TFP2010: More inspiration from Asia (part 3)

Sang Hoon Degeimbre (chef at L’Air du Temps) on stage at TFP2010. Photo by Piet De Kersgieter.

As mentioned in my previous post on The Flemish Primitives 2010 (TFP2010) two chefs had taken their inspiration from Asia. Peter Goossens had come across high pressure processing during a study trip to Japan, and had developed this further in cooperation with Stefan Töpfl. Korean born Sang Hoon Degeimbre (of L’Air du Temps) on the other hand had returned to his roots to study kimchi, the ubiquitious Korean staple food. It is a pickled dish made of vegetables with various seasonings, and it is a very common side dish in Korea. In fact, it’s so common that Koreans say “kimchi” when being photographed, just like we say “cheese” in English.

Sang Hoon’s idea was to take the basic concepts and modernize them. Central to the preparation of kimchi is the lactic acid fermentation, using lactic acid bacteria. And in this sense kimchi is closely related to miso, kvass, kapusta, kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut and sour dough bread – all of which involve fermentation of sugars to lactic acid. And as a commenter mentioned, I should not forget sour beers such as Flanders red ale.

The science was very much integrated into this years event, and to help him with the science of lactic fermentations Sang Hoon had teamed up with Xavier Nicolay from the Meurice institute. Xavier briefly mentioned several scientific papers on Kimchi, most of which you can find by doing a quick google scholar search on kimchi). However, from what I manged to pick up during the presentation nothing from these publications was actually applied in the cooking being done.

Traditional home made kimchi. Photo by J.W. Hamner (CC by-nc-sa).

A lactic fermentation induces several changes in foods. Firstly the acidification aids the preservation as food spoilage microbes generally can’t grow at low pH. Important flavour changes include the lactic acid with a hint of carbonation and other fermentation products such as diacetyl and ethanol. The texture of lactic fermented products is also quite unique as the vegetable or fruit becomes tender without beeing oversoftened. In fact they retain a remarkable crispiness. Interestingly the colors turn brighter, and in some special cases even change (green garlic was the topic of Harold McGee’s first column for the New York Times)

Sang Hoon used the following procedure when preparing his modernized kimchi:

  • blanch vegetables (this releases sugars for the fermentation)
  • add 1-8% salt
  • add a lactic starter (no specific info was given on type and source – hints form readers are welcome!)
  • vacuum pack – this is definitely a novel use for your sous vide plastic bags (compare with traditional German way of anaerobic fermentation in “ceramic pot” with water lock rim)
  • the vacuum pouches were then left to ferment for 1 week @ room temperature
  • to aid creation of flavors starch was added
  • yeast autolysate was also added for flavor
  • final preparation was clarified in a centrifuge

As a result, Sang Hoon had arrived at a “more sturctured” kimchi (sorry – no picture as of now, but the blog Cuisiner en Ligne does have a nice picture of the finished kimchi inspired dish).

For comparison you may check out these kimchi recipes. Note that none of these uses specific starters (i.e. starting culture of lactic acid bacteria). They all rely on the bacteria naturally present on the cabbage leaves.

I also visited The Flemish Primitives in 2009. You can read more about that in my four posts from last year: The Flemish Primitives: A travel report (part 1), Chocolate surprise (part 2), Heston Blumenthal (part 3) and Glowing lollipops (part 4). Final note to readers: This year my travel expenses were covered by TFP and the tourism bureau of Brugge.


  1. Don’t forget to add sour beer in your list of foods that rely on lactic acid fermentation. There are a number of beers in the Belgian family (particularly lambic and Flanders red ale varieties) that use bacteria to produce lactic acid in the beer (which adds not just a sourness to the beer, but a fruitiness unparalleled by other varieities).

    Interesting note on the vacuum bag, too. I’ll have to try that with sauerkraut — have never had any luck making it it at home because it keeps getting contaminated.

  2. As an extension of the discussion about sour beers, the lactic acid component of perry and cider shouldn’t be forgotten. These beverages both rely on the production of lactic acid to give them a unique flavor. Another interesting thing is that traditionally these beverages are allowed to ferment in an unheated room/building for a year or more. This means that they go through a period of cooling, freezing, and melting. I would be interested to know if this appreciably affects the flavor, or if it from the logistical problem of keeping barrels of booze warm in pre-industrial England and France.

    I will also be trying sauerkraut in the vacuum bag. It seems like a much more convenient method than using a crock.

  3. John: That’s ridiculus! Especially since the hydrocolloids they refer to are all natural products, either extracted from plants or produced by microorganisms.

  4. Lactic starters: I think you can use lactic starters available from brewing supply houses for making sour beers, or yogurt starters, or even Lactaid pills (or similar) for treating lactose intolerance.

    Or I suppose you could just toss in some yogurt, since it is technically a lactic bacteria culture, but you probably don’t want the dairy flavor in your kimchi.

    Alternatively, you could take a hybrid approach and use the blanching and vacuum packing steps but inoculate it the old-fashioned way, just leaving it out in a warm place for a bit between the two steps.

  5. I have had success using about 50ml of yogurt whey to inoculate a liter jar of kimchi. Not sure how much whey is necessary, however that much did not give the kimchi a yogurt taste.

    In response to Derek, I think the bacteria responsible for traditional kimchi method would be killed in the blanching, thus lactic starter from another source would be necessary.

  6. Traditionally fish sauce or fermented fish is the lactic starter, so why not go with something like that? Soy sauce also contains lactic acid bacteria (the authentically brewed ones anyway).

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