Fish sauce has been used for centuries as a umami “flavor bomb” for dishes. An article in British Post Magazine highlights how chefs throughout the world use regional variations of fish sauce – from Vietnamese nuoc mam, Malaysian belacan, Filipino bagoong and Italian colatura.

“Fermentation has been an integral part of many traditional food cultures to develop flavourful foodstuffs,” says Ana San Gabriel, who specializes in umami taste receptors and physiology at food and biotech company Ajinomoto. 

San Gabriel details that fish sauce is made from the proteins (myosin, troponin and titin) from the flesh of fish that are broken into umami compounds (peptides and free glutamate) through salting and fermentation.

Belacan is a staple of Malaysia’s coastal cuisine. It’s a shrimp paste used in curries and sambals.

Belacan has a deep history and heritage in Malaysia, and for many locals it evokes fond memories of family gathered together to make it from scratch,” says Jasper Chow, the executive sous chef at One&Only Desaru Coast, a luxury beachfront resort in Malaysia. “Making belacan is a delicate process that reminds us of the simple yet sophisticated methods of cooking that survive even until today.”

In Vietnam, nuoc mam is made in the southern island of Phu Quoc. It can be made from fish, shrimp or crab.

“As a dip, it highlights the sweetness and clears the greasiness of meat and deep-fried bites. It gives an exciting flavor to, yet never buries, the beautiful natural taste of fresh rolls,” says Pham Van Nhuong, the sous chef in the kitchen at Vietnam’s Tempus Fugit. “As a seasoning, unlike salt, it adds to braises, stews and even stir-fries a vigorous flavor and a signature scent.”

Bagoong in the Philippines is made from fish or krill. 

Bagoong is one of the building blocks of umami, or linamnam, in Philippine cuisine. Sometimes it’s used as a condiment or flavor for an existing dish, sometimes it will be the actual component or basic building block of a dish – like the dish binagoongan, which literally means ‘you used bagoong’,” says chef Jordy Navarra, chef at Toyo in Manila.

Colatura di alici is Italy’s modern version of garum, made from salted and fermented anchovies along Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

“We use colatura as a subtle addition to many dishes and in doing so have nearly completely removed the use of sea salt for sauces and purées,” says Antimo Maria Merone (pictured), chef at Neapolitan restaurant Estro in Hong Kong. “This allows us to precisely reach the level of sapidity by adding a certain percentage of fish sauce to the preparations that lack natural umami.”

Read more (Post Magazine)

Mexican Hard Cider

An Oregon cidery is taking an interesting approach to hard cider, ciders inspired by aguas frescas.

La Familia Cider Company founder José Gonzales is a first-generation Mexican-American. He runs La Familia Cider Company with his wife, Shani, and their kids Jay Jay and Jezzelle. José and Shani grew up drinking aguas frescas, but couldn’t find those drinks in Oregon.

“As my wife and I were enjoying Oregon craft beer and cider, she said, ‘Too bad there aren’t any of the flavors we grew up with,” José said. So they developed their own brand with flavors reflecting their heritage.

Their ciders are from freshly-picked, northwest-grown apples, but the flavors reflect the family’s Mexican heritage. Mainstay flavors include Manzana, Tamarindo and Hibiscus. 

“With our ciders we wanted to do something a little bit different,” explained Jay Jay. “Change up the game a little bit.”

Today, the Salem, Ore.-based brand is in more than 50 stores in Oregon and Washington.

Read more (KGW8)

The New Funk

Have you tasted furu yet? More Asian American chefs are using the fermented tofu.

Common in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine, furu is made by soaking soybean curbs in a brine of rice wine, water, salt and spices. The flavor has a “specific tang, mild sweetness and intense umami,” according to a New York Times article.

“Furu adds a ton of funk that you can’t get from anything else,” says Calvin Eng, owner of the Cantonese American restaurant Bonnie’s in Brooklyn, New York. The restaurant’s dish furu cacio e pepe mein is noodles in the fermented bean curd.

Read more (The New York Times)

French Animal-Free Cheese

A sign that animal free, alternative proteins are gaining more traction – Even Parisians are using microbial fermentation to make dairy-less cheese. Two French startups have raised a combined $14 million to make cheese without cows.

“French cheeses are regarded as some of the best in the world,” reads an article in VegNews. “Two French startups just raised a combined total of $14 million to prove that delicious, complex, melty vegan French cheese can be made in a new way, one that removes cows from the production cycle, improving animal welfare and environmental impact while preserving all of the things people love about cheese.”

