The recent Spier Secret Festival was held for the first time in Johannesburg at the Nando’s Central Kitchen, and it was filled with interesting talks about all things food. Here are a few highlights from the day:




The terroir of milk


Did you know milk has a terroir and that it can be picked up by taste? Sietske Klooster from the Netherlands held a comparative tasting of milk from three different dairies in South Africa; each dairy was in a different area of the country and the cows were, for the most part, wholly grass fed. The three dairies represented on the day were Gay’s Dairy in Prince Albert in the Karoo, The Dairy in the Langeberg Mountains of the Western Cape, and Mooberry in Northriding, Gauteng.


The flavours and mouthfeel of the milk depended on factors such as the cow breed and the type of grass they ate – the Mooberry cows ate quite a lot of veld with small hay supplements, so tasters picked up wilder notes, suggesting that the milk could be used in a savoury dish where it was a main ingredient. The Dairy’s cows had a diverse diet, grazing on fields fed by fresh water from the Langeberg Mountains, and the breed originated in the Alps, leading to a high fat content. Gay’s Dairy’s cows are Guernseys, grazing on the riverbeds of Prince Albert in the Klein Karoo, and their milk had a great balance of fat to protein, leading tasters to suggest that the milk would be best showcased in a frozen dessert.




Pickle me this


Pickes and fermented goodies are popular, and it’s not just because they’re tasty – there’s a whole host of benefits to putting pickles and fermented items on your plate. In a talk led by Freddie Janssen, a UK-based expert on pickling and fermenting, she showed how easy it was to create fermented products like kimchi and sauerkraut. She said that there were a lot more pickles and fermented goods on menus these days, and people are a lot more aware of what they’re eating, where it comes from, and they’re trying their hand at making them at home.


Pickling and fermenting isn’t a fad, according to Freddie. As technology pushes the world forward, people are going back to old processes. Pickling and fermenting have been used for centuries by people around the world to preserve seasonal produce, for health and to create flavourful products. The two processes are quite different though. Pickled goods, such as pickled cucumbers, are preserved with vinegar, are ready to eat in much less time than fermented goods and are not necessarily healthy. Fermented goods, such as kimchi, are based in a salt brine solution, need to sit for an extended period, turn sugar into acid through lacto fermentation, and is a live product.


Some tips from Freddie:

  • Use produce in season: the fresher and firmer, the better.
  • Use kosher or sea salt: iodated salt reacts badly with the fermenting process.
  • Use your own spices rather than a ready-made spice pack and experiment with your spice combinations.
  • When using vinegar, don’t use harsh cheap vinegar, use apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar which has a lower acid content.
  • Use food safe containers as acid bites into plastic.
  • Avoid metal as it reacts to the live product
  • Remember to leave space in your jar when fermenting as the product is constantly moving and needs space to ‘burp’.




Our grandmothers were right


Mpho Tshukudu, registered dietician and co-author of Eat Ting together with Anna Trapido, gave a fantastic talk on combining healthy eating practices with traditional ones. As it turns out, our grandmothers had the right idea. Mpho said that in South Africa we always talk about cauliflower and quinoa as healthy, but we never talk about African food. We always think that what is American is better, but African food is healthy, beautiful and delicious.


She says that food is the message to your genes and that we need to speak about the food that we grew up with. We come from a rich culture and our grandparent’s wisdom is compliant with trends. For example, traditional morogo is higher in nutrients than chard and kale, and can be used in pestos. The bitterness that comes from morogo is evidence of phytochemicals, which is good for the liver. Our tradition is also less wasteful – grandmother always used the whole plant.  Maize and wheat are not indigenous, but millet and sorghum are, with sorghum containing more protein compared with other grains.


Grandmother fermented her carbs. For example, ting is a fermented sorghum porridge, and the fermenting adds more nutrition to the meal. Traditionally, our grandparents ate very little meat. Meat was only eaten when a cow died, so most meals traditionally tended to be pulses with carbs.


Closing off, Mpho said that since we are what we eat, if we ignore past preferences and familiar food fondness, we become someone else.


*images supplied by the Spier Secret Festival and taken by photographer Retha Ferguson.