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New book is beginner’s guide to making fermented drinks

‘Fizz’ shows you how to brew at home

Fermented drinks aren’t new by any standard. People have embraced this partnership with microbes for centuries. Beer, wine and cider are probably the most popular fermented offerings, but there are other natural nonalcoholic drinks to consider.

The new book "Fizz: The Beginner's Guide to Making Natural, Non-Alcoholic Fermented Drinks," by Barbara Serulus and Elise van Iterson (Laurence King, $20), simplifies the process of how to brew at home in a concise manual.

More than 30 recipes are vibrantly illustrated in Fizz, including this one of a Chinese emperor riding on a scoby.
More than 30 recipes are vibrantly illustrated in Fizz, including this one of a Chinese emperor riding on a scoby.

Credit: courtesy Laurence King Publishing

Credit: courtesy Laurence King Publishing

It was the colorful illustrations by Iterson that drew me to the pages. The chef from Amsterdam paints in a whimsical style, using vibrant colors. She illustrates the more than 30 recipes that she and Serulus developed by fizzing and bubbling simple ingredients.

Fermentation basically happens when microorganisms are used to transform foods. Grain becomes whiskey. Cabbage becomes sauerkraut. Microorganisms convert carbs or sugars into either alcohol or acid.

Why ferment?

“These useful little beasties give foodstuffs a more robust flavor, a longer shelf life, and a different texture,” the authors say on Page 9. Probiotics, which are live bacteria and yeasts, also have health benefits for our digestive system, by providing extra vitamins and breaking down ingredients that normally are difficult to digest.

Plus, these soft drinks are rather fizzy, fun, and can be a quite delicious alternative to wine or beer.

The term “soft drink” originated to distinguish the flavored drinks from hard drinks — liquor or distilled spirits. They first were marketed in the 17th century, usually a mixture of water with lemon juice, and sweetened with honey.

Your needs are simple when setting out to make fermented drinks: glass jars or bottles, a funnel, cheesecloth or paper towels, and cleanliness. We are all up on cleanliness these days.

You also can learn about the history of traditional drinks while fermenting. Kombucha’s history reaches back 2,000 years to China. The sweetened green or black tea fermented by microorganisms is tangy and naturally fizzy. Start out plain, then flavor with fruits or herbs. The effervescence of kombucha comes from a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), the gelatinous blob that floats in the jar while the liquid ferments.

Water kefir is made by soaking kefir grains (dehydrated active cultures) in sugared water. This one doesn’t take long at all.

Kvass, originating in Eastern Europe, has been around since the Middle Ages. The traditional fermented drink is made from dark rye bread or beets, and has a grain flavor akin to beer without the alcohol.

Ancient Greeks called mead “nectar of the Gods,” and ancient Egyptians often buried pharaohs with vessels of the “honey wine” to sustain them in the afterlife.

The book ends with a chapter dedicated to using the acidity of fermented drinks as an ingredient in a cocktail, so there is a little something for everyone. The only slight hiccup is having to convert grams and liters to cups and quarts when you embark on making your own ginger beer, which, judging from the book, will make you never want to return to the store-bought variety.

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