Sometimes it can be a challenge to find your niche in a new place. It can help to know where to find other like-minded people. Of course, one potentially obvious way you can find people who you might have things in common with is to join activities or organizations that interest you. There’s a world of activities out there, you just have to know where to find them (in Bergen’s case, I would definitely try Facebook… everything is on Facebook). In today’s post I’ll focus on one of my “weirdo” interests: Fermentation! And I hope you’ll be convinced, that if I can find a group of fermentors in Bergen, you can surely find your niche!
If you’re not familiar with fermentation, an ancient food preservation technique, here’s your prerequisite Wiki definition: “Fermentation in food processing is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria, or a combination thereof, under anaerobic [without oxygen] conditions.” And, Zymology is the science of fermentation – I just learned that! Thanks, Wikipedia.
Okay, perhaps you can get behind the idea fermenting for alcohol, but don’t see the point, in today’s modern age (where we have the convenience of refrigeration, for example), of continuing to ferment foods when we don’t need to preserve them in the same ways as we did in the past.
To that I argue that many of the delicious traditional foods from all over the world are ferments, and as such they are not just an expression of a rich cultural tradition, but they also contain ‘probiotic’ bacteria (bacteria that provide health benefits to the host), and the myriad different types offer unique food flavors and textures.
Image and recipe: http://www.makeitnaked.com/2012/12/greek-yogurt-labneh-cheese-balls/
Okay and forgive me for nerding out here, but the human gut is a diverse ecosystem containing 10-fold more microbes than human cells, around 100 trillion (Qin et al., 2010 cited in Milena Marques’s “Gut microbiota modulation and implications for host health: Dietary strategies to influence the gut–brain axis.”). And this microflora acts as a virtual organ that may affect a number of aspects of human health (O’Hara & Shanahan, “The gut flora as a forgotten organ.”). The research on the gut microbiota is getting a lot of attention lately, and it is undeniably intriguing that we may be able to positively influence our health and wellbeing by influencing the bacteria that inhabits our intestines. Am I saying that fermented foods are some ‘miracle cure-all’? Absolutely not! I would say, while the research on probiotic’s effects on human health is very interesting, more research is specifically needed on fermented foods, but that probably won’t keep me from some ‘self-experimentation’.
All I am saying, is I love fermented foods, and not just for their taste – although I think they taste delicious (with maybe the exception of Hákarl, Icelandic Fermented Shark, foof, that was rough). So what happens when a fermented food-lover like me moves to Norway? Well, I noticed the glaring lack availability of certain fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, etc. What does exist either never was or no longer is a ‘live’ ferment (it was never fermented or it has been pasteurized, killing all the bacteria). Either that or ferments are limited, difficult to find, and expensive. But this apparent lack actually led me to finding a little niche…
Can’t find kimchi? You can make it. Image: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-easy-kimchi-at-home-189390
I was lucky enough to stumble upon a… what? Yes, of course, a Facebook group called, “Fermentering Norway“, and its creator, the fabulously experienced Fermentor/Fermenting Teacher from Australia/the US, Cecilia Marie. She holds workshops, and occasionally even free demos for those who want to learn more about the ‘hows’ of fermentation. Her group has over 300 members already, and I have been lucky enough to meet quite a few of them, including my new flatmate (who I enjoy very much – and yes, of course, who I hovered over while she fermented some mushrooms)! If you’re interested in fermentation, I highly recommend joining Cecilia’s group. And, as someone who has attended a couple of her demos, I can say I find them inspiring every time.
There are many fermentation recipes online, or you can join the”Fermentering Norway” Facebook group to get started. You never know, you could end up meeting some microbiota-nerds and making a life-long pal! (I may be biased, but I’m pretty sure that microbiota-nerds are the best types of friends).
Of course, fermentation does have its risks, so if you think you might want to try it, you should make sure to do your research, “The Art of Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz, is considered by many to be the Fermentor’s bible. Or you could take a course, attend a demo, or make a new friend who already ferments!
Here are a few examples of the delicious edibles you could ferment:
Video by: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/easy-kimchi
Image and recipe: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-kombucha-tea-at-home-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-173858
Image and receipe: http://naturallymindful.com/2013/10/easy-homemade-fermented-ketchup.html
Image and recipe: http://deliciouslyorganic.net/fermented-salsa-recipe/
So that just leaves the question of when you want to get started, I would do it now! Ferments can range in the length of time they take to finish… but it can be awhile, so better to start sooner!