled onto cooked greens, added to soups, or blended into sauces. You can smear lacto-fermented plums onto cooked meats, or use the juice to dress raw seafood. And homemade ferments, packed into glass jars, make for unique and impressive gifts. Once you integrate these ingredients into your cooking, your eating life is going to be irreversibly better.
David Zilber started working with us the same year we built the fermentation lab. He came to us as a cook from Canada, and started in the restaurant as a chef de partie. When Lars and Arielle were leaving Noma in 2016, I was a bit distraught that we’d have to find someone to take over their work in the lab. But our head chef at the time, Dan Giusti, said we wouldn’t have to look far. We installed David as the head of the fermentation lab, and it’s been a perfect fit. He has an incredibly quick mind and an insatiable curiosity. He understands the science underlying fermentation, and brings a line cook’s work ethic to its practice. If you ask him something he doesn’t know the answer to, rest assured he’ll be completely educated about it the next time you talk to him. He’s like a machine designed specifically to write this book with me.
And it’s important to me that this book exist. It’s important that we document the good work that people have done here. But I’m most excited by the prospect of people taking that work and applying it outside the restaurant. We’ve written books before, but none where the main goal was to translate what we do in the restaurant to a home kitchen. It’s exhilarating to think that people all around the world will be able to get a sense for how we cook at Noma.
That’s the only possible next step for what we’ve been working on this past decade. Restaurants have influenced what’s sold on grocery store shelves. They’ve invigorated tourism in regions like ours, where people would never have thought to come eat before. The next phase is more education and more cooking—people connecting what we do at top-level restaurants with their everyday lives. That’s how we can create a completely new culture of eating.
At this point, the rate of discovery in the fermentation lab has slowed. We continue to adapt techniques to different ingredients, and some ferments remain less explored than others, but we’re not stumbling into eye-opening new products at the same pace. When you’ve made garums (ancient fish sauces you’ll learn all about later) from every type of seafood in Scandinavia, and they’ve all been good, it becomes difficult to identify the nuances. By putting this knowledge out there, we’re hoping that not only will readers experience the same joy of discovery as we have, but that we’ll get something out of it, too. We hope this will spur on the field. Perhaps one of you will take what you’ve learned here and come up with something completely new. If we’re lucky, that will come back to Noma and bolster us.
I believe in fermentation wholeheartedly, not only as a way to unlock flavors, but also as a way of making food that feels good to eat. People argue over the correlation between fermented foods and an active gut health. But there’s no denying that I personally feel better eating a diet full of fermented products. When I was growing up, eating at the best restaurants meant feeling sick and full for days, because supposedly everything tasty had to be fatty, salty, and sugary. I dream about the restaurants of the future, where you go not just for an injection of new flavors and experiences, but for something that’s really positive for your mind and body.
Sea Snail Broth, Noma, 2018
The broth is made by braising sea snails in an oil made from dried koji, then combining the cooking liquid with seaweed stock and more oil. It’s served in the shell, garnished with pickled herbs.
I hope this book can be a launching pad for home cooks and restaurant cooks alike. When we think of our ideal readers, David and I talk equally about the parent who’s passionate about cooking for his or her family and doesn’t mind a weekend project, as well as the professional cook or sous-chef who can read between the lines and pull out novel ideas.
Studying the science and history of fermentation, learning to do it ourselves, adapting it to local ingredients, and cooking with the results changed everything at Noma. Once you’ve done the same and have these incredible products at your disposal—whether it’s lacto-fermented fruit, barley miso, koji, or a roasted chicken wing garum—cooking gets easier while your food becomes more complex, nuanced, and delicious.
About This Book
There are thousands of products of fermentation, from beer and wine to cheese to kimchi to soy sauce. They’re all dramatically different creations, of course, but they’re unified by the same basic process. Microbes—bacteria, molds, yeasts, or a combination thereof—break down or convert the molecules in food, producing new flavors as a result. Take lacto-fermented pickles, for instance, where bacteria consume sugar and generate lactic acid, souring the vegetables and the brine in which they sit, simultaneously preserving them and rendering them more delicious. Cascades of secondary reactions contribute layers of flavors and aromas that didn’t exist in the original, unfermented product. The best ferments still retain much of their original character, whether that’s a touch of residual sweetness in a carrot vinegar or the floral perfume of wild roses in a rose kombucha, while simultaneously being transformed into something entirely new.
This book is a comprehensive tour of the ferments we employ at Noma, but it is by no means an encyclopedic guide to all the various directions you can take fermentation. It is limited to seven types of fermentation that have become indispensable to our kitchen: lactic acid fermentation, kombucha, vinegar, koji, miso, shoyu, and garum. It also covers “black” fruits and vegetables, which aren’t technically products of fermentation but share a lot in common as far as how they’re made and used in our kitchen.
Notably absent from this book are investigations of alcoholic fermentation and charcuterie, dairy, and bread. (Bread could take up—and deserves—its own separate discussion.) While we dabble with the fermentation of sugar into alcohol, it is almost always en route to something else, like vinegar. We’ve always worked closely with incredible winemakers and brewers and cannot pretend to be masters of their domain. Charcuterie is something that has not yet played a large role in our menus, though over the coming years we intend to dive deeper into fermenting meats as we celebrate the game season each fall. While we do make cheese at the restaurant, it’s often served fresh and unfermented (though we’re no strangers to yogurt and crème fraîche). Whenever we have cooked with artisanal aged cheeses, we’ve left their production in the hands of Scandinavia’s amazing dairy farmers.
Each chapter tackles one ferment, providing some historical context and an exploration of the scientific mechanisms at work. Many of the ideas and microbial players behind different ferments are interconnected, so you’ll see some concepts revisited and developed over the course of the book. For example, in order to make shoyu, miso, and garum, you’ll first need to understand how to make koji, a delicious mold grown on cooked grains and harnessed for its powerful enzymes. That being said, you should feel free to dive in wherever your interests lead you. You’ll still get a thorough understanding of each ferment without reading the rest of the book.
