Chhurpi — Cheese from Chauri

Have you heard of chhurpi, the world’s hardest cheese? Developed thousands of years ago in a remote Himalayan village, it’s made from milk from a chauri (a cross between a male yak and a female cow) and is a favorite snack in pockets of eastern India, Nepal and Bhutan.

The protein-rich, low-fat cheese gets softer the longer it’s chewed — and people will chew on small cubes for hours. Chhurpi has low moisture content, making it edible for up to 20 years. It’s used in curries and soups or chewed as a snack (especially by yak herders during their long travels).

Chhurpi is fermented for 6-12 months, then stored in animal skin. It’s healthy and nutrient-rich, as chauri graze on herbs and grass in the high alpine mountains. 

“It is said hard chhurpi takes anything between minutes to hours to soften, after which it tastes like a dense milky solid with a smoky flavour as it dissolves slowly. The so-called world’s hardest cheese is admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea, and I never could bite into one so far, but Nepalis across the country adore it,” writes BBC writer Neelima Vallangi.

Read more (BBC)

Global Kimchi Boom

South Korea’s exports of kimchi are at a record high — they have increased nearly 14% year-over-year in 2021 through August.Exports were highest to Japan ($57.2 million), U.S. ($18.9 million) and Hong Kong ($5.4 million). South Korea is expected to have a trade surplus in kimchi for the first time in 12 years. 

Korea Customs Service and food industry experts attribute the rise to a few factors. First, growing consumer desire for healthier food. Second, kimchi is regularly highlighted by the media  during the Covid-19 outbreak as a food that can boost immunity (note that this has not been scientifically proven). And third, “foreigners’ greater interest in Korean foods thanks to the popularity of Korean pop culture abroad.”

Read more (Korea Business Wire

Can Tempeh Help Diabetics?

Tempeh, the fermented soybean beloved in Indonesia, has now been shown to reduce glycated hemoglobin levels as well as triglyceride levels in diabetic patients. A study by researchers from Taiwan’s National Pingtung University of Science and Technology found blood sugar levels dropped after tempeh was consumed.

For three months,  patients with type 2 diabetes took capsules of tempeh powder, made by fermenting soybeans with the fungi Rhizopus oligosporus for 48 hours.

Results, published in the journal Data in Brief, hypothesize that tempeh could be an effective food for managing diabetes.

Read more (Science Direct)

Three weeks ago, The Fermentation Association shared results of a Stanford study that found fermented foods improve health. Numerous media outlets picked up on the study results, too, and now The New York Times has shared them as well, reporting: “Now scientists are discovering that fermented foods may have intriguing effects on our gut. Eating these foods may alter the makeup of the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that inhabit our intestinal tracts, collectively known as the gut microbiome. They may also lead to lower levels of body-wide inflammation, which scientists increasingly link to a range of diseases tied to aging.”

The Times article pointed out that the study results challenge the long-held belief that fiber-rich foods are good for the gut. A high-fiber diet instead showed little impact on the makeup of the gut microbiome. In fact, study participants who “had the least microbial diversity had slight increases in inflammation when they ate more fiber…” suggesting they lacked the microbes to digest the amount of fiber consumed. 

Meanwhile, the participants that consumed a diet high in fermented foods had a greater number of microbial species develop in their gut. And only 5% of those new microbes were directly from the fermented foods they ate. “The vast majority came from somewhere else, and we don’t know where,” says Justin Sonnenburg, an author of the new study and a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford.

Read more (The New York Times)

A new Forbes article highlights surströmming, the fermented Baltic herring that’s a delicacy in Sweden. Considered one of the smelliest foods in the world, surströmming has become the darling of Sweden’s Disgusting Food Museum. The New Yorker recently published a piece on the museum, titled “The Gatekeepers Who Get to Decide What Food is Disgusting.” Manufacturer The Swedish Surströmming Supplier is promoting a surströmming challenge, encouraging people to post videos of themselves eating the fermented fish. The company says, once people “get past the initial shock of how it looks and smells when taken from the can,” many enjoy it. Surströmming is typically eaten with flatbread, potatoes, sour cream, chives and dill. (Forbes)

Read more (Forbes)

Ancient Fermented Beans

The traditional Chinese recipe of fermented black soybeans known as dou si has made the pages of Saveur. Hetty McKinnon, a Chinese Australian cook and author, shares her mother’s penchant for flavoring dishes with these aromatic beans. Dou si is used in salad dressings and dishes like noodles, stews and stir-fries. 

McKinnon writes: “Made from black soybeans that have been inoculated with mold, dou si is then salted and left to dry. Time — six months or so — imparts a robust, multi-dimensional flavor, reminiscent of other aged foods like parmesan cheese and olives. In my kitchen, the ingredient is a weeknight workhorse, and a quick way to add nuance and complexity to a meal with minimal effort and ingredients.”

