Kimchi stew - alive and kicking!

A recent research paper studies and describes the mechanisms of probiotic bacteria, specifically of the genus Bacillus, in eliminating pathogens. It also describes how Bacillus form endospores that allow it to survive harsh conditions, such as high temperatures. So, the kimchi in your stew, may still have some probiotic goodness!

The paper is a great read though obviously heavy on procedures and jargon, and goes into details of a specific pathogen, Staphylococcus Aureus, and how the secretion of the Bacillus bacteria suppress an important behaviour that allows the S. Aureus to colonise intestinal tracts. The sample size is 200, so not too small but not the largest, but is carefully chosen to be exemplary and to provide the best data by avoiding food sterilisation and anti-bacterial products so common in urban areas. This point is interesting in itself, that the research had to endeavour to find microbially active guts.

Link to the article here and for full access, use this.

R E P O R T - DNA sequencing

A quick recap of our processes

We used nanopore technology to sequence (‘read’) the DNA of the microbes in a variety of the fermented foods. To do this we extracted the DNA from the various ferments and performed an amplification step that simultaneously selects a bacterial gene of interest and amplifies it. This bacterial gene acts as a marker that we can use to census the entire community of bacteria present. We then feed this DNA into the MinIon nanopore sequencer. The DNA is read by passing through a protein pore (which regulates speed) and then across an electrically charged membrane. The different bases (or ‘letters’) of the genetic code alter the charge across the membrane and these changes are recorded. Once we have collected this raw data we must de-code it back into DNA bases using a machine-learning algorithm, which we call ‘basecalling’. Once the raw data has been basecalled we have usable strings of DNA sequences. We can then use a computer program to match these strings against a known database of bacterial genes. Finally, this gives us an output that can be tallied up and visualised.

Results

The graphs below are from our first batch of samples. Most of the samples are dominated by lactobacillus, which is reassuring as this is what has been described in previous studies. Interestingly, even the old fish sauce (made in 2014) and the old kimchi (~ 1 year old) have a variety of lactic acid producing bacteria. Also, our two replicates from the same kimchi (old kimchi 1 and old kimchi2) found high agreement between them. This suggests that the technology and protocols we were using are fairly robust. One other point to note is that the younger ferments (~ 1 week old or less) have a markedly different microbiome. Many of these are likely environmental bacteria found on the raw ingredients, chef’s hands and the kitchen. It’s also important to note the ‘high’ value of Escherichia shouldn’t necessarily be cause for concern. Firstly, from the gene we used (16S), it’s impossible to say anything about the exact Escherichia species/strain present. Many are harmless, commensal bacteria that live in our bodies (although, some strains do cause severe food poisoning). Secondly, the value itself doesn’t tell us anything about total numbers. This value is the relative abundance, i.e. out of all the DNA in the sample, what proportion is Escherichia. This means that whilst it is the most dominant genus (or group), it could be present in the food at a very low level if there are aren’t many bacteria in total.

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In the next batch of samples, we wanted to explore where the lactic acid bacteria were coming from. To get an idea of this we took samples from a recently made kimchi at different times, as well as the ingredients. The recipe uses mooli radish- which also grows at the Eden project. We took samples from a radish leaf, the radish pre and post salting and he kimchi sauce.

Whilst we found lactobacillus and other lactic acid bacteria (Leuconostoc, Weissella) after 6 hours in the kimchi, we couldn’t detect it on the leaf, mooli or kimchi sauce. This means it is either coming from an alternative source (the chef’s hands / the fermentation vessel / other), or present at levels so low it is undetectable.

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These results tie back to a theme we were keen to explore: “Everything is everywhere, but the environment selects”. This means that all types of bacteria are able to disperse everywhere, but they only thrive when the environmental conditions are right This, in effect, is fermentation in a nutshell. By creating the right conditions (high salt, low oxygen), we are enabling lactobacillus and other lactic acid bacteria to thrive. In turn, this prevents the growth of other harmful bacteria and fungi as the pH decreases, ultimately preserving the food.

