Anything I’m Fermenting

May 15, 2008

The on-going soy sauce controversy…

Filed under: Brining,Lactobacillus,Soy Sauce — iwouldntlivethere @ 4:30 pm
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A couple of new issues have been brought up by Tadaki- is sea salt saltier, the same as, or less salty than regular salt? I really don’t know. I thought it was saltier, but Bittman claims the opposite. Considering he is a chef, cook book writer, and columnist for the New York Times, I’m going with him…for now, regardless of Campbell’s Soup’s marketing. In the end, I added a bit of water to the mash to dilute the salt, and it does taste more like regular soy sauce (in terms of saltiness) now.

Inigo suggests that: “I’d be concerned with the acidic taste, which shouldn’t be happening“. I just tasted it again, and perhaps I have over-stated the acidity. Comparing it to Kikkoman, they are fairly similar in acidity. I agree with Tadaki that the acid taste is likely from lactobacillus, and therefor not really anything to be concerned about. In fact, my original salinity was chosen to promote lactobacillus (among other micro-organisms) fermentation.

As to the aerobic vs. anaerobic question…well, I only really properly tried to aerate it when I first brined the dried soy patties. This was because in beer making, good aeration is needed initially (and only initially) to get the yeast to grow and multiply. After that you try to avoid exposure to oxygen to prevent oxidization (produces off-flavours). With the soy, after the initial shaking-up to aerate the mash, I have only stirred the mash fairly regularly, but not too vigourously, so a bit of oxygen was likely added, but not much. Transferring to the glass jar probably re-aerated the mash, but then all salt I added probably killed off most of what was growing in the mash. Taken together, all this means I probably have something like the ‘microaerophillic’ conditions described in that patent Tadaki sent:

The purpose of these intermittent aeration steps is essentially accomplish in the fermenting Maromi a microaerophillic condition, i.e., a state of oxygen tension that is less than atomospheric and being on the border between aerobic and anaerobic conditions. As can be appreciated from the above, the initial fermentation can be under either anaerobic or microaerophillic conditions, but microaerophillic conditions are preferred. Microaerophillic conditions, at least for part of the fermentation time, develop a superior full-flavor and full-body soy sauce.

I have also noticed that after handling my soy sauce, I can have a fairly stong fish-sauce like smell on my hands – just like after handling a bottle of fish-sauce. This echoes what canucklehead found on tasting his uncle’s home made soy sauce.

Yogurt making

Filed under: Lactobacillus,Pictures,Yogurt — iwouldntlivethere @ 3:34 pm
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Well, after this post on my home made yogurt, I’m running out of fermentables to write up, I think only bread remains undocumented. Yogurt making is actually one of the primary reasons I started this blog, as it was Jen B.’s interest in it that prompted all this. However, I only make yogurt once a month at most so it has taken a while to be able to take pictures of the process (and on the day I made it one camera was out of power, and the other with my wife, so I had to use an actual film camera with a few pictures left, then get them developed – can you notice difference? The last 3 pictures were taken with a digital camera) . I usually make five tubs of 750 ml in each batch, which lasts us for over a month often.

This longevity is, I believe, the original reason for making yogurt – as a way to preserve dairy products. Only one batch (when I discovered that my electronic thermometer gives funny readings when immersed in water for long periods) had issues – a bit of mold growth on the sides of the last tub when I opened it (but the yogurt itself was OK – at least, nothing happened to me after eating it). The reason for the mold was that because my thermometer was not working properly, I was not holding the yogurt at high enough temperatures, so it did not acidify enough, which in turn made it more susceptible to mold infections – but only marginally so.

So, the theory behind yogurt is to ferment milk using a lactobacillus/thermobacillus culture to acidify it to help preserve it, and (a bit less clear on this part) to make it more easily digestible by adult humans. Initially the milk should be scalded – briefly brought up to at least 95 degrees . From what I understand, this is to modify the milk protein (makes the yogurt thicker and taste better), and probably kills off most competing bacteria. To properly and quickly ferment, the milk must then be held at temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees for several hours.

In practice, this is how I do it:

May 7, 2008

Brew-in-a-Bag (BIAB)

Filed under: Beer,Brewing,Pictures — iwouldntlivethere @ 8:46 pm
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As I said in the first post about National Homebrew day, my brewing method is based on the BIAB method described by ‘Thirsty Boy’ on the Brewing Network’s forums. I have put together a few shots of my brewing day, just to compare to Justin’s more normal home-brewing set up. Please note that Justin brews 10 gallons per batch, compared to my 3.3 gallons – it may be difficult to scale the BIAB method much above 5 gallons, or so I hear.

