Grains have been fermented for as long as they have been eaten. Many of us today, given our industrialized food practices, assume that these fermented grains were eaten in the form of sourdough breads and baked goods.
The reality, though, is much different.
Picture a peasant working hard in a field all day. This is the time before grocery stores or even farmers’ markets. This is a time before electricity and modern refrigeration. This peasant hauls her water, takes care of her small children, and works much of the day in a field, harvesting a large crop of grain for the land-owner.
That grain, once harvested, then must go through a long and physically laborious process of threshing and winnowing. Threshing is the process by which the grain kernels are removed from the flowering head of the plant and stalk. Winnowing is the process by which the kernels are separated from the chaff, which is indigestible by humans.
And so this peasant spends back-breaking hours simply bringing the stalks of wheat in from the field. Once in, she and her neighbors spend countless hours getting that grain out of the rest of the plant in order to make it edible.
And then, once she has her grain pure and fresh, she must turn it into something that will nourish her and her family’s bodies.
The nearest mill is a few days journey when you travel by foot or donkey. This mill is open to various communities in the region, but it is a hand-crank or possibly animal-cranked mill. That means that two very large stones will roll over this grain in order to break it up and make it easier to prepare.
To mill this grain into the fine flour required for making bread would take an unbelievable amount of time and effort, and it simply isn’t practical for someone who must get back to her land and family.
Instead, this peasant woman cracks her grains for a porridge that will be the staff of life for their family. It isn’t a fermented loaf they seek out, but a nourishing warm bowl of soured porridge, the kind of porridge eaten by generations who simply could not mill or bake breads because it wasn’t a luxury they could afford.
Some of the traditional porridge from around the world include:
- Kishk: A traditional Arab dish fermented from wheat and milk.
- Ogi: A West African porridge prepared from fermented corn, sorghum, or millet.
- Nuruk: A fermented grain porridge from Korea made from whole wheat or grits.
- Ragi: A fermented grain porridge from Indonesia made from rice flour.
- Koji: A Japanese fermented grain porridge made from glutinous rice.
Fermented Oatmeal: If you read the food history of Ireland you will find oats at the forefront of their diet. A porridge was often made from oats as a staple for the family. Once cooked it could be cooled and poured into a dresser drawer that had been larded down around the edges. This porridge would be fermented for days or even weeks with the cook of the family cutting slices from it and frying them as necessary.
You’ll notice that many of these come from agrarian-type societies in which the extra trouble or time it would take to grind grain into flour simply couldn’t be spared. Instead, these intrepid cooks turned their grains into a fermented porridge which can be eaten once, and then allowed to ferment for days, weeks, or even months until they used up every last bit.