The ease of modern sequencing technologies allows us to look under the hood of ancient fermentation recipes. Hopefully, this project was useful to visitors at the Eden project to think about fermentation at home and demystify the process. Many visitors were interested in the probiotic health effects of fermented foods, which we perhaps a little underprepared for. There is a lot of information online about this topic, and filtering the solid research from over hyped fiction is not easy- particularly when much of the science is locked behind paywalls. In the future, hopefully there will sufficient research to reveal or dispel these effects. In the meantime, hopefully we can enjoy the food and enable better preservation (and less waste) of seasonal vegetables.

All data and code for he analysis can be found at  https://github.com/s-meaden/ferment.

Sound of fermentation

A while ago, we did our best to record the sound of fermenting soy beans and sent it over to a friend and musician to turn it into a creative piece.

I’m certain that some of the sounds you hear, are in fact, the sound of my feet.

I’m almost certain that some of the sounds you don’t hear, are bacterial.

And there may in fact be some sounds of microbes, and most definitely of soybeans wrestling about in a fungal dream.

More of Dudley Moon’s music here.

Data!!

So, after we treated our samples to remove the cell structures, collected the DNA, enhanced them, labelled them, counted them, collected the electronic data and converted it to base codes and compiled it through various technical hiccups, we have our data! And its mostly lactobacillus.

Each of these entries refers to a single bacteria in our sample, a single strand of DNA. We’ll be posting these up soon properly, but here’s a little peak!

Ferment! Day 5

Miso

We made miso today, following Noma’s recipe as well as traditional methods though it has ended up spending the rest of its days in a plastic ice cream tub. Miso is the product of a fungal fermentation, where the microbe aspergillus oryzae is cultured on rice or barley grains then mixed through cooked soy beans and salt. The cultured rice can be bought online and is known as koji.

We used roughly 60% koji to soy and 10% salt, and the soy bean cooking liquid to eye, bringing the mixture to a level where it clumps into a ball and when thrown against the side of the bowl, doesn’t crack and doesn’t splatter. A sort of mud-like consistency.

We’ve put away a cacao miso as well, and will see how it develops!

Miso recipe

480g soy beans
300g koji
40g salt

Soak soy beans overnight.
Cook until soft and reserve the liquid, and cool to room temperature.
Blitz the cooked beans to desired consistency and mix through the salt and koji.
Add the cooking liquid until the mixture resembles a dry-ish dough, and comes together in your hand and when thrown against the side of a bowl, it neither cracks nor splatters.
Throw the mix in balls into a container to make sure there are no pockets of air.
Pat down to a smooth surface and salt the surface with sea salt, being generous with the edges.
Place cling film across the surface and cover with muslin.

Update

The miso we made is very sweet and fragrant, much less complex than any store bought or long-ferment products, but definitely delicious! We found that after 9 days at room temperature, it was good enough to eat but we will leave a jar fermenting at Eden over the next year and see how it develops.

The salt on the surface definitely helps to prevent any unwanted growth and apart from a very small surface spore of white mould, the miso was uncontaminated and once the spore was removed and resalted, it’s stayed nice and clean.

Ferment! Day 4

Kimchi this, kimchi that

You can make kimchi with almost anything. We were lucky to be able to pick a few bits and bobs from the global gardens at Eden to see what was suitable for the season.

Traditionally, it is a response to the seasons and regions, the best crops and the gluts. There are kimchis that preserve and store for deep winter and ones that are fermented quickly and eaten fresh in the spring and summer.

Recipes are good, but principles are better and there are only a few that you need to get to grips with so that you can make kimchi that fits your environment and season.

Salting

We salt the main vegetable to change its texture, remove some moisture, and to help it absorb the seasoning.

The longest we salt anything is napa cabbage, a large pak choy variety that has a high water content, which is salted for 6 to 8 hours. Anything else is usually under 4 hours. Dense vegetables such as squash or turnips are salted for around 2 hours, mainly to soften its texture, taking it from a crisp to an al dente crunch. Leafy greens such as chard, spinach, chives are salted briefly for 10 to 20 minutes to help it absorb the seasoning.

