In the world of fermented goods, the good bacteria, mould and yeasts are the unspoken hero. I will call them Good Guys from now on.
Before the invention of fridges, most produce were pickled, cured, salted and/or smoked to preserve them for the winter months so that food is available and life can continue.
Nowadays most people are living daily. We buy food daily or weekly at most, believing that the food will be available to buy whenever we need from the shops. I hope that with certain movements popping up at most locations, we are changing this slowly but surely.
As we produce abundance, we need to keep the perishable foods somehow as we do not consume them immediately and the only way is to use the good guys with some salt & sugar and prolong the pantry life of the produce.
This article is not a recipe for a particular curing method but will tell you how to harvest the good guys to do curing. We know that certain plants favour certain good guys and if you can find an organic or ethically grown produce, you can harvest these to make your own starter cultures and use them for curing.
Also most of these good guys are actually flying around us. You can invite them to a medium where they can grow in numbers and flourish so that we can use them in our fermentation. If you call them they will come :-)
You need to gather the necessary material first. If it is a plant, preferably, from a field that is not poisoned with pesticides, chemicals etc. and in the morning before they see sun. This will make sure the good guys are there intact. If it is a cheese, yogurt or salami, make sure you are the one opening the package to scrape the moulds for your culture. If it is raw milk, it should be used as soon as it is milked. The grains should be organic and not imported preferably grown by yourself. Imported food stuff usually radiated to kill everything in there and there won’t be any living good-guys.
Once you collected your material you need to cultivate the good guys and check if there are nasty guys lurking. Cultivation is done at certain temperatures, with either sugar or salt and addition of water or milk to get the good guys growing. Once you see signs of growth, you need to:
1. Spare some of the liquid and throw away the rest.
2. Prepare a new batch using the spared liquid and continue cultivating your good guys.
After doing these two steps 5 or 6 times, you will have a strong culture that is resilient and works with the medium (milk, sugar, water, white flour, spelt, wholemeal etc.) you are using.
If you smell rotten eggs or any off smell, slime or coloured moulds growing on the sides. Throw away the entire batch and start from scratch.
Salt and sugar:
Two important ingredients to cultivate your good guys. Salt should be iodine free as we don’t want to kill the good guys. Prefer salts like natural rock salt, pink salt, sea salt etc. These salts also contribute with their own bacterial flora and minerals they may have. Sugar should be unrefined cane sugar like dark or rapadura would be fine. You can use malt syrup if the final product will be a dairy product because malt is like lactose with 2 sugar molecules. Raw honey is also a good option.
If you are using water during the initial cultivation, make sure there is no chlorine or chloramine as these would prevent the growth of good guys. If you boil or expose the water to sunlight in an open mouth container for 20 minutes; most chlorine should evaporate and you can use it once it is cooled down.
Probiotics has to be consumed at their peak activity while the numbers are at their maximum. The baked or cooked products are still good as the good-guys are changing the structure of the food like milk, flour etc. making them readily available to digest. They also produce vitamins during their lifecycle and help our body to absorb these.
Let’s have a look at the sources of these good guys around us:
Stinging Nettles – yogurt
Collect stinging nettles in the morning and incubate about 1 litre of milk at 43C with them. Once a yogurt formed, strain the leaves and separate 200ml. Give the rest to chooks.
Incubate another batch with 200ml nettle starter you’ve separated.
Green pine cones – yogurt
Collect green pine cones in the morning. Boil your milk and cool it down to 43C. Prepare your esky (cooler) with 43C water in it. Add jars with 43C milk in them. Add the pine cones into the milk. Incubate overnight. A nice fragrant yogurt culture will great you in the morning.
Ant eggs or ant’s nest sand – yogurt
Collect about a teaspoon of ants eggs or the soil around the entrance of the ant’s nest. Make a pouch from calico or cheese cloth with the collected eggs and soil. Dunk this into 1 litre of the milk and incubate at 43C.
Once the yogurt forms, separate 200ml and give the rest to chooks. Remove the pouch and thrown that in the compost. Make a new batch with the 200ml yogurt and incubate again at 43C.
This is one of the best yogurt cultures I have. I also use it as a thermophilic cheese culture for pasta-filata and some hard cheeses.
Honey Bee larva – yogurt, sourdough
While I was transferring a langstroth frame to a top bar, I had to cut a section of the comb with larvae in it. Rather than disposing this, I incubated some milk with the entire comb. This made a really good yogurt culture.
