"Borş"( read "borsh") is the Romanian word for a natural sour juice made of fermented wheat bran, maize flour and water. As simple as that! The name comes from Russia and it means "sour soup". Its origin is Ukraine(a former Soviet Republic), where borsh is a specific sour soup, made with meat and vegetables; beetroot mainly. In other European countries, where borsh was brought by the Russian immigrants, borsh is also known as "borsch" or "borscht". Romania borders Ukraine, so many Russian people came to live in Romania and vice-versa. We've shared many of our culinary traditions, including some of theirs between ours. That's how we've got the borsh which is similar to their kvass - a sweet Russian drink, made from fermented bread and yeast. Romanians have changed the recipe, according to their needs and to what they had more for use, such as the wheat bran (the grain's hull), which remained after grinding wheat. That's what we call making the most out of wheat - or of anything else, whatsoever. "Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed" - as a famous scientist said - seemed to have been Romanians way of life forever. We don't just throw things away, especially food, if it can be of some use. People have been cultivating and grinding their own wheat for ages in our country, so it was only natural that what it seemed to be a waste - the wheat bran - could be used for something good. In every village they had a mill, where everyone brought the wheat they harvested from their land for grinding. In those days, mills were either powered by water or by wind. After milling their wheat, people took back flour and bran; they used the flour for feeding their families and bran for feeding their livestock. In their small farms, they had at least a cow, a pig, chickens and hens, geese, ducks, turkeys. Some even had horses and bulls, which they used for working on the field, before tractors were invented and even afterwards, if they couldn't afford one. Back then, peasants used to harvest wheat by hand, using only a small handtool, called sickle. It was a very hard work and everyone in the family helped. However, the harvest could barely provide the family's daily bread for a whole year. That's why nothing could be thrown away, especially the nutritious wheat grains' hull. Everything was carefully stored in their barns and protected against rain, wind and rodents.
Wheat (Triticum) is a cereal grain originally from Levant region of the Near East and the Etiopian Highlands. Cereal is a grass from the monocot Poaceae (Gramineae) family, cultivated for its edible grains, seeds of the fruit named caryopsis. The seeds need to be dry before harvesting. Plants in the Poaceae family have hollow stems, sword-type alternate leaves and panicle inflorescens.
Common wheat (Triticum aestivum) has been one of the first domesticated cereals, cultivated since ancient times on large areas, proving to be easy to be cultivated and long-term stored. All ancient societies emerged and developed due to wheat cultivation on a large scale. Wheat has the highest protein content of all cereals, thus providing the main source of vegetable protein in human food and it is the third most produced cereal worldwide, after maize and rice. Wheat grains are milled for obtaining the wheat flour which is the main flour used for making bread and other food pastry products. The byproducts from milling wheat are bran and germ, which contain most of the minerals, vitamins and proteins, while the wheat flour mostly contains starch and gluten. Bran is the wheat's hull and germ is the embrion inside the wheat grain. Both bran and germ have different uses, mostly as an addition to different baked goods, such as breads, crackers and breakfast cereals. The remaining straw (wheat's dry stalk) is used for livestock shelter and bedding during winter.
Borsh is known to have nutritional value and healing properties for many illnesses. Due to the fermented wheat bran, borsh contains minerals and vitamin B and C , essential fatty acids, carbohydrates. Also, the yeast from the fermented bran contains B vitamins complex, D and H vitamins, oligoelements(selenium and chrom), natural enzyme, easy asimilated minerals (phosphorus, calcium, magnesium). Borsh can be drunk raw for healing headaches, dizziness, vomit sensation, alcohol intoxication and indigestion. A borsh daily diet fortifies the body in cases of anemia and it is also efficient in diets because it stimulates digestion and fat burning. It can be used also for the medical treatment of bronchitis, sinusitis and asthma. Because of its detoxifying properties borsh can be used in diabetes, hepatitis, artrithis, gout, kidney failure, liver and gall issues, rheumatism, also for chronical fatigue. Borsh diet relieves high blood pressure, reduces cholesterol, insomnia, heart dissease risk and revigorates body after a huge intellectual or physical effort. It prevents thrombosis and heart attacks and it was proven to improve colon cancer. Wheat bran are known to have healing properties for skin disease, rash. It is boiled in the water of the newborn babies' bath for cleaning their skin.
I don't think our grandparents knew about this long list of borsh healing properties, but they intuited its properties and how good was borsh, not only for health, but also for the food's taste. Borsh combines the nutritional value of the fermented wheat bran and corn flour with water, thus obtaining a delicious sour juice which is perfect for giving taste to broths or soups, or as a drink, sweetened with honey. In our country, soup is a sweet broth from which the meat is taken out after cooking. Vegetables in one piece are added, then noodles or dumplings. Broths are cooked with meat chunks, chopped vegetables and borsh, which is added at the end. We're calling these "ciorba'' or, after the name of the sour juice, "borş". Some vegetable soups are oftenly made with borsh, but the vegetables have to be chopped.
As said before, no Romanian "ciorba" is made without borsh. Many people are making borsh at home in our country. Some are even making money from selling borsh. I remember when I was a child, my mother used to sent me to buy homemade bors from a neighbor. Later, when I had my own family, another neighbor sold me borsh whenever I needed to make "ciorba". She finally shared the borsh recipe to me and taught me into doing it myself, for my health and of my family. Nowadays they have powder borsh at the store and even fresh, in bottles, but I prefer the one I make myself at home. Same as my good neighbor, I'm using a pickle jar for making borsh. I still remember her story of how she made the borsh and, while stirring, the jar broke and all the liquid seeped down the kitchen cupboard, through the drawers. She told me that a strong headache hit her suddenly, but she tied a scarf around her forehead and started to clean. I've never had this bad experience so far and I don't wish I'd ever have it. Making borsh isn't hard; I just have to remember to make it a day before I'm cooking "ciorba". If you will ever want to make borsh, here is the recipe :
2 cups dry wheat bran
1 cup maize flour
2 quarts of water
2 cups fermented wheat bran and corn flour from last homemade borsh (called "hushte") or 3 black bread slices, or as much fresh yeast as an olive
a few sour cherry leaves for a better taste
In Romania anyone can find fermented wheat bran, the so-called "huşte"(read hushte) for making borsh, from someone who is already doing it, like a friend or relative. But for someone who doesn't live here there is always another solution, of using either 3 slices of black bread or a bit of fresh yeast, as much as an olive.
Cooking borsh is simple. Fill a 2 quarts pot with water and bring to boil. Take a 4 quarts glass pickle jar, put 2 cups of dry wheat bran and 1 cup maize flour, then add over it 2 cups cold water, to moisten the bran.
Pour the boiling water over the wet bran and maize flour.
Stir with a long wooden spoon. Add the sour cherry leaves, very well washed, fresh or dry. Let chill.
Add the saved fermented wheat bran or 3 slices of bread, crumbled, or moistened ground fresh yeast.
Stir again. Cover with a plate and let chill in a warm place. Stir occassionally, until the next day.
If you are using "hushte" the borsh is sour in 24 hours. If using black bread or fresh yeast, it takes 3 to 4 days. When the borsh is sour, stop stiring and let it clear. Then you need to pour it gently through a very thick strainer, or through a cloth. Save borsh in a bottle in the fridge and use it within 2-3 days. Save part of the hushte for the next borsh, in an 1 pound jar or plastic bucket, such as mine. Use borsh if you'd like; it's completely natural and healthy. Be careful if you have gastristis or ulcers. And remember, this article is informative, not a medical advice.