At this week’’s Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, Mintel research announced what a senior analyst called a “major milestone” — specialty food and beverage sales account for 16% of all food and beverage sales, with a record year of growth at $148.7 billion.

The biggest drivers of the specialty food market are 1) functional drinks aiding the microbiome, 2) snacks rich in protein and low in sugar, 3) plant-based foods with unique innovation and 4) international sauces and seasonings from  new regions of the globe.

Research from Mintel and the Specialty Food Association shows that nearly three in four consumers purchase specialty food products. The specialty food market is defined as premium products, food made in small batches, food featuring authentic recipes or food made with high-quality ingredients. 

“I think so many consumers are more aware of what they’re eating and are more interested in what they’re eating, they’re curious about it, they care about clean ingredients and quality foods. And were on the cusp of all of that,” said Denise Purcell, director of content for the Specialty Food Association.

Some key points from research highlighted at the winter show:

  • Specialty beverages hold 18% share of all specialty products, totalling $14 billion in sales. Consumers want functional drinks that boost energy, mental focus, relaxation and microbiome health.
  • Snack foods total $18 billion in sales, 27% of the specialty food and beverage share. The fastest growing sellers were turkey and meat (10% growth), then chocolate and other confectionery (9% growth) and juices and functional beverages (7% growth). 
  • Plant-based foods “It’s a movement, it’s hard to call it a trend anymore,” Purcell noted. Innovations in plant-based items are leading growth in their segment, like shelf stable creams and creamers (37% growth), plant-based meat alternatives (36% growth) and refrigerated creams and creamers (20% growth). One-third of specialty food consumers have purchased plant-based products. And 90% of specialty food consumers, Mintel found, are “committed plant-based consumers.” 
  • E-commerce is the key specialty food purchasing channel. Today, 41% of shoppers buy at least some of their groceries online, with Mintel estimating online specialty sales will double to $6 billion in sales in the next few years.
  • The top 10 online specialty categories for sales from specialty food consumers include: 
    • Sparkling water (15%)
    • Nuts, seeds, trail mix, dried fruit (11%)
    • Soda and carbonated beverages (11%)
    • Bars (10%)
    • Juice (10%)
  • Marketing and positioning claims is an important branding element, too. Sales from positioning claims were led by:
    • Natural (68%)
    • Organic (55%)
    • Non-GMO (45%)
    • Locally-sourced (41%)
    • Eco-friendly (40%)
    • Ethical (37%)
    • Fair trade (36%)
    • Plant-based (34%)
    • Gluten-free (27%)
    • Sustainable (25%)
  • Global sauces and seasonings are also trending, especially flavors interesting new regions of the globe. Trends are showing customers are willing to pay more for these higher-quality, authentic ingredients. “People…always want to see a value,” says Mat Schuster, chef at Canela Bistro & Wine Bar. “It doesn’t mean they want to pay less, per say, but they want to feel the value. So if they’re getting an ingredient that they feel is special, that is authentic, that is flavorful, then that is part of the thing that builds the value to them.” 

2020 is the year of the adventurous eater. A new survey reveals 74% of people love to discover new flavors. The Innova Trends Survey highlights botanicals, spices and herbs as popular flavors that will drive the food and beverage market in the new year. Innova calls these trending ingredients as “functionally flavorful.”

Fermented food brands are active in this regard. Kombucha brands are adding more botanical flavoring to their beverages, and fermented vegetable products are experimenting with unique spice and herb combinations. Flavor is still the No. 1 factor for consumers when buying food and beverages. Fermented food brands can use the trending ingredients of 2020 to develop new products and experiment with new flavor combinations. 

“Ingredients have become the stars of many products,” says Lu Ann Williams, Innova Market Insights Director of Insights & Innovation. The industry, she notes, is experimenting with more unusual ingredients to the delight of customers.

Fermented food brands can use 2020’s most popular ingredients as they develop new products. One in two consumers associate floral flavors with freshness, and they associate herbal flavors with healthiness. Flavor is still “the No. 1 factor of importance when buying food and beverages.”

Below is a breakdown of the ingredients consumers want in the New Year. 

Ethnic

Today’s consumers don’t just want to have food, they want to experience their food. Innova refers to this as living vs. having.

“Consumers are really living and focusing more on experiences, and a  big part of that is food and where it comes from,” Williams adds. “Consumers are also looking for richer experiences. You can have Mexican food or you can have authentic Mexican food. And you definitely have a richer experience with authentic Mexican food with a beer paired with the product, with ingredients that came from Mexico.”

Evidence that globalization is changing food, six in 10 U.S. and U.K. consumers say they “love to discover flavors of other cultures.” There was a 65% growth in food and beverages with ethnic flavors. Products with the biggest growth rate have Mediterranean and Far Eastern flavors. Meat, fish, eggs, sauces and seasonings lead the ethnic flavor categories.

Earthy

The growing sect of health-conscious consumers want green, earthy flavors. Matcha, seaweed ashwagandha, turmeric and mushroom are all trending ingredients. 

Fermented food brands shouldn’t hesitate to use bitter ingredients. Consumers more and more are embracing green vegetables with bitter flavors. Spinach, kale, celery and Brussels sprouts are ingredients used in product launches. 

“Bitter-toned beverages are also on trend, with gins particularly popular over the past few years, and now seeing further differentiation via a growing variation in flavors, colors and formats,” according to Innova.

Floral

Thanks to the plant-based, natural, organic, healthy eating revolution, consumers are buying food and drink products with botanical, floral flavors. These are becoming more common in beverages, especially kombucha.

Bell Flavors and Fragrances EMEA launched a concept “Feel Nature’s Variety,” capitalizing on the trend. Chamomile and lavender are two of the most popular floral flavors. 

“Although many emerging botanicals need more scientific investigation to support anecdotal evidence, many consumers trust ancient, traditional herbals,” according to an article in Prepared Foods.

Spicy

Consumer interest in spicy ingredients has increased 10 years in a row, according to global flavoring company Kalsec. More than 22,000 new hot and spicy products were launched in 207, while 18,000 hot and spicy products were launched in 2016.

“I think the trend has gone from shaking a bit of hot sauce on something to give it some heat to present day where consumers have a better understanding of how chili peppers can add depth and layering of both heat and flavor,” says Hadley Katzenbach, culinary development chef at food company Southeastern Mills.

Spicy ingredients gochujang (a red chili paste) and sriracha (a hot sauce) has grown about 50% in condiments and sauces, with mole, harissa and sambal following. Spicy peppers, including peri peri, serrano, guajillo, anaheim, pasilla and arbol, are also growing.

Ask Trevor Wilson how to bake a perfect sourdough boule and Wilson will happily spill his secrets. A rare breed in the realm of professional bakers, Wilson aims to enlighten everyone from hobbyists to master fermenters in the art of creating a great sourdough.

“It’s a fascinating thing. The idea that a simple mixture of flour and water can house a symbiotic culture of wild yeast and bacteria, and that this mixture can be used to leaven bread entirely without the aid of commercial yeast seems astounding to me,” says Wilson, author of the book “Open Crumb Mastery” and the kneading hands behind the blog Breadwerk. His popular Instagram account is full of close-up videos of a knife cutting into a steamy sourdough crust and magazine-worthy images of a gorgeous inner crumb.

“Even after all these years, I still get excited at the thought. There’s just so many possibilities! Every sourdough culture is unique, and therefore the breads made from these cultures are unique as well. I’ve worked with many different starters over the course of my career, and the range of different flavors that can be achieved is simply mind-blowing. Sourdough is more than just a style of bread, it’s a process. A craft. A way of life, really.”

Wilson quit his computer drafting job nearly 20 years ago to bake full-time. He spent 10 years baking at Klingers Bread Company in Vermont, an experience he says was “better education than any baking school could ever provide.” His refreshing philosophy on baking is “that good bread is more than just nutrients and technique — it’s the attention and care you put into it.”

