Nordic Fermentation gets to the roots of our gastronomic heritage. It is an artifice of Nordic culture, wild yeast, scientific interest and a passion for potent gustatory sensations. In the autumn of 2017, Malene decided to brew Jun Kombucha, a naturally fermented and carbonated tea with delectable distinctions. Her background in nursing and biomedicine gave her a sound platform from which to explore the biochemical processes. And she quickly envisioned bringing ancient fermentation methods into play with the Bornholm countryside’s treasure chest of organic produce, to create products with intense natural gustatory sensations which preserve the nutritional value of the produce at the same time.
Today, Malene has widened her product range to include other naturally fermented organic ingredients, which she picks directly from the field. She oversees the fermentation process in her kitchen at Møbelfabrikken in Nexø, together with her business partner Helen and her husband Peter, who helps out in the scullery. Their Jun Kombucha has been tasted, assessed and developed, so that now Malene has created eight varieties brewed from organic Nordic leaves of plants such as sea buckthorn, apple, blackcurrant, blueberry, wild cherry, sea buckthorn berries, hemp and wild Bornholm herbs. Jun Kombucha is a fermented tea cultivated with Jun through a controlled symbiotic process involving bacteria and yeast cultures, nourished by organic honey and converted into alcohols, organic acids and vital nutrients. The process develops a natural carbonic acid and sweetness, despite a minimal sugar content of less than 3 grams per 100 ml and an alcohol content of less than 1.2%. In addition to the Kombucha, Malene produces organic sauerkraut using vegetables harvested directly from the Bornholm topsoil and fermented in their own juices, with the only additives being Himalayan salt, ripe apples, onions and fresh herbs.
Natural fermentation enhances the flavour. Most people consider fermentation as a chemical process that catalyses the ability of the micro-organisms and enzymes to extend food shelf life. This method, however, differs from vinegar pickling and salting as we know it from Nordic lunch tables. And when Malene’s husband gives the cabbage a squeeze, he does it affectionately and firmly before fermenting it for a month under the pressure of the large fresh cabbage leaves. It compresses to one-quarter of its original body, so all gustatory delicacies are not only enhanced but supported by the natural lactic acid bacteria from the fermentation process. Malene’s sauerkraut is crisp and brimming with nuanced flavours and deep umami. The same is true of the Kombucha, whose flavour intensifies and widens across a palette of sweet, sour, full-bodied and hearty with an aromatic bouquet and firmness balanced by the tea’s tannins. This makes it well-suited as a nutritious fizzy drink or aperitif, but it can also be the main ingredient in cocktails. In fact, Nordic Fermentation has prepared a cocktail chart for Jun Kombucha, the sparkling properties and diversified fragrances of which support the alcohol and enhance the gustatory sensation with full-bodied elegance. The gastronomic properties of Jun Kombucha are wide-ranging. It can be boiled down to a syrup with volume and deep natural hues; it can be foamed, and it can be fermented into a delicate vinegar from its own Jun. This living culture creates a living, functional fizzy drink. This also means that it is actually possible to brew one’s own Jun Kombucha based on the culture in a single bottle.
Kombucha is the name of the fungal culture in the tea, also called a Volga fungus. The fungal culture can be dated to the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang more than 2000 years ago, who drank this sweet fermented tea, described as the emperor’s elixir of life. According to legend, a Korean doctor named Dr Kombu introduced an infirm Japanese emperor, Ingyo, to the drink around AD 400. Emperor Ingyo was soon cured, and the drink was named Kombucha (‘cha’ means tea in Japanese). The word Jun actually means that the culture is nourished by honey rather than sugar. In the old Norse tradition, we produced mead using water and honey to achieve alcoholic fermentation from around AD 700. In other words, fermenting tea with kombucha based on honey is a variation of honey and wild yeast fermentation that spread from Asia over the centuries via the Silk Road to Russia and Eastern Europe. According to the old legends, the renowned Genghis Khan and his warriors drank the beverage to obtain divine power before going to war. Although it may not have literally given them divine power, Nordic Fermentation’s Kombucha has been the object of a number of scientific studies by, among others, the Technical University of Denmark, which indicates that the nutritional value of the ingredients is not only retained but in some cases increases during the fermentation over time. Theoretically, this means that the natural content of lactic acid, vitamins, flavonoids and antioxidants can have a beneficial effect on digestion.
What does it taste like? Initially like a fizzy drink because its sourish bubbles and full-bodied sweetness with a waft of honey quench childlike thirst and stimulate mature taste buds with their complex, champagne-like qualities. The light Jun Kombucha based on sea buckthorn leaf tastes somewhat like a pale lager with a waft of ginger ale, whereas the rose pink Jun Kombucha with its sparkling rosé of dark berries appeals directly to our brain’s reward system, somewhat like an extravagant fizzy drink. And it is easy to imagine Genghis Khan sitting there with his red Kombucha fizzy drink, gleefully exulting his conquest of the Eurasian steppes.