For folks who can't eat sour foods, here are some fermented foods that are not overly sour-tasting you can try a bite or learn how to make at home easily. During this process, you might also pick up some new foreign words for yourselves.

Here is the list:

  • Natto
  • Tempeh
  • Fermented Starches
  • Tofu Cheese / Schmear
  • Momofuku Watermelon Rind Pickle
  • Labneh Yogurt Cheese

#1. Natto

Natto is fermented soy bean. The texture is stringy like cheese with a brownish color of the beans after fermentation.

Why Does Natto Taste Like Coffee?

Being fermented soy bean, natto does give off that roasted coffee taste with a bit of bitterness. Folks didn't like it at first but came to like it as an acquired taste. To some, natto tastes savory, crunchy, slightly bitter with a bit of creaminess while to others it tastes like bacon.

To make natto taste better, you can add in some tare/soy sauce, salt or mustard. Have it over rice (with a raw egg or some green onion), over hot noodles or chopped up nori (seaweed). With the nori, it will taste good hot or cold. Serving natto spaghetti with some crunchy bits could also make it more palatable.

Why Does My Natto Smell Like Ammonia?

Ammonia is a common smell in natto making. It can happen while the natto is fermenting. The high temperature causes the soybean proteins to break down (into smaller amino acids), thus releasing the ammonia smell.

Usually this smell will mellow out. To reduce the ammonia smell, you can put the natto (after the warm fermentation) into the fridge. While in there, the natto bacteria will keep working its way into the beans, thus enriching the nutrition and flavor.

Where To Buy Natto

You can find natto at Japanese or Korean grocery stores like H Mart, Mitsuwa or 99 Ranch. Or you can buy natto starter (aka natto moto) online. A ready-to-eat natto package or rice straw could also work for fermentation.

#2. Tempeh

Tempeh is a fermented bean snack. It tastes sweet and nutty. Traditionally, people wrap tempeh in banana leaves or teak leaves for fermentation.

You can use any kinds of legumes or even cereals to make tempeh. You can fry it, add it to salads, stews, sandwiches, stir-fried veggies or curry.

What Color Should Tempeh Be?

Tempeh usually has a white coating outside. The white stuff is the healthy mold growing on and throughout the tempeh. If you notice some grayish or black spots, don't panic as it is completely normal.

Gray-blackish spots may be a sign that the mold has developed very strongly, the aging time is long or the temperature may be high. It is totally edible and may taste like Camembert cheese.

Edges of yellow, beige, red, black colors may be visible around the tempeh as these are the colors of the beans used to make it. If you notice some pink discoloration and a slight ammonia smell, the tempeh may have gone bad and should be discarded.

Tempeh Smells Fishy?

Tempeh smelling fishy or like ammonia may be because the temperature is too high or there is too much moisture. Such environment encourages the growth of other competing bacteria other than the fungus Rhizopus we're using to make tempeh.

The bacteria that spoil tempeh is usually the same one that they use to make natto, Bacillus subtilis, which thrives in a high-heat high-humidity environment; thus breaking down the bean protein and releasing that ammonia smell.

Well-done tempeh may smell musty but pleasant and has no ammonia smell. For the next batch, you could let then beans dry until there is no drop of water available on their surface. The tempeh fungus will have no problem penetrating into the bean to suck the moisture out to grow. Contaminating bacteria, however, will have a hard time finding their way into the dry-surface beans.

Incubate tempeh at 30-32C / 86-89.6F or if you go high 34C / 93.2F will be good enough. People usually ferment natto higher at 45C / 113F, the point at which the tempeh Rhizopus fungus could fall out of favor.

What Is The Difference Between Tempeh And Natto?

Although both are fermented products from beans and cereals, tempeh is made with a fungus called Rhizopus while natto is made with a bacteria called Bacillus subtilis. Natto may commonly create an ammonia smell during fermentation while tempeh may not. Bacillus subtilis is a bacteria that loves heat and humidity, it can even survive boiling water, whereas the fungus Rhizopus does better at lower temperatures and can penetrate through beans even with very little surface moisture.