Below, a Q&A with Wilson from his home on the a small island off the coast of Vermont.

How did you first become interested in sourdough baking?

It was actually quite by chance. I was flipping channels on the television when I happened upon a show called “Baking Bread with Father Dominic.” Here was this Benedictine Monk – robes and all – baking bread by hand on public broadcasting. I was drawn in immediately! There was just something so appealing about the simplicity and tradition of it (not to mention the fun of getting your hands deep into the dough). I had to give it a try!

The very first chance I had I decided to make a cinnamon raisin loaf. It was for the family Christmas gathering. I just used the ingredients on hand at my mom’s house – cheap bleached all-purpose flour and a package of long-expired yeast that had been sitting in the pantry for years. As you might imagine, it came out terrible. Dense and underbaked. Like a brick. It didn’t rise at all. Nobody even touched it. But it didn’t matter. I was hooked!

I started baking bread every day – my own recipes because I just have to tinker with things like that – and read everything I could get my hands on. It wasn’t long before I discovered sourdough and sourdough starters. That’s when I truly became obsessed.

Tell me what intrigues you about sourdough.

It’s a fascinating thing. The idea that a simple mixture of flour and water can house a symbiotic culture of wild yeast and bacteria, and that this mixture can be used to leaven bread entirely without the aid of commercial yeast seems astounding to me. Even after all these years, I still get excited at the thought. There’s just so many possibilities! Every sourdough culture is unique, and therefore the breads made from these cultures are unique as well. I’ve worked with many different starters over the course of my career, and the range of different flavors that can be achieved is simply mind-blowing. Sourdough is more than just a style of bread, it’s a process. A craft. A way of life, really.

How did you get your start in artisan bread baking? You’ve worked for multiple artisan bread bakers in Vermont, like Klingers Bread Company and O Bread. 

Shortly after I got hooked on bread baking, I decided that this was it – this is how I wanted to spend my life. I was certain of it. Even though I had recently graduated tech school and was ready to start my career as a computer aided drafter – something which I actually really enjoyed – there was no question in my mind that bread baking was my calling. There was just one problem . . . I couldn’t bake a decent loaf for the life of me!

Since I had no clue what I was doing, I figured the first thing I should do is get a clue. I knew I could go back to school and study bread and pastry arts. But I didn’t really care much about pastry at the time, and it seemed rather foolish to pay to learn a skill when I could just get a job at a bakery and get paid to learn that skill instead. So that’s what I did. I applied to every bakery in the area, and I was fortunate that Klingers Bread Company took me in and trained me.

I say I was fortunate because at the time (back in 2000) they were one of the few local bakeries that focused primarily on sourdough breads. And that’s what I was most interested in learning. The ten years I spent with them was better education than any baking school could ever provide. Learning to bake bread at high volume under the constraints of ever-changing production conditions, schedules and demands will teach you so much about the process, the craft, and the business. I wouldn’t trade those days for the world.

Where are you currently working as a baker?

Currently I’m baking at home! But not for production. Primarily it’s for educational purposes (and for fun). My business these days is mainly online. I probably spend more time in front of the computer than at my bench. There are pros and cons to this. It’s nice that I’m able to set my own work schedule and be my own boss (and that I don’t need to wake up at 2 a.m. anymore), but I miss the camaraderie of the bakery and the joys of production baking.

Your blog is full of great insights. I love your philosophy that good bread is more than just nutrients and technique – it’s the attention and care you put into it. Tell me more about that.

I believe that the value of a food is determined by more than just the quality of its ingredients or the recipe with which it is made. There is a subtle and intangible “something” that can be added as well – if the food is made with care and attention, that is. Call it a piece of soul, if you will. This is especially true for something as dynamic and responsive as sourdough. A baker who bakes with heart adds a piece of soul to every loaf. That is the true nourishment of sourdough bread.

Tell me about your book, “Open Crumb Mastery.” It’s a guide for intermediate sourdough bakers.

Well, I wrote it to answer one of the most common questions in bread baking, “How do I get an open crumb?” It seemed to me that most of the answers to this question were either entirely wrong or, at best, severely lacking in nuance. There was actually very little literature on the topic, and what there was usually just glossed over the intricacies of the subject. Simply adding more water to your dough – the answer most commonly given – is terrible advice for newer bakers. They have a hard enough time handling dough as it is, how is making it even wetter and stickier going to help them? What was needed was a book that actually did justice to the topic, and since no one else had written such a book, I figured I might as well do it myself.

I aimed the book at the “intermediate” baker primarily because I didn’t want to waste space covering the same old information that is covered in every other bread book out there. How many times do we need to read the same five day method for creating a sourdough starter? How many times do we need to rehash the same information about ingredients and procedure? The reason all these books covered the same topics over and over again is because they each had to provide information with the beginner in mind. But the problem is that by the time you’ve covered everything the beginner needs to know, you’ve practically run out of space! All that’s left is the recipe section! There’s no room for depth of discussion. Because I self-published my book, I could write whatever I wanted. So I skipped all that and went straight to the good stuff.

You just released your second edition. Tell me what is new in this updated book.

There’s actually quite a bit of new material – almost 100 pages worth (including plenty of new pictures since the first edition was kind of lacking in that department). The main addition to the book comes in the form of a new section dedicated to understanding how the methods discussed in the previous sections relate to other loaf qualities such as shape, height, and volume. There is more to a loaf than just its crumb. The original edition just lightly touched upon these topics; the new edition gives them their due. Along with some other additions (such as a discussion of whole grain, and a couple new crumb analyses focusing on retarding bulk fermentation), the new material provides a more complete picture regarding how the variables of technique and method affect the entirety of the final product.

Describe the open crumb technique.

That’s a tough one. It’s such a deep discussion that I could never do it justice in an interview alone. That’s why I wrote a book! My main point is that open crumb is primarily a matter of fermentation and dough handling. Hydration, while important, is only a distant third.

You said “Open crumb is 80% fermentation and handling.” Tell me more about that.

It seems to me that much in life follows the Pareto Principle – that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Bread baking is no exception. When it comes to achieving an open crumb, fermentation and dough handling will provide you with 80% of the effect. Therefore, it seems prudent to me that a baker interested in open crumb should spend the bulk of their time learning the skills of fermentation and handling. That will provide the highest return on time invested.

And make no mistake, these are skills. Skill takes time to develop. Practice is paramount. Only through experience will a baker learn to master fermentation and dough handling. But it’s a necessary and vital part of the craft. There’s really no way around it. For any baker that’s seeking to achieve an open crumb, they must start with fermentation and dough handling.

What makes a fermented sourdough unique from other breads?

It’s all about that sourdough culture! The starter is the heart and soul of it all. It provides qualities to bread that commercial baker’s yeast simply can’t replicate. Now whether that’s for better or worse is a matter of opinion. Not every style of bread benefits from the use of sourdough. There’s a large world of bread out there, and yeast breads certainly have their place.

But sourdough has its place as well. And judging by the growing interest, its place seems to be expanding day by day. For good reason, I think. Sourdough possesses a combination of crust, crumb and flavor that is difficult – if not near impossible – to achieve with baker’s yeast alone. Especially flavor. It’s just so much more complex than yeast bread. Deeper. More interesting. Intriguing, even. The acids and other flavor and aroma compounds generated by a sourdough starter are what make sourdough breads truly stand out. Comparable crust and crumb might be had with yeast breads that are long-fermented and skillfully made, but the flavor of sourdough can’t be copied and can’t be faked. Only the real thing will do.

How do you ferment your sourdough?

Many different ways. As I often say, the method makes the bread. How you choose to ferment your dough will have a huge impact on the bread’s flavor, as well as many other qualities of the final loaf. Different methods of managing fermentation will therefore result in different breads. So the manner in which you choose to ferment a dough is dependent upon what kind of bread you are making, and what qualities you are seeking in a loaf. When you include other variables such as folding methods/schedules, shaping techniques, starter maintenance routine, etc. then the possibilities really are endless. It’s up to each baker to ferment and handle their dough in a way that works best for them and their needs.

