Borș is a sour fermented juice obtained by fermenting wheat bran. Borș is traditionally used by Romanians to prepare their sour soups, (named either ciorbă, or less frequent borș), or they just drink it plain. Borș is pronounced "borsh", and it might derive from the Ukrainian борщ, (borscht), although the fermented juice recipe is traditionally prepared in Romania mainly. The fermented bran juice is full of probiotics, and many of the nutrients in the cereals become more bioavailable after the fermentation, making borș a functional food. Romanians drink the fermented bran juice as is, and it is renowned as a great cure for hangovers. Although the mechanism is not known, I personally believe it's the effect of the probiotics. Another famous hangover cure is sauerkraut juice, another prebiotic drink. Another explanation could be the high amount of vitamin B in any fermented drink. Vitamin B is crucial for liver functioning, and alcohol burns up a lot of vitamin B. The great thing about vitamin B in bors is its bioavailability. We can absorb a lot more of it from bors than from any supplement.
How To Make Borș - Fermented Bran Juice Recipe
Although the main ingredient is wheat bran, in many recipes corn meal is used. I believe that the corn meal acts as a prebiotic, selectively stimulating the growth of certain bacteria. The process of fermenting the wheat bran requires a starter, to ensure the right bacteria is cultured. Wild fermentation of borsh is always prone to spoiling because of opportunistic bacteria, so it is not recommended. However, the starter is always obtained through wild fermentation, if you don't have it. See the starter making section for more info.
How To Make the Starter for Borș
The starter is made exclusively from wheat bran, and it is a little tricky obtain. The reason is because the bacteria that ferments the bran is a wild bacteria, and you have to nail the right temperature, and the right conditions for that strain to develop faster that the competitive bacteria.
Preparing the starter is the trickiest operation, if you can get them from someone who has them it's going to save you some time and energy. If you need to make your fermented bran juice arm yourself with patience and proceed. All you need is wheat bran, water and a jar. Here are the directions:
- You need a sterilized jar, make sure you sterilize it with boiled water, and not with chlorine or other chemicals. The bacteria in bors is very sensitive to chemicals, and it dies if expose to mere traces of chemicals.
- The best is the well water, but if you don't have it, you can boil regular tap water to sterilize it, and to remove the chlorine, and cool it down. For the starter it is important to use warm water and not boiled, so you don't kill the bacteria on the bran.
- The best wheat bran is the one you buy at the mill, so you know it's not treated in any way. People have reported that bran bought in health stores didn't provide good results, probably because the grains are treated to improve the shelf life.
- Place the wheat bran in the jar, around 1/20 of the jar's volume.
- Fill the jar with warm dechlorinated water. The water temperature should be between 106 and 118 ºF, (42 - 48 ºC).
- Let it ferment for 2-3 days in a cool room at 60 ºF, (approx. 15 ºC).
- If the juice doesn't smell after three days, the wild bacteria is dead, and it's not going to ferment anymore. Try another batch.
- If the juice smells bad it is probably contaminated with other opportunistic bacteria. Try another batch. Note that a faint, slightly unpleasant smell is normal, and the smell reminds of the lactofermented pickles, or B vitamins. But if it stinks, most probably the starter is contaminated.
- The liquid is sour, and if you let it ferment for another 2 days or so, it will be even more sour. This is your borsh.
- The bran at the bottom of the jar is your starter. The starter is called in Romanian uști, huști, or huște. Sometimes is called maia.
- In order to preserve the huști, (starter), mix in equal quantities the starter, with wheat flour, and corn meal. Form small patties and let the patties dry in a cold dry room. You can store the starter patties in the fridge, and the bacteria will slow down its activity. The patties will be active for around two months or even more. If you put them in the freezer, you can store them even for longer.
- The starter patties will contain only the desired bacteria, and no other microorganism competition, so it's very hard to miss a batch of borș once you have the starter.
How To Make Borș If You Have the Starter
If you have the starter it is very simple to make a batch of the fermented bran juice. Add 1lb of wheat bran, 1/2 lb corn meal and a cup of the starter. Put these ingredients in a 1.5 gallon mason jar. Fill the jar with dechlorinated water, (not distilled, which doesn't contain any minerals). Keep the jar in a cool, dry room, at at 60 ºF. The bran will ferment in two days, or so. If you let it ferment an extra day it will be more sour. Don't let it ferment too long though, or it will spoil. Once the desired taste is obtained, strain and pour in bottles and keep it in the fridge.
A way to speed up the fermentation is to add the hot water over the bran and corn meal and mix it up. After it cools down add the starter. Don't add the starter in the hot water, you will kill the cultures in the starter.
Myths and Facts about Borș Making
Many recipes call for adding sour cherry leaves, or lovage. However, this is not necessary, and it is only for flavoring. If you make your fermented juice for health reasons, then adding lovage will make it even more effective. Lovage contains an impressive amount of perception, an anti inflammatory polyphenol. This combined with the the probiotics in borș will make a powerful anti inflammatory cocktail.
Some people think, (and even recommend this), that using a little baker's yeast for the starter, is OK. While using the baker's yeast can help you brew a sour juice, that can be used to fix soups, it is not the borș. The original borș contains a symbiotic mix of lactobacilli and some other wild bacteria. This is why borș is so good, and so healthy.
Preparing a sour soup fixed with borș will kill all the probiotic bacteria in the fermented juice, because of the high temperature. However, there are still a lot of health benefits from eating it. A lot of bioavailable nutrients and vitamins are present in the boiled fermented juice. These are not destroyed by the high temperatures. Even with all the probiotic organisms dead, there is some benefit when ingested, because our body gets an immunity boost from the dead bacteria.
Bors made by different people will always taste differently. You can't get two people to make the same tasting bors. This happens because of the wild bacteria cultures which will vary depending on temperature, water, even location. However, if prepared with the same starter, it will taste very similar.
In Romania, for large brewing quantities, oak barrels are used.
Although borș is commercially available in supermarkets, it is very likely pasteurized, which kills all the probiotics in the fermented juice. The healthy source is the small producer, in the produce markets. The commercially available souring powders do not contain real borsh, they are based on citric acid and not on fermentation based lactic acid.