Friday, May 7, 2010

Taking a Crack at Lacto-Fermented Ketchup

Back in February I sampled an astounding fermented ketchup at the PASA conference.  Although I was told by the woman who made it that she was willing to share the recipe, she never came through.  So I've been left to my own devices to experiment as I see fit.  The only thing I know for sure about that mind-blowing ketchup was that it contained smoked chili peppers.  That's probably half the reason I loved it so much.  Smoked foods are some of my favorites.

So, I'm going to play around with lacto-fermented ketchup. After all, I'm pretty DIY oriented, and professional culinary training ought to qualify me to perfect my own ketchup recipe.  Actually, recipe development is exciting enough that I'm sort of glad I wasn't given a recipe. Below are a double handful of variables I came up with after reading a few different recipes online and asking what sounded good to me.  Perhaps some of you would like to run your own experiments concurrently, and share the results either on your own blogs or in the comments section here.  Of course, in developing this recipe, we'll be relying on our own infallible but entirely subjective taste buds to produce something we like.  You might prefer something else.  So experimenting for yourself would be the best option for everyone.

Lacto-fermented ketchup - recipe development variables

tomato - roasted? simmered/reduced? concassé?
minced onion vs. scallion vs. shallot
ratio of tomato to onion?
tomato paste - yes/no?
smoked chili pepper - ancho vs. chipotle vs. others
cumin vs. allspice vs. both
white pepper vs. black pepper
molasses vs. maple syrup vs. no sweetener added
fish sauce - yes/no?
garlic - yes/no, roasted vs. raw, how much?
vinegar - balsamic, cider, none?
salt - how much?

Given these multiple variables, I estimate that I'll make upwards of 28 different batches of ketchup to find what we like best, just within these parameters.  Obviously, they'll be small batches.  The one constant in this recipe testing process will be the use of yogurt "juice" from live culture yogurt for the inoculant.  That's the liquid that shows up when you take a scoop of yogurt out of the container, leaving a little well.  The best I can do there is organic store bought yogurt.  I may eventually be able to track down a supply of local raw whey from a goat dairy.  If so, I may try working with that instead.

The basic method for the recipe is to combine all ingredients and let them sit in a covered jar at room temperature for a few days, then refrigerate.  I can't really be sure, but I suspect that the ketchup I had in February had been happily fermenting away since late summer.  Lacto-fermentation is an active and evolving process.  So it's possible that the depth of flavor I found in that sample was a product of aging, like you'd see in fine cheese.  It may be that my recipe testing will fail to produce anything remotely like what I tasted, unless I allow my ketchup to hang out for several months.  All I can do is run my trials and see what combinations appeal most to us, and then see what the aging process contributes.

I've started with this process well ahead of our own tomato harvest, so that when the absolute best tomatoes are available, I'll have a pretty good idea of what I want to do with them.  Of course, this means buying local hothouse tomatoes.  These are not great tomatoes, by any stretch of the imagination.  I don't usually bother buying any sort of fresh tomatoes, at any time of year.  But in the interest of developing this recipe, and maximizing the value of my own crop this summer, I'll make that sacrifice. As proper tomato season approaches, the quality of tomatoes available should only improve.  So I'll have to remind myself that some of the quality that develops in the ketchup batches is due to better tomatoes rather than my own skill.

The first batch is to test the method of preparing the tomatoes themselves, while holding all other ingredients constant.  I expect the ways of dealing with the tomatoes will have slight effects on taste and texture.  Concaséed tomatoes are certainly the simplest, lowest-energy, and closest to raw of the three methods I'm trialing.  So I'd prefer it if that one produced the best flavor.  Sampling the batches in the pre-fermented state showed that even very mediocre tomatoes can taste pretty good after all the other ingredients are added.  Now the lacto-bacillus get to work their magic.

Will keep you posted.  In the meantime, if you have a favored ketchup recipe, especially if it's lacto-fermented, please share!

Update:  Got the original recipe from the source.


Tree Huggin Momma said...

Interesting! Sounds very cool, and if I had more time I might try it myself, but I have to get my beds up and running.

At any rate I just wanted to say if you have a trial that tastes so so you might want to try letting it set and trying again after a couple of months and see if that improves a so so flavor.

Lise said...

I've never tried lacto-fermentation, but would like to. I have made my own (canned) ketchup, which I love, but am eager to try the results of your experimentation, too. Thanks for sharing!

Jennifer Montero said...

Well I've learned something new reading your post - I'd never even heard of lacto-fermentation for ketchup. I'm really interested to see how the process progresses. I will definitely give it a try come tomato harvest.

It makes me think of Worcestershire sauce, which I think was originally from India? The British tried to reproduce the recipe at home and didn't know to let it ferment. In its raw state it was unpalatable. I wonder if the ketchup is done in a similar way.

Leigh said...

I'll be curious as to how your experiments turn out. I've loved everything I've lacto-fermented so far, but have about decided that ketchup may be more trouble than it's worth (for us, since I'm the only one who uses it occasionally.) For the same reason, I've given up making my own canned ketchup. A lot of work plus I never could find that perfect recipe!

Kate said...

THM, the taste of these first batches is already changing. Lacto-fermentation is definitely an ongoing process, and the taste evolves dramatically.

Lise, I've never done the canned ketchup. I'm hoping I can turn out something fabulous because l-f is a much lower energy form of food preservation, and it keeps more of the nutrients in the food.

Jennifer, I'm not sure whether lacto-fermentation is the norm or unusual for ketchup, either in the west or in Indonesia, where "ketchup" is just a generic word for sauce, if I'm not mistaken. It's funny you should mention Worcestershire sauce. If I'm not mistaken, tamarind is one of the ingredients of Worcestershire and I was wondering whether it might also make an interesting addition to ketchup. I keep some around for whenever I'm in the mood too cook Thai food. I may have to give it a try in one of my batches.

Leigh, I'm curious too. I'm not generally a big fan of ketchup, but the stuff I had at the PASA conference was so awesome that I thought I would put it on just about anything - beans, eggs, sandwiches, whatever. If I could reproduce something that good I don't think there would be any shortage of demand for it in my home. If "ketchup" isn't a popular item in your home, you might call it relish, chutney or jam. See how that sells...

dltrammel said...

Good post, it's already making me think about spices and condiments that I had forgotten. I have a few square feet left in the garden and nothing in mind for it.

Unknown said...

I can't wait to hear about the results.....even if it takes several months. We love ketchup in our house and I would be very interested in a more healthy version. I have fermented the "usual" vegetables (IE cabbage)and I'm looking to try different fermented foods. I'll be watching to see how the experiment goes!
Thanks for being so adventurous.

belinda said...

I will be very interested to see more about this process and here about the recipe you finally decide on. I am just starting to experiment with lacto fermented foods this sounds like a great low energy option.

Kind Regards

Kate said...

dltrammel, thanks. Spare room in the garden is always an occasion for dreaming and indulging one's whims. Hope you find something good for that spot.

Elizabeth, thanks. I'll post more on it as I come up with refinements.

Belinda, I'd love to hear about any l-f recipes you find especially delicious as well. Do you have your own blog?

Anonymous said...

I've been looking for a good lacto-femented ketchup! Please do update, Thanks!


Anonymous said...

he also does a lacto mustard too!