Tell me about the sourdough starter you use.

That’s a tricky question, because I use many different starters. In fact, you can say I have a bit of an addiction. I love trying out new starters – and I have a fridge full of them! Some are better suited for certain flavors or styles of bread than others, but still, I often bring different starters into rotation based on nothing more than whim. I just like playing around with them. Many I’ve created myself, but quite a few I’ve purchased as well.

I’d say my favorite starter (you could call it my main starter since I use it more often than any of the others) is an “Alaskan” starter that I got from the last place I worked. They had purchased it online but hadn’t had any success in getting it active. I took it home and brought it to life, and I knew it was a keeper from the first test loaf I ever made with it. It practically brought tears to my eyes. The flavor was so close to the old Pioneer Sourdough I’d grown up eating in Southern California that I simply couldn’t believe it. It was a flavor I’d been searching for —  and had yet to find — since I first started baking sourdough. That old bakery closed a long time ago and so I thought I might never experience that taste again. It’s a bit of a fickle starter, and I don’t always get that perfect flavor from it, but when I do it’s a glorious thing.  

More and more retail news show sales of sourdough bread are increasing. Why do you think more people are buying sourdough bread?

Over the last 35 years or so, there’s been a strong “push” by bakers themselves to bring awareness to this style of bread. The old methods of sourdough baking had practically gone extinct in many parts of the world (though they were still thriving in others). This was especially true in the United States, where factory-made sandwich bread had almost completely taken over the market. For many, sourdough was something either long forgotten or completely unknown. For those bakers back in the day who were making bread the old way, it was quite the struggle to find customers. 

Fortunately, over the years they – and those who followed – have managed to bring awareness to the pleasures and benefits of sourdough bread. It wasn’t always an easy sell. But through education and promotion, sourdough is now part of the scene and here to stay. You might even say it’s become rather trendy. The reasons are many: nutrition and health, flavor, crust, crumb, history and tradition, etc. It seems to me that artisan sourdough bread is the food fashion of the moment, but then, I might be a bit biased here.

Do you think consumers awareness of fermented foods is increasing?

Awareness of fermented foods is definitely increasing. Quite drastically, I might add. It seems that fermented foods are everywhere nowadays, with more and more popping up on the shelf every day. And that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. The more that folks are exposed to these foods, the more they will be enjoyed — and eventually adopted as a natural part of the cuisine. That brings more interest, more variety, and more flavor to the food scene.

What challenges do fermented food producers face?

There are many challenges faced by the current crop of fermented food producers, and different industries face different challenges. Probably one of the bigger challenges that crosses over many categories of fermented foods is simply getting consumers – many of whom have had little exposure to these types of foods – to open their minds and give fermented foods a try. This is especially true for producers that market raw ferments with live cultures. Most of us have grown up in a world of pasteurization and sterilization. The idea of a raw fermented product – though perfectly natural throughout most of history – may seem unnatural to those who have no history with it. Needless to say, educating the market will be an ongoing challenge.

Another major challenge these days is simply the matter of competition. With more and more producers jumping onto the fermented foods bandwagon, competition keeps growing and growing. Of course, this is regional and market based. So long as the market keeps growing, then there is more room for additional producers. But in places where the market has slowed, or that are already oversaturated with producers, expanding competition will cut into already slim profit margins.

I see this all the time in the baking industry. New artisan bakeries are constantly opening up on a daily basis. Many are (similarly) making a trendy style of dark, crusty, high-hydration bread. So it’s becoming more and more difficult for these bakeries to distinguish their product from all the rest (at least in the saturated urban areas). Baking is a hard business with slim margins, and it is made harder all the more when you have a bakery selling the same kind of bread on every corner. I fear that many of these bakers – even those who bake outstanding bread – will be forced to close shop in the not-too-distant future.

What are the fermented food industry strengths?

Its biggest strength is its growing popularity. As more and more folks are exposed to the wonderful variety and flavors of fermented foods, and as more become aware of their health and nutrition benefits, the good word will continue to spread. The market is growing rapidly, and will likely continue to do so for quite some time. Producers of fermented foods are well-positioned to grow their businesses as the industry continues to expand and evolve.

Where do you see the future of the fermented food industry?

It’s hard to say. I’ve spent an entire career in just one small segment of the industry. With “nose to the bench,” so to speak, I’ve had a rather limited view of the fermented food industry as a whole. I’m no trend forecaster. It seems to me that authors such as Michael Pollan, Sally Fallon, and Sandor Katz (to name a few) were instrumental in bringing us to this place of awareness and appreciation for wholesome and traditional foods that we now find ourselves in today. Who’ll step up next and where do we go from here? That’s the million-dollar question.

What’s your advice to other entrepreneurs starting a fermentation brand?

Know your product, know your market, know your margins.

The first one is usually the easiest – most of the folks that are jumping into the fermented food business are doing so precisely because they are so passionate about their product. No need to elaborate this point.

The second is vital to those who actually wish to sell a product. Who is your target customer? Where are they? Why should they buy from you? Are you selling wholesale or retail? Or both? Are you selling at farmer’s markets? Whole foods markets? Supermarkets? Are you selling to restaurants, delis, or other food preparation establishments? Are you selling online? In catalogs? At local farm stands? Who’s your competition? Where do they sell? How does your product differ from theirs? Why should a customer purchase your product instead of theirs? What is your value proposition?

When you have answers to these questions (and many more) then you can begin to understand your market. Understanding your market helps you to understand how best to sell to it. Often times in the food business (particularly in craft foods), customers don’t just want to buy a product to eat. They’re looking for a higher value. Can you sell them that higher value? Can you sell them history and tradition? Can you sell them nutrition and health? Can you sell them a story, or a feeling, or an idea? Can you sell them a way of thinking? A way of life? A community? The business that can sell these things is the business that succeeds.

The third point speaks to the bottom line. So many new entrepreneurs jump into the food business out of passion and idealism, but they forget the business part in “food business.” It is a business, and don’t forget it. If you can’t turn a profit or manage cashflow, then you won’t be in business very long. From an operations standpoint, efficient production is profitable production. So focus on efficiency.

Inefficient production includes things like making too many different products in order to appeal to every taste instead of focusing on and maximizing the big sellers (Pareto Principle again), using wildly different production methods for different products when you could combine and/or streamline the processes instead (i.e. completely different recipes for different products instead of using just one or two base recipes that can then have specialty ingredients simply added to them in order to create different products), and poorly designed production environments that don’t allow for economy of motion (if you’re running around all over the place like a chicken with its head cut off then you may need to improve your floor layout). Those are just a few examples of inefficient production.

Be especially careful how you grow and never lose sight of your margins. Many new business owners are too quick to accept large accounts in an effort to expand their business – especially if they’re struggling. But far too often they come to regret that decision, particularly smaller craft producers. Large operations are built to benefit from economies of scale, but small local producers often struggle due to limitations in batch size, work space, and available labor. So accepting large accounts results in more batches which results in more labor. As labor costs go up, profit margins go down. The end result is a lot more work for just a little bit more money. Quality tends to go down, capacity gets maxed out for little added profit, and cashflow gets tied up in additional inventory. Now you’re stuck, unable to pay bills, and unable to take on new or more profitable accounts. Avoid that situation like the plague.

It’s pretty simple really; a dollar saved is a dollar kept whereas a dollar earned is but a dime kept. That’s margin. Efficiency saves you dollars. Responsible cost cutting saves you dollars (so long as it doesn’t come at the cost of quality or efficiency). And intelligent growth saves you dollars. If you can produce efficiently, earn a profit, and effectively manage growth and cash flow, then you’ll do just fine. 