Included with each chapter is an in-depth base recipe, where we put ideas to work and walk you through the steps of making a representative example of each style of ferment. In most cases, there’s no single “right” way, so the recipes are written with multiple methods and possible pitfalls in mind. We go into quite a bit of detail—more than you may need in some instances—but we want you to feel as comfortable making these ferments as one of our own chefs would be if tasked with making one for the first time. Even though it may require a little patience and commitment, you can and absolutely should produce your own shoyus and misos and garums. Once you taste the rewards of your effort, it’s hard to imagine cooking without them. Plus, it all gets easier the second time around.
After you’ve read the in-depth base recipe for a ferment, you may feel ready to apply the same process to other ingredients, but to give you some inspiration, each chapter also contains several variations, which may illuminate other facets of the same technique. In some cases, these variations diverge in method from the base recipe, but rest assured, we’ll detail these changes and explain why we’re making them.
Finally, following each recipe, you’ll see a few practical applications for the ferment in your day-to-day cooking—many of which are inspired by preparations we make at Noma. Think of them as things that a cook from Noma would make for dinner at home using the ferments in the book. We’ve written these short recipes in a more informal manner, taking a cue from the naturalist Euell Gibbons, who wrote beautifully about foraging—another preoccupation of ours. In his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Gibbons details how to identify and harvest wild plants, and then provides recipes in a fluid, conversational format—suggesting rather than prescribing what to do with the incredible ingredients you can find outdoors. It’s the same approach we’re trying to take here. We don’t go into step-by-step detail when it comes to how you can employ the ferments in this book, because the specifics aren’t nearly as important as the possibilities. Even if you don’t feel up to making your own ferments, you’ll still find all manner of new uses for store-bought versions.
Roasted Bone Marrow, Noma, 2015
The bone marrow is marinated in beef garum and elderberry vinegar, then roasted over coals. It’s served with cabbage leaves dressed with an emulsion of caramelized beef garum pulp and a sauce of white currant juice seasoned with lacto cep water.
This is a book meant to bring some clarity to a hazy realm of cooking, full of confusing and unfamiliar terminology. We’ve spent the past decade investigating and unraveling fermentation for ourselves, and we’ll try to share what we’ve learned with you. But more important, we want you to come away from this book with the same feeling of exhilaration and wonderment that we have whenever we make and use one of the miraculous products of fermentation.
Chilled Oysters and Salted Green Gooseberries, Noma, 2010
A lightly poached Danish oyster is dressed with slivers of lacto-fermented green gooseberries and their juice.
What Is Fermentation?
What Makes Fermentation Delicious?
Setting the Table for Microbes
Cleanliness, Pathogens, and Safety
Potential of Hydrogen (pH)
Salt and Baker’s Percentages
Building a Fermentation Chamber
Thinking Outside the Kraut
Substituting Store-Bought Ferments
Weights and Measures
What Is Fermentation?
Before we dive into the practical ins and outs of fermentation, let’s first clearly define what it is.
At the most basic level, fermentation is the transformation of food by microorganisms—whether bacteria, yeasts, or mold. To be slightly more specific, it is the transformation of food through enzymes produced by those microorganisms. And finally, in the strictest scientific definition, fermentation is the process by which a microorganism converts sugar into another substance in the absence of oxygen.
The word fermentation comes from the Latin word fervere, meaning “to boil.” The ancient Romans, upon seeing vats of grapes spontaneously bubble and transform into wine, described the process using the closest analogue they could think of. And while those bubbling vats of grapes had nothing to do with boiling, they were true ferments in the scientific sense, as yeast-produced enzymes transformed the sugars in the grapes into alcohol.
However, not all the processes we consider to be fermentation fit neatly into tidy definitions of it. For instance, while koji is faithful to the definition, Noma’s garums are not. In koji, the mold Aspergillus oryzae penetrates grains of rice or barley and produces enzymes that convert the grain’s starches into simple sugars and other metabolites. This is what’s known as a primary fermentation process. The garums in this book, on the other hand, are the product of a secondary fermentation process. To produce garum, we mix koji with animal proteins in order to take advantage of the enzymes produced during the primary fermentation process.
We don’t differentiate between primary and secondary fermentation processes in this book, but you may find it helpful to have these definitions under your belt as you find your way with fermentation.
You taste as much with your brain as you do with your tongue.
What Makes Fermentation Delicious?
Taste is a function of the human body, and to understand what tastes good to us, we have to understand its role in our evolutionary history. All our senses serve to aid in our survival. Our senses of taste and smell have been shaped over hundreds of millions of years to incentivize us to eat foods that are beneficial to our bodies. Our tongues and olfactory system are unbelievably complicated organs that take in chemical cues from the world around us and transmit that information to our brains. Taste lets us know that a ripe piece of fruit is sweet and thus full of calorie-rich sugar, or that a plant’s stalk is bitter and potentially poisonous. We are born with aversions to certain flavors (a sense that becomes reinforced by experience), leading us to gag at the stench of rotting flesh decaying at the hands of pathogenic bacteria, while we register the scent of meat roasting over fire as mouthwateringly delicious, because it indicates to our brains that we’re about to eat something rich in proteins.
There are numerous biological processes at work in any given fermentation, but the ones that matter most to us from a taste perspective are those that break down large chains of molecules into their constituent parts. The starches in foods like rice, barley, peas, and bread are actually long chains of linked molecules of glucose, a simple sugar. Proteins, which can be found in large supply in soybeans and meat, are constructed in a similar fashion from lengthy, winding chains of amino acids—small organic molecules essential to all aspects of life on earth. One of those amino acids, glutamic acid, registers on our taste receptors as umami—the elusive, crave-able quality that connects foods like mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, meat, and soy sauce.
