December 4, 2019 6:58 am Leave your thoughts
The Great British Bake-Off might have finished, but we can still milk it a little bit, surely? We milked it pretty strenuously during Dairy Week, of course, when the contestants were asked to produce various dairy-based bakes, using lashings of milk, butter and cream. You can relive the experience through our blog (Holy Cow!) here.
The programme, and our blog, provoked some interesting comments from our customers. One of them was particularly interested in the use of fermented dairy products in the bakes – things like buttermilk and yoghurt. We gather that this customer is a vegan and always tries to come up with vegan alternatives to the recipes on the Bake-Off. She pointed out that vegans are no strangers to fermented products, eating, cooking and baking with them frequently.
We thought we’d have a look at the kinds of things she was talking about!
Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts or other micro-organisms. During fermentation, instead of ‘respiring’, which requires oxygen, the micro-organisms feed off the sugars or starch in the foodstuff. In the process, they transform it – essentially, pre-digesting it. This is thought to make it easier for humans to obtain the nutrients within that food, when we eat it. In some cases, the process of fermentation generates additional nutrients (promoting the growth of probiotics, for instance, which are thought to help develop a healthy immune system) or removes other elements (such as phytates and lectins from seeds, nuts, grains and pulses, which some consider to interfere with the absorption of nutrients).
The production of alcohol or acids during fermentation acts as a preservative. It also gives a ‘rise’ and provides fermented food with a particular ‘tartness’ of taste.
Fermentation is, interestingly, the reason why some people who can’t stomach milk in its basic form are fine with fermented milk products, as the lactose in those has been broken down. Overall, people with digestive and bowel issues are often advised to eat fermented foods, as they may find them easier to digest.
Someone once described fermented foods as being ‘all the goodies’: it’s stuff like cheese, yoghurt, crème fraiche, alcohol, bread (including, notably, sourdough bread) and chocolate (fermentation is the first phase of processing for cacao beans).
Over the last couple of years, there’s been a sudden interest in new kinds of fermented foods. Foods like kombucha (a slightly alcoholic, slightly fizzy, fermented tea), kimchi (a mixture of salted, fermented vegetables) and kefir (a fermented milk-based drink) have sprung up and are taken almost medicinally by those in the know.
Is cultured the same as fermented?
In the world of food, the answer is generally yes. Many think the term sounds more appealing, so use it as an alternative. (Scientifically speaking, you’ll find people who can point out the precise difference between the two terms – however, for most purposes, they are used to mean the same thing.)
What about pickling?
Vinegar is made by the fermentation of alcohol, so if you eat pickled food, you’ll be getting a good dose of vinegar with it. However, the food that’s been pickled hasn’t necessarily been fermented itself – it may just have been stored in the pickle to preserve it or give it a particular taste.
How do vegans use fermented foods?
Fermentation is big news in the vegan world, as our customer noted! Products like miso and tempeh (fermented soy products) are hugely popular, and sourdough bread, vegan beers and dairy-free chocolate are staples in many vegan shopping baskets. There are some who accuse vegans of hypocrisy in eating anything fermented (think of the micro-organisms! they cry), but it is in fact impossible to avoid eating micro-organisms in this world, even if you stick solely to carrots.
The customer who contacted us was interested in the use of fermented products in vegan baking in particular. What kind of things was she talking about?
The big one is vinegar. All sorts of vinegar are used in vegan baking recipes, but apple cider vinegar is especially favoured, as it brings a lovely light tang to baking. This type of vinegar has undergone a ‘double whammy’ of fermentation: first, apple juice is fermented so that the sugars turn into alcohol. The cider then undergoes a second fermentation, converting the alcohol to acetic acid.
Vegans use vinegar in their baking because they need something to activate raising agents. Vegans, obviously, don’t use eggs in baking – but it’s those that produce the lightness and the ‘rise’ in lots of standard baking. As an alternative, vegans depend on leavening ingredients like bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), which need to be combined with an acid like vinegar (or lemon juice) in order to work.
Barley malt extract (syrup) is another popular vegan baking ingredient – it’s a ‘malted’ or ‘sprouted’, rather than fermented, product, but the process and the results are very similar. Sprouting and malting are, like fermentation, other kinds of pre-digestion. They encourage enzymatic reactions that transform the starches in barley into sugars and hence into a thick, sweet syrup. Barley malt extract makes a suitable alternative to honey in many cases and brings a depth of flavour to vegan baking. It’s also pretty good for you – rich in vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and essential amino acids.
Finally, just as there are fermented dairy products, there are fermented non-dairy alternatives, such as vegan yoghurts and sour cream. Just like dairy milks, you can ferment non-dairy milks, to produce dairy-free yoghurts, kefir, buttermilk and so on. Here are some instructions for fermenting almond milk https://www.fermentools.com/blog/how-to-make-cultured-almond-milk/ and coconut milk https://www.fermentingforfoodies.com/probiotic-coconut-milk-yogurt/. It’s even easier to make non-dairy ‘buttermilks’: you simply need to add vinegar or lemon juice to your non-dairy milk of choice – soy milk, nut milks and oat milks tend to give the best, creamiest results.
Has all this put you in the mood for some vegan baking? Then try these three recipes, which use the three types of cultured products mentioned above.
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This post was written by Yzanne