Thousands of new state laws were passed across America this year, and dozens affect fermentation businesses — small and large — as well as home fermenters. 

Government agencies are loosening some strict health code and alcohol regulations, laws that made running an artisanal business difficult. There are also new opportunities being created that allow craft breweries to expand their operations, such as entertainment districts where beer can be sold and enjoyed legally.

Read on for the breakdown of 2019 food laws passed in each state

Alaska

SB16 — Expands state alcohol licenses to include recreational areas. After the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board began cracking down on alcohol licenses in 2017, several recreational sites were denied licenses to sell alcohol. The bill, known as “Save the Alaska State Fair Act,” now expands license types to the state fair, ski areas, bowling alleys and tourist operations. 

Arizona

HB2178 — Removes red tape for small ice cream stores and other milk product businesses to manufacture and sell dairy products. The bill, called the “Ice Cream Freedom Act,” allows smaller mom and pop businesses to make milk-based products without complying with state regulations designed for large dairy manufacturers. 

Arkansas

HB1407 — Prohibits false labeling on agricultural products edible by humans. That includes misleading labels, like labeling agricultural products as a different kind of food or omitting required label information.

HB1556 — Ends the “undisclosed and ongoing investigations” of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, and the Alcoholic Beverage Enforcement Division.

HB1590 — Limits the number off-premise sales of wine and liquor in the state to one permit for every 7,500 residents in the county or subdivision. Small farm wines are the exception to the new law. 

HB1852 — Allows a microbrewery to operate in a dry county as a private club, without approval from the local governing body.

HB1853 — Amends the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Acts to increase the amount of local farm and food products purchased by government agencies (like state parks and schools).

SB348 — Establishes a Hard Cider Manufacturing Permit. Cider brewers can apply for the annual $250 permit, authorizing the sale of hard cider. Producers may not sell more than 15,000 barrels of hard cider a year.

SB492 — Establishes temporary or permanent entertainment areas in wet counties where alcohol can be carried and consumed on the public streets and sidewalks.

California 

AB205 — Revises the definition of beer to mean that beer may be produced using “honey, fruit, fruit juice, fruit concentrate, herbs, spices, and other food materials, and adjuncts in fermentation.”

AB377 — A follow-up to the state’s landmark California Homemade Food Act in 2018, the new bill would clarify the implementation process of last year’s bill. The California Home Food Act made it legal for home cooks to operate home-based food production facilities. The law, though, was only enacted if a county’s board of supervisors voted to opt-in to offer the permits. Only one county in California has opted in (Riverside). County health officials are avoiding singing on the bill because of potential food safety risks. 

AB619 — Permits temporary food vendors at events to serve customers in reusable containers rather than disposable servingware. The “Bring Your Own Bill” also clarifies existing health code, allowing customers to bring their own reusable containers to restaurants for take-out.

AB792 — Establishes a minimum level of recycled content (50%) in plastic beverage bottles by 2035. The world’s strongest recycling requirement, the law would help reduce litter and boost demand for manufacturers to use recycled plastic materials. 

AB1532 — Adds instructions on the elements of major food allergens and safe handling food practices to all food handler training courses. 

Connecticut

HB5004 — Raises minimum wage to $15 by 2023.

HB6249 — Charges 10 cents for single-use plastic bags by 2021.

HB7424 — Raises sales tax from 6.35% to 7.35% for restaurant meals and prepared foods sold elsewhere, like in a grocery store. Also repeals the $250 biennial business entity tax.

Delaware

HB130 — Bans single-use plastic bags by 2021.

SB105 — Raises minimum wage to $15 by 2024.

HB125 — Facilitates growth and expansion of craft alcoholic beverage companies, raising amount of manufactured beer to 6 million barrels. 

Florida

SB82 — Prohibits a municipality from regulating vegetable gardens on residential properties. 

Idaho

HB134 — Regulates where beer and wine can be served, now including public plazas.

HB151 — Charges licensing fees for temporary food establishments based on the number of days open. Fees will gradually increase through 2022. 

Illinois

HB3018 — Amends Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act, requiring a restaurant prominently display signage indicating a guest’s food allergies must be communicated to the restaurant. 

HB3440 — Allows customers to provide their own take-home containers when purchasing bulk items from grocery stores and other retailers. 

HB2675 — An update to state liquor laws, the bill removes hurdles for craft distilleries to operate. Craft distilleries would be allowed to more widely distribute their products themselves, rather than distributing under the state’s three-tier liquor distribution system that separates producers, distributors and retailers.

SB1240 — Imposes a 7 cent tax on each plastic bag at checkout, with 2 cents staying with the retailers. The remaining 5 cents per bag would fix a statewide budget deficit. 

Indiana

HB1518 — Creates a special alcohol permit for the Bottleworks District. The $300 million, 12-acre urban mixed-use development in the Coca-Cola building will serve as a culinary and entertainment hub in downtown Indianapolis.

Iowa

SF618 — Increases the limit on alcohol in beer from 5% to 6.25%.

SF323 — Canned cocktail and premixed drinks served in a metal can, up to 14% alcohol by volume, will now be regulated like beer. 

Kentucky

HB311 — Requires proper labeling of cell-cultured meat products that are lab produced.

HB468 — Expands defined items permitted for sale by home-based processors. 

Louisiana

HR251 — Designates week of September 23-29 as Louisiana Craft Brewer Week.

SB152 — Establishes definition for agriculture products. Prohibits anyone from mislabeling a meat edible to humans. 

SR20 — Designates week of September 3-9th as Louisiana Craft Spirits Week.

Maine

LD289 — Prohibits stores from selling or distributing any disposable food containers that are made entirely or partially of polystyrene foam (Styrofoam). 

LD454 — Provides funding and staffing needed to give local students and nutrition directors the resources needed to purchase and serve locally grown foods. 

LD1433 — Bans two toxic, industrial chemicals (phthalates and PFAS) from food packaging. Maine becomes first state in the nation to ban the two chemicals. 

LD1532 — Bans all single-use plastic bags in the state. Law will be enacted by April 2020, at which time shoppers can pay 5 cents for a plastic bag. Maine is the fourth state to pass a ban, joining California, New York and Hawaii.

LD1761 — Increases amount of barrels craft beer and hard cider manufacturers can produce in a year. The cap increased from 50,000 gallons to 930,000 gallons (approximately 30,000) barrels. The law also makes it easier for a small brewery to get out of a contract with a large distributor.

Maryland

SB596 — Defined mead as a beer for tax purposes.

HB1010 — Updates state beer laws by increasing taproom sales, production capabilities, self-distribution limits and hours of operation. Known as the Brewery Modernization Act, the law is aimed to create jobs and increase economic impact.

HB1080 — No restrictive franchise law provisions for brewers that produce 20,000 barrels a year or less.

HB1301 — Sales tax will be collected on Maryland buyers from online sellers, helping small businesses compete with online retailers. 

Massachusetts

HB4111 — Raises minimum wage by 75 cents a year until it reaches $15 in 2023.

Michigan

HB4959 — Gives state Liquor Control Commission the power to seize beer, wine, mixed spirit and mixed wine drinks, in order to inspect for compliance with the state’s extraordinarily detailed and complex “liquor control” regulatory and license regime. Bill also repeals a one-year residency requirement imposed on applicants for a liquor wholesaler license, after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a similar Tennessee law as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause.   

HB4961 — Prohibit licensed liquor manufacturers from requiring licensed wholesalers to give the manufacturer records related to the distribution of different brands, employee compensation or business operations that are not directly related to the distribution of the maker’s brands. 

SB0320 — Eliminates mandate that businesses with a liquor license must post a regulatory compliance bond with the state. 

