Tag Archives: preserved lemons

Fermented Lemons: Reawakening

As you may or may not recall from my first entry, part of my microbial menagerie involved preserved lemons. Or really, fermented lemons. After about two weeks of their brine sitting, I checked in on them. Contrary to what the recipe had assured me of, but consistent with everything else I’ve learned about fermentation, the one lemon above the waterline was covered in a light fuzz. Fortunately, the mold had not gotten so far as to hit the surface of brine so after carefully disposing of the miscreant into the trash, I decided to see whether or not any magic had happened (the now dubious recipe also assures the reader/listener that they should be ready with a week).

The results were underwhelming to say the least. Sure, it tasted of good organic lemon. And rind. And salt. But beyond that, nothing that I would not have expected of freshly salted lemons eaten whole.

However, John Cage fan that I am, I decided that since having them sit in a jar for two weeks wasn’t interesting, I’d see what would happen if I kept them in a jar for two months. Thus the lemons got relocated into a smaller mason jar where they could be packed in tight and have the brine reach the top, getting pressed down below the surface by the lid.

Two days ago I checked in on them and found that John Cage was a bit of a genius. The lemons started releasing gas, which they had not previously done. Taking of the lid to release the pressure and perform an olfactory inspection of the story thus far, I found that while not appetizing, the smell definitely moved past the “lemon and rind” smell to something new.

This evening  I found that whatever process was responsible for the sudden abundance of gas was speeding up. As I released the pressure, the build up had been sufficient over the past two days to send brine flowing through the small air vent.

I suspect that we have come to a crossroads, where cellulose providing structural integrity to the rind is beginning to be digested. Whether this is due to a different and exciting strain of bacteria finding its voice or whether this is the fruits of the prolonged labor of strains that have been at this for the past four weeks, I have no idea and at the moment I’m hard pressed to figure out how I’d even investigate this. Granted, if there is a sudden shift in aroma, this would indicate a change in metabolic processes within this little lemon world, suggesting that the torch was passed to the next microbial workers in this process. While one might hypothesize yeast contamination, this seems unlikely since the lemons didn’t have much in the way of sugars to begin with and by the four week mark whatever sugars there were would have already been consumed.

I’m quite curious where this is going. And what culinary use these lemons might have in a month

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The Microflora Menagerie Thus Far

Ginger beer:

Got dehydrated ginger beer plant from here which is composed of Brevibacterium vermiforme and Saccharomyces florentinus (thus making it a SCOBY). This is relevant as apparently there is a number of places that sell “ginger beer plant” which is just overpriced yeast for brewing. There’s an interesting article in the New Scientist about an English dude who studied ginger beer plant and got samples from all over the world and the common microflora in all of them were the aforementioned bacterium and yeast.

Why is this “authenticity” important? To some extent, it isn’t, at least not to me. The main reason why I care is that it would be interesting to have different flavor profiles, depending on which SCOBY gets used, much as one gets different flavor profiles from different grape varieties. After all, the reason not to simply using only yeast is because the bacteria produce their own set of organic acids and other compounds and thus impart a flavor beyond ethanol.

Right now, I’m brewing a second batch. Had one bottle of the first batch and it was quite nice. Definitely different from ‘ginger beer’ I’ve had thus far. There are some sour spectrum flavors which are interesting. The next step is comparing how ‘aging in the fridge for two weeks’ ginger beer tastes like versus ‘aging for a week’ ginger beer tastes like. A project that would be a more authentic experiment if the process were the same in both cases… which it wasn’t, if for no other reason than the first batch was the first rehydration of the ginger beer plant.

Water kefir:

Or, tibicos. Another SCOBY. Unlike ginger beer plant, this one doesn’t seem to have a common bacterial and/or yeast profile from what I understand. To some extent, it seems like ginger beer plant might be a specific variety of tibicos. Certainly they look quite similar. The main difference seems to be that the ginger beer plant grains float up to the top of the brew while tibicos grains hang out at the bottom, suggesting that the composition of the SCOBYs is different.