Next up, we have:

#3. Fermented Starches

Fermented starches are energy foods derived from starch sources like rice, potatoes, yam, cassava, etc. These foods taste sweet and only slightly tangy at times. Most contain very little to no alcohol. If let to however, fermented starches can take on the road to produce alcohol and become fermented alcoholic drinks, which many of us may know of as rice wine or sake.

But that's a different road. We'll focus on the food aspect of fermenting starches.

What Is Fermentation Of Starch?

Fermentation of starch is the break down of starch, a long chain of glucose, into single simple sugar. Like a string of pearls cut up into small individual pearls. This can done by enzyme-producing fungi like Aspergillus that produces amylase, an enzyme to cut starch into simple sugar. If let to ferment further, meaning some kind of yeast is added, the yeast will act on the chopped up sugars, turning it further into alcohol.

Some folks stop the fermentation at the sugar stage to get the naturally sweetened products; some take it a step further to get the alcohol, combining the sweet alcoholic taste. At the alcohol stage, some others just let the alcohol evaporate and get the fermented starch. Taking it a step further, people make vinegar like (aka sour wine in French) like rice wine vinegar. In other cultures, you may find fermented starches under the name of tapai.

There are different fermented starch products you can try. Here are some of them:

  • Amazake/Jiuniang (sweet fermented rice)
  • Fermented cassava
  • Khmer rice wine dessert (sweet alcoholic dessert)

Cassava, while a major starchy staple food and reliable yielder in many countries, still gives folks that 'erhh, not sure I'm gonna try it' re-action because of the information about its toxins.

While this is true, you should be better informed that cassava (including the leaves, peels and roots) is only poisonous when consumed raw. In the raw state, it contains a form of cyanide, released during the breakdown of compounds by an enzyme called linamarase, which is naturally present in the cassava. Fortunately, this cyanide can be removed by relatively simple processing, like boiling, steaming or simply fermenting.

Why Cassava Is Fermented?

Raw cassava contain these two cyanide glucosides (linamarin & lotaustralin). These get turned into cyanide by linamarase, an enzyme that naturally occurs in the cassava. Fermentation helps release the enzyme linamarase in cassava; thus stopping cyanide from forming and all the while detoxifying the product. This makes the fermented cassava not only edible but also easy to digest and nutritious.

If you like cheese, here is something you can try:

#4. Tofu Cheese / Schmear

Tofu cheese is a non-dairy cheese that tastes like real cheese. It is made by fermenting tofu with ingredients like miso (a sauce), koji (a fungus), herbs or in a brine solution. The cheese intensifies as it ages and you can get cream cheese or crumbly cheese depending on the fermenting time.

In warmer temperatures 77-86F / 25-30C, the tofu will turn creamy, cheesy in just about 2-3 days. With some other versions, people let it ferment in lower temperatures from 100 days to 2 years. The overall texture will turn firmer but the cheese is still spreadable/schmearable.

Tofu cheese can be eaten as a snack, pair with wine/sake, replace feta cheese in noodles, rice cakes or be used on bread. According to many who have tried it, this kind of cheese really gives that umami tangy cheesy flavor that other vegan cheese (made from potatoes, coconut, nuts or seeds) is missing. It just tastes so good and thanks to the process of fermenting the flavor is deeper, richer with layers of complexities to it. Without being full of fat, this healthful, yummy snack is lots of fun to taste and try.

There are two versions of tofu cheese I've heard of from two different cultures:

  • Misozuke Tofu: tofu cheese made with miso
  • Chao: tofu cheese fermented in a brine solution

In other parts of the world, people are experimenting making tofu cheese with koji (a fungus, Aspergillus oryzae). A bagel shop in New York makes this koji cream cheese as a dairy-free alternative for their customers.

Making the first version, misozuke tofu, is surprisingly simple:

How Do You Make Vegan Tofu Cream Cheese Misozuke (3 Steps)

To make misozuke tofu cheese, you'll need a block of tofu (firm or extra firm), miso paste, and some of your favorite spices. Remember to press the water out of the tofu to prevent mold for better chances of successful fermentation.

Step 1: Mix the miso with the spices or herbs you like (chili powder, rosemary, etc.). Sake + sugar is also a good choice.

