To test our theory we reached out to our friend and customer Brad Hendrickson of Vancouver based Biota Fermentation. Brad prepared some of his famous sauerkraut split into several batches at 2.5% sea salt salinity. One batch was left as a control batch (no Nigari added), while the other batches included Nigari additions ranging from 0.25% to 0.4%.
The results were conclusive. In a blind sensory test, people clearly preferred the batches with the higher Nigari concentration on the grounds of both flavour and texture.
photo: Anise & kaffir flat iron beef with organic Napa cabbage kimchi, kale, sweet corn & sunflower ponzu by Chef Nick, Alta Bistro
To supplement the testing at Biota Fermentation, we also reached out to Chef Nick Cassetari at Whistler’s award-winning restaurant, Alta Bistro. Nick has long been pushing the boundaries of fermentation and was keen to try something new and had this to say about the results:
“We started using Nigari in our ferments and it’s safe to say we will not stop using it. The texture and purity of flavour is paramount.” – Chef Nick Cassetari
How does it work?
...but unlike NaCl, magnesium and potassium chloride salts taste more bitter than ‘salty’. So while their addition improves texture it does not add to the overall level of 'saltiness’. In contrast, the added bitterness should partially counteract saltiness and
increases the overall complexity of flavour.
Our investigation into the benefits of nigari in fermentation were partly inspired by the story of ‘Odo’s experiment’ as summarized by Mark Bitterman in his book ‘Salted’:
“The salt maker Odo once performed an experiment to explore the value of natural sea salt to living organisms. He picked up a bunch of crabs off the beach. He put some in salt water made from refined salt. The crabs died almost right away. Some of the crabs he put in salt water made by combining fresh water and unrefined rock salt. The crabs died within two days.
Then he made salt water using his own natural sea salt. The crabs lived.
Furthermore, the aquarium holding the crabs began to produce more life, presumably from microscopic organisms already living in the crabs. Odo believes that the same subtle chemistry essential for the very survival of marine animals offers benefits to humans as well.”