Minnesota

HF1733 — Updates the state’s omnibus agriculture policy law, including: create a custom-exempt food handlers license for those handling products not for sale; extend the state’s Organic Advisory Task Force by five years; allow the agriculture department to waive farm milk storage limits is the case of hardship, emergency, or natural disaster, and modify milk/dairy labelling requirements; modify labelling for cheese made with unpasteurized milk; expand the agriculture department’s power to restrict food movement after an emergency declaration; modify eligibility and educational requirements for beginning farmer loans and tax credits.

Mississippi

SB2922 — Prohibits labeling non-meat products as meat, like animal cultures, plants and insects. 

Montana

HB84 —  Changes tax on wine to 27 cents per liter, and a tax on hard cider at 3.7 cents per liter.

SB358 — Raises alcohol license fee for resorts from $20,000 to $100,000 each. 

Nebraska

LR13 — Establish and enforce definitions for plant-based milk and dairy. Proper product labeling would be enforced for milk and dairy food products that are “truthful, not misleading, and sufficient to different non-dairy derived beverages and food products.” 

Nevada

SB345 — Authorizing pubs and certain wineries to transfer certain malt beverages and wine in bulk to an estate distillery; authorizing a wholesale dealer of liquor to make such a transfer; authorizing an estate distillery to receive malt beverages and wine in bulk for the purpose of distillation and blending; revising when certain spirits that are received or transferred in bulk are subject to taxation.

New Hampshire

HB598 — Establish a commission to study beer, wine, and liquor tourism in New Hampshire. The commission will specifically develop a plan for tourism, including establishing tourist liquor trails with signage along the highway, suggest changes to liquor laws that would enhance tourist experiences at state wineries, breweries and liquor manufacturers and suggest how to allow a “farm to table” dinner featuring New Hampshire produced food items and local alcoholic beverages. 

HB642 — Defining ciders with alcohol content greater than 6% (but no more than 12%) as specialty beers. 

New Jersey

A15 — Raises the state minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, raising in $1 increments every year.

SB1057 —  Establishes a loan program for capital expenses for vineyards and wineries in New Jersey.  

New Mexico

SB149 — Change name of Alcohol and Gaming commission to Alcoholic Beverage Control Division.  

SB413 –Allows breweries to: sell beer at 11 a.m. on Sundays; have private celebration permits for events like weddings and graduation parties; no minimum standards (50 barrels a year or 50 percent of all sales coming from beer brewed on site) for businesses to hold a small brewer license; eliminate excise tax, with breweries paying $.08 per gallon on the first 30,000 barrels produced.

A new grant by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to the University of California at Davis will fund training and education for consumers around one of the most confusing grocery offerings — fermented fruits and vegetables.

“There’s a general need to educate the consumer on what fermented foods are — and they currently don’t have that education,” says Maria Marco, professor in Food Science and Technology at UC Davis (and a TFA Advisory Board member). “A definition and resources will help them be more empowered consumers and be more aware of what they’re eating. There’s a need — from kids to physicians. People need to know what these foods are.”

The grant will also fund research on the fundamental properties of fermented fruits and vegetables. Food scientists at UC Davis will study the microbial contents, characterizing the fermented foods. 

The 2019 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) funds 69 projects focusing on specialty crops grown in California. Grant recipients range from organizations, government entities and colleges and universities. The projects must specifically focus on increasing the sales of specialty crops through the “California Grown” identity. UC Davis received $213,051 for the grant titled: “Expanding Education and Knowledge of Fermented Fruits and Vegetables.” 

“California has an important role in the U.S. because such a large number of the United States’ crops are grown here,” Marco said. “We’re the fruit bowl, the salad bowl here in the U.S.”

Of the $72.4 million awarded nationwide, California led the nation in funding with $22.9 million. The California Department of Agriculture will oversee the projects.

Fermentation Education

Core to the grant is fermentation education. UC Davis will work with Master Food Preservers across the state, training them in fermentation. The Master Food Preserver is a community volunteer program available to any individual interested in food preservation. They take a series of extensive, in-depth courses. After earning certification, they can teach the public about food preservation.

“These Master Food Preservers are getting a lot of questions lately about making fermented foods at home,” adds Marco. By providing fermentation classes to the Master Food Preservers, “we’re extending knowledge and providing information on the science of fermented foods.”

“When people start to understand the science behind the food, what the microbes are doing, that engages the public in a way based on science rather than on feeling. That will help the food producers in the end. A more informed public helps elevate their product. It shows their product is different from something just pickled with acid.

Citizen Science

Education and training will be supported by up-to-date research. This research, performed in UC Davis’ Marco lab in the Food Science & Technology department, will also be funded by SCBGP money.

“We’ll be looking at microbial contents of crops and the metabolites that they make,” Marco added. “Characterizing those foods to provide more knowledge on what’s there, it’s a move forward to determining how fermented foods can be healthy for us.”

Few studies are available that examine how fermented foods benefit or alter human health. Though fermented food research in the Marco Lab won’t involve humans, it will provide a scientific base that could evolve into a human study. 

“This is important because there’s a lot of interest in this type of food and beverage. You see a lot more of these products available on the supermarket shelves. There is also an interest to be making more food at home. And there’s generally an idea that these foods are first of all tasty, but they could help our health in many, many ways. There is that belief. And there’s a risk — if these things are not made properly or if there’s some conditions where people should limit their fermented food intake. So there’s good, but if these things are not made properly there can be food safety risks.”

Food Processors

Grant research will benefit commercial processors, too. UC Davis will provide “new or improved methods for fermented food processors.” 

Consistency and scale are a challenge for fermented food producers because of the live bacteria. 

“Microbes have a mind of their own,” Marco said. “A lot of these foods are not originated with mass production in mind. They are usually made in small quantities. So when you scale up, it becomes an issue of quality and consistency. How do you make something that’s usually done in small quantities and sell across the country in large quantities?”

For the third year in a row, fermented foods tops Today’s Dietitian list of the year’s No. 1 superfood. The annual “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey reveals the hottest food and nutrition trends to look for in 2020.

“The 2020 survey results send a clear and consistent message. Consumers want to live healthier lives,” says Louise Pollock, president of Pollock Communications. “They have access to an incredible amount of health information, and they view food as a way to meet their health and wellness goals. Consumers are taking control of their health in ways they never did before, forcing the food industry to evolve and food companies to innovate in response to consumer demand.” 

Consumers are using fermented products as “powerhouse foods,” foods that boost gut health and reduce inflammation. Some nutrition experts recommend fermented foods should be included in national dietary recommendations. 

In April, Today’s Dietitian published an article “The Facts About Fermented Foods.” In it, Dr. Robert Hutkins, a researcher and professor of food science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, shared his expert opinion on fermentation. Hutkins wrote what many in the field consider the most exhaustive textbook on fermentation, “Microbiology and Technology of Fermented Foods.” He explained how fermented foods have a long history in the human diet. 

“Indeed, during much of human civilization, a major part of the human diet probably consisted of bread, yogurt, olives, sausages, wine, and other fermentation-derived foods,” Hutkins told Today’s Dietitian. “They can be considered perhaps as our first ‘processed foods.’”

Hutkins, who studies the bacteria in fermented foods, said researchers like himself “are a bit surprised fermented foods suddenly have become trendy.” 

“Consumers are now more interested than ever in fermented foods, from ale to yogurt, and all the kimchi and miso in between,” he says. “This interest is presumably driven by all the small/local/craft/artisan manufacturing of fermented foods and beverages, but the health properties these foods are thought to deliver are also a major driving force.”Fermented foods first appeared in the survey of registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) in 2017, where it was the 4th most popular superfood.

The full superfoods list includes:

  1. Fermented foods, like yogurt and kefir
  2. Avocado
  3. Seeds
  4. Exotic fruit, like acai, golden berries
  5. Ancient grains
  6. Blueberries
  7. Nuts 
  8. Non-dairy milk
  9. Beets
  10. Green tea

Health and wellness professionals are recommending food and drink to aid chronic health conditions with a centuries-old cooking legacy – fermented dairy.

