Miso, Tempeh, Natto & Other Tasty Ferments: A Step-by-Step Guide to Fermenting Grains and Beans

Miso, Tempeh, Natto & Other Tasty Ferments: A Step-by-Step Guide to Fermenting Grains and Beans


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2020 IACP Cookbook Award Finalist
2019 Foreword INDIES Winner 

Best-selling fermentation authors Kirsten and Christopher Shockey explore a whole new realm of probiotic superfoods with Miso, Tempeh, Natto & Other Tasty Ferments. This in-depth handbook offers accessible, step-by-step techniques for fermenting beans and grains in the home kitchen. The Shockeys expand beyond the basic components of traditionally Asian protein-rich ferments to include not only soybeans and wheat, but also chickpeas, black-eyed peas, lentils, barley, sorghum, millet, quinoa, and oats. Their ferments feature creative combinations such as ancient grains tempeh, hazelnut–cocoa nib tempeh, millet koji, sea island red pea miso, and heirloom cranberry bean miso. Once the ferments are mastered, there are more than 50 additional recipes for using them in condiments, dishes, and desserts including natto polenta, Thai marinated tempeh, and chocolate miso babka. For enthusiasts enthralled by the flavor possibilities and the health benefits of fermenting, this book opens up a new world of possibilities.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612129884
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 06/25/2019
Pages: 408
Sales rank: 374,527
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey are the coauthors of Miso, Tempeh, Natto & Other Tasty Ferments, Fiery Ferments, and the best-selling Fermented Vegetables. They got their start in fermenting foods twenty years ago on their 40-acre hillside smallholding, which grew into their organic food company. When they realized their passion was for the process, they chose to focus on teaching fermentation arts to others. They teach worldwide and host workshops on their homestead in southern Oregon.

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Fermentation Fundamentals

Whether you are new to fermentation or a veteran of sauerkrauts, pickles, and kombucha, legume and grain fermentation is in a league of its own. The cast of microbes is more diverse, their interplay is more complex, and the potential flavors they can create is more rich than with other fermentation techniques. In this chapter, we will survey the state of food fermentation to put the techniques of this book in perspective.

Transformation through Collaboration

Microbes are with us all the time. They are with our food all the time. Okay, let's be honest, they are really running the show here on Earth, never resting, always eating, splitting, and transforming. We are only going to scratch the surface of the microbial world by discussing a very few of the players that affect our food: yeasts, bacteria, and molds. At the most basic level, fermentation happens when these yeasts, molds, and bacteria begin to break down food.

Let's back up a moment. What is fermentation? Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, often resulting in effervescence and the release of heat. In this book, we will expand the definition of fermentation to include reactions induced by microorganisms or enzymes that split complex organic compounds into simpler substances. Put more plainly, these fermentation microorganisms — be they bacteria or yeasts or molds — digest these foods first and what is left after they are finished is more easily digested by the microbes in our bodies. The fermentation microbes do some of the heavy lifting so that the microbes in our gut can focus on taking up the vitamins and minerals for our bodies to use.

As you will learn, some foods are transformed by the cooperative effort of a complex community comprising all three types of microbes. The CliffNotes (so you can sound smart in casual conversation) are as follows: Yeasts digest carbohydrates, including sugars, and make alcohol in the process. When we're using yeasts to ferment foods, sometimes we stop the yeasts before they make alcohol (as in the case of bread), sometimes that alcohol shows up in the end product (such as wine), and if allowed to continue the alcohol is just a player along the way. When you're making vinegar, for example, you use yeast to transform juice into alcohol and then let bacteria take over to turn the alcohol into vinegar.

Bacteria take center stage in many fermentations. To continue the example above, vinegar makers love acetic bacteria and vintners avoid it like the plague because they cannot allow the microbes to complete their natural progression. Lactic acid bacteria is used to make cheese, yogurt, charcuterie, sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles. These bacteria acidify foods and lower the pH in the process of fermentation, usually through a series of lactic acid teams that take their respective turns in lowering the food's pH, creating an environment that is inhospitable to undesirable bacteria that we don't want in our foods. Some other kinds of fermentation bacteria work from the opposite end of the pH scale, driving up the pH and alkalizing food rather than acidifying it.

Molds, which are a type of fungi, are multi-cellular and characterized by growing in a cobweb of filaments (often called a filamentous fungi). They are also a tool in the culinary artist's toolbox. You're probably familiar with what mold looks like, but we're talking here about edible molds, many of which are highly prized in culinary traditions. We will introduce you to culinary molds to make tempeh and koji, not unlike the manner in which cheesemakers use mold (Penicillium candidum) to make Brie, in which the mold produces not only the tasty rind but also enzymes that soften the curd to the creamy texture. Tempeh is a one-step mold fermentation. Once inoculated with mold spores (Rhizopus) and incubated, the resulting tempeh is the end product.