So what makes fermentation so good? On their own, starch and protein molecules are too large for our bodies to register as sweet or umami-rich. However, once broken down into simple sugars and free amino acids through fermentation, foods become more obviously delicious. Koji made from rice has an intense sweetness that plain cooked rice doesn’t. Raw beef left to ferment into garum has a savoriness that speaks to us on a primitive level.
Simply put, the microbes responsible for fermentation transform more complicated foodstuffs into the raw material your body needs, rendering them more easily digestible, nutritious, and delicious. Our affection for the tastes those microbes produce has allowed them to evolve and stay in our company. Humans have been fermenting for so long that many of the microscopic agents responsible can be considered domesticated, just like household cats or dogs. But while pets can stare longingly at you if they’re hungry or cold, microbes are a bit trickier to read. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, but one that needs a bit of work to keep everyone happy. That’s the job of the fermenter.
Proteins are made of tangled chains of amino acids, life’s building blocks.
Setting the Table for Microbes
The number of species of microbes on earth is greater than that of all plants and animals combined.
There’s a thin line between rot and fermentation, and that line might best be understood as an actual line, like the kind you’d find outside a nightclub. Rot is a club where everyone gets in: bacteria and fungi, safe or unsafe, flavor enhancing or destructive. When you ferment something, you’re taking on the role of a bouncer, keeping out unwanted microbes and letting in the ones that are going to make the party pop.
You have several tools at your disposal in trying to encourage certain microbes or deter others. Some organisms are more tolerant of acidity than others. Likewise with oxygen, heat, and salinity. If you’re familiar with what your preferred microbe needs to function, you can wield these factors to your benefit. Each chapter in this book will go into great detail about the conditions you need to create successful fermentation, but for starters, here’s an overview of the players that will be working for us.
Among the earliest forms of life, bacteria are single-celled organisms that are present in uncountable quantities in nearly every corner of the globe. Only a fraction are known to science. There are malignant bacteria that can produce toxins capable of killing much larger organisms. At the same time, there are billions of beneficial bacteria living on and inside of us. At the end of the day, the majority of them are harmless to us.
Lactic acid bacteria (LAB)
LAB are rod- and sphere-shaped bacteria that are present in abundance on the skins of fruits, vegetables, and humans. We use them for their ability to convert sugar into lactic acid, giving pickles, kimchi, and other lacto-fermented products their characteristic sourness. Because they produce lactic acid, they are able to tolerate low-pH environments. They are also halo-tolerant (salt-tolerant) and anaerobic, meaning they thrive in the absence of oxygen.
Acetic acid bacteria (AAB)
Like LAB, AAB are readily abundant rod-shaped bacteria, ever present on the surface of many foods. They generate the sharp sourness of vinegar and kombucha by converting alcohol to acetic acid. We often use them in conjunction with yeasts that first convert sugars into alcohol. They can tolerate the acidic environments they create, and require oxygen to create acetic acid, thus classifying them as aerobic bacteria.
Fungi encompass a huge swath of life on earth, from single-celled yeasts to molds to gigantic puffball mushrooms. Multicellular, filamentous fungi like mushrooms and molds grow by gathering nutrients through tendril-like hyphae that together form a web-like system known as a mycelium, similar to the roots of a plant. They secrete enzymes through their mycelium, effectively digesting the food in their surroundings, then absorbing the nutrients from their environment.
An extremely handy species of yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae is responsible for three of humanity’s most important culinary pillars: bread, beer, and wine. Bountiful in the natural world, as demonstrated by producers of spontaneously fermented bread and wine, S. cerevisiae makes a living converting sugars into alcohol. It breaks down glucose to harness the chemical energy needed for its life processes, while producing carbon dioxide and ethanol as by-products. Different strains or subspecies are harnessed for their particular qualities, which can lead to wide variations in flavor. For instance, the strain of S. cerevisiae that is used in bread baking isn’t desirable for producing beer or wine. Yeast can survive and multiply in the presence of oxygen, but alcohol fermentation takes place anaerobically. Saccharomyces dies at temperatures in excess of 60°C/140°F.
A genus of long, cylindrical yeast, Brettanomyces is used in the production of beers with sour qualities because of its ability to produce acetic acid as a metabolite. Brettanomyces also occurs naturally on the skins of fruits, and can be purchased readily as “saison yeast.” It can survive in oxygen, but produces ethanol anaerobically. Like other yeasts, it cannot survive temperatures above 60°C/140°F.
Perhaps the most important microbe in this book, A. oryzae (pronounced oh-RAI-zee) is the sporulating mold also known as koji. It’s been bred for hundreds of years to grow extremely quickly in hot and humid environments when given access to the plentiful starches in products like cooked rice or barley. (Generally speaking, 30°C/86°F and 70% to 80% humidity are ideal for Aspergillus; temperatures above 42°C/108°F will kill it.) Koji secretes the enzymes protease, amylase, and a small amount of lipase, which break down proteins, starches, and fats, respectively. We harness these enzymes in the production of our misos, shoyus, and garums.
A relative of Aspergillus oryzae, Aspergillus luchuensis (pronounced loo-CHOO-en-sis) metabolizes starches and proteins and produces citric acid as a by-product. It’s traditionally used to brew the bases of Asian spirits like Korean shochu and Japanese awamori, as the distillation of the alcohol leaves the citric acid behind. Though it’s a lesser-known species, it’s extremely delicious.
Enzymes are not microbes—they aren’t even alive—but rather biological catalysts that facilitate chemical transformations within organisms or organic matter. You can generally identify them by the suffix -ase, as in protease (an enzyme that breaks down proteins) and amylase (from the Latin word amylum, meaning “starch,” which breaks down exactly that). They are a class of proteins built through evolution to serve specific but different functions. Exactly how they work is rather complicated, but you can think of the ones featured in this book as a cross between keys and scissors. They’re keys in the sense that they are tailored to fit specific locks, acting on one organic molecule while leaving others alone; and they’re scissors in that they can cut ribbons into shorter lengths. Generally speaking, enzymes work most efficiently in warm, fluid environments, but if heated too high, they can be “cooked” to a point where they no longer function.