The usual procedure in home brewing is to gently mill your grain – taking care to crush the grain rather than grind it, as the husks should be kept as entire as possible. These are put into a mash tun – usually some sort of picnic cooler with a manifold of one type or another at the bottom to allow drainage of the mash. Water is heated in the brew kettle to a strike temperature considerably above the mash temperature – it will decline when mixed with the milled grain. The mash is allowed to rest for about an hour. The mash mixture is then drained – the first runnings are ‘recirculated’ back into the tun, to ensure clear wort. Additional hot water is poured into the mash tun to ‘sparge’ the grain – wash out remaining sugars. This wort is then boiled with hops, and fermented.

In contrast, here is the method I use:

National Homebrew Day – Not.

Filed under: Beer,Brewing,Pictures — iwouldntlivethere @ 4:11 am
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It ended up raining all day on Saturday. As a result (and due to a problem of too many brewers spoiling the brew in the SOBs – ask Justin) Justin and I decided not to go up to Newmarket, but stay at his place and brew his championship near-double IPA. Good times, good brews, good burgers.

Long-Winded Soy Sauce Update

I’ve been digesting what Kikkoman said to Inigo for a few days now, as well as what Takadi has asked (sorry about not responding earlier…it has been busy!).

Kikkoman initially says: “we suggest that you use 30 g of salt per 100 ml of water used”. In other words, 30% salt (by my weird calculation) or about 23% by weight.

Then they say: “it is recommended that you use at least 15 to 16% salt, otherwise the moromi mash could decay”.

This made me panic a bit, as my salt concentration, by weight, was only 6.25%! The fermentation has been producing a fairly strong sour smell (or as my wife described it, ‘cheesy’). This is most likely from a vigorous lactic acid bacterial fermentation. As I have mentioned earlier, it was re-forming a pellicle every day (which I would break apart during stirring).

So, I drew off about 800 ml of brine and boiled it with 350 g of salt. As not all the salt was dissolving, I added probably about 200 to 250 ml of fresh water. This I then added back to the fermenting soy sauce, raising the total salinity to about 15.2% (by weight – as you may have noticed, I have stopped using my odd way of measuring salt %!).

I have definitely killed off any visible microbial action now! And it obviously tastes very salty now – in fact saltier than my Kikkoman soy sauce. On the other hand, it does not taste bad at all – it is kind of like a mix of miso and soy, with some extra acidy. Or something like that anyway.

This brings me back to my ‘back of the envelope’ calculation of the salinity of the Kikkoman soy sauce. I have to swallow my pride and say that my memory of chemistry is abominable! Here’s what I said: “My guess is not enough to bring my figure up to 25% though – chlorine is much smaller than sodium, and even if they were the same size, it would double the salt concentration to around 14%, still far from 25%“. Wrong. The atomic mass of sodium is 22.99 g, and chlorine’s is 35.45 g – or over 150% larger! Recalculating the salinity meant going back to the label to see that there were 920 g of sodium in 15 ml of soy sauce. This is actually 6.1% sodium, there would thus be 6.1% + (1.5 x 6.1%) salt, but wait, salt water is denser than fresh water. Again taking a short cut (this will probably end up haunting me later), I found that regular sea water (3.5% salt) is about 2.8% denser than fresh water, and dead sea water (33% salt) is about 17% denser. I just used the average – so I estimate that the soy sauce is about 10% denser than fresh water.

Getting back to the question at hand – this means that Kikkoman’s sodium % was about 5.6% (920g / (1.1 x 15000ml)), so the salt concentration must have been around 14% (5.6% + (1.54 x 5.6%)). Ah Ha! Kikkoman may have been giving Inigo some funny numbers… 14% salt is WAY less than the 23% they recommend, and perhaps even below the level at which they claim the moromi mash would decay (remember, my calculations are not exact)! Maybe they dilute their soy sauce prior to packaging? Maybe European soy sauce is much saltier than North American?

And back to my observation that my 15% soy sauce is noticeably saltier tasting than Kikkoman’s (although not so much as to be unpalatable). This is especially interesting as I use sea salt. Mark Bittman*, in “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, states that sea salt tastes less salty than table salt. Hmmm…that means that my soy sauce’s salinity may be higher than I calculated, or Kikkoman’s lower. I think it is likelier that my soy sauce’s salinity is higher, as I have not been measure the volumes of water I have removed or added very accurately, and further, water has evaporated over the past few weeks.

Switching gears, takadi asks:

I think it’s interesting you mention the differences between chinese soy and japanese soy and compare it almost to the differences between an ale and a lager. Perhaps that’s why Chinese soy sauces tend to be more robust and Japanese soy sauces more delicate. Would the ratio of wheat have anything to do with the fermentation process either?

