Farm Ferments: Making Magnificent Makgeolli


If you know only one thing about me, know this: I am a fermenter. I ferment both food and drink, and I do it not only for the health benefits but also for the sheer pleasure of consuming something I made myself. As an individual with some Korean heritage, I frankly felt a little embarrassed about buying kimchi at the local Korean store – and I’m a fermenter, for crying out loud! I could make kimchi, and I could make it the way I wanted it…but that’s for another post. Let’s just say that I made very respectable kimchi (배추김치 and 깍두기), so I moved on to trying my hand at makgeolli (막걸리), a Korean rice-based liquor.

Makgeolli is a very accessible ferment, really only requiring one specialized ingredient that you may not be able to find easily: nuruk (누룩). Nuruk is a specialized starter: unlike other yeasts, it contains not only yeast, but also an enzyme, fungi, and mold. Seriously. And the process is fascinating: you add the nuruk to cooled cooked rice, mix thoroughly, and add water; with time, it bubbles and the rice is basically liquefied. It’s really cool, and very different from brewing beer or making wine. With more time, the ferment takes on sour notes from the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) – and if you’re reading this, you’re probably a fermenter, too, so you understand the health benefits of lacto-fermented foods. While Asian groceries here are fewer and farther between (compared to WA), I’m lucky that there happens to be a Korean store about a half hour drive away…and they carry nuruk. And delicious kimbap (and honestly, really good kimchi, but I needed to make my own).

For the health-conscious, makgeolli has been shown to have health promoting properties; specifically, scientists have found that nuruk contains a substance called 2,6-dimethoxy-ρ-benzoquinoe (2,6-DMBQ), that has anti-cancer and immune supporting effects*. Like I really needed another reason to keep making makgeolli!

Brewing makgeolli is a fun, easy process with high returns in terms of enjoyment and healthfulness. Finished makgeolli can range from lightly sour to very sour, depending on a number of factors; as a big fan of sour, I like it to be pleasantly, distinctly sour, similar to how I like my kombucha. It’s a uniquely perfect complement to an Asian-style meal, especially one with banchan. I’ll keep refining my makgeolli recipe until it’s consistently good and replicable…but it will be a staple. The silky, milky texture, delightful tanginess, and light effervescence make it very easy to drink. 건배!

*Yoo, JG., Kim, DH., Park, EH. et al. J Korean Soc Appl Biol Chem (2011) 54: 795.

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