Adding water to wheat berries.
Making And Using Plant-Based Cultures
Fermentation and culturing are related processes; they both rely on the activity of friendly microbes in altering a single food item or combination of food items from one state (raw) to another. We enjoy the results of fermentation in a number of products: beer, wine, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, and sour pickles are just some of the most obvious ones. Fermentation of these products primarily refers to lacto fermentation. This means that the fermentation activity is primarily the result of lactic acid-producing bacteria such as lactobacillus. These bacteria acidify the food, both preserving it and making it rich in probiotics.
Many of the things we ferment this way rely on naturally occurring bacteria and are thus a form of "wild" fermentation. For a more comprehensive discussion on the topic of wild fermentation, Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation are outstanding references. Certainly there can be an element of wild fermentation in plant-based cheesemaking, but I will highlight that in the relevant recipes.
Culturing also relies on the use of bacteria, often many of the same ones as in fermentation, but it also uses yeasts, molds, and other bacteria. The formal distinction between fermentation and culturing may be flexible, but for the purposes of cheesemaking it is significant, in that culturing also implies active involvement from an outside source, in this case the cheesemaker. The cheesemaker controls the amount of time the medium is exposed to cultures, the temperature and humidity at which the cheese ages and ripens, and how to slow or alter the aging process. All of these things rely on understanding how the cultures (bacteria, yeasts, molds) like to function best.
In both traditional cheesemaking and the processes I employ, acidification of the medium is achieved through applying a lactic acid bacterial culture. Therefore, you will need a few basic plant-based culturing mediums. These culturing mediums are the by-products of fermenting processes on particular ingredients, such as wheat berries in the production of rejuvelac.
Acidification of the medium is crucial in culturing and fermentation. This action of culture on medium gives yogurt, kefir, and cheeses that tangy, sour taste. This first step of acidification commonly involves lactobacillus (a bacteria named for its willingness to feed on dairy sugars), but will also involve other lacto strains and friendly microbes. Lactobacilli reside on the surfaces of most thing s grown in the ground, and are responsible for the sour taste of sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kimchi, and sour pickles.
Lactobacilli also reside within our digestive systems, and without them we would have an incredibly difficult time digesting many foods. The cultures used to create fermented foods have long standing evolutionary relationships with the human digestive system, and are also the subject of interest when nutritionists, dieticians, and naturopath s refer to pro- and prebiotic activity, and healthy gut flora.
Without the application of the starter culture, the medium will not be acidified and will be prone to contamination by the growth of unwelcome microbes. In some cheeses, both dairy- and plant-based, only a single culture is used in the process, while others may involve using other cultures at different stages, such as washing a rind with a culture to create a surface-ripened cheese, or adding a culture to the medium at a later stage to stop the action of the first culture and allow a different flavor or texture to evolve. As this is an introductory book regarding the use of cultures, I will not delve too deeply into all of the ways in which cultures can be used.
Since cultures are living organisms they must be grown and used with care, a reminder that sanitizing your equipment and tools is critical and cannot be overemphasized. Make sure that all containers you will use in making rejuvelac or kefir are washed, sanitized, and air dried thoroughly.
Rejuvelac is the fermented fluid produced by the soaking and then fermentation of grains such as wheat berries (soft), buckwheat groats, quinoa, rye, farro, spelt, millet, and even rice. As a lactic acid-rich fluid, rejuvelac is often consumed by health-conscious vegans and vegetarians as a way of maintaining healthy digestive systems. As a tool in cheesemaking, rejuvelac provides a lactic acid-rich starter culture which can be used to acidulate (make acidic) a nut- or seed-based mylk/paste. This is significant, as the use of a lactic acid or starter culture is an essential component of the definition of cheese. A big difference between using a lactic acid starter culture such as rejuvelac versus the kind used in traditional cheesemaking is that those are usually dried and used in powdered form.
Each grain produces a culture which will have differing levels of culturing potency, strength of smell, and flavor. Wheat berries make a particularly strong rejuvelac, which is highly effective for culturing some nut pastes, but I have found it useful to explore using other types of rejuvelac in specific combinations. For instance when culturing almond paste, I have found it preferable to use a farro rejuvelac, as the stronger wheat berry one, in combination with the sulfur compounds of almonds, can yield a particularly strong odor, and a tendency to overculture, creating an almost unpleasant flavor.
