Many of us see bread as the staff of life, and certainly sourdough bread has been for many cultures. But there is a fermented grain-based food that has probably been more available, easier to make, and the base of a very simple diet.
These are fermented porridges. Lightly cracked grains don’t require heavy milling as flour does, which would have been very difficult and tedious before mill-access was widely available.
So it is quite possible to grow your own grain, harvest and thresh it, and then turn it into a nourishing porridge base for many meals – not just breakfast.
There are examples of these staff-of-life porridges from all over the world:
Kishk: A traditional Arab dish fermented from wheat and milk.
Ogi: A West African porridge prepared from fermented corn, sorghum, or millet.
Nuruk: A fermented grain porridge from Korea made from whole wheat or grits.
Ragi: A fermented grain porridge from Indonesia made from rice flour.
Koji: A Japanese fermented grain porridge made from glutinous rice.
Some accounts of fermented porridges indicate that the porridge wasn’t initially fermented, but, because of the lack of refrigeration, they fermented upon storage and then were eaten for several days in various preparations. We tend to think of porridge as breakfast food, but many cultures serve it as the starch component for some or all of the meals during the day.
Fermenting porridge is exactly like creating a wild sourdough starter. You can simply mix cracked grain and water to make a thick consistency, cover loosely, and allow to ferment until bubbly. Or, you can add a bit of a starter in the form of cultured dairy whey or a couple of spoonfuls of sourdough starter.
Our family has a sort of Americanized version of this in the form of our Perpetual Soured Porridge Pot. It is consistently fed, much like a sourdough starter, and provides us with fermented porridge on a regular basis. We make it with cracked whole oat groats, but you could use any grain.
We find it tangy like sourdough, but substantial, delightful with butter and honey, and much lighter to digest than a straight grain-water porridge left unfermented.
So while sourdough bread is beloved for its taste and familiarity, it may have been soured porridges that were the foundation for many societies’ diets.
Have you tried fermented porridges?