You can use table salt in a brine if salting very light, leafy greens. Flaked or rock salt is preferable for tougher veg to draw the moisture out slowly. You can also combine half the time in a 15% brine and half the time with flaked salt to save on money.

Sauce or brine

You can broadly group kimchi into a kimchi made with sauce and one made in brine. The latter is called ‘mul’ kimchi, literally meaning water kimchi.

The only ingredients to your sauce or brine that will affect the fermentation is its starch and salt content. With kimchi, you don’t need to worry about dechlorinating the water.

The starch is most commonly provided by water from cooking rice. You can also bring 1 part rice flour and 4 parts water to a simmer for the same effect. Some recipes call for wheat flour. Some people use water with a little sugar instead. It provides the anaerobic bacteria with food to multiply and stabilise your kimchi.

The salt content is generally to taste. Kimchi is a side dish and is usually slightly salty to accompany other dishes. When fermenting in a brine, you can follow a general rule of a 2 - 5% salinity. When fermenting in sauce, follow a basic rule of 5 - 10% salinity.

Ripening

The final consideration is ripening and storing. Typically you ripen kimchi at room temperature for 24 hours, then in your fridge for 1 - 3 weeks. The kimchi will continue to ripen, sour and be delicious. Once it has ‘over-ripened’ and has become too sour, you can use it for cooking.

Typically you want the vegetable to be submerged under the sauce or the brine. A heavy weight will help release the carbon dioxide as the bacteria ferment. Due to the vegetable being salted and the sauce/brine having a relatively high salinity, you will find that kimchi is fairly robust and doesn’t require sterile caution.

With these principles in mind, here is a loose recipe.

Carrot kimchi

Slice your carrot into chunky matchsticks and salt for 30 minutes to an hour, until they lose their firmness. Tear the tops and add in the last 10 minutes of salting. Rinse thoroughly and squeeze out any excess moisture.

Make your sauce with a general proportion of 200ml starchy rice water, 100g chilli flakes or powder (no seed), 20g salt (to taste), 8 garlic cloves and a thumb of ginger.

Mix through your sauce and pack into a suitable container. Cling film to the edges and place a suitable weight on top. Leave to ripen for 24 hours, then store in fridge for 2 weeks for optimal ripeness.

You can work a radish, mouli or squash in a similar way. Typically you can keep a radish slightly bulkier and squash is best to cut into bite size pieces, roughly 1cm thick. Aubergines can also be turned into kimchi, but require a quick blanch and the moisture squeeze out first.

Recipe #2

Garlic jangajji

Jangajji (장아찌) is a broad term in Korean cuisine including many different pickles, some fermented and some not. There are newer, Western influenced vinegar pickles that fall under the same category, however much of the more traditional jangajjis involve fermentation in a seasoned soy brine. It is a useful way or preserving gluts quite quickly, as you can often have a running brine teeming with microbes.

There are some simple processes involved to consider, if you were to improvise.

You want to control the moisture level of your vegetable. Any greens, such as asparagus, kales, beet tops etc, would be best prepared by being dried first, then submerged in your brine.

You want to ensure a good texture, and some tougher greens are often blanched before they are dried.

You want to make sure your ingredients are safe being preserved raw, so a lot of mushrooms require a quick blanch.

Whenever you preserve something in your brine, it will inevitably release moisture and other bits for lack of a better word. It is good practice to strain the contents after a week, bring the brine to a boil, skim off any impurities, cool to room temperature and re-pot the veg in the brine.

Aside from that, you can make the brine as flavourful as you like. A lot of Korean temple food relies on simple but deep flavours, and their jangajji liqueur will often consist of a highly aromatic stock.

Garlic Jangajji recipe

900g garlic, peeled and trimmed
750ml white wine or pickling vinegar
375ml soy sauce
200ml stock
50g sugar
1.5 tablespoons salt

  1. Submerge the garlic cloves in vinegar and leave for 7 days in fridge.

  2. Prepare your brine by bringing the soy sauce, stock, sugar and salt to boil. A veg stock with ginger, garlic, peppercorns and dried chilli works well, and you may also add soju or sake at this point.