Koji is the Japanese name for the fungus Aspergillus oryzae. In contrast to rhizopus, koji spores are only the first step for creating many diverse ferments. Koji is grown on soy, rice, barley, and other legumes and cereals. Remember our yeasty friends that happily turn fruits into alcohol? Well, they don't do so well with grains and legumes because, unlike fruits, these foods don't have a ready amount of sugar for the yeasts. When koji grows, it releases enzymes that break down starches into sugars (a process called saccharification) like sucrose, which both yeasts and bacteria gladly consume. These more complex sugars are then further broken down into simpler glucose and fructose. Glucose is pure energy for bacteria and for humans. Koji sets the stage for ferments that are wonderfully complex with likely dramatic interactions between enzymes, yeasts, molds, and bacteria.

If the saccharification process sounds familiar to you, maybe it's because you know something about a more Western version of this process: making beer or whiskey from malt, or germinated cereal grains. Just like koji, sprouting the grain creates natural enzymes, and their role is to break down the starches in the grain into simpler sugar forms. In the final stages of malting, the grains are heated to a temperature high enough to stop the sprouting process while preserving the enzymes.

Many traditionally fermented foods have become victims of industrialization, subject to production shortcuts that reduce the time it might take microbes to transform our food from fresh perishable ingredients into delicious stable comestibles. Industrialized methods include adding enzymes, boosting temperature to speed up the process, or skipping fermentation altogether and achieving flavor through highly processed sugars or additives. However, we are now in a time of rediscovery and a food renaissance as we come full circle, embracing the microbes we so recently denigrated as "germs." Because although Louis Pasteur explained a lot about the microbes to avoid, we are learning now that "germ theory" isn't the full story.

Not All Fermented Foods Are Probiotic

In our fervor to embrace fermented foods, especially as probiotic, there is often some confusion about fermented foods that contain probiotics versus those that do not. Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, that when eaten can help maintain or restore the beneficial bacteria we need in our digestive tract. Many fermented foods are rife with live probiotics. When we consume these foods, the microbes that can make it past our stomach acids (and we need to be honest here that the percentage is small) reach our gut — the center of our microbiome. Our microbiome is the entire community of microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. Understanding how these microbes (and there are many) that make up our microbiome affect our well-being is currently the most mind-boggling and exciting research on understanding our health. Even though relatively few microbes make it "still alive" into the gut, research keeps showing that eating foods rich in probiotics is good for our health, though we don't completely understand how it all plays out.

However, fermented foods are not beneficial to human health solely due to their probiotics. They are also important because fermentation transforms food in a way that makes it more digestible. In some cases, it even makes foods that were inedible now edible. Think about fermented foods that do not contain probiotics, like sourdough bread, coffee, and chocolate. These foods are produced by fermentation of their raw ingredients, but at some point in their production, they undergo processing — often the application of heat — that destroys any microbes in them. These foods are healthier, more digestible, and tastier because of the actions of the microbes, but they no longer contain live, active probiotics. (We feel you — oh for a world where a strong cup of coffee and a big chocolate bar provided us all the probiotics our bodies needed for the day. It just doesn't work that way.)

Tempeh, for example, does not have live probiotics yet it is touted as a food that helps strengthen digestion. It is not fully clear why this is so, but it is agreed that tempeh positively benefits gut health. Also, it is not eaten raw. It is easy to digest and contains heat-stable antibiotic agents that act against some diseases. In areas in Indonesia where there is a high consumption rate of tempeh, there is a low incidence of dysentery, despite constant exposure.

In this book, we will discuss both types of fermented foods: those with and those without probiotics.

Spontaneous (Wild) vs. Cultured Ferments

Microbes are so ubiquitous on our foods that in many cases when we leave food alone under ideal conditions — like setting up shredded cabbage in a slightly salty anaerobic brine — we will have fermented food in a week or two. This is called spontaneous fermentation, or wild fermentation, because we didn't add anything; we just set up the right environment to make the existing microbes feel at home. Technically, however, "spontaneous" is a bit of a misnomer, since the microbes don't spontaneously appear but most often were already present on the ingredients or in the air surrounding the foods in question. For this reason, many folks prefer to describe this type of fermentation as wild fermentation.

For many ferments, however, the type of microbe that does the work of fermentation is important, and for this reason we add a microbial inoculant (commonly called a culture) to the food to jump-start fermentation. These cultured fermentations harness the various microbes to create the results and flavors we want in a pretty consistent manner. Of course, despite our intent to control the fermentation, these are live foods that respond to the conditions around the ferment, so there is often batch-to-batch variation.

