Fermented beverages have been a staple of the human diet since practically the dawn of (recorded) time (or at least 9000 years ago). Without modern refrigeration techniques, people sought other methods to preserve food and mitigate spoilage. Fermentation is one of the ubiquitous methods of preservation utilized by all cultures.
Using naturally occurring bacteria and yeast to ferment native foodstuffs didn’t only protect them from spoilage, it also added pro-biotic food to their diet and boosted their nutritional intake. Not only that, many fermented foods contain enzymes humans need to more effectively derive nutrition from their food. Whether they knew it or not, ancient peoples benefited in many ways from fermented foods.
Most people today are pretty disconnected from the natural world, especially the natural bacteria that are disinfected out of our lives. In some cases, that is good. Certainly nobody wants to catch the plague! However, I believe that our “war on bacteria” is at the root of a whole host of heretofore never before heard of “modern illnesses,” both mental and physical. As a society, we are severely out of (bacteria) balance. Correcting that balance is what fermented drinks are all about!
So, to that end, let’s take a look at a few interesting drinks from around the world. Many of these are ancient beverages and their popularity throughout the ages demonstrates the power of fermentation. It’s hot baby!
Sima is a traditional beverage of the Finnish people. It is made and served during Vappu, the Finnish May Day celebration. While normally a stoic people, Vappu is considered the one time of year that they really let their
hair down. Like most May Day celebrations, its roots are from the Pagan tradition.
Sima is a quick and easy ferment (warning: pdf!) with lemons, sugar and yeast. The short fermentation cycle (of which the conclusion is indicated by raisins added to the bottling stage that float to the
top) reduces the amount of alcohol present.
While drunk by adults, it is also popularly served to kids, as many other cultures have more accepting attitudes towards low doses of alcohol for children.
4. Boza or Bouza
Boza is a traditional fermented drink whose roots have been traced all the way back to Mesopotamia, 8000-9000 years ago. It is mainly made from hulled millet, which is boiled in water and then poured into broad shallow pans. When cool, the mixture is strained through a sieve, and water and sugar are added.
Boza is produced in most Turkish regions and in Bulgaria, Albania and Romania. Bouza is produced in Egypt and is most likely the forerunner of beer in Ancient Egypt.
Different cereals (wheat, millet and rye) can be used for Boza production, and natural mixtures of yeasts and lactic acid bacteria cause fermentation. Starter from a previous batch is used and both lactic-acid bacteria and Saccaromyces (same yeast as in Komb…hold on. I don’t want to ruin the surprise of #1) are involved in the fermentation process.
3. Milk Kefir/Water Kefir (tie)
Those were interesting to read about – now let’s get to some more familiar fermented friends! I LOVE Milk Kefir. Its smooth and creamy and filling – a perfect snack. Though often referred to as drinkable yogurt, kefir is so much more.
As I found out in the Top 5 Fermented Foods, many of the commercially available foods we assume would be fermented are not, or have been heat treated to eliminate most of the good bacteria.
Not surprisingly, most supermarket Kefirs are pasteurized and don’t provide the same level of health benefits as the homemade stuff. I recommend making it with raw milk to get the most bang for your buck.
Since milk gets a bad name these days, or if you happen to be vegan, water kefir is another option. A popular alternative has sprung up utilizing young coconut water instead of sugar. Again, a short fermentation cycle means low alcohol levels for those concerned. The beverage is lip smacking delicious.
2. Ginger Beer
This one is on my to-do list for sure. I confess to totally digging on the Reed’s Ginger Brew, but just like the booch, that stuff gets expensive. Reading about how to make this version myself had my mouth watering, I was so excited. I’ve got to carve out time to make this recipe (and visit this cool site again).
It says: “The British Excise Regulations of 1855 required that the drink contained no more than 2% alcohol, and usually it was far less potent: hence ginger beer became popular with children.” That’s exactly the kind of classification Kombucha (and other fermented drinks) needs: less than 2% allows for health benefits without buzz, IMHO. Oops, I let my #1 drink slip! You never would have guessed…
Okay, so I am predictable, but what did you expect? You might look at others, even sample, but you always come back to the one you love. How about a special Kombucha fact, then? Something you’ve never heard before? Okay, I have heard from multiple people that Kombucha can be left bottled for nearly as long as you want! In fact, after a full year, Kombucha is reported to taste smooth and delicious, not tart or vinegary as one might expect.
I’m not surprised, as I have found even 45 days or so produces somewhat the same effect, with a significant mellowing of the taste. But, is that drink Kombucha, or has it become something less alive or pro-biotic, lacking in the vital acids? Testing is the only way to find out. Another project!
Check out these links for more on Fermented Drinks: