Doing Fieldwork on Fermented Foods in the World

(Mar.22-Sep.24, 2022, Nagoya University Museum)

Part 2. Fermented foods as essential food items

Pickled vegetables, natto and shiokara are all fermented foods used as side dishes on a daily basis by the Japanese.

In the humid regions of Asia, where rice is the staple food, fermented seafood such as shiokara, which is quite salty, serves as a side dish. On the other hand, in arid regions, where bread is the staple, the people consume fermented foods such as cheese, which is processed from the milk of livestock. Let us consider the differences between food cultures in various parts of the world in light of the fermented foods that are used as side dishes.

Chapter 3. Fermented milk processing and its use by pastoralists

TThe use of milk began about 10,000 years ago in West Asia. Since then, milk has provided great support to the dietary lives of pastoralists in the arid regions of Afro-Eurasia. Milk is nutrient-rich, so if it is left out as it is, it spoils immediately. In arid areas without electrical machineries, such as refrigerators, how do pastoralists protect and preserve milk? They do it by lactic fermentation. They promote dominance of beneficial lactic acid bacteria in the milk and raise its acidity, thereby enabling it to be stored at room temperature in the shade for about a week. Conveniently, it is refreshing and even tastier that way.

■ The monogenesis-bipolarization hypothesis of Afro-Eurasian milk culture

It is thought that milk culture, which had its origin in West Asia, was transmitted across the Afro-Eurasian landmass, particularly the arid regions, as a set of techniques that included animal husbandry, milking, milk processing, and uses of milk. Then over the next 10,000 years, milk processing techniques gradually polarized in general into northern and southern milk cultural Spheres.

n the southern milk cultural Sphere, fermented milk is churned or shaken to separate out the buter (and heating of butter to make butter oil), and cheese is made by the use of rennet from the abomasa of ruminants as a coagulant.

In the northern milk cultural Sphere, the first development is the separation of cream from raw milk. The skim milk remaining after removal of cream is fermented to sour milk, the sour milk is churned to make butter, and the buttermilk was heat-coagulated and drained to make cheese. Sour milk is churned also to produce alcoholic sour milk. It is thought that the cold natural environment exerted the main influence on the development of the milk processing techniques in the northern milk cultural Sphere

Thus, pastoralism, a subsistence with livestock using milk, had its birth in West Asia, and with the development of a series of processing techniques for fermented milk, humans spread out into neighboring areas with their livestock. Their subsequent milk culture was influenced mainly by their respective ecological environments, with bipolarized development.

■ The pleasures of fermented milk

Pastoralists in West Asia and inland areas of Syria consume fermented milk every day during the milking periods of sheep and goats. If fermented milk, flat bread, and black tea are available, that is enough for a meal. Refreshing fermented milk and flavorful butter freshly produced from fermented milk are a feast of the milking season.

In Inner Mongolia, raw milk without pasteurization is left down in a relatively cool place, and the people enjoy naturally fermented milk. Consuming this type of fermented milk with a slight tartness during hot weather is one of the pleasures Mongolians who raise livestock look forward to each summer.

The pastoralists and farmers of East Africa also include naturally fermented milk in their dietary lives. Smoked gourds are used as containers, so the fermented milk of East Africa has a smoky-tart flavor. When they partake of naturally fermented milk, they give the gourd a vigorous shaking and use the thick slushy result. Drinking it as it is or eating it together with items such as thick porridges of maize or wheat, the people of East Africa consider it a valuable source of nutrients.

Thus, even now, fermented milk is an important food in this way to pastoralists and supports their dietary lives. Just as it has continued to support people’s livelihoods for the past 10,000 years, fermented milk will probably continue in the future to be an important food source supporting people’s livelihoods in diverse ways as a part of fermented food culture.