February Featured Recipes

Fermentation & The Maillard Reaction

If you poke around you’re likely going to find pumpernickel bread recipes calling for a dark sweet component, usually in the form of molasses or beer. However legend tells of a traditional pumpernickel bread that excludes all sweeteners while still sporting pumpernickel’s characteristic dark color and sweet, malty flavor. It is said that long ago a baker from Westphalia in Germany forgot a loaf of bread in an oven that held a low heat long enough that by the time the bread was discovered a full day later it had developed a dark color and a taste rich and sweet. While that baker is quite likely not the first to be blessed with such forgetfulness (history has maybe forgotten any previous forgetters), some other baker later in history didn't have the time to forget for a full 24 hours so they threw in some molasses and called it the same.

While it's a little unfair to compare the two versions, it's interesting to note the later version's attempt to be the like the first. These 100% rye pumpernickels went through some kind of transformation from being baked at a low temperature for a very, very long time. And it went on like just like that until a scientist observed the process, mapped it out, and figured if they saw it first they got to name it after themselves giving the rest of the world a common term to refer to it as.

The reaction Louis Camille Maillard named the Maillard Reaction is a distinct process of browning that occurs in the heated presence of amino acids and sugar. The significance of this process provides a unique flavor, color, texture, and often concentrated sweetness to a wealth of foods. Take note how caramelization is different- to caramelize is to heat only sugar.

What's this got to do with fermentation you say? Well, nothing really... but also something. While fermentation can decrease available sugars (which is somewhat counter-productive to the reaction) it also hightens enzymatic activity who in turn increase free amino acids, setting the stage for the Maillard Reaction to fully realize its interesting flavor potential. Foods that are fermented and then heated to Mailliardize include some very popular ones like bread, chocolate, and coffee. It's very interesting to consider what flavor contributions fermentation provides to the roasting process.

In the pumpernickel example, the long slow bake awards a frenzy to the amylase enzyme, which is abundant in rye, as the loaf slowly moves through amylase's preferred temperatures of between 140 -160F until it dies at around 176F.

For the sake of variety, this yogurt recipe is a flipped example of baking milk for it to go through its Maillard reaction, and then those flavors are used in the finished fermented product. This situation is the same as the case with roasting malt to ferment into beer.

Another very popular member of the Maillard family that excludes fermentation altogether but often gets lumped in is black garlic. The garlic is wrapped or packed in something to retain its moisture and then held at 135- 170 degrees F for 30-60 days. The long slow heat gives it its distinct black color and deep flavor, while concentrating the sugars. It's sort of surprising to discover, but it seems possible that black garlic has not been around for very many years despite resonating the aura of an ancient practice. There are a handful of claims, some saying they've been doing it for hundreds of years, while others saying maybe 20 or 30 years. Who knows what's true, but I suppose when you think about it it would be dang hard to maintain such a high heat for so long without electricity. How would someone do that? Well, I’ll tell you how- a compost heap! Well maintained compost can register an internal temperature of upwards of 160 degrees. We gotta try this sometime, let me know if you ever do.

Given the Maillard Reaction's close relationship with many fermented foods it seemed appropriate to touch on as we make our long winding crawl out of winter and continue to celebrate the coziness of the long, slow bake. All of these recipes are super fun, especially the ryazhenka. I hope you can give them a try.

Happy Fermenting!

"Landrace Gardening" Book Review 

Last July creative seedsaver Joseph Lofthouse published a really fascinating guide to landrace garden seed saving. In it Joseph argues that the future of food depends on resilient genes gained through the continuously shifting diversity of cross-pollinating our food crops. He rails against concepts of heirloom as long-term restrictive in-breeding that diminishes a plant’s genetic potential overtime and asks us to let go of varietal purity and embrace the interaction of continuous selection to be always moving with nature and never attempting to stagnate its flow.

The book provides ample personal accounts of how he forgoes soil amendments over seed selection to encourage plants that thrive best right there where he plants them just as conditions are, he even describes seed selecting for animal resistance which recognizes the relationship of saving the seeds the raccoons didn’t eat as ones that have certain genetics skewed away from their preferences.

In a certain sense this booklet wafts in feelings of One Straw Revolution, in that it’s especially inspiring but some caution seems helpful before diving all in. For a market vegetable grower something like this would be a terrifying leap away from predictability, consistency, and reliability- at least for a while, and the potential for big set backs seems inevitable. But you gotta start somewhere, sometime, or you'll never start at all, and this is an inspiring and affordable guide to motivate you to feel like that time is now.

If you've ever thought at all about seed saving- especially if you have and felt that what you discovered was too daunting, give this a read. There's even a black/ white print that's dirt cheap.

Share with us how you are fermenting with the seasons at
Copyright © 2022 Ferment Pittsburgh, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp