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Master Chef's Cooking Class: Fermentation
* What is Fermentation?
It's said that a third of all food consumed by humans has gone through some part of the fermentation process. Fermented foods are all around us, so common that we don't even realize when foods HAVE been through fermentation! Fermentation is what we call the process through which microorganisms such as yeasts or lactobacilli within food begin disassembling the organic compounds that make up the food. Although the process could be described as "decay," we call it "fermentation" when the results of that process at some stage turn out to be beneficial to humans.
* If it's Rotten, How is it Good?
Once fermentation begins, the breaking down of the food begins to create a unique smell, and substances beneficial to the body are sometimes created in the process. This metamorphic process tends to enrich a food's nutritional value. The introduction and proliferation of putrefying bacteria are also prevented during regulated fermentation processes, allowing the food to be preserved for longer. This ability to save the food to be eaten later adds additional value to fermented foods.
* Typical Fermentation Method
The two most frequently used methods of fermentation are ethanol fermentation and lactic acid fermentation.
* Ethanol Fermentation
Ethanol fermentation refers to the process of saccharides breaking down into ethanol and carbon dioxide in the absence of oxygen to produce alcohol. This type of fermentation is widely used to make alcoholic beverages and bread. Think about the role of yeast in the making of alcoholic drinks such as beer or rice wine to help understand how this type of fermentation works.
* Lactic Acid Fermentation
Lactic acid fermentation refers to the process whereby lactobacilli undergo a chemical reaction with glucose, resulting in the production of lactic acid. Aside from the fact that it's taking place within food, it's the same principle as the anaerobic respiration that happens inside our bodies. When we run and get short of breath and we feel our muscles ache or grow sore, that's due in part to lactic acid! Common examples of foods that utilize this type of fermentation are yogurt made using milk as a lactic acid, and ripe kimchi.
* * * * * *
Although it can be a complex process, the idea behind how fermentation happens is actually fairly simple. From our examples, you may have realized that foods created by and through fermentation are all around us. Fermentation is the gateway to a kingdom of tastes you couldn't get any other way! It may require a lot of work, but there's no substitute for the satisfaction you get when you take that first bite of a piquant, savory fermented dish you've made yourself!