Fermentation is a method for preserving food which dates back thousands of years. This process was especially useful for historical societies during the winter, when fresh vegetables and meat could not be gathered. Scientist and foodies alike know that fermentation centers around attracting the right kind of bacteria. There are those bacteria that will preserve food, and those that will decay it. During this particular process, the desirable bacteria and enzymes convert the sugars and starches in food into alcohol and organic acids (Davesgarden). It sounds unappetizing, but actually, the process adds flavor and nutritional value to foods.
We encounter fermentation virtually everyday, but most of us don’t notice. It wasn’t until I read about the origins of sushi that I realized how much this process is used to make our food. Without it, we wouldn’t have cheese, bread, beer, or yogurt, just to name a few. Right now, I will be zeroing in on some fermented products that I thought were most interesting around the world.
Beware, these products are stinky and old – but delicious, so I hear.
You may be surprised to learn that Sushi originally referred to a way to preserve fish, not to eat it, according to The History of Sushi. In the 4th century, Southeast Asians fermented salted raw fish in rice. The lactic acid from the rice would preserve the fish, and decay the rice. After a span of 2 months to 4 years, the fish would be ready to eat, and the rice discarded. This process is referred to as nare-zushi (nare meaning fermented).
The above picture is of a crucian carp which was caught in Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest fresh water lake. After being salt-pickled for one month with its row inside, the fish was preserved in rice for one full year. Newcomers to such a dish will most likely be turned-off by its strong aroma and pungent flavor. (web-Japan.org)
Doenjang (Fermented Bean Paste)
The Koreans utilize fermentation in countless traditional dishes, such as kimchi (fermented cabbage) and zushi, but I found the process of fermenting beans to be the most interesting. These beans are grown, stone-ground, and thrown into a pot for years to produce the salty, spoiled taste that Koreans love as a condiment.
“Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmermon has some footage of a Korean farm with rows upon rows of clay soybean fermenting pots. Frankly, its bizarre. You’ll also get to see him try 8-year-old fermented soybeans – whoa!
Lastly, I found Surstromming to be quite intriguing because, according to 18 Stinky Foods Around the World, its smell is so putrid, that it is often compared to “rotten eggs, vinegar, and rancid butter.” Surstromming is a Swedish herring that is fermented first in barrels for a number of months, and then in tin cans for another year. The fermentation in surstromming cans is so strong that some airlines have banned it because it is an explosive hazard. To see a man’s attempt to eat this putrid fish, watch this video and you will die laughing.
**I should probably point out that 17 of the 18 “stinky foods” are fermented, to give you an idea of the bacteria’s odor power**