Paris-based startup Standing Ovation closed on $12 million this month. The company, founded in 2020, uses microbial fermentation to produce casein proteins that can then be added to vegetable or mineral bases to create replicas of classic French cheeses. Female-led Nutropy raised $2 million in funding for its animal-free casein that can be used in a variety of applications.

“As cheese lovers, we know the importance of cheese in our gastronomic culture and want to offer consumers a wide range of cheeses free of lactose and dietary cholesterol that are produced in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner,” said Nathalie Rollan, Nutropy CEO.  

Read more (VegNews)

A deep dive on Epicurious explores how apple cider vinegar (ACV) became America’s favorite. It is popular today as a detox tonic, but has a deep history in the U.S., “intertwined with the global spread of apples and with the transformations of fermentation.” 

Today, vinegar is considered an industrialized condiment but, until the 19th Century, it was homemade. Kirsten Shockey, author of Homebrewed Vinegar (and a TFA Advisory Board member) notes the key to making vinegar is nurturing the natural fermentation process. “Vinegar happens whether you want it to or not,” she says. “As soon as fruit is picked, it’s a race against time,” she adds. As the fruit ripens, wild yeasts ferment their sugars into alcohol. Microbes feast on that alcohol, converting it to acetic acid. 

Paul C. Bragg, namesake of the Bragg vinegar brand, helped popularize commercial vinegar. Theirs is still a raw, unpasteurized ACV. Paul preached the benefits of vinegar as far back as in the 1970s. This support coincided with “the rise of a countercultural natural food movement, which embraced the brown, gritty and ‘all-natural’ in its refusal of the refined, bleached and heavily processed products of the industrial food system.” (Pop star Katy Perry invested in Bragg in 2019). 

The article also highlights artisanal vinegar brands,  like American Vinegar Works in Massachusetts and two Pennsylvania producers, Supreme and Keepwell.

Isaiah Billington cofounder of Keepwell says that making vinegar  “helps us interact closely with the total landscape of local agriculture.”  Vinegar also uses produce that can’t be sold because it’s too ripe, or  because the apple is “very ugly.”  “We work at the margins of the harvest.”

Read more (Epicurious)

Kimjang, the Act of Preparing Kimchi

As Koreans enter the autumnal kimjang season – the time of year when kimchi is prepared with fresh, seasonal vegetables – The New York Times highlights how cooks outside of Korea are preparing the dish.

“For many communities in South Korea, a kimjang (also spelled gimjang) remains a grand act. But these days, Korean cooks outside of the motherland are adapting to their individual environments accordingly, scaling down their kimjangs to fit their lives or even hosting them virtually,” writes NYT food journalist Eric Kim, author of the book Korean American: Food That Tastes Like Home. “In a world where most people buy their kimchi at the store, preserving the act of preservation has become a priority for Koreans who wish to carry on the tradition of kimjang.”

Many American Koreans have memories of making kimchi with their parents and grandparents. Two women interviewed in the article have made kimchi-making their livelihood. Lauryn Chun, founder of Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi, says “If you can make a salad, you can make kimchi.” Ji Hye Kim, chef of Miss Kim in Michigan, describes kimchi as being  like a zombie – “Not quite alive, but not quite dead.” 

Kimjang has been recognized as a cultural heritage and “set of living knowledge” by UNESCO since 2013. The pickled flavor and gamchil mat (meaning “savory taste” in Korean) are defining elements of kimchi.

Read more (The New York Times)

The first non-alcoholic wine shop has opened in Paris. An NPR article questions: Will the French actually drink their products?

Alcohol-free wine and liquor shop Le Paon Qui Boit (translation: The Drinking Peacock) opened in April, the brainchild of lawyer Augustin Laborde. The shop sells more than 300 bottles of low- and zero-proof beers, wines, gins and whiskeys. Laborde quit drinking during the pandemic and was frustrated going to bars with friends and finding his only non-alcoholic options were sugar-filled sodas or fruit juices.

The bottles have high price tags in Paris, at 10 to 15 euros (compared with 4 to 8 euros for an  alcoholic version). Laborde says there are  extra steps involved in making a non-alcoholic wine. After going through traditional fermentation, the alcohol in wine is evaporated through a filtration process.