Beta-amylase is an enzyme capable of breaking down starches into their constituent sugar molecules.
The ferments we undertake at Noma all depend to varying degrees on wild fermentation. That is to say, we create environ-ments that are conducive to the growth of naturally occurring beneficial microbes, and detrimental to malevolent ones. With our lacto-ferments, for instance, we depend entirely on a wide set of lactic acid bacteria in the environment—on the fruit or vegetables we’re fermenting, on our hands, floating in the air—to turn sugar into lactic acid and other flavorful metabolites. By allowing nature to do its thing, we get layers of nuance and complexity in our ferments that wouldn’t be possible if we dictated exactly which microbes were allowed to work. Wild fermentation is a non-inoculated and often very diverse fermentation. Simply put, it’s how fermentation was first performed, and it’s still tried and true.
For our kombuchas, vinegars, and koji, we do introduce bacteria, yeast, or fungus into the equation in order to get the results we’re looking for, but we still allow and encourage wild fermentation. The same goes for especially large batches of lacto-fermented products. For instance, when we’re fermenting hundreds of kilos of asparagus at a time, we add powdered lactic acid bacteria (LAB) to the brine. If for some reason the naturally occurring LAB had trouble getting started, we’d be exposed to the risk of some other malignant microbe taking hold. A boost in the LAB population is a nice bit of insurance against losing all that product when you’re working on a large scale.
Backslopping is a vital technique in prepping microbial environments for fermentation and will come up numerous times in this book, especially in the production of kombucha and vinegar. The idea is basically to give the substance you intend to ferment a boost of beneficial microbes by adding a dose from a previous batch of that same ferment.
By pouring a healthy amount of, say, perry vinegar into a jar of fresh perry, we both lower the pH of the solution and add a healthy shot of acetic acid bacteria (AAB). Lowering the pH (acidifying) has the effect of slowing or stopping any unwanted microbes that aren’t acid-tolerant from acting on the perry, and ensures that there’s a healthy population of AAB to ferment the perry into perry vinegar. Backslopping stacks the deck in favor of the microbes we want to succeed.
Of course, if this is your first time making one of the ferments in the book, you won’t necessarily have a previous batch to use for backslop. In that case, you’ll have to find a similar substitute. For our vinegars, we suggest unpasteurized apple cider vinegar as a replacement. For our kombuchas, you can use a similarly flavored unpasteurized kombucha or the liquid that your SCOBY (the “mother” culture of yeast and bacteria that produces kombucha; see cooperative frementation) comes packaged in. The downside is that you’re going to dilute the pure flavor of the vinegar or kombucha you’re making. That’s fine, though, as it gives you a perfect reason to make the same vinegar or kombucha again—this time using a portion of your first batch as backslop.
Backslopping gives a boost from one generation of a ferment to the next.
Cleanliness, Pathogens, and Safety
Cleanliness is something we take very seriously in the kitchen, out of both pride for our workplace and respect for our colleagues. However, a clean and sanitary workplace is doubly important in the fermentation lab, in order to prevent unwanted pathogens from invading a ferment and causing it to taste off or, worse, become dangerous to eat. At Noma, we always err on the side of caution. If something you’ve made smells wrong—not just funky like fish sauce, but nose-stingingly rotten—trust your nose. If you taste a small sample and it turns your stomach, remember that your body is designed to reject things that may be harmful to you. When in doubt, throw it out. If you’re ever unsure of a fermented product, toss it. The weeks or months of your invested time are not worth risking your health.
Potentially harmful microbes are ever present in the environment. Bacteria can multiply speedily, with or without oxygen, at temperatures ranging from 4.5° to 50°C/40° to 122°F, especially in moist, nutrient-rich environments. Of course, that describes the exact circumstances in which many fermented goods are produced. Both the World Health Organization and the United States Department of Agriculture recommend cooking foods sensitive to pathogenic contamination above 70°C/158°F before consumption. Now, that’s a fairly severe safeguard, and obviously not possible for many ferments. That being said, you should be cautious, but not worried. Fermentation is meant to be a rewarding and exhilarating practice, but remember that you’re playing with live ammo.
Cleanliness is next to godliness (and also crucial to a safe and successful ferment).
Throughout this book, we do our best to provide clear instructions that will produce safe and delicious products if followed closely. Don’t eyeball measurements or take shortcuts. When a recipe calls for a specific salt content (above 10 percent by weight) or pH (below 4.5), it’s to ensure that you’re fermenting safely. But of course, the first step in preventing unwanted microorganisms from taking hold in a ferment is to make sure your equipment and hands are clean before they come into contact with food. While this is less important in certain cases, it’s critical in other instances. When making koji, for example, you’ll need to be sure the incubation chamber is properly sanitized before introducing the inoculated grains. And when working with your hands, wear nitrile or latex gloves to prevent contamination (except in places where a little bacteria from your skin can help things along, as with lactic-acid fermentation).
Now, what do we mean by “clean”? There is a difference between the level of cleanliness you would expect to find in a university biology lab and that in a home or restaurant kitchen. Let’s define some terms. Cleaning means that you’ve removed visible dirt from the surface of objects. Soap and water will clean a surface but do very little to reduce the surface’s population of microorganisms, good or bad. Sterilized implies that you’ve eradicated all life-forms—viruses, bacteria, fungi—on your equipment and your work surfaces (and sometimes even in the product you’re looking to ferment). This is a level of certainty required in hospitals and microbiology labs. You’ll never need something as serious as an industrial-strength autoclave for a recipe in this book. What we’re looking to do for the recipes here is sanitize. To sanitize a piece of equipment or work surface implies that you’ve removed most microbiological life. That will be sufficient for our purposes. Running your equipment through a hot cycle in a dishwasher or steaming or boiling it for a few minutes is more than enough to ensure that you’re working clean and sanitarily. If your equipment is heatproof, dry-heat sterilization is another option. Ceramic, glass, and metal containers and utensils can be baked in the oven for 2 hours at 160°C/320°F to ensure that they’re free of contaminants.
For equipment or work surfaces that you can’t pop into the dishwasher, there are common sanitizers intended for food production and fermentation like StarSan (available at many home-brew shops), distilled white vinegar (a sanitizing agent favored by grandmas the world over), and even household bleach diluted with water to 20 milliliters per liter (as long as you rinse with fresh water afterward). At Noma, for large items like crocks and buckets, we disinfect using ethanol diluted with filtered water to 60 percent alcohol by volume (ABV)—40 milliliters water for every 60 milliliters ethanol. (We dilute it because if the percentage of ethanol is too high, it can actually coagulate the proteins that make up the cell walls of many microbes and prevent them from dying.) We put the solution in a spray bottle and spray whatever needs to be sanitized, let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then wipe it off with a paper towel.
Finally, while a great deal of time is spent in this book introducing the amazing microorganisms responsible for fermentation, it’s equally important to acquaint ourselves with the microbes that can make things go sideways. With a thorough grasp of pathogenic bacteria and molds, and what conditions they can tolerate, you’ll be better equipped to keep them out of your products.
While many microbes are beneficial and the majority are harmless, there are still a few bad microbes that can cause illness.
C. botulinum is the sporulating bacteria responsible for botulism. It is an anaerobic bacteria that thrives in nutrient-rich, warm environments. Its spores are commonly found dormant in soil and water, waiting for favorable conditions to propagate and release potent neurotoxins. Ingesting just a microgram of botulism toxin is enough to cause serious illness. You cannot taste or smell botulism toxin, and thus the only way to guarantee safety is through careful attention to best practices.
Though cases of botulism poisoning are rare, it’s usually found in improperly refrigerated animal products or improperly canned vegetable products (where canning temperatures were not hot enough and/or the canning liquid was not sufficiently acidic). Given that the spores of the bacteria are often found in the soil, special attention should be paid when fermenting roots, bulbs, and tubers. When making black garlic, for example, you’re keeping a root vegetable in an anaerobic environment at a warm temperature. However, C. botulinum cannot survive at a sustained temperature of 60°C/140°F. Your responsibility is to ensure that your heating chamber doesn’t dip below that threshold.
C. botulinum also has great difficulty growing in fluid mediums with a water activity below 0.97 (achieved by salt concentrations of 5 percent or higher) and in acidic environments with a pH below 4.6. Many ferments in this book begin with salt concentrations lower than 5 percent and a pH above 4.6. However, the combined effect of moderate salt content and a gradually decreasing pH is usually enough to safeguard against malevolent bacteria. For instance, a vegetable brined at 2 percent salt will have a high enough salt content to inhibit C. botulinum while beneficial lactic acid bacteria lower the pH. If a ferment reaches a pH below 5 within the first two days and ends up below 4.6 by the time of completion, it is generally recognized as safe.
Many strains of E. coli are actually harmless and part of a normal gut flora, but some varieties can cause severe food poisoning. These bacteria are usually transmitted through poor hygiene or contaminated meat products. Cross-contamination of work surfaces and utensils is one of the more common causes of E. coli–related illness. Proper and thorough washing of vegetables in cold water will greatly reduce populations of the pathogen, should they be present. For products like beef garum, salt concentrations of 10 percent or higher will kill off the microbes. On top of that, the high temperatures at which garum ferments offer an added layer of protection.
Salmonella is a genus of rod-shaped bacteria often found in raw poultry products and unpasteurized milk and on unwashed fruits and vegetables. Doing everything you can to avoid cross-contamination from raw poultry is paramount in avoiding Salmonella food poisoning. For example, if you’re cooking chicken wings for chicken wing garum, be sure to clean and sanitize any utensils before putting them back into action with the final, prepared ingredients. Like E. coli, Salmonella has a minimum water activity level of 0.95, meaning that salt levels above 10 percent will kill it off.
There are thousands of wild and invasive molds that would jump at the opportunity to eat your fermentation project before you get the chance. Many microscopic mold spores are airborne, while others travel in water or on the backs of insects. Not all of them will necessarily be harmful, but if you didn’t put the mold there yourself, it’s best not to take the chance.
There are many instances in this book where we are trying to create the ideal environment for beneficial mold growth, so the best preventative measures you can take against pathogenic molds are cleaning and sanitizing. By eliminating any unwanted guests at the outset, you ensure that they won’t spoil the party later. Another method is to overwhelm competing molds. With koji, we inoculate steamed barley heavily with A. oryzae spores in order to elbow out the competition. With ferments like garums and shoyus, the salt content retards mold growth. Frequent stirring and cleaning of the container walls will bring any spores on the surface out of contact with the air and drown them in a salty sea. For kombucha, keeping the surface of your SCOBY moist by basting it with liquid is often enough to keep it acidified and mold-free. Last, molds are easier to spot than other pathogens. When making something like miso, you can simply scrape away any mold that forms on the surface.
Potential of Hydrogen (pH)
The ratio of hydroxide ions (negatively charged) to hydrogen ions (positively charged) in an aqueous solution determines its pH.
Potential of hydrogen, or pH, is a hugely important measurement in chemistry, and a key factor to consider in fermentation. Simply put, it helps you measure acidity. The pH scale was first conceived in the Carlsberg Labs in Copenhagen near the turn of the twentieth century. It measures the difference in concentration in an aqueous solution between hydrogen ions (H+) and hydroxide ions (OH−), with every increase in numerical value from 0 to 14 indicating a tenfold change in ionic concentration.