“Fermentation is back. In fact, we have over 10,000 years of fermentation history and we aren’t done because, right now, it is a hot culinary and nutrition topic,” said Andrew Dole, chef, dietitian and owner of BodyFuelSPN. “Today, fermented foods have found a resurging popularity. The combination is based in the unique taste profile, the artisan aura, and the health benefits that have secured fermented foods in the top spots with trend spotters.”

Dole spoke at the “Get Cultured on Fermented Dairy Foods” webinar with National Dairy Council representatives Sally Cummins and Chris Cifelli. Using independent, clinical studies, the trio highlighted how fermented dairy – especially dairy with the “nutrition powerhouse” of milk – can boost gut health, decrease inflammation and reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Fermented Food Just as Important as Fiber

Fiber is the shining star of the health world to aid the complex gut microbiome, but fermented food and drink are equally as important said Cifelli, PhD, vice president of Nutrition Research for the National Dairy Council.

“When we think about food, we think about fiber and we know the benefits of fiber in terms of helping our microbiota, but we also don’t think about getting those live and active cultures the same way and we really should,” he said.

The microorganisms that come from fermented foods are just as critical as fiber. He pointed out the Live & Active Culture seal as an important indicator of how to find dairy products with good bacteria. That seal – a voluntary seal by the National Yogurt Association – identifies a yogurt product that contains at least 10 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacturing. Some yogurt brands are heat treated after fermentation, killing any good bacteria. The seal is “the industry validation of the presence and activity of significant levels of live cultures,” according to the National Yogurt Association.

Fermented Dairy as Preventative Food

The human digestive tract contains 100 trillion bacterial cells. But modern practices like sanitation, antibiotics, processed food, c-section births and baby formula use have altered microbiota composition. Cifelli said scientists still don’t understand whether disease is a cause or consequence of an imbalance of good and bad bacteria (known as dysbiosis).

Fermented dairy foods, though, are linked to numerous positive health benefits. As plant-based milk products become increasingly popular, Cifelli noted the research all studied dairy milk products. He called milk “a foundational ingredient in all fermented dairy.” The essential nutrients in milk give it a unique health profile, the reason the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend three daily servings of dairy food.

Diabetes and cardiovascular disease – two of the major disease plaguing Americans today – both have beneficial health outcomes when a patient consumes fermented dairy products.

Diabetes:

  • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Consuming more dairy products reduces risk for Type 2 Diabetes by 7%. Eating 80 grams of yogurt daily compared to 0 grams of yogurt daily reduces risk for Type 2 Diabetes by 14%.
  • PLOS One (Public Library of Science): Eating 30 grams of cheese daily and 50 grams of yogurt daily reduces risk of Type 2 Diabetes by 6%.
  • BMC Medicine: One serving of yogurt a day is associated with a 17% reduced risk for Type 2 Diabetes.

Cardiovascular disease:

  • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: A high daily intake of regular-fat cheese for 12 weeks did not alter LDL cholesterol levels of metabolic syndrome, both risk marks of cardiovascular disease risk.
  • European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Cheese consumption reduces the risk of: cardiovascular disease by 10%, coronary heart disease by 14% and stroke by 10%.
  • Journal of Hypertension: Higher total dairy intake (3-6 servings a day), especially in the form of yogurt (at least 5 servings a week), associated with a lower risk of incidence of high blood pressure in middle-aged and older adult men and women.
  • American Journal of Hypertension: Hypertensive men and women who consumed 2 servings per week of yogurt, especially while eating a healthy diet, were at a lower risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

Cifelli called the studies “significant. He added: “there’s been a huge body of evidence looking at dairy guidelines and (diabetes and cardiovascular disease) risk. … We’re really scratching the surface of what (fermented foods) means for health in the long run.”

Incorporating Fermented Foods

Dole, a chef, said you’re “bringing science to the table when it comes to fermented dairy foods.” Fermented foods enhance food by providing an increased concentration of vitamins, adding delicious flavor and increased texture. He shared multiple recipes using yogurt. Yogurt can be used for dip, spread, sauces, dressings, soups and marinade.

“Yogurt is a culinary powerhouse, from a chef’s perspective. We’re always looking for what has the most bang for its buck in versatility, and yogurt is ready-made everything,” he said.

“The (yogurt) fermentation process from a culinary perspective that creates that lactic acid, it works to tenderize meat. Indians have used it in their tandoor for a really long time. Another reason, the sugar caramelizes…and it completely changes the flavor profile and the color. And we get the unique taste of that yogurt tang, it imparts a different balance and depth, which is something home cooks can struggle to get.”

Health and wellness professionals are recommending preventing chronic health conditions with a centuries-old cooking legacy – fermented dairy.

“Fermentation is back. In fact, we have over 10,000 years of fermentation history and we aren’t done because, right now, it is a hot culinary and nutrition topic,” said Andrew Dole, chef, dietitian and owner of BodyFuelSPN. “Today, fermented foods have found a resurging popularity. The combination is based in the unique taste profile, the artisan aura, and the health benefits that have secured fermented foods in the top spots with trend spotters.”

Dole spoke at the “Get Cultured on Fermented Dairy Foods” webinar with National Dairy Council representatives Sally Cummins and Chris Cifelli. Using independent, clinical studies, the trio highlighted how fermented dairy – especially dairy with the “nutrition powerhouse” of milk – can boost gut health, decrease inflammation and reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

*Article published in full on 11/13

We asked three fermentation experts if recent popularity of fermented foods is a fading trend or a new food movement. These industry professionals weigh in on their predictions for fermentation’s future. The fermenters include Katherine Harmon Courage (author of “Cultured: How Ancient Foods Can Feed Our Microbiome”), Aneta Lundquist (owner of 221 BC Kombucha) and Alex Lewin (author of “Real Food Fermentation” and “Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond”)

Do you think the surge of fermented food and drinks is a trend will disappear or a new food movement here to stay?

Katherine Harmon Courage, author of “Cultured: How Ancient Foods Can Feed Our Microbiome”: It’s here to stay. I expect to see it expanding and incorporating into more people’s lives. There is really compelling research with the health benefits, but there’s also these amazing flavors for those of us who weren’t raised with it. Like kimchi. Once you eat kimchi, food seems bland and lacking without it. Koreans describe it as “You need kimchi with every meal.” They can’t imagine eating it without. The flavor and texture experience is a big part of eating. We shouldn’t be forcing it down for our health, but truly enjoying it.

Aneta Lundquist, Owner 221 BC Kombucha: The future is fermented. Stretching back as far as human history itself, the origins of fermentation are hard to track down. People have been teaming up with microbes for much longer than we know. Almost every culture appears to have embraced fermentation for millennia but without a deeper understanding of it’s purpose. Fortunately for us, today’s science became “microbes-curios” and surprised us with some terrific findings. One of the most important ones is that we actually are ONE large thriving ecosystem and its survival is based on an ongoing symbiotic dance between microbial and human cells. Those cells communicate with each other and the outside world, exchange their DNAs and they even shape human behaviors. Now, in the 21st Century, we finally started embracing this profound partnership because of its obvious benefits (gut-brain connection, anti-inflammatory properties, digestive help, depression and Alzheimer aid… this list is almost endless). And there is no way back from here. Demand on fermenting foods is going to only grow from now on. As soon as so called “good microbes” from fermented food find a safe home in human guts, they will call for more of its kind. This is how “they” operate! Suddenly, people will crave kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi-ferment generally. And that is exactly what we are observing now.

Alex Lewin, author of “Real Food Fermentation” and “Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond”: Fermentation is not a new technology — in fact, it is one of our oldest! People have been doing it for millennia, and microbes have been doing it on their own since before humans even darkened the earth.
So by the numbers, it qualifies as a trend or movement.
But it’s definitely not a fad.

And to be fair, in some parts of the world, fermentation was never “out of fashion”. In Korea, for instance, kimchi has been a staple food for a very long time, often eaten with every meal.