Step 2: Put tofu block in a container. Wrap cheesecloth around the tofu (for easier removal of the miso paste in later stages). Cover all sides of the tofu in miso.

Step 3: Close container lid airtight & put container in the fridge. Let it ferment for 100-140 days.

About once every week, check the tofu cheese and pour out any bottom liquid so molds don't grow. After about a month, you can take it out and have a quick taste test. See if you like it at this point. You can let it sit for longer for a richer taste.

>> Check out this fantastic video on how to make misozuke:

Misozuke (Miso Fermented Tofu 'Cheese') | MUST TRY VEGAN 'CHEESE'!

If you've ever wondered what to do with leftover watermelon rind, here is a good way:

#5. Momofuku Watermelon Rind Pickle

Made increasingly popular by the Momofuku restaurant owner David Chang in his nice cookbook, watermelon rind pickle is a refreshing must-try snack in the summer. It tastes sweet, tender-crisp and a bit of tang from the added vinegar balances it well. The pickle brings back fond memories of folks from the South or as a treat on Thanksgiving days.

Where Did Watermelon Pickles Originate?

Although watermelon rind pickles may sound strange, it actually dates back to the Amish and in some Scandinavian regions. People in Japan have also been making and eating pickled rinds in the spirit of wasting nothing that is edible.

How To Pickle Watermelon Rind (2 Ways)

Way #1: In Brine

Pickling watermelon rind the momofuku way takes about 10 mins.

Step 1: Cut out the rind from a watermelon. Scrape off the green outer skin a bit. Chop the rind up into smaller cubes or pieces.

Step 2: To make the pickle brine, add 125ml water, 225ml rice wine vinegar, 18gram salt, 100gram sugar, one whole star anise, and a bit of ginger.

Step 3: Boil the brine for a minute. Add the rind + brine into a jar. Let it sit for about an hour and it'll be ready to serve.

The pickled rind tends to get overly soft and mushy if you let it sit for too long. You can keep it in the fridge for several weeks, but consuming within the week will be best.

Way #2: Dry Salting

The other way of making pickled watermelon rind is more like dry salting and still very easy. Peel off the green part on the rind and rub some salt into it.

You can adjust the salt amount to your taste. As a general rule of thumb, similar to making sauerkraut, 2% of salt per rind weight would be good enough. Leave the salted rind in a container for several hours. And it's ready to serve.

The pickled rind tastes somewhat like cucumber.

#6. Labneh Yogurt Cheese

Labneh is cheese made by straining out the whey liquid from yogurt. It is widely used in the Middle Eastern or Mediterranean cuisines as mezze, a finger food or a versatile ingredient. Labneh is creamy, cheesy, slightly tangy and goes well with olive oil or za'atar seeds. It can be served savory or sweet.

Is Labneh A Ricotta?

Although labneh and ricotta are both rennet-free cheeses, labneh is not exactly a ricotta because their making is quite different. Ricotta is made from the whey leftover by other cheesemaking processes, whereas labneh is made by straining the whey water out of yogurt. Because of this, labneh does not need heat to form and its consistency is smoother like cream cheese. Ricotta needs to be heated to 90C/194F to curdle and its consistency is firmer, more crumbly.

Is Labneh Vegan?

Unfortunately, traditionally most labneh is not vegan. As labneh is made from strained yogurt, the yogurt used usually derives from cows, sheeps or goats milk. However, there is a vegan version of labneh you can make from cashew milk. Although the taste may vary, it is a good substitute for labneh.

>> Check out the vegan labneh here: https://www.omayahcooks.com/blog/2019/12/3/vegan-labneh

If you would like more vegan cream cheese, check out the introduction of tofu cheese above.

Can You Make Labneh With Low Fat Yogurt?

Labneh can be made with low fat yogurt. The taste of it will be lighter than the one made with full fat one. Some folks have experimented making labneh with fat free yogurt. But they've found that the labneh turns out more sour and pasty. For good-tasting labneh, you can choose:

  • Whole milk yogurt
  • Full fat cream top milk
  • Greek Natural Yogurt (labneh creamier, sweeter)
  • Homemade yogurt

Low fat yogurt labneh: https://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/257126/labneh/

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