Highland Cows

Ancient Scotland

When you hear about pre or mid-inustrial Scotland, you would be forgiven for not immediately thinking of food. In truth, it was a relative scarcity, and has been up until very recently.

Despite this, the Scots of old made do. Crafting over the years a fairly specific variety of foods, some of which have gained international notoriety.

Some of the ways Scottish foods were prepared could certainly be classified as eccentric by some… others would applaud the level of ingenuity required to make such a wide variety of dishes out of such a constrained selection of food.

One of the most notorious of dishes, Haggis, has actually been banned in the United States since 1971. Although this is due in part to the ingredients it contains, rather than how it’s prepared.

One of the lesser known foods, however, is incredibly good for you.

Sowans – What Are They?

They are similar in appearance and consistency to yogurt or cheese, but they’re vegan friendly and made from fermented oats.

How Old Are They?

It’s very difficult to obtain any information as to the actual age of this dish. But the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns has referenced them in some of his works that are now over two hundred years old.

The first documented mention of Sowans appears in a paper written by a Scottish journalist in the 1690s. George Ridpath wrote that Sowens were a great food “both for body and soul” (Stylised: saul).

Sowans were such a critical part of the traditional Scottish diet at one point, that it was rare that a household with food wouldn’t regularly produce them. It was unusual for a house to not have a “Sowan-Bowie” (a wooden bucket specifically for the fermentatation of Sowan)

What’s So Great About Them?

If you’re a fan of sour food, you’ll fall in love with this dish.

Pushing this fact aside, they’re also great for you.

The process of making sowans involves fermentation, which is great for two reasons.

  1. The nutrients within are more easily digestible/accessible than they would be otherwise. You can take in a lot of nutrients without much effort to digest them. The dish was widely revered for its “healing” properties before modern medicine, this is probably why.
  2. Fermentation allows probiotic cultures to build up within. Probiotic cultures are great for your gut microbiome, which is where about 70% of your immune system is located.

How Do You Make Them?

Sowans are incredibly easy to make, and they can last a decent amount of time in the fridge.

You don’t need a wide variety of ingredients either. Here’s how you can whip up this probiotic dish in a short amount of time:

Isle Of Skye Sowan Recipe:

  1. Fill a container with two thirds of oat bran and one third of oats.
  2. Add warm water
  3. Optional: add real whey if you have any, this can kick start the fermentation and prevent spoiling.
  4. Add a tablespoon of salt.
  5. When the oats/bran begin floating, keep pressing them down until they stop.
  6. Leave for 4-12 days to ferment. The speed of the process depends on how warm your house is. It’s much quicker to make this dish in the summer as it is in the winter.
  7. Once it’s fermented, pour the mixture through a sieve/filter of some kind to get rid the bran/oat residue. Discard this residue as it’s no longer needed. What you’re looking for is the liquid.
  8. Leave this liquid in a container for another few days and let it seperate, you will find that a thick white paste builds up at the bottom (sowans) and a clear liquid builds up top.
  9. This clear liquid is known as ‘swats’. It’s absolutely teeming with probiotic cultures and you can drink it if you want. Either drink it or discard it, leaving you with the white paste.

What Next?

From here on, what you choose to do with the sowans is up to you.
You can eat it like porridge, hot or cold.

Mixing it with some butter and water will create the dish known as “douchrea“. Which we’ll admit is not the most appetizing of names.

You can even use it as a dip if you’re feeling adventurous.

We hope you consider giving this ancient probiotic dish a try and telling us how it went!

Don’t Feel Like Fermenting?

If you’re looking for probiotic cultures on their own, we currently stock a probiotic packed with 8 different strains of cultures and 50 billion live cultures per capsule. Check it out here if you’re interested.

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