In distilled water (pure H2O), hydrogen and hydroxide ions sit in exact balance with each other. It has a pH of 7, right in the middle of the scale, and is neither alkaline nor acidic, but neutral. When hydroxide ions outnumber hydrogen ions, the substance is said to be basic or alkaline, and has a pH above 7. When hydrogen ions outnumber hydroxide ions, the substance is acidic, and has a pH below 7. The most acidic substances you can find, like hydrochloric acid (a component of stomach acid) and sulphuric acid (found in car batteries), have a pH near 0. The most basic substances, like sodium hydroxide (found in lye or drain cleaner) have a pH close to 14.
At times in this book, we seek to control or change the pH of a ferment, which affects everything from microbes’ ability to thrive and propagate to an enzyme’s ability to function properly to the taste of the final ferment. Sometimes, we’re seeking to lower the pH in a ferment—thus making it taste more sour—through the creation by microbes of lactic, acetic, or citric acid. We use alkaline solutions too, as in the case of our miso made from masa, where we boil corn in a calcium hydroxide solution to coax out floral and fruity notes from the kernels.
You can track pH using a few tools, including test strips or digital meters. More exacting fermenters may find these tools helpful, but taste is your best guide. Ultimately, what you find palatable should dictate what you think the “right” pH is.
Salt and Baker’s Percentages
Salt is one of the most important factors in a safe and successful fermentation. For starters, it has the remarkable ability to inhibit biological processes of both microbes and humans. (There’s a reason why drinking salt water will kill you if you’re stranded at sea.) Salt is an ionic compound of sodium and chloride, which breaks apart into a sea of ions when it dissolves in water. Nature abhors imbalance, so anywhere they can, water and the salt ions dissolved in it will try to spread out into an even distribution. Put a piece of meat or a bacterial cell in a solution of salt, and water from inside will flow outward while salt ions flow inward, until eventually equilibrium is reached. It’s how brining works, and it’s also the mechanism by which pathogens like Salmonella can be killed with salt. Salt draws water out of the bacteria’s cells until they shrivel up and die. (For a more detailed explanation of this, see “Salt/Water”.) Knowing the salt tolerance of different microbes can make a world of difference in a ferment.
For that reason, we stress precise salt measurements, usually expressed in percentage by weight. Note that in the fermen-tation lab at Noma, we use baker’s percentages—when we tell you to add 2% salt to a kilogram of plums, we mean 2% of the weight of the plums (which comes out to 20 grams), not the total weight of the plums and the salt (which would be 20.4 grams). The difference is not always very significant, but using baker’s percentages streamlines the math.
Last, the type of salt makes a difference. We call for non-iodized salt, because iodine is mildly antimicrobial. While using standard table salt won’t stop a ferment cold, it can impede helpful microbes from gaining a strong foothold. Kosher salt will work well, and should be available in your local grocery store. Mineral-rich sea salts like fleur de sel are great, too, and can actually improve the texture of lacto-ferments.
Building a Fermentation Chamber
Beginning with the koji chapter, you’ll find that some recipes in this book require specific temperature and humidity conditions. There are myriad options for constructing a fermentation chamber, depending on how much product you intend to make, and how elaborate you want your rig to be. At Noma, we have rooms dedicated to fermentation, with accurate and precise temperature and humidity controls. During our pop-up restaurant in Sydney, we crafted a fermentation chamber out of a broom closet. You can use a decommissioned refrigerator, a speed rack with a vinyl cover, Styrofoam coolers, or wooden boxes. The two basic criteria for a good container are insulation and water resistance. The chapter on Koji explains what factors you need to control and why they matter.
While you’re getting your feet wet in the world of fermentation, an appliance such as a rice cooker or slow cooker will suffice for some processes in this book. (Note that you’ll need a model without an auto-off function, as some recipes call for incubation times that last for weeks.) But once you’re hooked on fermenting, building a larger, more accurate chamber is a game changer.
Here we’ve outlined two paths, designed for small-scale projects, built using components that are available online or at a hardware or restaurant supply store. It can all be done for less than the cost of a stand mixer.
Covered Speed Rack
For this fermentation chamber, you’ll need:
• A speed rack: The bones of your chamber. Speed racks are used in restaurants to hold trays of ingredients or food coming out of the oven. They’re made of lightweight but sturdy aluminum and are equipped with rails onto which you slide sheet pans or gastro/hotel pans. They come in varying heights, ranging from 1 to 1.75 meters. Look for one that comes with a heavy plastic or vinyl cover with zippers running up two sides. The cover will retain heat and humidity, and the zippers allow easy access to the interior. You’ll also need a few sheet pans that are the correct size for the rack; the style and quantity will depend on which ferments you choose to make.
• A small space heater: The kind you might use to keep your feet warm underneath your desk. If the heater is equipped with a fan, all the better; if not, buy a small simple fan.
• A temperature controller, such as a PID (proportional-integral-derivative) or thermostat: This will adjust the temperature of the chamber as it varies according to external influences. You want a prewired version that you can plug a heater directly into. It’s a specialized bit of gear, but it’s not complicated or expensive. It will include a probe that you set either in the chamber to measure interior temperature, or into the ferment itself, such as when you’re making koji.
• A small humidifier (only when making koji): The type you’d put in a child’s room to help with a stuffy nose. Plus, a simple hygrometer to gauge humidity; it will look a bit like an oven thermometer. Or use a humidistat, which functions much like a thermostat. While slightly more expensive, it will simplify things by regulating the humidity in the chamber for you.
Building a Fermentation Chamber with a Covered Speed Rack
1. Assemble the speed rack and slide one or two sheet pans into the lower shelves. Space them to allow enough room for your heater, humidifier, and hygrometer or humidistat (and fan, if the heater doesn’t have one built in) to sit without interfering with one another. Place the devices on a sheet pan and snake the cords out from the bottom of the rack.
