Saturday, April 20, 2019

We are wild about wild fermentation

One of Mexico's most interesting ancestral food products (and that is saying a lot, because Mexico is full of interesting foods) is Lechuguilla. Lechuguilla is a traditional, fermented, pro-biotic drink, made from the fermentation of the heart of the Agave. It is a non-alcoholic LAB (lactic-acid bacteria) fermentation, that  produces a very characteristic and refreshing flavor. It is best known in the Jalisco region of Mexico, specially around Guadalajara.

People in Mexico, and people who have been drinking Lechuguilla for generations swear about its health benefits, finding that it helps them to control diabetes, inflammation, depression, mood changes and even prevent cancer.

We have not been able to find solid scientific studies that bear these claims, but from recent modern thinking in nutrition about the role of the human microbiome in the state of our health, we became very curious about the pro-biotic properties of the naturally occurring  micro-organisms in the the heart of the Agave.
As you know, about 4 years ago we began making Lechuguilla in very small batches, in a very traditionally artisanal way, experimenting with different techniques and combining old-world recipes with new flavors.
This has been a project of love, a culinary curiosity of ours, which we have worked on on the side for a long time. Along the way we have developed a small but very loyal clientele, who have shared with us their anecdotal experiences of the benefits of drinking Lechuguilla.
In the same period, we have seen the incredible growth of a wonderful product that is very similar in benefits and tradition, called Kombucha. The geniuses that brought this  product to the mainstream market have done the consumer a great deed, by popularizing a truly great product and by bringing to the forefront the concept of fermented foods and the importance of cultivating and nurturing our microbiome with probiotic foods.
A lot of the work we have done behind the scenes, here at Don Pedro's Kitchen, is working with fermentation, trying recipes for our own enjoyment and creating not only healthy pro-biotic foods, but using traditional fermentation techniques to create incredible flavors. Most of this work is not commercial, and we do it as part of the fun side of our business.
Recently a loyal customer came by the office and told me how when he was out of town on a long trip he could not find our product  in any store, and his body was craving it so much,  that he settled for a Kombucha. He mentioned how much he enjoyed  it,  and how Kombucha could be a substitute for our Lechuguilla product.
We decided to look into it,  and under the microscope we found that the lactic acid  bacteria in a well known Kombucha brand is very similar to the naturally occurring Lactic-Acid  Bacteria found in our drink (although the active count  in ours seems much higher).
Our "Mexican Kombucha", however is made by fermenting the hearts of the Lechuguilla Agave, which  we harvest organically, instead of green teas, as the other brands do. Another important difference, and one that I am actually very proud of, is that our fermentation is 100% wild. This means we use the naturally occurring micro-organisms in the Agave plant, instead of "back-slopping" as the traditional Kombucha technique is called.

This makes our product, culinarily more interesting, and more complex in its flavors. Of course, this is  also the reason why it is more difficult to scale up commercially.
We recently decided to start bottling our Mexican Kombucha, instead of the culturally traditional way of putting it in a bag, to start selling it to a wider audience in a package that is clearly more practical, albeit less nostalgic.
In developing this process and learning the ancestral secrets of fermentation, while reconciling it with a solid scientific base, we have learned a lot, and we will be publishing some interesting posts about fermentation in general and WILD, NATURAL fermentation in particular.
If you are interested in discussing this fascinating topic, please drop us a line. We love talking about it and we are wild about wild fermentation.