Category Archives: Fermentation

Making Tempeh at Home: My First Attempt

After finding a source for Tempeh starter recently, I had the opportunity to try making Tempeh.  I used the recipe from Sandor Ellix Katz’s book, ‘Wild Fermentation‘, and have also culled some info from his new book, ‘The Art of Fermentation’ to round things out:

2 1/2 cups soybeans

2 TBSPs vinegar

1 tsp Tempeh Spore (Actually I used 1 of the four packets…I only noticed after I was ready to add the spore that they recommend 1 packet for 2 cups of soybeans)

Step One: De-hulling the Soybeans

The beans must be de-hulled in order to provide a greater surface area for the spore to grow on.  If you have a grain mill, this is a great time to use it.  You don’t want to make soy flour, however, so be sure to use the coarsest setting.  If you don’t have a grain mill, you can soak the beans, cook them until Milling the soybeansMilling the soybeanssoftened slightly, and then mash them up in order to loosen the hulls.




Step Two: Cooking the Beans

Cooking soybeans

If you haven’t already started cooking your beans, now is the time to do so.  They should be boiled until you are just able to bite through them, not until they are fully cooked.  It is important to avoid overcooking them, as this will cause them to become mushy, which will result in a very tightly packed tempeh cake which will, in turn, result in a lack of space between the beans, and thus, a lack of oxygen available to the tempeh mold, hindering its growth.  The soybeans should take between a half hour and 45 minutes to cook to the ideal degree of doneness, but cooking time can vary due to the age of the beans and their size (or the size of the grind), so it’s important to keep and eye on them.

As the beans cook the hulls should rise to the top of the water. They may be skimmed off if desired, but removing them is unnecessary.

Step Three: Strain and Dry the Beans

Once they are cooked enough, strain the soy beans, doing your best to remove as much water as possible.  PrepareDrying the beans a baking sheet with a clean, dry towel and spread the beans out upon it.  You can place the tray near a fan to dry them further, or use another towel to pat them dry.  Excess water can lead to bacterial growth as opposed to the desired mold growth.

Step Four: Inoculation

Put the beans into a bowl, and add the vinegar.  Mix it in well.  Vinegar is added to the mix in order to give the tempeh spore an advantage over bacteria present in the air.  Katz goes into some detail in his new book about how the traditional method of making tempeh involves two distinct fermentations, the first of which acidifies the beans.  The beans are soaked for 24 hrs, which, in a tropical climate, is long enough to sour them.  Though the vinegar method works, Katz seems to be of the opinion that the traditional soaking method may be worth the effort (though, at lower temperatures, one would have to find a way to speed up the process).  I may try that next time.

Next, it is time to add the Tempeh spore.  Make sure the beans are no hotter than body temperature, then add your starter and mix well.

Step Five: Forming the Cakes

Produce BagsSoybean cake

For this step you’ll need large plastic bags with holes in them.  I’m using produce bags, because they come with air vents, but you can poke some holes in large zip-locks instead.  Put your mix into the bags.




Step Six: Incubation

The tempeh needsIncubation set-up to be incubated at between 85 and 90 degrees F (29 to 32 C).  Unless you have something specially designed for this kind of thing, you will likely need to use your oven for incubation.  An oven cord thermometer is most useful type for this purpose, but any type of thermometer can be used to check the temperature.  Though the lowest setting on your oven will be too hot for incubation, you can fiddle with the temp inside your oven by turning the light on and cracking the oven door more or less until you find a setup that works for you.

When your oven is at the proper temperature, place the tempeh inside.  I put it on a baking tray, but recommend you place it on a rack, as the underside of the cake was not properly colonized by mold, likely due to a lack of air circulation.

Incubation takes between 20 and 30 hours.  During the second half the fermentation period the tempeh will start to generate heat, so make sure to keep an eye on the temperature.

Making Tempeh (after 18 hrs)

Making Tempeh (after 18 hrs)- close-upMaking Tempeh (after 22 hrs)Making Tempeh: Underside of Tempeh

The tempeh is ready when it has become a solid mat of beans, held together by a white mold.  It may have some black or gray mold around the air holes…these are new spores forming.  It should smell mushroomy. As I’ve already mentioned, I had a bit of trouble with my tempeh because it did not colonize on the underside, so I put it on a rack and put it back into the oven.  The cake got a bit more solid, but even though I left it to grow for another night, it never grew in completely.  It was a bit crumbly but I was still able to get it out of the bag in pretty much one piece.


