The art of taming micro-organisms for health and debauchery.
My history with fermentation
Despite being into cooking from a very young age, I never really knew much about fermentation. It was only during the third year of my undergrad at Manipal that I really got into fermenting foods. I would credit a good chunk of my fermentation obsession to my flatmate Rahul Sathanapalli1 who equalled my enthusiasm for controlled rotting. On a trip to the hippie town of Gokarna one weekend, we tried some Kombucha, a drink that we had never heard of at the time. We loved it so much that we decided to try and make some back at our flat. Both of us decided to pool in money to buy all the equipment and ingredients to ferment our first batch of kombucha. In my head, this was the defining moment of my fermentation journey.
One of the very first batches of Kombucha we ever brewed. Yes, my handwriting hasn't improved since.
We both loved the first bottle we brewed. It tasted tart, fizzy and really refreshing. Over the next few weeks, we tweaked our proportion of tea leaves, sugar and fermentation durations to devise the recipe that we liked the most. We loved it so much so, that we decided that we had to raise awareness around this weird and wonderful fermented beverage. That led to us starting our own kombucha brewing company, TheKombuCo.
The FAQ story we put up on our page for some good old fashioned product marketing
A few months after launching, we added another fermented beverage to our roster — ginger beer. A refreshing, naturally fizzy beverage fermented using the wild yeast found in ginger.
Shout out to the amazing Siddhant Tibrewal and my brother, Atharva Raykar who designed our bottles and logo respectively
During this time, I even started exploring fermentation in the form of pickling, curing and brewing a whole host of foods. College was the time I experimented a lot with food. I went from a fermentation ignoramus to a fermentation geek.
College-me pickling eggs for my home made ramen. I was boujee like that
You may be wondering what happened TheKombuCo after college ended. Well, we shut it down right before graduating from Manipal. But if you still want to try some Kombucha, my old flatmate Rahul and his friend Twinkle have started their own (way more succesful and professional) brand of kombucha — Hydra Kombucha. Knowing Rahul and seeing his brewing ability along with his eye for flavour develop over the years, I can’t recommend trying his kombucha enough.
Off late, I have been experimenting with newer brews and fermentation strategies. The warm summers provide the ideal conditions for me to try out newer fermentation techniques and recipes. Much to my mother chagrin, I had hijacked a good chunk of the house kitchen for my fermentation jars and bottles. Even I realised my aggresive kitchen expansion was not a viable strategy, so I decided to call a truce and identified another location in the house to call my fermentation station.
I had to beef up my arsenal to keep up with my fermentation ambition
I procure all my yeasts and other fermentation and brewing paraphernalia from Aristham, a website I have been doing business with for the past many years. I highly recommend buying stuff from them if you want to get into brewing or fermentation. The owner of Arishtam has also authored a book that I bought; it is a nice guide to fermentation and home brewing in the Indian context.
The Aristham Homebrew Guide
I have been exploring this guide and trying out newer brews and recipes. As of today, I am working on the following ferments:
- Ginger Beer (the safe brew that I have years of experience making)
- Kanji (an Indian lacto-fermented beverage made traditionally from black carrots and beetroot)
- Rice Koji (I am not sure I am making this right though. I would classify this one as “at risk”)
A bottle of fizzy, wild ginger beer.
Why you should ferment foods
Here is my elevator pitch on why you should ferment foods
- Fermented foods taste great. Have you ever had crisp beer, a savoury pickle or some cool yoghurt on a sunny day? You have fermentation to thank for that.
- Fermentation is easy. Ask your parents — they probably have been setting curd and pickling vegetables at home since their childhood. As you get comfortable with fermenting foods, you can try expanding to more boujee ferments like Miso, Sake or a crisp dark Stout. Fermentation has a low barrier of entry, and high ceiling of expertise.
- Fermentation is rewarding. There is deep cultural and sociological lore behind various ferments. It’s one of the oldest cooking methods known to humankind. There is great joy in learning more about the histories, stories and science behind fermentation. Remeber that glass of wine you had? Or that side of pickle you took with your curd rice? You tasted over a thousand years of culinary experimation. Cracking open your first brew, or eating some home-made yoghurt is one of the most satisfying things in the world.
Try fermenting something this weekend. You won’t regret it. Or maybe you will, who knows.