In this book we will explore a few simple spontaneous fermentations and many cultured ones.

Meet the Maker

Betty Stechmeyer

GEM Cultures

The year was 1979 and Jimmy Carter was president, a total solar eclipse had passed over the Lower 48, and Bill Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi's book The Book of Tempeh had just come out (for more on Bill Shurtleff, see page 41). They were on tour promoting tempeh as a fantastic source of protein to feed the ever-growing worldwide population. Their work furthered the idea, introduced 10 years earlier by Frances Moore Lappe in her classic work Diet for a Small Planet, that our only chance at sustainability on this planet was to fully use protein, not to run it through animals first. Betty likened Bill and Akiko's passion and mission to that of Sandor Katz, calling him the Pied Piper of "fermentation fervor." Their audiences (mostly university students) were equally inspired.

When Bill and Akiko came to the University of Michigan, Betty Stechmeyer and Gordon McBride were in the audience. Gordon's contract as a botanist at the university hadn't been renewed and they were looking to move back to his family's farm in Fort Bragg, California. Call it synchronicity, call it chance, call it simply a series of events, but this was the evening they would begin their long-term relationship with microbes.

During the talk, Bill shared his frustration that there was no reliable source of tempeh starter in the United States. Betty and Gordon thought that producing tempeh culture could be a way they could make a living in Fort Bragg without debt. Since the startup costs would be minimal (they converted a closet in an old farmhouse to an incubation chamber by painting the walls with smooth white paint), they knew they could quit anytime. The running joke was that they'd moved to Fort Bragg to grow mold in a closet.

Soon, Betty and Gordon started GEM Cultures (GEM being Gordon's intials). The timing was good, as Americans were exploring Eastern thoughts and healthful diets from Ayurveda to macrobiotics. They were also moving "back to the land" and baking their own bread, and making tempeh fit this ethos. For the first five years, GEM Cultures' only product was its tempeh spores. Interest was growing, and after a conversation with Westbrae, a producer of vegetarian food products, Betty and Gordon began to import koji-kin (Aspergillus oryzae spores) to resell as well. Soon they added a culture for making tofu, and then they began to think that people might be interested in some of the cultures that their own family had tended to for years, including a family sourdough that had been kept alive since 1868 and a viili-soured milk starter from Finland that came over with Gordon's family more than 100 years ago.

Betty and Gordon hit on a trend. To this day, GEM Cultures, now run by their daughter Lisa, still produces tofu coagulants, sourdough starters, and dairy cultures, as well as soy cultures, water kefir, and kombucha starters (though no longer tempeh starter).

Fermentation and Safety

When basic production standards are followed, fermented foods in general, and the ferments in this book specifically, are quite safe. That's more impressive than it might sound because many of these foods have historically been produced by people with no formal training in microbiology or chemistry and often in "unhygienic" environments. Still, if you are like us, you want to go a little deeper than that simple reassurance. For that, we need to first understand what is happening in the different methods of fermentation. In this book, we focus on lactic acid, alkaline, and mold fermentations. Let's look at how each of these works so that you understand how, alone or together, they provide the protection and safety we want.

Lactic Acid Fermentation

Lactic acid fermentation is all about lactic acid bacteria (LAB) converting fermentable sugars into lactic acid, which lowers the pH of the food. This type of fermentation is responsible for yogurt and cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, and so many other vegetable ferments, as well as salami and cold cured meats. In this book, a few of the spontaneous ferments that sour quickly, such as injera, rely on lactic acid bacteria to do their magic. Lactic acid fermentation is also a player in everything from soy sauce and kombucha to beer and other alcohols. For example, in its purest form, a lactic acid vegetable fermentation lowers the pH level to 4.0 or below and creates an anaerobic environment below the brine, both of which safely preserve the food.

Alkaline Fermentation

Alkaline fermentation is all about the bacteria of the genus Bacillus, and specifically Bacillus subtilis, which is commonly found in the upper layers of soil and in our guts. This bacterium secretes enzymes that break down the protein in legumes into peptides and amino acids, while also producing compounds that inhibit the growth of pathogens. Ammonia is created and released in this process, which raises the pH very quickly to levels of 8.0 or higher. Most pathogens and spoilage microbes, like salmonella and shigella, cannot survive at these pH levels. E. coli is a little tougher but will die at pH levels of 9.0 or higher.

Another key to safety in alkaline fermentation in legumes is that the legumes often have a hard outer shell that must be soaked for many hours and then boiled for many minutes to break this armor. The soaking creates a lactic acid fermentation first, to combat spoilage, then the boiling kills those lactic acid bacteria and other bacteria and molds. At this point Bacillus subtilis can move in — either naturally from the air, as you'll see in cheonggukjang (page 123), or with a culture, as in natto (page 118). B. subtilis is competitive and tough — it can take temperatures over 100ºF/38ºC — so it begins its work when other bacteria cannot, effectively giving it the head start it needs to outcompete all others.

Mold Fermentation

In this book, mold fermentation undergoes a very similar process to alkaline fermentation. A substrate, be it beans or grains, is soaked in water and then boiled — again, the acidification and softening of the skins is important. This time, a species of edible mold is introduced — a rhizopus species for tempeh or aspergillus for koji. These molds take in oxygen and transpire carbon dioxide. Sounds like us, right? That C[O.sub.2] inhibits other microorganisms. To outcompete other mold species, the rhizopus or aspergillus species produces a lot of filaments, which quickly cover the beans to such a degree that the beans are protected from any other molds. Finally, as if just to make sure, the rhizopus or aspergillus expresses some antibacterial activity to inhibit other molds. If the temperatures are kept in the right range and the mold is strong, it will also inhibit other microbes, like bacteria and yeast, from growing. However, all of these microbes are opportunistic, and if the balance is thrown off — with the most common cause being overheating — the molds will die off and Bacillus will move in, in this case where it is not wanted.

Keeping House

When you are preparing any type of food, it's important to keep a certain level of cleanliness. With many of the ferments in this book, it's important that you take cleaning to the next level — sanitation — to avoid spoilage as well as cross contamination if you're making a number of different recipes. This isn't as difficult as it may sound. We have made all of the ferments in this book in our farmhouse kitchen, using the same fermentation chambers to make different recipes with no cross contamination.

As you will read, the most important control you have in the incubation phase is the temperature. If the ferments are warm enough and don't get too hot, they will thrive, outcompeting the competition. You'll want to keep your incubation chamber sanitary, as well as the vessels and utensils that you use. We often use the same casserole trays for koji, tempeh, and natto. The trick is to clean them well. Given that many folks have dishwashers, that first step is easy. Some ferments will require an extra step of sanitization, which can be as simple as using a spray of 190-proof alcohol (like Everclear) and allowing to air dry, a brewer's sanitizer (like Star San), or good old-fashioned hot water. In many cases, pouring boiling water from a kettle into your dish and keeping it there for 30 seconds is perfect.

Finally, it's important to monitor the temperature of your beans or grains during the period leading up to inoculation. The microbes need specific temperature ranges for inoculation, and your substrate will be the "cleanest" as it moves into that temperature range. If you allow your substrate to cool before you inoculate it, you will give other microbes a chance to move in. Don't fret, however. This is supposed to be fun, and there is some leeway. Remember that folks have been fermenting throughout the world for thousands of years.


Misos, tasty pastes (fermented foods built on the backbone of the miso technique), and amino sauces depend upon a relatively high salt content (3 to 20 percent), depending upon how long the ferment will be in the crock (or jar), to control the breakdown of protein and protect the food from putrefaction. The longer the ferment sits at room temperature in a crock, the more protection it will need. That's why white miso, which has a relatively short fermentation from a few weeks to 3 months, has much less salt than soybean hatcho miso, which has a long fermentation of 2 to 3 years or more.

As you explore modern misos, or tasty pastes, you will see that salt percentages may be much lower than in traditional recipes. This is because traditional fermentations must take into account the potential vagaries of the weather. Outside of temperature-controlled spaces, salt is key in controlling the fermentation because the temperature is out of the maker's control. The ferment is traditionally started in the fall, when temperatures are cooler, to give the yeasts and bacteria a slow thriving start. They then begin to become more active in the spring and get very busy in the summer, when it is warm. Modern, small-scale makers are making miso in the fairly steady ambient temperatures of a home or commercial kitchen, so the salt can be adjusted according to taste preference. (You will read more about this in chapter 9.)


Excerpted from "Miso, Tempeh, Natto & Other Tasty Ferments"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by David Zilber
Part 1: Learning
  1  Fermentation Fundamentals
  2  Fermentation Equipment: What You Need
  3  A Guide to Legumes and Cereal Grains for Fermentation
Part 2: Making
  4  Getting Started: Spontaneous Ferments a.k.a. Wild Fermentation
  5  Natto and Its Alkaline Cousins
  6  Tempeh and Other Indonesian Ferments
  7  Koji
  8  Amazake and Other Tasty Koji Ferments
  9  Miso and Other Fermented Bean Pastes, Plus Tasty Sauces
Part 3: Eating
  Tasty Sauces, Pickles & Condiments
  Smaller Bites
  Larger Bites
Metric Conversions
Source Guide

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