Wheat – sourdough
Wheat naturally has S. cerevisiae yeast on it. Culturing this will give you a nice sour dough culture. I also add water and milk kefir to the mix to get large holes in my bread with CO2 producing strains of yeast.
Ash as a helper can be added with a bit of fresh organic pineapple juice or diluted honey to get the yeasts going during the cultivation.
Chick pea – Sour dough, sweet
A handful of chickpeas broken into 2 or 3. Prepare about 500ml warm water and 1tbsp sugar or honey. Dissolve the sugar and add the chickpeas. Keep it at a warm place overnight.
If the chickpeas are organic and not imported, you will see bubbles on the surface with a pungent smell. Don’t worry, this smell will not be there when you bake a bread with it. Once you see the bubbles, strain the chickpeas and use the water to make a runny dough. Cover and wait for the dough to raise a bit. Once you see bubbles on top of the dough add more flour, sugar and water and kneed to make a bread dough. Give it a shape, raise again and bake.
This bread will be sweeter and the smell will be very different than normal bread.
Beans – sour dough, lacto ferment
Beans just like chickpeas can be used to cultivate good-guys. The final product can then be used to make bread. Try different legumes growing in your area.
Hop – sourdough
Hop is not only used in beer. In Turkey it was used for bread yeast cultivation before the industrialisation of the bread making. We are still missing those breads. Collect your hop fresh or you can use the dried ones as well but not pellet forms. Boil 1/3 cup of hop with 6 cups of water till the half of the water evaporates. Strain and cool the water. Add 1.25 cup flour half a tsp salt and quarter tsp normal wet yeast, sourdough or chickpea yeast. Wait till you see the bubbles and refrigerate.
You can use this just like sourdough culture. They say this sourdough culture is way better than normal sourdough and adds all sorts of minerals and vitamins to the bread.
Grated fresh ginger – lacto ferment, ginger beer, kimchi
Grate fresh ginger into a sugary water. Make sure the jar is sterilised before use. After a while your ginger-bug will start growing and bubbling away. Use this as your starter culture in your ginger beer or lacto fermenting vegetables.
Cabbage – lacto ferment
Cabbage is another source of good-guys. Chopped cabbage readily ferments with the addition of salt and water and keeps for ages in your pantry.
Kefir – milk, general fermenting, cheese
The mother of all probiotics. It has the highest amount of good-guys in it than the other sources mentioned here. I make kefir at home regularly. Strained kefir (kefiran) is like “ayran” (yogurt mixed with water) drink and goes well with meat as a drink with the addition of dry mint and salt. If you are treated with heavy antibiotics, you can kick-start your gut with kefir as you wouldn’t have anything left in there.
Kefir forms these poly-saccharide structures (kefir gems) and it grows in time. Get kefir gems from a reputable source like “Dominic of Kefir” (google him) and you will always have this beautiful source of probiotics with you.
Try kefiran if you have difficulty digesting milk because of lactose.
Water Kefir – Drinks
Water kefir is slightly different than dairy kefir. Good-guys form a poly-saccharide structure looking like transparent cauliflower pieces. They consume sugar and grow the structure. I used it to make mead, fermented fruit juices and tea with it. Aside from the health benefits, it is a refreshing drink especially cold. Taste is different than kombucha, a slight hint of milk is there too.
Kombucha – Fermented fizzy drinks
You can’t start Kombucha at home without the mother. Once you’ve got it, you can prepare black or green tea with sugar, cool it to room temperature and add the Kombucha culture on top. This makes a nice fizzy drink and it forms a pellicle on top just like mother of vinegar. There are many good-guys here at work living in the pellicle in a symbiotic relationship. I also use OzTops caps which has a one-way valve on them to make fizzy without the pellicle forming. When there is no air going in the bottle, pellicle does not form.
Morning dew at spring equinox – yogurt
This is a ritual done at the morning of spring equinox in Turkey by the Yörük people. The dew on grass is collected in a little container and warm milk is incubated with this water. Would there be any better way than this to get the good guys from nature into you?
Rye bread and blue mould – cheese
Growing penicillium roqueforti is one of the cheap solutions to money spent on expensive sachets of culture. The method is simple. Bake a rye bread, doesn’t even have to raise much. Dice into pieces as soon as it is cooled and put them in a sterilised jar. Add your chosen culture from a blue cheese you like and seal it. Blue mould will grow and take over the bread. Once you see it is growing, replace the lid with a cheesecloth for it to breath.
Once all the bread is consumed by the mould, crush them wearing a mask to protect your lungs. The dust can be used in blue mould cheeses.
I also use a piece of the blue cheese blended with milk the night before and use it as a blue mould as well as starter aroma culture directly.
Cured salami mould
Penicillium nalgiovense and recently discovered penicillium salamii can be scraped from traditionally made salamis and incubated in water and molasses water. This water can be sprayed on salamis ripening in your fridge to get the white and blue moulds growing.
Red Clover – cheese
Collect red clover flowers and dry them. When you are making cheese, make a tea with the flowers and use the water in your milk to support propionic bacterium shermanii strains with the extracted propionic acid. This will make large holes in your alpine and Swiss type of cheeses.
Camembert mould – cheese
Skin of camembert cheese can be used as an aroma starter in your cheese making. Cut a wedge from a newly opened camembert, put in the blender with some milk and blend it. Add this to your milk during cheese making when the milk is cold.
Hot Smoking – general curing
This method is not a good-guys cultivation method but prolongs the shelf life of the produce. I do cold smoke my garlic, nuts, salt and cheeses. Even store bought cheddars are lifted to another dimension with simple cold smoking.
I do hot smoking with meat but you should always brine them before cooking.
Smoked sucuk and mortadella are a delight to consume with Turkish national alcoholic drink Rakı similar to Pernot of France.
Raw milk – cheese
For a true terroir cheese, you should cultivate your own starter cultures. The indigenous bacteria available in your milk that is coming from the paddock will be your friend. There are 2 basic methods for thermophilic (bacteria that works from 28C to 50C) and mesophilic (bacteria that works from 20C to 28C).
As we are trying to cultivate the bacteria that is already exist in the milk, the process is simple. For mesophilic, leave some raw milk in a sterile jar on the kitchen bench till you see the separation of curds and whey (cloudy milk) and run this culture couple more generations to get a strong microbiology. This is your mesophilic culture.
For thermophilic, I use my yogurt machine and incubate the raw milk without adding any other culture at 43C. This mostly kills mesophilic bacteria and leaves the thermophilic ones.
I also put strained kefir through the same thermophilic process and have a real aromatic thermophilic culture for my cheese making.
New born baby vomit – yogurt, cheese
Sounds a little bit disgusting but you do not have tell where you have your yogurt starter. I also don’t tell that my urine used as a fertiliser in my garden. Friends don’t have to know everything :-)
This vomit is full of thermophilic bacteria strains and once incubated with milk at 37C to 43C, you will have one of the best yogurt cultures.
My yogurt culture is a mixture of kefiran, bee larvae and ant’s eggs. I make yogurt in a 1 litre yogurt machine once or twice a week using room temperature UHT milk and 100g milk powder. For the last 8 years, we didn’t buy yogurt from the shops. Yogurt machine is the best investment we made and practical for a family with young kids. I don’t have to heat the milk and wait for it to cool. I prepare the machine at 8pm and the yogurt will be ready around 7am in the morning.
My sourdough is a mixture of water kefir, Oregon trail sour dough I bought on the net and a bit of kefir. I have two strains running in white and rye flour. They make the best bread for the last 9 years. I usually use my bread maker to knead the dough which does a better job than me and I can do other things in the meantime. I make no-kneed sourdough bread almost every weekend that doesn’t require kneading.
My lacto-ferment culture was initially a ginger-bug. I used this to ferment courgettes one day and in 3 days, they were ready to eat. I am using the liquid that came out of courgettes in any vegetable fermentation now.
My kombucha came from a friend about 5 years ago I think. Since then we are enjoying it. I bought the kefir from Dom on the net once and lost it but another friend of mine gave me some again. When you neglect your cultures, they will go dormant or die off.
My water kefir is growing nicely in honey water.
I have a strong thermophilic and a mesophilic culture for my entire cheese making in the freezer.
For fish hydrolysate and weed tees, I am using combination of sourdough and kefir cultures to make a strong fertilizer or compost tea.
As a conclusion, humanity evolved with these bacteria throughout the billions of years and we even share genes. We have a symbiotic relationship with them. Bacteria in our guts are like mycorrhiza for the plants, helping us to digest the food we eat. Without them we would suffer. Make sure you get your daily dose of these into you.