Read more (Saveur)

Defining Postbiotics

As postbiotics continue to trend among consumers, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) released a consensus definition on the category, published in Nature Reviews: Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

The panel of international experts that created the definition made it clear that postbiotics and probiotics are fundamentally different. Probiotics are live microorganisms; postbiotics are non-living microorganisms. The published definition  states that postbiotics are a: “preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host.”

Inactive Microorganisms

A postbiotic could be whole microbial cells or components of cells, “as long as they have somehow been deliberately inactivated,” according to the news release by ISAPP. And a postbiotic does not need to be derived from a probiotic.

“With this definition of postbiotics, we wanted to acknowledge that different live microorganisms respond to different methods of inactivation,” says Seppo Salminen, professor at the University of Turku and the lead author of the definition. “Furthermore, we used the word ‘inanimate’ in favor of words such as ‘killed’ or ‘inert’ because the latter could suggest the products had no biological activity.”

The definition has been in the works for almost two years by authors from various disciplines in the probiotics and postbiotics fields. These include: gastroenterology, pediatrics, metabolomics, functional genomics, cellular physiology and immunology.

“This was a challenging definition to settle,” says Mary Ellen Sanders, ISAPP’s Executive Science Officer. “There are some who think that any purified component from microbial growth should be considered to be a postbiotic, but the panel clearly felt that purified, microbe-derived substances, for example, butyrate or any antibiotic, should just be called by their chemical names. We are confident we captured the essential elements of the postbiotic concept, allowing for many innovative products in this category in the years ahead.”

Growing Scientific Interest

Sanders continues: “The definition will be a touchstone for scientists, both in academia and industry, as they work to develop products that benefit host health in new ways. We hope this clarified definition will be embraced by all stakeholders, so that when the term ‘postbiotics’ is used on a product, consumers will know what to expect.”

Postbiotics have been on the market in Japan for years, and fermented infant formulas with added postbiotics are sold commercially in South America, the Middle East and in some European countries. ISAPP, in a release, notes: “Given the scientific groundswell, postbiotic applications are likely to expand quickly.”

The definition is the latest in a series of international consensus definitions by ISAPP. These include: probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics and fermented foods.

  • Probiotics: Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.
  • Prebiotics: A substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit.
  • Synbiotics: A mixture comprising live microorganisms and substrate(s) selectively utilized by host microorganisms that confers a health benefit on the host.
  • Fermented foods: Foods made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components.

Dairy-Free “Vegurt”

Chr. Hansen, a global bioscience supplier of ingredients, has developed Vega Culture Kits, a new line of probiotic starter cultures that can be used to create plant-based yogurt. “Vegurt,” a shortening of vegan or vegetarian yogurt, is the name being used for this non-dairy product. This term was created in reaction to the European Parliament’s current debate over whether plant-based products can use dairy-related terms like yogurt and milk.

“Vegurt seemed a catchy and suitable category name compared to having to sprain our tongues calling them ‘fermented plant-based alternatives to dairy yogurt,’” said Dr. Ross Critenden, senior director for commercial development at Chr. Hansen. 

The Vega Culture Kits are  designed to “robustly ferment” any dairy-free plant base, like nuts, cereals, legumes or seeds. The Vega Culture will appear as “culture” on ingredient lists, in the same way that dairy yogurts include “culture” when cultures or probiotic strains are added.

Read more (Food Navigator)

“Strategic Rotting”

Fermentation saved the human diet, argues Krish Ashok, author of Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cooking. He calls fermentation strategic rotting. The discovery of fire was key to the human’s survival as they learned to cook meat, but fermentation allowed civilization to create bread and alcohol, turn milk into yogurt and preserve a harvest through the winter. 

“Fast forward a few millennia, and we have mastered fermentation to the point where we can pick and choose microbes with precision and generate complex flavours in the bargain,” Ashok writes. Pictured, his charming drawings illustrate microbes used in fermentation.

Read more (Mint Lounge)

Fish Sauce Without the Fish

Vegan chefs are creating animal-free fish sauce, using ingredients like seaweed, mushrooms, pineapple, soybeans, black beans and tofu for “the obvious oomph of umami.” A recent piece on Vice.com reported that many of these chefs were reluctant to use anything other than traditional fish-based ingredients. But they’ve found that these new fish sauces are especially popular with younger customers, many of whom are vegan or reducing the amount of meat-based products in their diets.

“Across the animal-free spectrum, home cooks and chefs have gotten creative as they deconstruct and recreate the magic of fermented fish,” continues the article. 

Raj Abat, chef at New York’s plant-based Filipino restaurant Saramsan, was initially skeptical that a vegan fish sauce could work, but he found that fermentation was the transformative element. He said: “My first thought was: It has to look dark and black, and it has to smell really, really bad. Fermentation does that. It makes everything smell really funky, but when you taste it, it’s so delicious.”

Read more (Vice)