Non-alcoholic wine consumption globally has grown 24% in the last year, according to consulting group IWSR Drink Market Analysis. Dan Mettyear, research director at IWSR, says “This is definitely not a fad…it’s all connected to the kind of big wellness trends that we’ve seen across the world.” 

Growth, though, has been slower in France than in the U.S. and the rest of Europe. He says it’s a harder sell in traditional wine markets like France. “A lot of people have already well-established ideas about what wine is and what wine should taste like.”

But there are wineries transitioning to the production of  non-alcoholic wines, such as Le Petit Béret, a small producer in southern France. And Laborde says he anticipates the flavor of non-alcohol wine to become more refined, as techniques improve and the market grows.

Read more (NPR)

A team of nearly three dozen researchers from around the world reviewed case studies on microbiome research in agrifood systems. Their results, published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, “showcase the importance of microbiome research in advancing the agrifood system.”

Their 14 success stories include a broad range of topics within agrifood:

  • Microbial dynamics in food fermentation
  • Using microorganisms as soil fertilizers
  • Applications to improve HACCP systems
  • Identification of novel probiotics and prebiotics to prevent disease
  • Using microbiomes of fermented foods for starter cultures
  • Fermenting feed to improve the microbiomes of livestock
  • Identifying microbes in fermented meats
  • Using microbiota analysis for fermented dairy products

To further microbiome use in food systems, the research points to studies highlighting that fermented foods include many health-promoting metabolites (including studies by TFA Science Advisory Board member Maria Marco, a University of California, Davis, food science professor). But, the researchers stressed: “How certain microorganisms drive food fermentation, are transferred across the food production chain, persist in the final product and, potentially, colonize the human gut is poorly understood.” Researchers conclude that more work is needed to understand how the probiotics and metabolites in fermented foods could be used to treat diseases.

“Agrifood companies recognize the potential in understanding the microbiome and translating this knowledge into products,” the study continues. The food industry, the study notes, is “further preparing to develop personalized diets and specific foods for particular target groups in order to prevent or treat certain chronic conditions.” 

“The microbiomes of soil, plants and animals are pivotal for ensuring human and environmental health. Research and innovation on microbiomes in the agrifood system are constantly advancing, and a better understanding of these microbiomes will be a key factor in producing highly nutritious, affordable, safe and sustainable food.”

Read more (Frontiers in Microbiology)

Toddlers and infants slept 10 hours or more a night if their mother ate fermented foods while pregnant, according to a new Japanese study. 

The results, published in the journal BMC Public Health, studied over 64,000 pairs of mothers and their children. The diet of pregnant mothers was found to have an impact on sleep length of their children. Pregnant women who consumed miso, yogurt, cheese and/or natto all had children that slept 10+ hours a night until the age of 3. The article calls it “fermentation for hibernation.” 

The study notes, though, that there are other associated factors at play. The women consuming fermented foods were well-educated, employed and had higher incomes compared to the pregnant mothers not regularly consuming fermented foods. Scientists inferred that this higher demographic group  “likely recognized factors that could contribute to health and chose nutrient-rich options [instead of] nutritionally-unbalanced food.”

Read more (NutraIngredients)

Can Science Improve Chocolate?

Just like wine and coffee, the flavors of chocolate come from the local terrain, climate and soil where the cacao bean is grown. Chocolates from various parts of the world all taste different. Can those tastes be replicated?

Scientists are trying to determine what produces those flavors and if they can reproduce them consistently. Irene Chetschik, professor in food chemistry at Zurich University of Applied Sciences, has developed “new technological processes that can impact cocoa flavor on a molecular level — to get the best out of each harvest and create consistent quality,” details an article in BBC.

Chetschik says: “Now there is more appreciation for the product – we know where the bean is coming from, which farm, which variety – we can experience a much wider flavor diversity.”

Cocoa beans traditionally are fermented where they are grown. Fermentation will affect quality – a poorly-fermented bean has little flavor; while an over-fermented bean can become too acidic. 

Chetschik has developed a “moist incubation” fermenting technique where a lactic acid solution containing ethanol is applied to dried cocoa beans. It triggers the same fermentation reaction in the beans, “but is far easier to control,” she says. The final taste is sweet, rich and fruity. 

Nottingham University is also working on a chocolate-enhancing project. They’re using a hand-held DNA sequencing device to analyze the cocoa bean microbes. “With improved understanding of what drives the taste of premium chocolate, fermentation can be manipulated for improved flavor.”

Read more (BBC)