Why making and taking fermented drinks is becoming popular again
People have made lacto-fermented drinks for centuries, because they knew of the enormous good these drinks can do for our intestinal health
Katie Sanderson and Aisling Rogerson at the Fumbally Cafe in Dublin 8. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
‘There was a moment last year where we realised that none of us were drinking the sugary fizzy drinks that we had in the fridge,” says Aisling Rogerson of Dublin’s Fumbally café. “It made total sense to start making our own.”
For Katie Sanderson, who brews up the exotic concoctions that you will find in the Fumbally fridges, the decision to dump all the standard drinks was pretty easy to make. “Plus, I love burping jars of ferments at 2am.”
The Fumbally’s radical step is part of the newest drinks revolution to hit Ireland and, in terms of healthfulness, it is certainly the most radical.
The Fumbally drinks are handmade probiotic drinks, wild ferments and fizzing kombuchas, crazy kefirs, dancing ginger bugs.
Part of the appeal, says Rogerson, lies in the fact that “fermented drinks are chock-a-block full of probiotics and the flavour combinations are endless, so it’s a win-win situation really”.
If it seems like a stretch to ask customers to pick up a bottle of lemon, turmeric and ginger juice, instead of a Ballygowan, there is also a steep learning curve for the Fumbally team: “We’re still learning about the health benefits of these little microbial communities, but we’re full believers of their powers,” says Rogerson. “Kefir [a fermented milk drink] is a macrobiotic universe of mind-blowing information.”
For Sanderson, the move is part of being “more in season, and not just in the fashionable sense of the word. To really connect with what is coming in, whether that be the tastiest Indian mangoes that are only available for a few weeks in the summer, or the first of the local rhubarb combined with lovage from our herb garden.
“A connection with ingredients is as important and playful in drinks as it is in food.”
And it’s not just in Dublin that the rush to get the colas out of the fridge is happening.
You can learn how to make your own kombucha and water kefir from the inspiring Hans and Gaby Wieland, of the Organic Centre in Co Leitrim, where they run courses on probiotic drinks.
In my larder I have a bottle of kombucha vinegar, made by Cork’s Raw Ferments company and, if you happen to be in Sligo town, do drop in to Osta Café, beside the river, and order up a glass of their sublime kombucha, served from big glass kettles kept on the shelf.
What’s behind the revolution? Quite simply: health.
In 1999, in her book Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon wrote that “kombucha . . . qualifies as the soft drink of the 21st century, the answer to the scourge of cola drinks that now wreaks havoc with the health of Western populations”.
Of course, kombucha is nothing new, and neither is kvass, or ginger bugs, which once upon a time were widely drunk, and simply called ginger beer.
People have made and drunk lacto-fermented drinks for centuries, because they knew of the enormous good these drinks can do to our intestinal health: if you want to look after your microbiome, then get yourself a bottle of kvass or some water kefir.
Yet another reason to take probiotic drinks is that when you do, you get involved in a community of like-minded people.
To make kombucha, for example, you need someone to give you a scoby – the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast – which is the “mother” that makes the drink.
As you make your own kombucha, your scoby will double and so you peel off a piece and give it to a friend, who can now make their own drinks.
Call it the Fumbally Effect. “There’s a lot of customers who have started to make their own drinks at home, and love to come in and ask about the different flavours we’ve got going,” says Rogerson.
As Sanderson points out: “There are so many resources and discussion forums online to get support and information from. One of the best things about the fermentation community is that everyone is willing to share. Even their mothers. We got a few of our starters from this sense of gifting.”
So, it looks like it’s time to start sharing.
the fumballystables.ie therebelkitchen.com theorganiccentre.ie
John McKenna is author of Where to Eat and Stay on the Wild Atlantic Way