I’m really not a connoisseur of soy sauces – this whole experiment has been an eye-opener. As you say, it does sound like Chinese and Japanese soy fermentation styles differ in a way like ales and lagers do. However, I cannot really say much further, as I don’t know the differences well.

The wheat is a bit of a wild card for me, in terms of its effects. I think that in traditional soy sauce making, wheat flour provides a good innoculum source for wild yeasts, lactic acid bacteria, and molds – all of which grow naturally on wheat grains. Without a reliable source of starter/innoculum/koji, farmers may have had to do with what was available. Further, wheat is likely a source of easily assimilated carbohydrates for the molds to feed on, before they are able to attack the soy beans. Unfermented soy beans are not easily digestible by humans, and it may be the same for micro-organisms. Once a culture of micro-organisms has been developed, it is likely that they are adapted to eat pure soy beans, no longer requiring the initial availability of wheat. The wheat may also make it easier to form the loaves. Finally, the wheat may survive to the fermentation stage, providing sugars for yeasts and bacteria to produce alcohol and acids, which creates ‘sanitary’ conditions inhospitable to less desirable micro-organisms. Early farmers lacked access to sanitizers or preservatives, making this last point important.

When you talk about percentages of salt, do you mean percentage of salt in the brine, or percentage of salt total including all the other ingredients?

Good point. Sometimes one, sometimes the other. My own brine was calculated ignoring the other ingredients, while my calculations of Kikkoman’s salinity include the other ingredients (I don’t know how much they weigh). I don’t feel like revisiting my salinity calculations right now, but I may later.

It seems as if this method relies on wild yeast strains similar to creating sourdough starter. How would effect the flavor?

Yes, this method does feel a lot like making a sourdough starter. As I mentioned in the first post, the soy patties initially smelled like my failed sourdough starter (it turned into a salt-risen bread starter). Salt-risen bread is fermented by clostridium bacteria. It makes a very cheesy tasting bread, so perhaps this has contributed to my wife’s opinion that the soy sauce fermentation smells cheesy. The cheesiness probably also comes from lactobacteria. Last weekend I tried a local brewery’s sour beer (fermented partly by lactobacteria) and it smelled cheesy. It was (personally) very over-soured – although very nice when diluted with their lager by 2/3.

“I’m also wondering how tamari is made without the addition of wheat to aid in the process of inoculating a culture.”

I really can’t say. As I say above, perhaps when a starter culture has been used for a while, it adapts to its conditions and is able to digest pure soy.

“…how do you keep the loaves warm in order for the strains to take hold?”

I kept them on top of my fridge, where it is a bit warmer. I don’t think you need to worry much about mold taking hold on your soy patties! 😉 As children discover in their school lockers and at the back of fridges, most foods get moldy sooner or later.

“Do you think keeping the mixture inside an open glass jar would be a different environment than keeping it in a plastic tub? There would definitely be more sun exposure.”

I do think it would give more sun exposure, which by definition is a different environment. In fact, my grandmother just gave me a huge glass jar, and I have transfered the soy sauce into it. As the jar is much smaller than the bucket, I could bring it inside and fit in the window. Besides, you can see what is going on much better. It also seems somehow more ‘respectable’ when it is in a glass jar, rather than in a bucket!

* Bittman’s cookbooks are the only ones I use regularly. Incidentally he has a blog at the NY Times, in which he posted a link to canucklehead’s soy sauce making directions – way to go canucklehead! – around the same time I was starting to make soy sauce.

May 3, 2008

National HomeBrew Day!

Filed under: Uncategorized — iwouldntlivethere @ 3:11 pm

Heading up to Newmarket – a suburb’s suburb north of TO – to celebrate the Big Brew – the US National Homebrew Day with the Southern Ontario Brewers – or SOBs. Rather than actually try to do anything serious, like packing up my own set-up and demonstrating the wonders of Brew-In-A-Bag (BIAB) homebrewing, I am going to assist JJ with his brew. He’s preparing a batch for a homebrew competition – I believe this is now his 3rd round, so perhaps the top level. As he is generously letting me keep half the batch, I have no issues being his side-kick for the day.

Looking forward to meeting these SOBs – have had a chat with George Leet, who I guess is their leader. Most annoyingly, they have decided not to have a publicly accessible website or blog or anything, rather they have hidden themselves within Facebook: This of course means that non-Facebook members like me can only peripherally participate (I know what you are thinking: “Oh, get over it and join already!”, but my procrastination tendencies are bad enough without adding Facebook to the mix!).

Will post pics of the happenings.

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