Fermentation The New Sexy, Microorganisms The Next Taste Frontier

Two years ago I can’t imagine I would be as excited  as I was yesterday about watching David Chang’s Harvard Lecture on “Microbiology: An Overlooked Frontier”  he made in 2011, David is the chef at Momofuku.  This lecture on microbes and their flavour profile is interesting for me personally on two different levels, one because I want to make my own miso paste for allergy kid and on the other level is my interest in sourdough culture.

Tasty Microbes

David Chang talks of a significant moment for him when he attended a lecture by professor Roberto Kolter in 2010 where the professor stated, ‘the future of food is microbiology’.  This started David’s enquiry of different flavours obtained by different micro-organisms and interestingly their place of origin.  I would recommend to watch this lecture, you’ll see in the beginning the mind boggling numbers of microorganisms and their genome by David Weitz, professor of physics at Harvard.

Fermentation Has New Disciples

Fermentation is trendy it seems and so it should be, as a species we’ve always preserved in seasonal glut for the lean times in our calendar.  If more of us are taking up allotments or buying local grown produce makes good sense to have a few jars of goodies for the storecupboard, but we’re not just talking sauerkraut here.  When I visited Hawksmoor over a year ago and saw a burger with kimchi I thought, ‘ hey, this Korean pickle has become main stream’.  Since then I’ve become aware how popular home fermentation has become from the professional kitchens such as Noma and their Nordic Food Lab where they preserve meat, balsamic vinegar, their version of miso paste using Nordic ingredients, to many blog posts and tweets from people busy preserving away.  The book that pops up often is Katz’s Wild Fermentation book, as I plan to make my own miso I’m ordering a copy.

Making Miso

I asked Linda, a chef and creator of  Playing with Fire & Water for any advice she could give on making my own soya-free miso for allergy kid, I remembered she had posted making miso here.  She gave me some good advice and said at the bottom of the email that I might find David Chang’s lecture interesting.

I need to make miso paste that is both soya-free and legume-free for allergy kid because I can’t buy it.  I’ll be ordering the rice koji inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae from a site selling it here, and there’s a great blog post on how to make miso here.  It takes from 6 months to a year, we’ll see if I succeed.

Microorganisms, Environment & Sourdough Starters

I don’t have to point out the obvious that sourdough is a fermentation, an environment where wild fungi and different bacteria thrive in, and as a consequence of that they provide the baker with rise and flavour in the dough resulting in a delicious loaf.  Lucky us.

What struck me watching David’s slides of when he inoculated his pork with aspergillus oryzae, trying to produce  “bonito-style” dried pork shavings (aspergillus oryzae is used for this, miso, soy sauce and other Japanese fermented products), was that on analysing the fungi they found it wasn’t aspergillus oryzae taking hold in the pork but instead it was pichia, a different genus altogether.  Pichia is commonly found on pork preserved products of European countries.  This signified to David how the environment itself, the kitchen in his restaurant in New York was dictating what grew on the products he’s trying to preserve.  For David this was an exciting step and if you watch the lecture he explains why.  For me this showed clear evidence about sourdough starters and their environment which I wrote about last year.

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with Anne about microorganisms and sourdough, she is known on this site as the miller of  Felin Ganol watermill, producing some of the tastiest flour I’ve worked with, well, what you may not know about Anne is her background in biology, specialising in microbiology and biochemistry and in fact she has a PhD.  I should really refer to her as Dr Anne Parry but knowing her I’m not sure she would appreciate it.  In this conversation Anne said, the only way to keep a microbe “pure” was to keep it in a sterile environment.  David’s presentation slides of his pork being inoculated with aspergillus oryzae but finding pichia  growing wasn’t a surprise, but gave me an “aha!” moment.  Those moments where connections are made, where different learnings come together nicely, connections was something Linda wrote about in her blog last year.

Remember in my post  Life Cycle of Sourdough Starter Part I, I said how it was pointless to have sourdough starters from around the world because they won’t keep their individual characteristics?  The reason being as research shows and Debra Wink brought it to our attention, the microbes in your starter will be determine by its environment, the flour, the feeding schedule and the temperature it’s kept at, the starter will evolve with what’s around it.  David’s slide of aspergillus oryzae and pichia gave me that moment of  “aha!”  yes of course…it makes sense, it all ties in together, microbes and their environmental evolvement, to adapt and survive, that’s what they do best, be it in preserved products or in our sourdough starters.