Sima: Recipe for Finnish Fermented Lemonade

I enjoy cooking, but the things that really excite me are what I call my “food experiments,” fermented or cultured products that rely on the complex interplay of yeast, bacteria, sugar, and oxygen. We regularly brew beer, make kombucha (a fermented tea), yogurt, kimchi, pickles, and sauerkraut all from scratch. Each batch is different, you never know exactly how they will turn out. I have a great fermented foods cookbook called Wild Fermentation with these and many other recipes. It’s written by a quirky guy with a big mustache named Sandor Katz. Katz goes by the nickname, “Sandorkraut,” and crafts all kinds of traditional fermented foods and beverages at his home, on a hippy commune somewhere in the mountains of Tennessee. He lives with HIV and considers eating probiotic, fermented and cultured foods essential to his continued health. I’d love to sit down with this guy over a glass of home-brewed kombucha one day!

Sima: Recipe for Finnish Fermented Lemonade

So when I came across this Finnish recipe for a fermented lemonade (oh, the things you find on Pinterest!), I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it. This drink, called “sima” is traditionally brewed in Finland on May 1 to celebrate the arrival of spring. It’s the easiest recipe I’ve ever seen for a home fermented beverage, with things that you probably already have in your kitchen.

I was curious about the use of ordinary bread yeast, and the purpose of the raisins–are they there for flavor? To provide more yeast/bacteria? Or just to let you know when its ready (because they rise to the top)? Who knows, it’s certainly a rustic recipe and I can easily imagine old Finnish grandmothers making it in their kitchens.

It’s very slightly alcoholic (<1%), but gets more so the longer you ferment it. It was seriously effervescent and quite refreshing, though with a distinct yeastiness. I’m going to experiment with using other types of yeasts (beer starters, etc.) next time to see how it affects the flavor.

At any rate, this Sima recipe is a good, easy introduction to the world of home fermentation, so give it a try and let me know what you think in the comments!

Day 1: As fermentation begins

Day 3, when I considered it ready and moved it to the refrigerator. The raisins had risen to the top and the pressure was intense when I opened the bottle.


  • 14 cups water
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 2 lemons (organic, if possible), washed and very thinly sliced
  • ⅛ teaspoon yeast
  • 20 raisins

  1. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil.
  2. Add the brown sugar, 1 cup of the white sugar and stir to dissolve.
  3. Add the lemon slices, stir and let sit until lukewarm.
  4. Transfer the liquid to a nonreactive (non-metallic) container and add the yeast and stir.
  5. Partially cover and let sit for 8 hours or overnight. Tiny bubbles should form around the perimeter of the liquid.
  6. Strain the liquid into sterilized bottles.
  7. Place one teaspoon of sugar per quart of liquid as well as 4-5 raisins.
  8. Cork tightly.
  9. Let stand at room temperature until the raisins have all risen to the top of the bottles. I left it two more days until I could tell it was very fizzy.
  10. SAFETY NOTE: Be sure to open the bottles AT LEAST once a day to release the pressure so the bottles don't burst.
  11. Refrigerate until use, letting out some of the pressure from the bottles from time to time, if necessary (I didn't actually find this part to be necessary, as once I refrigerated it the fermentation stopped)