In order to make rejuvelac several steps need to be followed closely. The following steps for wheat berry rejuvelac can be used with the other rejuvelac choices.
Step 1: Purchasing Your Wheat Berries
Ensure that your wheat berries are organic, soft, not the hard variety and most importantly, not irradiated. Irradiation of grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds is common, ostensibly to prolong shelf-life. However, the result also inhibits the sprouting ability of nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, preventing the release of the necessary enzymes, because the lactobacilli which would normally be present have been destroyed.
As you practice making rejuvelac and trying different grains to make it, you may want to make a few different batches each using a different grain and set up a comparison test, to see which grain produces your favorite rejuvelac, as determined by taste, odor and activity.
Step 2: Sprouting
Place the washed, organic wheat berries in a sanitized 1 liter jar, and fill with filtered water to 2/3 full. Filtered water is important as the chlorine that is in many urban water systems may inhibit the sprouting of the seeds.
Chlorine will evaporate after 45 minutes, so if you do not have a filter, you can measure out your water and allow it to sit out while you wash the seeds and sanitize the jar.
Cover the jar with a sprouting mesh or cheesecloth, held in place with an elastic band.
Allow the wheat berries to soak for 24 hours at room temperature. After 24 hours, drain off the water, leaving the berries in the jar. Rinse and refill the jar, and repeat this process 2-3 more times a day, until the berries begin to sprout.
The importance of rinsing and draining off the water during the first 2-3 days of the sprouting process cannot be overstated. Rinsing and draining off the initial sprouting water eliminates phytic acid. A common concern about the use of rejuvelac as a commercial culturing agent is the troublesome bacteria, listeria, which has been found present in standing water, hence reinforcing the need to monitor the sprouting process closely.
Step 3: Fermentation
After the wheat berries have begun to sprout and have visible tails showing, strain off the water and place the sprouted berries in a jar large enough to allow air to circulate. Using a 4:1 ratio of water to sprouted berries, fill the jar with filtered water and cover with fresh cheesecloth, held in place by a tight rubber band or otherwise secured.
Allow the sprouted wheat berries to ferment at room temperature for 2-3 days. Monitor the progress. You will be looking for the fluid to become slightly cloudy, and for little bubbles to begin forming. The formation of bubbles indicates the bacteria are active and that the fluid is becoming rich in probiotics.
Rejuvelac should smell and taste slightly citrusy, though this will depend on the grain you use. Don't be surprised if you make a batch and it has a stronger, lightly cheesy-like odor, depending on the grain. The stronger smelling rejuvelacs tend to come from the wheat berry, spelt and farro grains. Strain the fluid off into another clean, sanitized jar and keep it covered in the refrigerator. The fluid can be kept for at least one week, but check it regularly to ensure that it still has the right odour and flavor. If you notice a lack of bubbles or that it starts to develop a funky, somewhat unpleasant odor, discard it.
The sprouted grain can be reserved to start a second batch of rejuvelac, which will take less time to make than the first batch. It is possible to reuse the sprouted grain one more time after this; however, it is likely that subsequent batches of rejuvelac will be less pleasant smelling and tasting, and less probiotically robust. The sprouted grain can also be eaten and, of course, used in compost.
While many people make rejuvelac for the purpose of consuming it as a beverage (I do as well), my preference is using it as a starter culture in making some plant-based cheeses and yogurts. Some of the easy, one to two day-cultured chevre- and ricotta -style cheeses I make use a rejuvelac culture, and those processes will be detailed later.
An important consideration for the use of rejuvelac is that it can be used in raw food applications without undermining the raw food guidelines. The limitations of rejuvelac are that it tends to impart a single level of flavor, and is not suitable for long-duration culturing.
More from The Art of Plant-Based Cheesemaking:
- Cashew or Sunflower Seed Cream Cheeze Recipe
- Plant-Based Kefir Recipe
- Semi-Soft, Plant-Based Cheese Recipe
Cover courtesy of New Society Publishers
Recipes excerpted with permission from The Art of Plant-Based Cheesemaking written by Karen McAthy and published by New Society Publishers, 2017.