2. You’ll want to keep your temperature controller outside the chamber. Plug it in and set it to the correct temperature, following the manufacturer’s instructions; for the ferments in this book, that will be either 30°C/86°F or 60°C/140°F. Run the temperature probe into the chamber. Plug the heater into the temperature controller.
3. Arrange the hygrometer or humidistat sensor so it won’t be in the direct flow of the steam from the humidifier. Fill the humidifier with water, plug it in, and set it to medium. Note that we’re clearly dealing with a lot of electrical cords, so use a properly rated power strip.
4. Pull the plastic cover over the speed rack and zip it up. Air will be able to enter the chamber from the bottom, which is what you need for most of the ferments. When fermenting at 60°C/140°F, you may want to add an extra layer of insulation underneath or on top of the plastic cover. A clean cotton or wool blanket will do the trick nicely.
5. Close the cover to bring your chamber up to the desired temperature and humidity. If you don’t have a humidistat, you’ll adjust humidity by checking the level on your hygrometer and then dialing the humidifier setting up or down. The temperature controller will take care of temperature for you.
6. Add your ferments. Keep an eye on the temperature controller to make sure it’s turning the heater on and off when the temperature dips or rises. You may see a drift of a degree or two above or below your desired temperature; that’s normal.
For this fermentation chamber, you’ll need:
• A Styrofoam cooler: Styrofoam is an excellent insulator, and Styrofoam coolers are fairly inexpensive and widely available. The one pictured in this book measures 60 × 40 × 30 centimeters.
• An electric heating mat: These are used to sprout greens in nurseries (look for a “seedling heat mat”) and also to warm reptile terrariums (“reptile heating pad”). They consist of a resistive electric coil running through a thick plastic cover, and provide even heat over a large surface area. You can find them in many sizes, and they’re usually waterproof and easy to clean.
• A temperature controller: As with the speed-rack setup, this will act as your thermostat, adjusting the internal temperature of the fermentation chamber. Many models are equipped with a little hole for a screw so you can conveniently attach it to the outside of your box.
• A small humidifier (when making koji): The smaller you can find, the better. Plus, a simple hygrometer, an instrument used to gauge humidity; it will look a bit like an oven thermometer. Alternatively, you could use a humidistat, which functions much like a thermostat. While slightly more expensive, it will simplify things by regulating the humidity in the chamber for you.
• A trivet, or a few screws: In most cases, you want to keep your ferments elevated off the bottom of the cooler. A trivet will do the trick, but for better airflow, procure four screws that are long and sturdy enough to make it through the walls of the cooler and support the weight of a tray laden with ingredients.
Building a Fermentation Chamber Out of a Styrofoam Cooler
1. Ensure that your Styrofoam cooler is cleaned and sanitized. If you’re making koji, procure four screws that are long enough and sturdy enough to bear the weight of a tray of koji and screw them into the sides of the container, about halfway up the walls.
2. Place the heating mat and humidifier inside the container. Try to keep the humidifier off the heating mat, and snake the cords out of the box. Set the humidifier to medium and turn it on. Place your hygrometer (if you have one) next to the humidifier (out of the direct flow of steam) to keep track of the humidity.
3. Plug the heating mat into your temperature controller and, following the manufacturer’s instructions, set it to your desired target temperature; for the ferments in this book, that will be either 30°C/86°F or 60°C/140°F. Run the temperature probe into the chamber.
4. Bring your chamber up to the desired temperature and humidity. If you don’t have a humidistat, you’ll adjust humidity by checking the level on your hygrometer and then dialing the humidifier setting up or down. The temperature controller will take care of temperature for you.
5. Add your ferment(s). Keep an eye on the temperature controller to make sure it’s turning the heater on and off when the temperature dips or rises. You may see a drift of a degree or two above or below your desired temperature; that’s normal.
6. Cover the fermentation chamber with its lid. For ferments at 60°C/140°F, close it as tightly as you can to keep heat in. For koji, leave it cracked open on one side just a touch to allow fresh oxygen in. You can easily prop it open more with a screw placed into the lip if you’re worried about it being closed shut.
Your ferments are limited only by your imagination.
Thinking Outside the Kraut
Our hope is that once you’ve read the text in each chapter and made one or two of the corresponding ferment recipes, you’ll feel comfortable enough to begin steering the ship yourself. We encourage you to take what you’ve learned and apply it to other ingredients. One of the things we try to do through our study of fermentation at Noma is to separate techniques from their cultural framework to see what happens when the biological processes are applied to different ingredients. It’s not about disregarding the importance of cultural history, but rather understanding how other culinary traditions can improve the cuisine in our part of the world.
For instance, kimchi and sauerkraut are two of the world’s most well-known lacto-fermented products. That may be obvious, but making the distinction between time-honored foodstuffs and the techniques that produce them is an important step. Once you understand the role of a certain fermentation process—how it transforms ingredients, what it heightens and what it mutes—you can consider what else might benefit from the same treatment. What is it about cabbage that lends itself so well to being turned into sauerkraut? What other ingredients have similar qualities? What additional seasonings might complement the acidity brought by lacto-fermentation? That’s how we direct a lot of the work in the fermentation lab at Noma, and it’s led us to some of our most successful products.
Keep in mind that as you experiment, you’ll inevitably fail. Don’t get discouraged! Every recipe in this book began as an idea that edged its way to deliciousness through failure, education, and adjustment. Surprise and delight are only possible when things don’t go according to plan.
Substituting Store-Bought Ferments
Our hope is that you’ll come away from this book with a deeper understanding about the world of fermentation and cooking, even if you don’t make a single ferment we’ve described. We want cooks and chefs everywhere to see the utility and value in fermented products, whether or not they make them from scratch. Shoyu isn’t only for dipping, nor miso only for soup. If you come across a suggestion in this book that appeals to you, like, say, shoyu caramel, you shouldn’t feel like you need to make your own shoyu to pull it off. Store-bought will do.
