russian fermented kissel porridge

Ancient Russian Fermented Kissel Porridge

Russian fermented kissel is a product of lactic fermentation. The name itself indicates that the taste would be sour – the word sour (kisly) and the word kissel have the same roots. Here is what the Dictionary by Dahl says about it: “Kissel is a sour starchy jelly. Oat, rye and wheat kissel is prepared with the help of yeast (bakers or wild); pea-meal kissel can be unsoured”.

According to the dictionary of the Russian Academy (1789-1794), “Kissel is a meal prepared with the help of fermentation (посредством заквасы) and boiling of oatmeal that was strained through sieve to separate hulls; or soaked buckwheat; or pea meal”.

Fermented kissel has been around for at least a thousand years

The Primary Chronicle mentions it in the year 997 when talking about the siege of Belgorod. From those annals, we can restore the preparation method. At first folks made tsezh (цеж), basically milled grain, water and sourdough starter whisked together, and let it sit overnight. Then they cooked kissel in pots, served in bowls, and ate it with spoons. To most Russians this would come as a surprise, since more know kissel as a sweet liquid, and not porridge.

It was common to consume kissel with honey water (с медовой сытой). Honey was dissolved in water and strained to get rid of wax and debris. Other popular toppings were molasses, crushed berries, milk, cream, clarified butter, or vegetable oil. Once kissel was cold, it could be cut with a knife like pudding.

Domostroi mentions different varieties, like oat kissel, kissel with plums, sweet kissel, white kissel with cream. It was so popular that there was a number of commercial crafters who were called kisselnik. This meal was especially in demand during lents, when all animal products were prohibited. Fermented grains, as well as sprouted, provided much needed energy in the absence of animal protein.

No need to use salt – perfect for those with renal disease and hypertension

Because of the tang that kissel develops during fermentation, it was not customary to use salt. As a matter of fact, during my research I learned that it was fairly common to not use salt even when baking bread, which was a surprise to me.

Fermented kissel with oat is very beneficial to health

Even though kissel can be made with different grains, I find myself using oats more than other grains.

The health benefits of fermented oat kissel are derived from the unique properties of oats and metabolic products of lactic fermentation, but there is no live bacteria present in cooked kissel. Kissel is believed to nourish the body with proteins, minerals and vitamins in a way that requires no effort from the digestive system, allowing it to take care of other processes like reducing inflammation to heal what ails you.

Fermented starch, which is also endosperm of the oat groat, is very high in beta glucan, a polysaccharide that ‘induces satiety, decreases glucose uptake, and insulin response, lowers cholesterol in the blood, and controls weight through prolonged satiety‘. Beta glucans are considered prebiotics because they escape digestion in the small intestine, and get fermented, or consumed, by the beneficial bacteria in the large intestine (colon). They also have the ability to lower PH in the gut, which ‘can prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and aid in the absorption of minerals such as calcium and magnesium‘ (source, source, source).

Grains differ in consistency during fermentation

Every grain does different things while fermenting. For example, oats get separated into layers, with water collecting on top. Wheat puffs up on top; rye and buckwheat bubble inside.

Eat like an (ancient) Russian?

Maybe there is something to this way of eating (more fermented products, less salt, more slow cooking, less frying)? The Russian folk culture so frequently depicts the images of bogatir, this very strong and tall warrior, who also happens to be the good guy in every story. I bet those bogatiri were raised on the diet of fermented porridge, kvass and soured milk 🙂 .

HOW TO MAKE RUSSIAN FERMENTED KISSEL PORRIDGE

Ingredients
1 cup of flour (oat, rye, buckwheat, wheat, barley)
2 cups water, or more if you wish
1 tablespoon sourdough starter (I use rye starter; how to make rye starter)

Instructions
The night before, whisk all ingredients in a small pot.
Cover tightly and leave at warm room temperature overnight, or in oven if you have ‘bread proof’ temperature.
When ready to make, bring to slow boil, whisking, until you reach desired consistency. It doesn’t take longer than 5 minutes to thicken.
Eat hot or cold.

Ancient Russian Fermented Kissel Porridge
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Cuisine: Russian
Serves: 1 serving
Ingredients
  • 1 cup of flour (oat, rye, buckwheat, wheat, barley)
  • 2 cups water, or more if you wish
  • 1 tablespoon sourdough starter (I use rye starter; how to make rye starter)
Instructions
  1. The night before, whisk all ingredients in a small pot.
  2. Cover tightly and leave at warm room temperature overnight, or in oven if you have 'bread proof' temperature.
  3. When ready to make, bring to slow boil, whisking, until you reach desired consistency. It doesn't take longer than 5 minutes to thicken.
  4. Eat hot or cold.

 

6 Comments

  1. It’s yummy. We like to add cut-up dates, walnuts, and coconut flakes to the oat kissel. When you use buckweat, do you use the roasted kind?

    • Hi Lenochka, I do dates too, and I looove prunes in these porridges! For buckwheat I used store-bought flour, which would be unroasted, and made my own; I wash raw buckwheat, dry/roast it to the point of some color, but not the deep roast. I prefer buckwheat more mild.

      I use a lot of toplenoe maslo with it too 🙂

  2. Yum! I’ll have to try prunes. I don’t quite understand about the buckwheat. Do you roast the store-bought flour?

    • So I either use just flour – unroasted, the way it comes from a store. Or, I get green buckwheat, wash it, then dry it in the oven, then mill it. I use that kind of buckwheat a lot for cooking and baking, it has more flavor than the regular buckwheat flour, but not as much as roasted buckwheat that you buy at a store. Makes sense? 🙂

  3. OK. Makes sense now. I haven’t tried it with buckwheat, but it sounds interesting. By the way, I love your historic notes!

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