Step Seven: StoringMaking Tempeh: Finished Tempeh

Remove the tempeh from the bag, and let it cool.  You can then cut it into pieces for storage.  Fresh tempeh will keep for about a week in the fridge.  Make sure not to stack the pieces in the fridge or the mold will continue to grow and will generate heat.  You can freeze the rest of it.

Step Eight: Eating!

The fresh teFried Tempehmpeh differed significantly in texture and in flavour compared to the Noble Bean tempeh I usually buy.  It was firm, instead of being soggy, and crisped up nicely when fried.  It had a pleasant mushroomy flavour and didn’t have the slight bitterness that I’ve come to associate with tempeh.  It made some fantastic tempeh bacon!  I haven’t yet Tempeh bacontried defrosting any of the tempeh I froze, so I’m not sure how much freezing the tempeh affects its flavour and texture.

Making your own tempeh can save you quite a bit of money, as well, as the cost of the ingredients is quite low.  According to my calculations, it was about 1/6 of the price oFried Tempeh Baconf store-bought (about $4 for 240g).

My next adventure in tempeh making will be soy-free, for my mom who doesn’t eat soy.

Happy Fermenting!

Update:  The defrosted tempeh is a little soggier than the freshly made stuff, but its flavour and texture are still superior to that of store-bought.

Where to Find Fermentation Cultures in Montreal?

Cultures for Health Products Available at Mycoboutique

Good news, readers!  After many hours of fruitless google searching, I have finally stumbled upon a store which sells Tempeh Tempeh Starter and Kefir Grainsspores and Kefir grains:  MycoBoutique.  Both water and milk Kefir grains are available.  I decided to go with the water grains, since I’m interested in doing both dairy and non-dairy ferments, and from what I’ve read it is fairly easy to convert the grains from one medium to another.  The brand they are selling is Cultures for Health. Since the the labels on the products are entirely in English, I’m guessing that selling these products here is not exactly permis, so please, refrain from telling any buddies you may or may not have at the Office about this. Though Mycoboutique’s prices for these products are higher than prices on the Cultures for Health website, when you factor in the exchange rate, shipping cost, and the opportunity to avoid playing russian roulette with customs and ridiculously expensive brokerage fees, I think you’ll find the markup reasonable.

VitalCâlin and Koji

They also carry a product called VitalCâlin which contains a culture of Aspergillus oryzae…which, though it is not being marketed as such, can likely be used to make koji (a necessity if you want to try making miso or sake at home). Though koji is defined on Wikipedia as simply ‘the common name of the fungus Aspergillus oryzae’, a recipe that calls for koji usually refers to rice that has been inoculated with the fungus. A spore starter which consisted of the spores on rice flour, on the other hand, is usually referred to as koji-kin.

VitalCal is made by a Quebec company, Aliments Massawippi who specializes in organic miso. Considering the fact that they’ve been around since 1999, I don’t understand why I’ve never heard of them before! I’ll be on the lookout for their products in the future, though. There’s a list of sales points on their web site for anyone who’s interested…unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to include any stores in Verdun!

Anyway…I’m currently incubating my first batch of Tempeh…I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

Happy fermenting!

How to Grow a Kombucha Scoby- From Store Bought Kombucha

Why Grow a Kombucha Scoby?

I do enjoy the occasional kombucha…but at about $4.00 a pop, they’re not exactly cheap.  Combine a financial incentive like that with the fact that I like to do things myself, and you can see why I’ve wanted to try my hand at making kombucha for a while.  I only needed to decide was how to go about it-  should I purchase a

Raw materials
Raw materials

kombucha SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), or should I try to grow one from a bottle of store-bought kombucha?


I recently did a search on where to buy real kefir grains- after having come to the realization that the kefir starter from the healthfood store did not, in fact contain them- and came across the website of a woman who calls herself ‘the kefir lady’. This woman sells both kefir grains and kombucha scobies. I’m considering buying kefir grains from her, even though her preferred means of accepting payment is rather bizarre. In any case, if I were to order grains it would make sense to order a scoby at the same time- but if I were to succeed in growing my own, that would, naturally, be unnecessary.