We also realize that some recipes in this book combine multiple ferments: sometimes out of necessity, other times to illustrate the powerful and flavorful interplay that can develop between different players. In such instances, you might have made one product but not its complement; a substitution will more than suffice to execute the recipe and get a good idea of the flavors we’re chasing.
Unfortunately, we’ve never come across anything that bears a close enough resemblance to Maizo or Grasshopper Garum to recommend them, but here you’ll find a chart of useful equivalencies for some of the products in this book—“cousins,” so to speak. As always, quality counts. There will always be cheaper or more refined versions of products available on the market, and with fermented goods, the range can be quite drastic. Use your judgment and the advice of friends or grocery staff to determine which products are crafted with care and attention.
Elderberry Wine Balsamic
Traditional balsamic vinegar
Pearl Barley Koji
Dried rice koji
Yellow Pea Shoyu
Rose and Shrimp Garum
Fish sauce (Red Boat brand)
Weights and Measures
At Noma, and in this book, we use the metric system for all our measurements, because it allows for much greater precision and accuracy than imperial measurements. Whenever you’re dealing with sensitive outcomes, accuracy is key. A shift in salt content of just 1 percent can be the difference between a ferment you’ll want to show off to all your friends and something you’d rather no one ever knew about.
For any of our skeptical American readers, know that the metric system is supremely logical, and most kitchen measuring tools include metric markings and settings anyway. With the metric system, you can measure both weight (grams and kilograms) and volume (milliliters and liters). For many of our recipes, we use weight rather than volume for the sake of simplicity: Stick your empty bowl on a scale, tare it (meaning adjust the readout to zero, thereby discounting the weight of your bowl), and add the ingredient until you’ve reached the desired weight. No need to move ingredients between measuring cups and a work bowl.
A digital kitchen scale that measures to the single gram is essential to the execution of the recipes in this book. You can buy high-quality scales for not a lot of money; be sure to have an extra battery on hand so you aren’t unexpectedly caught short in the middle of a recipe.
Finally, we’ve listed an approximate yield for each recipe so you’ll know what you’re getting into before you start, but it’s easy to scale the recipes up or down. However, pay attention to the size of the container required. There are instances where a little extra headroom in a jar or crock might be desired, and if you scale up the recipe, you may also need to scale the container accordingly.
Lacto-Fermented Fruits and Vegetables
Lacto Cep Mushrooms
Lacto Tomato Water
Lacto White Asparagus
Lacto Mango-Scented Honey
Lacto Green Gooseberries
Turning Sweet to Sour
There’s not a dish on the menu at Noma, from the very first mouthful to the last, that doesn’t involve some element of lactic acid fermentation (aka lacto-fermentation). Its usefulness is practically limitless.
Lacto-fermented products bring fruitiness, acidity, and umami to everything they touch. For instance, lacto-fermenting cep mushrooms (porcinis) yields an incredibly potent liquid that we use to season fresh sea urchins. Just a drop or two over each tongue of sea urchin will make your hair stand up—it invigorates and focuses the flavor of the urchin in an unbelievable way. It’s like taking a picture of an urchin and cranking the saturation and contrast way up. As for the actual mushroom, we soak that in syrup, dry it, and dip it in chocolate to make a candy that accompanies coffee at the end of the meal.
Thankfully, lacto-fermentations are also incredibly straightforward to make. The process is simple: Weigh your ingredient, add 2% salt by weight, and wait. How many days depends on how sour you want the final product to be.
It’s all made possible by the hard work of lactic acid bacteria, or Lactobacillales (we’ll refer to them from here on out as LAB). LAB transform sugar into lactic acid, and they’re the secret behind sour pickles and sauerkraut, rye breads and sourdoughs, yogurt, and sour beer. They’re also involved (to a lesser extent) in making wine, cheese, and miso, contributing to the nuance and complexity of flavor that characterize these and many other iconic fermented foods.
It’s a microbe’s world. We’re just living in it.
Generally speaking, LAB are acid- and salt-tolerant, rod- and sphere-shaped bacteria. They’re anaerobic, meaning they can flourish in the absence of oxygen. LAB consume carbohydrates, mostly in the form of sugars, and produce lactic acid as a metabolite (a by-product of their metabolism). Without getting neck-deep in the chemistry, the process involves the bacteria using enzymes to break down glucose (C6H12O6) in order to harness its chemical potential energy, and thus converting each molecule of glucose into two molecules of lactic acid (C3H6O3).
At Noma—four times named the world’s best restaurant—every dish includes some form of fermentation, whether it’s a bright hit of vinegar, a deeply savory miso, an electrifying drop of garum, or the sweet intensity of black garlic. Fermentation is one of the foundations behind Noma’s extraordinary flavor profiles.
Now René Redzepi, chef and co-owner of Noma, and David Zilber, the chef who runs the restaurant’s acclaimed fermentation lab, share never-before-revealed techniques to creating Noma’s extensive pantry of ferments. And they do so with a book conceived specifically to share their knowledge and techniques with home cooks. With more than 500 step-by-step photographs and illustrations, and with every recipe approachably written and meticulously tested, The Noma Guide to Fermentation takes readers far beyond the typical kimchi and sauerkraut to include koji, kombuchas, shoyus, misos, lacto-ferments, vinegars, garums, and black fruits and vegetables. And—perhaps even more important—it shows how to use these game-changing pantry ingredients in more than 100 original recipes.
Fermentation is already building as the most significant new direction in food (and health). With The Noma Guide to Fermentation, it’s about to be taken to a whole new level.
This book has been written by the fellas from Noma, former world number 1 restaurant on the planet. Rene made clear early on in this book that fermentation plays a HUGE part in everything they do at the restaurant. Each recipe is tried and true, each recipe has been utilized at their restaurant. They explain how to use each recipe and give you ideas on different things you can do. Overall this is the best book on fermentation I have read, it is clear, easy to understand, it is expansive and just straight enjoyable to read. I cant wait to start trying some of the recipes!