Thus far I’m still ‘reviving’ them from their dehydration. Another difference from the ginger beer plant which went right to work, these seem to be taking their time in getting going.

As a side not, I find it interesting that they are sold as “water kefir” grains and not tibicos. Seems like a marketing thing. Kefir already has a “healthy drink” aura about it. It’s unclear to me that this particular combination of bacteria and yeast has any particular health benefits but I’ll be looking into that once there is a batch ready for drinking.

Kombucha:

This is a culture that I am growing from a bottle of G.T.’s brand kombucha. Already made one batch before moving to Miami and it was pretty awesome. Basically at full concentration, it tasted like a sweet fruit vinegar, reminiscent of apple cider. I’d used a jasmine green tea for it. Unfortunately, that SCOBY died. But not in vain! I learned that you cannot grow kombucha on rooibus tea. This might be because: 1) rooibus has some antimicrobial properties that killed either the bacterial and/or the yeast portion of the kombucha culture, or 2) kombucha in fact needs caffeine to thrive. I’m rather fond of the second hypothesis. A culture that decides to stake a claim on caffeinated beverages. Once this new culture forms a nice solid colony, I’ll try a batch on yerba mate that I bought recently.

Interesting side note, the particular variety of kombucha I’m using has the bacterium Bacillus coagulans, which is apparently added to animal feed because it boosts the immune system. This fact, more than anything else, would suggest to me that it does, in fact, have beneficial properties. The yeast is Saccharomyces boulardii. What I find interesting about this species is that apparently it sets up camp in your gut and entices E. coli to attach to it, rather than to your intestinal lining. Seems like a handy yeast to have around.

I’ll have more to say about kombucha in the coming week or so, including links to relevant studies.

Sauerkraut:

First batch ever. Shredded a small head of organic red cabbage, put it in a jar, layering some salt and muddling it every few inches. Topped the whole thing off with water. And then sealed the jar.

What? Yes, sealed it. Why? For science! To see how much gas is produced. The answer: quite a bit in the first 24 hours. Made the mistake of unscrewing it in my pantry, not over the sink. Oops. As you might imagine, bright pink liquid squirted all over the place. BUT the sealing might have worked to my advantage in terms of pushing fermentation in the direction I wanted. In case it’s been a while since you’ve slept through organic chemistry, when carbon dioxide dissolves in water it makes an organic acid. Given that desirable fermentation involves bacteria that like acidic environments, this probably helped give these and advantage over their competitors. It certainly softened up the cabbage quite nicely.

Since then, in the past week and a half, the wide mouth of the mason jar has had a small mason jar filled with water as the cover. This did require adding extra water every other day as the air in this apartment is dry enough as to make the loose seal result in significant evaporation. Today I filled the jar up to the top with water and resealed it tightly. Tomorrow I’ll unscrew it and see how much gas formed this time around. If the fermentation has gotten where I think it should have, the answer should be relatively little gas. In the meantime, the smell seems to be that of fresh sauerkraut, which is encouraging… and yummy.

Preserved lemons:

A North African project. Apparently a fast ferment that makes the whole lemon eatable, as in the rind as well. Lemons are quartered, salted, and muddled. Topped off with water. Apparently, unlike with other ferments, having some bits float above the water level is not a problem. We’ll see. Fortunately, the kind of mold that seems to grow on citrus is fairly easy to spot. I used organic lemons which had a nice thin rind so I have high hopes of the fermentation magic to work here, in contrast to thicker rinds where I might be worried about full penetration of whatever chemical magic must happen.

Yogurt:

Fairly basic. Got organic low fat Greek style yogurt, put a heaping tablespoon into a half gallon of low fat milk, whisked it, left it in a covered pot for the night and… yogurt. Milk just at room temperature. I suspect that if I weren’t using it for smoothies, I’d actually want to heat it so it would ‘set’ properly. As it is, I enjoy the simplicity.

Those are the ongoing projects. Tomorrow I’ll write up the exciting NEW projects that got started today. Stay tuned.