If you prepare chaga correctly it has a very mild flavour reminiscent of coffee, vanilla, and chocolate. Anyone who drinks chaga regularly will know this. What most people don’t know is that it acts as a powerful flavour enhancer for foods that have bitter notes as part of their profile, for example coffee, beer, wine and chocolate.
When I’m wearing my chef’s hat, I like to use a powdered chaga extract (which can be aquired through Greenfoot) because it’s versitile and convenient but if you don’t mind the work you can use raw chaga too. Here’s a few tips to get you started.
Chaga and Chocolate:
Pairing chaga with chocolate is so obvious that it doesn’t even need mentioning. But just in case, here’s a recipe to get you started: Take a glass of hot milk (or soya milk or whatever you prefer) and melt in a cube of chocolate. Then dissolve a gram of chaga extract. You won’t need as much chocolate and you won’t be able to tell where the chocolate flavour stops and the chaga flavour begins. The two just blend together completely.
Chaga and Coffee:
Try this experiment. Make a cup of coffee and dilute it up to 80% with water. Then add a couple of pinches of powdered chaga extract. Amazingly, this watery cup of coffee will recover it’s full bodied flavour with some interesting improvements. All of the sharper, more offensive bitter notes will be attenuated. If you served this coffee to someone they wouldn’t even know it had chaga. They would simply think it was a good cup of coffee, with only 20% of the caffeine!
As a bonus, the chaga will protect the coffee from becoming stale if sits in the pot too long. This is because chaga is a powerful antioxidant. These antioxidants protect the coffee’s oils from oxidizing which is one of the causes of rancidity.
Chaga and Wine Sauces
Wine is a great way to bring interesting and complex flavours to a sauce or gravy. Give the sauce a little chaga and it’s like giving Pavarotti a stage with perfect acoustics on which to sing. There’s really no other way to say it. It’s subtle, it’s supportive and it makes a difference.
Chaga and Bread
If you make homemade bread you’ll know it goes stale after the first day. I’ve noticed with some bread, adding chaga makes it softer and greatly extends the shelf life. The effect can be quite remarkable although it seems to depend on the type of flour being used. Your mileage may vary. To use chaga, follow the normal recipe but dissolve a gram of extract into the recipe’s water.
Why does chaga have such an amazing effect on bread? I believe it modifies the gluten bonds. I read somewhere that Vit C, which is also an antioxidant, is sometimes added as a dough conditioner. I believe these antioxidants protect the gluten bonds from being destroyed by the glutathione present in the flour. To be honest, my own success with this has been inconsistent and I haven’t yet been able to figure out what’s really happening. I would be curious to see what it would do for gluten free breads.
Chaga and Beer
I experimented with making homemade beer recently. Although I was pleased with the result it was not as full bodied as what an expert brewmaster could do. Then I added chaga. The effect was similar to what happens when it’s added to coffee. The chaga gave it a fuller flavour while attenuating some of the sharper more offensive bitter notes. It also made the beer incredibly dark!
A good friend of mine recently gave me some chaga mead. The recipe was simple. Chaga, water, honey, and yeast. Everyone who tried it has been amazed. I’m going to be making some myself. The flavour reminds me of the famous ice wines of Niagara, only less sweet. The fermentation process really changed chaga’s flavours for the better. It brought out a lot more of the caramel. It’s very rich with body and has a creamy mouthfeel.
Chaga Extended Shelf Life
Because chaga is an antioxidant (and a very powerful one), it keeps very well in the refrigerator. I have a bottle of my liquid extract that has been in the fridge for 2 years now this September, 2014. It still tastes as fresh as my new extracts. A pitcher of chaga tea can easily keep in the refrigerator for a month or longer.
Chaga also has potential as a natural, healthy food preservative and shelf life extender. Though I’ve done limited testing, it seems to be most effective with ‘wet’ foods.