Selecting Your Kombucha

Baby Scoby
Floating in the Bottle

The first thing I did was pick up a bottle of kombucha, which I made certain contained a little baby scoby (about the size of a dime).  A quick google search enabled me to find some instructions on growing it, on a blog called Paprika. I also, however, came across another post on a blog called Food Renegade, which stated that growing a scoby from a store-bought bottle of kombucha was no longer possible, due to the way commercial brands of kombucha in the US had been reformulated in 2010.

Luckily, I don’t live in the US, nor have I seen any brands of kombucha from the US for sale here, in Montreal. So, I decided to go ahead with my experiment.

Step 1: Make a Batch of Sweet Tea

The process is fairly simple.  One must simply make a sweetened tea (using 1 cup of water, 2 TBSPs of sugar, and 1 TBSP of black tea), allow it to cool, then add about half the bottle of kombucha (making sure to include the baby!).  This should be stored in a glass jar, and covered with cheesecloth, some other type of mesh, or a kitchen towel, to keep out flies.  Cover the jar with another kitchen towel

Making Sweet Tea
Making Sweet Tea

to keep the baby warm, and protect it from the light. Within a few days, you should be able to see some growth. After about two weeks, your scoby will likely have extended itself to the edges of the jar, and will be growing thicker.


Step 2: Feed Your Scoby

Day 1
Day 1
Baby Scoby
Day 5
After 2 weeks
After 2 weeks
Scoby After 7 Days
Scoby After 7 Days

At this point, the scoby has likely used all (or most) of the food you have provided it with.  It’s time to make a new, larger batch of sweetened tea for it.  Use 4 cups of water, 1/3 cup sugar, and 2 TBSP black tea, again waiting for the mixture to cool to room temperature before immersing the scoby in it. Store it the same way as before, in a bigger jar, if necessary.

Scoby in new home
Scoby in new home
After 3 Weeks
After 3 Weeks



One Week Later…

After about a week, the scoby had grown quite thick, and I decided to try brewing my first batch of Kombucha.  The process is very much the same, though the sugar/water/tea proportions are a bit different.  I followed the recipe given in Sandor Ellix Katz’s book Wild Fermentation (p.123), which calls for 1/4 cup sugar, 1 TBSP black tea, and 1/2 a cup of kombucha liquid (the scoby-growing liquid, or some liquid from your last batch of kombucha) per liter of water.  I was quite pleased with the result, which was ready in a little under a week (to determine whether it’s ready, just taste it).  I decided to try using 1/2 jasmine tea, and 1/2 black tea for the next batch (one can use only green tea, but according to the Cultures for Health website, which is a great source of kombucha info, it isn’t the best thing for the scoby), and that was quite nice as well.  The jasmine gave it some interesting floral notes.

Jasmine Kombucha
Jasmine Kombucha

The brewing process is quite painless, and it’s easy to simply strain the finished product into bottles, and start a new batch.  I look forward to experimenting with different flavours…but first I’ll have to do a bit more research on what I should and shouldn’t use (for example, it is possible to use Earl Grey tea to make Kombucha, but using it often is not recommended due to the bergamot oil it is flavoured with).

Well, ’til next time, happy fermenting!

Please note: I have discovered a source for Kefir grains in Montreal!  See this post for details.

Also note:  If you’d like to skip growing your own scoby, and get right to brewing, I may be able help you out (if you’re in the area) by providing you 

Jasmine Kombucha
Jasmine Kombucha

 with a nice, thick scoby.  I also have some worms for vermicomposting, if that’s your thing.  Donations will be accepted.

Update 19/04/2016: I have returned to Montreal recently after having been away for a year, and have not yet grown a new scoby. I still have vermicomposting worms, though.

How to Make Sauerkraut

Fermentation Facination

Okay, so, I few years ago,Cutting the Cabbage I became interested in fermentation (probably as an offshoot of my interest in sourdough?), and came across Sandor Ellix Katz’s website, Wild Fermentation.  After perusing the site, I became so excited that I decided to order his book of the same name.  It’s a very informative book, and it’s also a very interesting read.  One of the things that I found especially appealing about this book was Katz’s advice to ‘reject the cult of expertise’:

Do not be afraid.  Do not allow yourself to be intimidated.  Remember that all fermentation processes predate the technology that has made it possible for them to be made more complicated.  Fermentation does not require specialized equipment.  Not even a thermometer is necessary (though it can help).  Fermentation is easy and exciting.  Anyone can do it. (p. 28)

I also appreciated the philosophical, historical, nutritional, and anecdotal information, as well as, of course, the recipes.

