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Last week we talked a little bit about the tiniest inhabitants of our farms – the invertebrates, fungi, and bacteria that decompose plant and animal matter into the nutrients plants need to survive, which in turn become the nutrients we need to survive. But fungi and bacteria aren’t just breaking down the food in our compost, they are making the food in our kitchens and factories!

Like a lot of people, I took the ample time I’ve had in my home over the last few months to make a sourdough starter, and it’s been a wild ride figuring out how to develop and care for my own little colony of bacteria and yeasts (which are a type of fungus) so I can keep them happy and the use them to make some really delicious bread (and pancakes and crackers and biscuits and crumpets and…). Let’s just say, there’s been a lot of baking, and almost all of it has relied on microorganisms to happen.

And it’s not just breads. Fungi and bacteria are essential to making yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, soy sauce, chocolate, kombucha, tempeh, salami, and so much more. Humans have been employing the skills of bacteria and fungi to help us preserve foods for at least 13,000 years! So let’s raise a toast (fermented or not), to these marvelous microbes!

Here are five things to make to help you get to know our food microorganisms better.

Make it Rise

Bread

Wondering why you have to let regular bread dough rise, but you can whip up banana bread and pop it in the over right away? Curious where the holes in your bread come from? What’s the difference between baking powder and baking soda anyway? Looking for an alternate way to blow up balloons for your next party? Check out this activity and learn the secrets of leavening! This one is great for kids as young as kindergarten, and there’s an extension for older kids who really want to get scientific.

Uplifting Leavening Activity Guide

 

Make it Cultured

June 1 is World Milk Day! To celebrate both milk and microbes, there’s nothing better than yogurt! Yogurt is cultured, which in this case doesn’t mean it’s read all the books sitting on it’s “should read” pile. It means it’s a happy home to a number of strains of beneficial bacteria, which gives it it’s thickness and that tangy flavour. And best of all, it’s super easy to make at home! All you need is a pot, some jars, a food thermometer, milk, a little yogurt from the store, and a warm place. This recipe for the BC Dairy Association will get you started.  It’s really great with the rhubarb compote from our Stems week!)

Make Your Own Yogurt

 

Make it for Science

Photo by Bev Sykes, CC BY 2.0

Sourdough is having a moment right now. But what is it? While most breads are leavened with baker’s yeast, which can be purchased in packets or jars in the grocery store, sourdough is leavened using a starter culture of wild yeasts and helpful bacteria. Those yeasts and bacteria live all around us, and will find a happy home in some flour and water in your kitchen. The fun thing about sourdough is that the exact strains of yeasts and bacteria are different in different places. You may even have different microbes in different parts of your house! These helpful yeasts and bacteria out compete and harmful ones.

Even if you don’t want to get into sourdough baking, you can still make a starter for science. Sourdough for Science is a citizen science project collecting information about sourdough starters around the world. You follow their instructions to make a starter and collect data for 10 days, then submit you data online!

Sourdough for Science!

Make it Fermented

So many every day foods rely on fermentation, even ones you’d never think of. Hot sauce? Fermented. Chocolate? Fermented. Tea? Fermented. Soy sauce? Cultured with mold and then fermented. Here are some fun videos showing how a few common foods are made. How many fermented foods do you eat?

How Soy Sauce is Made
How Tabasco Sauce is Made
Cocoa Fermentation

Make Kimchi

One of our most exciting community workshops is You Can Kimchi! where we talk about fermentation and it’s importance to food, and make a simple kimchi recipe. It’s messy, spicy, and a lot of fun!

I always start by admitting that I didn’t learn how to make kimchi from a Korean mom, grandma, aunt, or other cultural knowledge keepers. I learned from the internet, from someone who did learn from a Korean mom. And if you have a kimchi maker in your family, you should definitely reach out to them for teaching! Traditionally, kimchi was made collectively by groups of women in an extended family, as it’s had to make just a small batch. Traditional kimchi also includes seafood in the form of fish sauce or shrimp paste, but I’ve left it out of this version to make it more allergy-friendly.

The recipe may look like a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps, but none of them are difficult. Try your local Asian grocery store for the gochugaru (ground red pepper) if you can’t find it where you regularly shop. You could use a different kind of ground chiles, but it won’t quite be kimchi.

The Lactobacillus bacteria that give kimchi it’s crunch, fizz and tang come from the different ingredients in the mix, including the cabbage and gochgaru.  Lactobacilli are anaerobic bacteria. That means they live and multiply where there’s no air. So for your kimchi to be kimchi, you need to use a mix of ingredients, and keep the air out by making sure your veggies are under the brine and there are no big air pockets in your jar.

Food Safety Note: While the lactobacilli are generally great at out competing for harmful fungi and bacteria, if your kimchi grows mold or smells bad, throw it out and don’t eat it!

Simple Kimchi Recipe Card

Happy Fermenting!

Kat

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