  3. Add your garlic to the cooled brine and leave at room temperature.

  4. After 3 to 4 days, strain the brine and bring to boil, skimming any impurities. Add the garlic back to the cooled brine and leave for a further 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge, until the garlic is suitably fermented.

Other jangajji ideas

For root vegetables, you can salt and dry thin slices and preserve them in a similar way. This worked well last year with beetroot, which we sliced fairly thick, salted and dried in the sun before brining them to ferment. We then sliced them very thinly and used it as a punchy side dish.

It also works well with garlic stems, which don’t require any salting or drying. You can simply replace the garlic in the previous recipe with the stems, and miss out the vinegar step.

Elizabeth Fortnum : Illustration & research at The Eden Project Residency

Being involved in The Eden Project ‘Ferment!’ residency is a new approach to illustrating for me, as i have never worked in collaboration with a scientist or microbiologist in any kind of research setting. Illustrators often find themselves creating visuals for articles or essays that are way beyond their comprehension - perhaps? and this setting is unusual as i am here, and somewhat involved as the research is in process - as opposed to illustrating the outcome of said research. This informs my approach to the project itself. I am interested in illustrating processes and concepts so it is fun to be able to respond intuitively and be playful. One thing i have learned so far is that the bacteria involved in fermentation can be latent everywhere and that the nature selects when to awaken it. I think it’s reasonable to say that is a pretty close analogy for my working process too. I’ll be decorating the common lab space with my musings as the residency progresses - and post here for those who won’t be visiting the site itself. The images below are initial collage responses to miscroscopic images of baechu kimchi and Hoon’s grandma’s homemade fish sauce, which is 4 years old!

Ferment! Day 3

Things don’t always go to plan…

We had some set backs in our DNA sequencing where we weren’t able to isolate as much DNA as we’d have liked from some of our samples. Something to learn from, tighten up the process and take a bit more care. A lot of these chemicals and processes are proprietary and so there is some element of trial and error. 5 samples done, 1 good sample, 45 more to do!

Sean and his colleague Suzanne were busy today working through the next processes to amplify the DNA, to attach specific barcodes to each sample's DNA, count them using a dye and lasers then finally put them through the nanopod to get the data. Tomorrow, if all goes well, we’ll be analysing the data and putting out our first round of insight into the microbial population of ferments.

Global gardens

Julie and James, as well as the rest of the horticultural team, have been supremely lovely in accommodating us and allowed me to take a few bits and bobs from their global gardens. Huge squashes, healthy mouli tops, chillies, coriander, lemongrass, beans…

Our main focus is to show ferments that people can understand and try at home, as well as provide insight into different parts of plants that may otherwise be lost. Tomorrow, I will be prepping carrots, radishes, squash and aubergine into suitable autumn kimchis and at some point (hopefully) work with some of the sweet potato stems and leaves.

When walking through Newlina, it is tempting to eat anything that’s edible, just to see how it tastes. Some plants exude their characteristic flavour throughout their body such as fennels and lovage. Most parts of most plants, even without significant flavour, boast nutrients. Most tops, leaves, flower buds and seed heads are edible. Do make sure though but for the most part, with a little research, there’s nothing stopping you from pickling, braising, drying any of these parts of produce that we are already familiar with.

The finer details

Sophie, our friendly lab tech, was kind enough to take some beautiful pictures of some ferment samples. We’d love a compound microscope to get some bacterial photos, but it is still stunning to see these samples up close. Sometimes you can see the physical changes to the structures. Other times, it does just make you think about it differently and appreciate it differently.

Lactic acid ferments, from left to right: basil, green chilli citrus kosho, red chilli citrus kosho, courgette, dill, wheat bran, chive flower buds, chive seed head

Kimchi, old and new

There are many processes that occur within a ripening kimchi, biological, chemical, physical. We hope to get some microbial pictures later in the week, but for now I’ve been putting slices of a 2 day old and a 1 year old kimchi under a wide lens microscope. Aside from being a thoroughly tranquil activity, it was interesting to see on a basic level how the cells have expanded from the osmotic effects of the salt. It is also, very beautiful, as most things are when symmetrical and full of glitched details, a tiny fractal world. I also ate the sample after, so that’s a bonus.