My forecast for North America is that fermentation will continue to grow.
This is because fermentation is the meeting point of a few trends that are on the rise here:

– Health. We are more interested in health (and concerned about health) now than we have been at any time in recent memory. We are learning more about gut health and how it affects the rest of human physiology. Fermented foods are directly related to gut health.
– Food. North Americans watch more food TV than ever before, and celebrity chefs are as famous as pro athletes. People are eating things on a regular basis that their parents had never heard of.
– Sustainability/Infrastructure Resilience. Producing and preserving food without reliance on electricity and other infrastructure is an important thing that we as individuals can do to prepare for an uncertain future that will include climate change and may include dramatic societal change and partial or total infrastructure collapse.

Fermentation opens a culinary Pandora’s Box says David Zilber, head of fermentation at Noma restaurant in Denmark. Instead of just pureeing or heating a berry, the berry can be juiced for alcohol, transformed into vinegar, preserved for a fish sauce, pickled or dehydrated.  

“Fermentation was a discovery of possibility,” said Zilber. “You see the recommitorial power that comes from fermentation. It’s not just a subset of cuisine in gastronomy, it’s honest to goodness as large or it not larger than the world of gastronomy itself.”

Experimenting with ingredients that lead to tasteful outcomes is why “fermentation is so thrilling to explore” Zilber told Harvard students at Harvard University’s Science and Cooking Lecture Series. Zilber lectured with former Noma colleague Jason White, head of research and development at the Kudzu Complex in Tennessee.

Experimenting in the Noma Kitchen

Their topic: “Exploring Flavor Space: Innovation through Tradition in Noma’s Fermentation Lab.” The two shared fascinating insight into Noma, the two-Michelin-star restaurant regarded as one of the best in the world. But how do cooks toy with fermentation when the Michelin guide historically values consistency? Thousands of experiments and variations. Only 5% of what the chefs in Noma’s fermentation lab creates make it onto a plate.

“If you’re not trying to keep things traditional, you’re free to do whatever you want. And that’s the beauty of fermentation for us,” Zilber said. “When Noma employs fermentation, we do it knowing that we can change things. That we can seek out flavors by looking to old techniques, by turning to tradition, breaking down processes via reduction, pulling them apart, saying what enzymes are at play? What molecules are in the mix? What byproducts can be produced?”

Zilber showed the huge shared file between Noma employees of recipe trials. Things like moose snout, moldy vegetables, roasted pinecone, egg picked in elderberry juice and pig meat fermenting in its own pancreas enzyme. One of Noma’s early successes was adding a few drops of a fish sauce to a dish. A few drops of a potent fish sauce iteration goes a long way when flavoring a meal. The cooks began creating fish sauce equivalents, like a fish sauce from squirrel, sea cucumber, beaver, sea star, reindeer, wild boar, razor clam, bear (“That was the worst thing we’ve ever tasted,” Zilber said, “that did not go right.”).

“These were huge discoveries for us at Noma because, all of sudden, you could have a primarily vegetarian cuisine that had all the flavor and impact of like a full plate of food with meat and starch and vegetables just by using seasonings,” Zilber said. “And kind of flipping the role of meat and vegetables on its head. Suddenly vegetables didn’t have to be the accoutrement that just served to kind of temper what you were chewing in your mouth and act as the texture. They were actually the starring role, but you were as satisfied as eating a full plate of sliced sirloin because you could have this taste of meat permeating through your samphire mixed with watercress emulsion.”

Fermentation is the most useful tool for the restaurant, Zilber said. Noma has what he calls a “DIY or die” attitude.

When Noma chef and co-owner Rene Redzepi opened the restaurant in 2003, he wanted to create a fine-dining experience concentrating on the food of the Nordic region. Fine dining in Denmark, Sweden and Norway was primarily French food because the cold, coastal Scandinavian countries have such a short growing season. Redzepi and the cooks dove into cultural recipes. They contacted local foragers, then experimenting preserving the ingredients they’d find. They started a Noma Food Lab to catalog the different ingredients.

“When you taste all the products of fermentation, you understand it is delicious because it is that heightened level of food. All life is transformation – creation and destruction are just two sides of the same coin. Building things up in a certain way is just half of the picture if you understand you have to break them down first. And when your body understands that something has been broken down for it in a friendly manner by something that isn’t harmful in any way, alarm bells go off and you understand these things to be delicious.”

“That search for that flavor…is how Rene and the team back in the test kitchen in those early days learned to use the very paltry pantry that sat at Noma’s disposal with all these Scandinavian ingredients and multiple them many times over w the dimensionality of flavor that fermentation could provide. If at first, they only had in a season 250 ingredients to work with, they could turn to fermentation and all the different processes at their disposal to turn those 250 into 1,000.”

During the Harvard lecture, White made a koji and miso for the students to sample. He detailed creating miso from unconventional protein-rich foods, like seeds, roots, parsnip, corn, fava beans, byproducts from oil extracted from nuts.

Transformation through Fermentation

“A field is a field and a plant is a plant. It’s only a weed if you choose to pull it out. But it’s a crop if you put it there and want to harvest it at the end. That’s exactly how you have to think about fermentation,” said Zilber.

Zilber said the technical, chemical definition for fermentation is the anaerobic, enzymatic pathway that yeast uses to metabolize glucose and transform that into alcohol in the absence of oxygen. Simply put, it is the transformation of one food into another by a microbe. But those definitions don’t go far enough to describe fermentation’s complexity.

“If you want to get really into it, you do have to talk about human intent,” he says. “And humans have a big part to play in fermentation because, without the human willing the fermentation into existence, you just have a free-for-all.”

Zilber uses the analogy that a fermenter is like a bouncer at a night club. The fermenter has to decide between the troublemakers and the enjoyable customers. Who is going to come in and start a bar fight and who is going to come in and order drinks and mingle with other customers?

“The club is all the food you’re looking to ferment, the ingredients you’re looking to transform, and which microbes to keep out,” he said. “The key to cooking with microbes is cooking with life. You need to keep these creatures alive so they do the cooking for you.”

Control points are key to a fermentation. Lactic acid – the metabolic process that converts sugar and glucose into energy – has five basic needs. Access to oxygen, salt concentration, pH levels, nutrient sources and temperature. Every control point and process will lead to a different fermentation outcome.

“You’re trying to build an environment for that microbe to survive,” Zilber added.

Harmful pathogens won’t grow in a controlled fermentation environment. Mold can’t live without oxygen. And botulism has a higher water activity level than lactobacillus, and water activity level drops once salt is added in fermentation.

“You’re cutting off at the pass any malevolent microbes that you think might grow,” he said.

Humans, he said, have domesticated the lactobacillus bacteria.

Use Tradition to Apply Fermentation Processes

Zilber knows fermentation is a trendy topic today, but he notes it’s been around since the dawn of man.

“The first real food technology we had for safe food preservation before the USDA was a thing was fermentation,” he said. “And it makes sense that we do it until this day and we have all these traditional recipes on our counter tops because these are things that have kept civilization alive for a very, very long time. And we have grown up to actually love the taste of them and understand them as part of our cultural history.”

Before recipes were shared through the internet, cultures passed recipes through families. Fermentation was mastered because because a grandparent taught it to a grandchild. This is why towns in Italy have a sausage (Genoa, Calabrese) and towns in Japan have a Miso variety (Hatcho, Saikyo).

Cooking your own fermented product “is about crafting those environments that your microbes need to thrive.” Making a koji is recreating the ancestral field in humid China.

Noma is revolutionizing fermentation by using using traditional processes, then creating their own techniques. Noma uses biological and mechanical technology in their food to push the boundaries of cuisine.

