There’s a vast range of fermented, or live-cultured, beverages, foods, and condiments found across the globe. Read on to know more about this culinary conundrum.
Writing about food in a country as diversely rich as ours isn’t easy. We boast of thousands of varieties of food and no one region is as under explored as the Northeast. One hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of the distinct fare the Seven Sisters have to offer, but the one thing we can say with certainty is that all the states have a weakness for fermented items like khorisa (bamboo shoot), axone (fermented soya beans), kharoli (fermented mustard), and nari (fermented dried fish). It comes as little surprise then that the Naga tribes have up to 150 different types of fermented products!
The natural fermentation process was discovered ages ago, and the earliest evidence traces back to 7000 – 6600 BCE, when an alcoholic beverage was made from fruit, rice, and honey in the Neolithic Chinese village of Jiahu, China. There’s a vast range of fermented, or live-cultured, beverages, foods, and condiments found across the globe, so read on to know more about this culinary conundrum.
THE GLOBAL WAY
Most culinary cultures use bacteria to make food more amazing, because something magical happens when these two entities meet – we get fermentation. It works by converting carbohydrates to alcohol and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria or a combination thereof, under anaerobic conditions. Russians love their kefir – a yeast fermented thick milk, while the Chinese have their thousand-year egg – a nearly black, preserved egg. For Koreans, it’s kimchi – a pungent side dish of fermented cabbage, garlic, and peppers and the Colombians drink a fermented corn beverage called chicha. Germans like to add sauerkraut – sour cabbage – to their sausage and a staple food for Hawaiians is poi – fermented taro porridge. Of course the Japanese add the sticky and stinky fermented soybeans called natto on top of teir rice and in India, fermentation is everywhere from dosa to lassi, handia to tungtab, dhokla to jalebi and apongto haria.
NOT FRESH, STILL HEALTHY
When we eat fermented foods, we eat the beneficial bacteria or probiotics that these type of foods contain. This is essential because we need a diverse population of bacteria in our digestive system for optimal health. To name just a few of their functions, probiotics are responsible for improving digestion, enhancing immune function, producing antioxidants, normalising skin conditions, reducing cholesterol, and managing blood sugar levels.
Today, markets and restaurants are stocked more generously than ever with items like sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) or tofu (bean curd). Caleb from King Chilli restaurant in Mumbai says, “We have seen a sudden demand of fermented food like axone, anishsi and khorisa. Customers love the strong aroma of the dishes and we serve both vegetarian and non-vegetarian fermented delicacies. However, our fermented pork delicacies are must try”.
In Delhi, Rosang Café & Store not only serves fermented food but also sells a variety of authentic products from the Northeast. Mary, the owner tells us, “Fermented food may not sound attractive but it is very much helpful in fighting many diseases. I have many customers coming in from various parts of the country just to have traditional food items like baah-gos, khalpi, goyang etc. We also sell fermented pickles and vegetables, and we even parcel these abroad to countries like Japan, Korea and U.K”.
The bottom line is that fermented foods are amazing for your overall health. The larger the variety of fermented foods we can take the better since by eating them, we boost the number and variety of bacteria living in our guts, almost like taking probiotic supplements, except much less pricey and much more tasty. However, when purchasing these items, do make sure that they do not contain sugar, preservatives or food dyes, and most importantly, that they have not been pasteurised.
Curious about fermented food now?
Note: The article first appeared on What’s Hot/TimesCity