The pictures alternate between young and old kimchi, and each pair is to the same magnification, starting with the young kimchi.

Ferment! Day 2

Isolating DNA

A major part of our residency is getting a clear picture of the microbial populations of our ferment samples. The first step of this is isolating the DNA. Our samples go through a series of procedures, mechanic and chemical, in order to take away the structures of the cells. The samples are then passed through a filter to catch the isolated DNA.

We spent the majority of today working on samples of unrefined anchovy fish sauce, young and old flower bud lactic ferments and young and old kimchi. The end results are incredibly clear, a good sign, without a hint of smell or colour. Sean is testing them back at his lab, and fingers crossed we have good results! We will be updating the results later on this week, as well as processing more samples.

It seems interesting in kimchi that the vegetable is heavily salted, effectively killing all surface bacteria. Some vegetables are left for a long time. How much LAB bacteria remains on the veg? How much is found in the seasoning? And what other bacteria is responsible for the transition of raw kimchi to ripe?

Once we establish a successful isolation, we’ll be running through some more directed experiments to answer these questions.

Ferment! Day 1

Colin and Sophie are our lab technicians, here to help and guide us during our stay. With Sean coming later in the week to set up the bulk of our scientific exploration of fermentation, Colin and I spent some time taking initial photographs of kimchi and fish sauce. We hope to get a decent microbial photograph later in our residency, but for now you can see images through a wide lens Zeiss microscope and a basic, compound microscope.

You’ll have to bear with me and my non-existent scientific knowledge, but it was interesting to see how much oil there was from the chillis in kimchi, as well as the sharper geometry in the fish sauce. The fish sauce was made by my nan, a few years ago and has been sitting patiently in my fridge. It is murky, unrefined and super punchy.

We set up the simple lactic ferments and put them on display. As something you can do with just salt, water and a clean jar, it seems like a good ferment to explore and share with the public. Last week we pulled out a lot of herbs at Newlina Eco-Garden. The hot summer meant they had lasted much longer than normal. I decided to put a load away in simple 2% brines and see how they turn out.

The lovage seems to be changing very little and is not so active.
The wild chive flower buds are the most active in comparison, needing burping twice a day and smelling super strong.
The basil is less active but there is definitely a delicious change in its aroma.
The horseradish is completely inactive, and we hope to investigate its effects in inhibiting microbial activity. I will be transferring some to a larger vat of brine, hopefully to lessen the concentration of its inhibitory qualities.

Invisible Worlds: Come see us!

Hello! Sean, Lizzy and I will be busy in the lab at the Core building at the Eden Project these two weeks, fermenting, sequencing and collaging to explore fermentation through a variety of scopes. We will keep updating you here with things behind the scenes, but I will also be running a kimchi workshop at set times. We may seem busy and working hard, but we are here to share so please feel free to knock on the door and ask questions!

Here’s when to find us, who will be in, and a quick shout of what we’ll be upto!

Ferment! Kimchi demonstration and tasters schedule

Thursday 4th, Friday 5th - 11am-12pm

Saturday 6th, Sunday 7th - 11am-12pm, 2pm-3pm

Tuesday 9th—Friday12th - 11am-12pm

Saturday 13th - 11am-12pm, 2pm-3pm

Behind the scenes

Friday 5th—Sunday 7th, Friday 12th—Saturday 13th

Sean will be preparing samples and running DNA sequencers to find the microbial populations of our ferment samples, as well as developing experiments and processes for further investigation in the coming week. Lizzy will be responding to our images, data and processes with collages and prints as well as engaging with the public in creating our own visual, collective, microbial piece.

The full team will be available to share our progress and open dialogues with the public about what we are upto. We might seem busy, but we always have time so if we’re in the lab, just knock!

Please note, we will not be at Eden on Sunday 14th!

Recipe #1

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Our first recipe card!  Thank you Elizabeth Fortnum for the lino print!

Baechu kimchi is the most popular kimchi, at least abroad.  In Korea, kimchi made with mouli is also very popular.  Beyond that, there are over 300 varieties!

Kimchi is known for being sharp, garlicy and spicy.  It's important to note that chillis came to Korea a few centuries ago, but we've been making kimchi for much longer.  White kimchi, made without chillis, is also very popular especially in the summer.

It's hard to find decent recipes that are translated to English and even harder to find recipes for the lesser known varieties.  We hope to upload more of these so you can try them at home!

Just to get your head spinning, as far as kimchi goes, you can have water kimchi soured in a brine, kimchi made with beef stock, dried jujube dates, fruit such as clementines, crispy Asian pears and apples, soy sauce, kimchi wrapped in perilla leaves and kimchi made with fresh oysters and octopus!

These will be given away at the British Science Festival on Tuesday 11th September, 6pm till 10pm at the Trinity Market in Hull, where I'll also be giving out tasters and talking endlessly about Korean ferments.

Shotgun Metagenomics

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"Shotgun metagenomics, is the
untargeted (‘shotgun’) sequencing of all (‘meta-’) microbial genomes
‘genomics’ present in a sample. Shotgun sequencing can be used to
profile taxonomic composition and functional potential of microbial
communities and to recover whole genome sequences."

Shotgun metagenomics, from sampling
to analysis
Christopher Quince, Alan W Walker, Jared T Simpson, Nicholas J Loman & Nicola Segata

Sean Meaden, a research fellow at Exeter University, will be running ferment samples through a sequencing machine that allows us to process the dna population within a few days.  We hope to compare the make up of kimchi through its fermentation process as well as latent bacterial populations present on plants and leaves.  Here's a short description of the process written by Sean.

To monitor the microbes directly, we can use modern techniques that use the genetic blueprints of the bacteria to distinguish them. DNA is the substance that makes up this blueprint, much the same as humans and other animals and plants. All living things use DNA to encode their functions and we can ‘read’ the DNA using different technologies. Much like reading a book we can interpret what these strings of DNA letters mean for the biology of the bacteria.

To take this one step further, the genetic blueprints (or genomes) are all different. In a practical sense, we can use these differences to tell the bacteria apart and see which ones are thriving in the fermentation.

The way we look for these differences is to extract all the DNA in the sample- including all the vegetables and bacteria, then fish out a certain type of DNA. This piece of DNA is a gene that only the bacteria have and contains enough differences (i.e. a bunch of different letters scattered throughout the blueprint) to tell each species apart. The way we fish out this gene is to use bits of DNA that we design to stick onto the target gene we want. Once we have fished out these genes we can amplify them so we have enough to work with.

The next step is to read the DNA that we are interested in. To do this we take the pieces of DNA that we fished out of the sample and run it through a sequencing machine. This machine works by containing a membrane that has nano-sized holes in it. As the DNA passes through the hole, the membrane vibrates- and vibrates a little differently depending on the letter that passes through. We can then use computer algorithms to convert the signals from these vibrations into letters.

The last part of the process is to match up these strings of letters (or DNA sequences as they are known) to a dictionary that contains the sequences for thousands of bacterial species. From this we can get an idea about which bacteria are present in the ferment and how many of each one there are.

Ultimately, this allows us to see how the microbial community changes throughout the fermentation process. We can ask questions about where the microbes come from and how they interact with each other to create certain flavours

A grower's lament, ferment

 
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Please, don't forget the farmer!

I was listening to a radio 4 show on Meatopia where Tim Hayward was talking about the intricacies of wood and its flavour profiles, and how for a lot of chefs it is as much important an ingredient in their consideration.  It strikes me then, that depending on how far you stretch your conception of what makes the dish in front of you, a farmer is as much a chef as anyone else.  Their choice of microbial and fungal inoculations, the feed that they use, when they decide to harvest, among a million other things, all determine the specific flavour profile of a crop (obviously as well as its own genetics and will).

There have been countless moments working at Newlina when Paul would pick off a certain part of a plant at a certain time and with bright, wild eyes, shove it in my mouth.  Lovage buds with natural, glistening bulbs of sugar on its pollen head, the youngest shoots of chrysanthemum as their sugars are yet to be converted, fresh, young rocket and rocket flowers in their prime, sap, leaves, roots...

And there are many crops that Paul grows for his own pleasure, because really he would grow anything and everything, but does not grow them for sale as they either take too much time and effort, or they are risky and prone to various issues in our climate.  It can all be done however, with a little investment and a little reassurance.  Money, sadly, always comes around as the cold, hard wall that stops a grower in his tracks.  It's a hard industry, laborious, with very small profit margins.  But they are the ones with all the knowledge and passion, and with a little support, they can diversify what is local and what is on our plates.

What's a good way to do this?  Ferment!  Ferment!  Do it!

If you want your growers to grow more aubergines, peppers, artichokes, fennels, soy beans, lemongrass, chickpeas... if you think it'd be lovely to have all these beautiful crops grown locally in Cornwall, then ferment!

It is very simple - lots of plants grow lots of things that are edible.  Bean leaves grow in vast quantities and must be pruned to avoid mould.  If we ferment them, we can buy them in mass.  This means we don't have to buy greens from half way across the world in winter because we have our larder of ferments.  It also means the farmer gets more money for their time.  So they have more time.  What do growers do with more time?  They just grow more things.  At least, Paul would.  He would grow those artichokes, fennels, soy beans etc etc.

It's just an idea, but I do think it's a good one!

Fermentation and its place in the world

Fermentation is the process where microbes chemically break down food substances by producing enzymes in the absence of oxygen.  There are some aerobic processes in foods such as mould ripened cheese and kombucha which is also classified as fermentation.  The oldest culinary practice is the use of yeasts (fungal microorganisms) used to convert sugars into alcohol.

Fermentation has had a resurgence in popular food magazines, high end restaurants and in kitchens of passionate cooks.  It is important to note however, that fermentation is above all a fundamental and quite basic process that happens on a microbial level.  It existed long before us and will most likely outlive us.

Over thousands of years, through mistakes and experiments, we have learned through instinct and our primary senses to harness these microbes for preserving and making food delicious.  With the relatively new field of microbiology, we are learning more about fermentation every day.  It happens in our muscles when they are starved of oxygen and resort to anaerobic respiration to create energy.  It's in the earth in compacted soils below heavily ploughed land or concrete blocks.  It's in our guts, helping to break down the foods and release nutrients.  It's been used to create mass populations of medicinal microbes.  It holds a part of the puzzle for renewable energy in anaerobic waste management.

So what can fermentation do?  How can it solve some of our problems?

Preserving food is not a necessity these days, although I have heard of clever chefs using fermentation to store foods when doing mass catering.  It is certainly healthy, but exactly in what way?  And who benefits from it?  Can it help us to save money?  Can it encourage more people to cook at home, and to source responsibly?  Is it just a trend that will pass with time, or is it creating new, unique traditions as local groups apply learned processes to their own environment?

Invisible Worlds

As part of their permanent exhibition this year, the Eden Project has collaborated with FoAM Kernow to run a host of residencies in their Core building.  Rosanna Martin has already run one week of research and is presenting her findings and sculptures in the third week of October, as part of her Disintegrated Rock residency.  Katharina Hauke and Till Hovermann are the current residents until 26th of September, recording multitudes of sounds and aspects of the site for their ...and then we see if we will be friends exhibition.  We will be at Eden from the 1st of October until the 14th, with Ferment!.

We are working with Sean Meaden, a microbiologist at Exeter, and Elizabeth Fortnum, an illustrator based in Falmouth.  Our main goal is to give a practical, accessible and inspiring look into fermentation.  We hope through sensory, scientific and creative lenses, we can help people feel more confident to try fermentation at home.

As we start to gear up properly for our time at Eden, we will be updating thoughts, resources, recipes and images to the blog.  We hope to see you there!

Many thanks to Eden and FoAM, as well as the Wellcome trust, Arts Council England and the Wolfson Foundation for their support.

And to the microbes!  For always being there, in scary numbers.