Thus, fermentation newbies, do not despair!  Sauerkraut is perfect for beginners.  It was actually Katz’s book which inspired me to try making it (as opposed to the other way around) since I had never actually tasted the real thing before.  If you have, you’re one step ahead of me, since you’ll know what to look for…while if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat, since I expect everything will go swimmingly, and you’ll soon be pushing your friends and relatives to try your homemade stash (sauerkraut in this case, not booze- though both are fermented products)!

Sauerkraut Recipe:

Okay, so here is the recipe (based on the one in Wild Fermentation, p. 41):

You will need:

2 kilos / 5 lbs cabbage or cabbage and other veg (see #1)(about 1 medium and 1 small head- any type is okay…here I am using 1 red cabbage and 1 regular green cabbage)

3 TBSP salt (Katz specifies sea salt, but I have used pickling salt in this case…any good quality salt will do, but avoid regular table salt)

You will also need:

A suitable 4 L container (here I am using a food-grade plastic bucket, but you can use a ceramic crock if you have one, or a very large jar or another type of large glass container…just avoid metal vessels)

A plate or something else that fits inside your container, as in another container, or a glass or plastic lid, etc.

A weight (here I am using my mortar, but you can use anything that is clean, and not metal, like a jug filled with water).  The weight must also be able to fit on top of the plate.

A cover (such as a pillowcase, or kitchen towel, or one of those cloth bags, or produce bags)

Step 1: Chop or grate the cabbage

It may be as fine or as coarse as you like…or you can even do it in the food processor, if you desire.  As you work place the chopped cabbage in a large container or bowl, and sprinkle the salt onto it so that it mixes in evenly.  If you find you’re running short on cabbage, you can add other vegetables or fruits to your mix…onions, garlic, apples, turnip, celery, carrot…etc.

Step 2:  Add some seasonings

Classic sauerkraut seasonings
Classic sauerkraut seasonings

Here I’ve added some classics: caraway seeds, celery seeds, and juniper berries.  However, feel free to experiment.  Mix these into your cabbage mixture.


Step 3: Pack the mixture into your container

You can use either your hands, or some other tool.  Here, I am using my pestle.

Step 4: Weighing down the kraut

Packing the kraut
Packing the kraut

Fit your plate or other object into the crock.  The plate must be small enough to sit directly on top of the kraut.  The goal here is to push the cabbage mixture down, so that, as the brine (which will made up of the liquid the cabbage releases due to the salt you added) rises, the solids will remain submerged.  This will prevent the formation of mold.  Furthermore, if mold does form, it will only be on the surface, and will thus be able to be skimmed off, leaving the rest of the mixture unadulterated.

Place your weight on top of the plate, for the reasons explained above.

Step 5: Cover the whole shebang

Weigh it down
Weigh it down

It is important to do this in order to protect it from flies.  I have covered mine with first a (fine) mesh produce bag (available at Loblaws stores), then a kitchen towel.  The produce bag will serve as a fly barrier, while the kitchen towel will provide extra protection and will also help in the  maintenance of a more consistent temperature.

The froth is not a bad thing-it's just an indication of the fermentation.
The froth is not a bad thing-it’s just an indication of the fermentation.

Okay, we’re pretty much done!  It is, however, important to check the kraut within 24 hrs to ensure the brine has risen above the plate.  If it has not, simply add some (preferably chlorine-free) salt water (Katz recommends 1 TBSP per cup) to the mixture until it does.  After this, it is important to check your kraut regularly in order to ensure that there is still enough brine, as some will evaporate over time.  This will also give you the opportunity to taste your sauerkraut so that you can decide when it has reached its peak.  This will depend largely on when you think it’s sour enough.  Your kraut should be ready in 1 to 4 weeks.  The timeline will depend mostly on the temperature in your kitchen (or the location where you are storing your maturing sauerkraut).

Sauerkraut after 5 days
Sauerkraut after 5 days

When it’s ready, you can portion it into a few mason jars or other containers and store it in the fridge (in its brine), in order to slow the fermentation.

Happy fermenting!