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Edition 197_CulturedCondiments

A fermentation revival is taking Tasmania by storm with kombucha, kimchi and kefir moving into our everyday lexicon.

Fermentation dates back thousands of years and is a natural way of transforming and preserving food using bacteria and yeast, but now it is back big-time – and Tasmania is leading the way.

A quiet revolution has been bubbling away with fermented artisan products changing the face of our food scene, led by the rapid growth in beverages: whisky, wine, spirits, beer and cider.

“Fermentation is both the past and the future,” according to Dr Tom Lewis from FermenTasmania.

“It is the oldest way of preserving food, but it is also very much on-trend at the moment, and I believe Tasmania can become the go-to area for fermented products.”

It is estimated that Tasmania’s niche fermented products have doubled over the past five years, with the sector growing at an annual rate of 10-15 per cent according to FermenTasmania, which was established two years ago to help guide the rapid growth in this booming sector.

And as well as alcohol, the sector includes cheese, yoghurt, fermented vegetables – such as sauerkraut – vinegar, pickles and other condiments.

Not to mention those ‘on trend’ creations now being embraced by Tasmanian diners such as kombucha (a health drink made from tea), kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) kefir (fermented milk drink) and tempeh (Indonesian soya product).

FermenTasmania is a not-for-profit organisation that also aims to turn Tasmania into a centre of excellence and innovation in the art of fermentation. To that end its board members include experts in science and food technology, such as microbiologist, Tom Lewis.

“I find the science of fermentation fascinating,” Dr Lewis explains.

However, it could be argued, there is no-one more on the cutting edge of the fermentation revival in Tasmania than Adam James from Rough Rice.

In his specialised area – the fermentation of vegetables – Adam is one of the best, experimenting with creative combinations in his laboratory-style kitchen to produce incredible condiments.

Gourmet Traveller magazine even described him as “our own home-grown king of live cultures".

Not only has Adam been taken on by MONA to set up a fermentation program for their kitchens and festivals, but last year he spent three months in Europe and Asia on a Churchill Fellowship researching fermentation methods.

“My research focused on delving into ancient practices around fermentation, and also looking at some of its modern applications. For example, a lot of the world’s top restaurants, such as NOMA in Copenhagen now have fermentation laboratories,” Adam said.

“I am interested in taking this knowledge and putting it into a Tasmanian context, using local produce that is sourced seasonally.” 

Adam produces his condiments under the Rough Rice brand.

They have all been made with the freshest Tasmanian ingredients, but many have a distinct Asian twist.

His offerings include Doubanjiang, a chilli and broad-bean paste that dates back to ancient China; Shibazuke, a traditional Japanese eggplant, cucumber and mint pickle; and a combination of wild foraged ‘Slippery Jack’ and farmed Shitake mushrooms seasoned with local herbs and spices including pepperberry.

“I like to create and develop fascinating new flavours and experiment with lots of the combinations that have never been done before,” Adam adds.

“Just yesterday I began working on a 60 kilo batch of celeriac from northern Tasmania that I am fermenting along with wakame that I dove for off Cygnet.

“I will let them ferment in my hand-made ceramic pots for two months, before blending them together into an amazing paste.”

Why is fermentation so popular?

Apart from the well-known gut-health benefits, Adam explains “the incredible depth of flavours produced by fermented foods is incredible".

However, it also fits perfectly into our growing desire for locally sourced fresh produce along with a yearning for seasonality and provenance.

It is also the ideal way to value-add to the state’s world class food and beverage industries.

Vinegar is a perfect example.

An increasing number of Tasmania’s thirty-plus boutique cider-makers – who produce around 600,000 litres of cider every year – are now also making vinegar from left-over cider spoilage.

As Adam says in wonder, this whole process is an “amazing natural alchemy".

Image courtesy of Adam James

13 August 2018, Edition 197

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