“Noma applies the basic concepts of fermentation, of preservation, of making something last in a season where it normally wouldn’t be available, but taking it to the nth degree,” Zilber said. “No, it’s not always about combining flavors and seeing which is the best. Sometimes it’s combining technologies and seeing what produces the best flavor. We try all different sorts of extraction, sonication, vacuum filtration, the (supercritical fluid extraction systems) unit.”

Partnering with local Denmark bio-tech firms, Noma uses scientific technology to explore different fermentation projects.

If just 10% of the population chooses to eat fermented foods, could the food industry be disrupted? Fermentation guru Sally Fallon says: absolutely.

“With fermented foods, you could get rid of all this huge medical industry selling you antacids and digestive aids, and this huge industry that’s grown up around IBS and celiac disease. We can destroy that industry by eating the right foods, and that means eating fermented foods,” Fallon says. The author of cookbook and nutrition guide “Nourishing Traditions” is often credited with bringing ancestral diet methods back into vogue.

Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, founder of A Campaign for Real Milk and author of the new book “Nourishing Diets,” discussed fermentation during The Fermentation Summit. Below, selected highlights from Fallon’s interview with Paul Seelhorst, host of the summit.

Seelhorst: Tell us more about yourself and how you got into the fermentation topic.

Fallon: Well, when I was writing “Nourishing Traditions,” I wanted to make sure I was really describing traditional diets and not something people just think they are. I was very fortunate to find a book in French about fermented foods. I had never read about these before, lacto-fermented foods.

Recipes were very complicated – keep them at certain temperature for this many hours, then switch temperature for another few hours.

I kind of took this principle and worked out a way that was easy and fool-proof, using glass jars, we use way of innocuous so they don’t go bad while they’re starting to ferment.

Tried all these recipes, experiments, made children try – kids have funny stories about trying all these

The neat thing about fermentation is that it is a practice that’s traditional. When you ask traditional people why they do this, they wouldn’t know what to say or how to answer you, they just do it. But it totally accords to modern science. We have seen a complete paradigm shift in the last 20 years. In the past, bacteria were evil and they attacked us and made us sick. Now we realize that bacteria are our best friends, and we need at least 6 pounds of bacteria lining our guts in order to be healthy.

The way traditional people made sure that they had plenty of this good bacteria restocking everyday was to eat these raw fermented foods full of this healthy bacteria. They ate them in small amounts with the rest of their meals. This is how they did it, they had really healthy guts. We know when you have a healthy gut, everything goes better in life. You feel better, you digest better, you have more energy.

I recently wrote this book called “Nourishing Diets” which is about diets all over the world and what really struck me was the fermented foods. Every single culture in the world without exception eats fermented foods. Now some of these foods are pretty weird – like fermented seal flippers. Africa is the land of fermented foods. Almost everything they eat in traditional culture is fermented in Africa. They’ll kill an animals and ferment every part of the animal — the blood, the bones, the hoofs, the skin, the organ meats, the fat, the urine. Everything is fermented when they kill an animal.

Seelhorst: That’s pretty easy because its warm?

Fallon: Its warm, the bacteria like it. They have a saying – a rich man needs 10 animals to feed the wedding feast because he feeds everything fresh, but a poor man can feed the same feast with one animals because he ferments everything

Seelhorst: Do you know what they make out of urine, like a probiotic lemonade?

Fallon: I don’t know, they didn’t say. There’s two wonderful books  on fermented foods – one is the “Handbook on Indigenous Fermented Foods” by Keith Steinkraus. He was at Cornell and is retired now. I fortunately talked to him while I was working on “Nourishing Traditions” and what he shows, he has a bunch of students from all over the world, especially Africa, and they do studies on the food. For example they take a food like cabbage and they’d measure the Vitamin c and the amino acids then they’d ferment it and measure it again. The vitamins goes way up – some 10-fold increase – and the amino acid increase.”

The other thing fermentation does with grains and meats, it releasees the minerals so they’re easily available.

There’s another wonderful book called “The Indigenous Fermented Foods of the Sudan: A Study in African Food and Nutrition.”  The author was a student of Dr. Steinkraus. He reminds me a lot of Weston Price – he’s going to these traditional people not to, you know, lord over them and tell them how superior Western culture is. He goes with hat in hand saying “You guys have the secret here. You know how to eat; you know how to prepare food. Not only that, these foods can be done at the homestead, they can be taken to the market and sold, they are a good income for millions of people.” So he’s not pushing the industrial system, he’s pushing artisan food.” I just thought what a wonderful man, how humble. That’s how we need to come to these traditions – not how to make millions of dollars on them, but how to make a decent living for thousands of people and provide a healthy food for millions of people.”

Seelhorst: What I also like about fermentation is the sustainability aspect. People can make food sustainability and do not need fridges to keep the food good and not get it moldy.

Fallon: Foods like grains are impossible for humans to digest unless they are fermented. So many people can’t do grains, they’re sensitive to gluten. But when you ferment, as in the case of a sourdough bread or soaking your oats or pressed cakes all over the Southeast and Africa, these are fermented grains pressed into biscuits, this takes a food where most of the nutrients are unavailable to us and makes it readily available.

Seelhorst: Nowadays, people have fancy equipment to ferment food. How did people ferment food back in the day?

Fallon: Usually they did it in large terracotta pots. And the culture was sort of in the holes of the pots, they didn’t have to add a culture, it was just hanging out there. When I started this in the late 1990s, this book I read in French was talking about these big pots. You couldn’t get these pots in the states when I was writing this book. I thought this isn’t going to work, the pots are heavy they’re expensive and they make a very large quantity which you may not be able to use. I thought we need a different method for the modern house wife or modern father. I thought “Let’s try to do this in Mason jars, the big quart jars with the wide top. Instead of having the culture hanging out in the holes, we didn’t have that. You had to add something in your culture, so that’s where we came up with adding whey. You have your cabbage or pickle or carrots or whatever it is you want to ferment, you put them in a bowl, you toss them with salt and a little bit of whey. You toss them, pound them a little bit, push them in the jar, push down heavily so the liquid comes and covers the top, this is an anerobic fermentation. Leave it at room temperature for a few days and its done.

Seelhorst: Where do people get the whey from?

Fallon: We teach people how to make it. You start with yogurt or with raw milk or something fermented like yogurt or kefir and you poor it through a fine cloth and the whey will drip out. From a quart of yogurt, you get about two and a half cups of whey. You’re only using a little bit at a time – a tablespoon or two – so that will keep a long time in the fridge. That’s your culture. There are other cultures, too. People are selling powders in culture. The only thing I would warn you is don’t try to do this without salt. Because the only time I heard about someone getting sick from fermented foods is when they didn’t use salt.

Seelhorst: Simply put – what happens during fermentation.

Fallon: What happens during fermentation is lactic acid is created by the fermentation. And in some foods, the lactic acid is already there. Like cabbage, cabbage juice is full of lactic acid. This makes whatever you’re fermenting get sour, it lowers the pH to under 4 and no pathogens can exist at a pH under 4. It makes the foods very safe and they don’t spoil after that. Lactic acid is a preservative just like alcohol is a preservative, but lactic acid doesn’t make you drunk. So, at the same time, these bacteria that are fermenting in there, they’re creating vitamins. Vitamin C, b vitamins. They’re breaking down what we call anti nutrients that block the simulation of minerals. They’re creating digestive enzymes that help you digest your food. The interesting thing is these bacteria and these enzymes do get through the stomach, they do get through and are passed into the small intestines where they are really useful. We’re not sure how that happens, they’re buffered in some way, but we do know these bacteria do get through

Seelhorst: How do you think fermented foods can fit into a modern diet.

Fallon: You can include them every day. One of my favorites foods is a fermented beet juice, I first noticed it in Germany, it’s called beet kvass. I have that every morning for breakfast. Sauerkraut is a really easy way, that’s the way most people do it, they just have sauerkraut with their meal. And then the fermented dairy foods like yogurt or kefir, those are wonderful fermented foods. You have a little bit with every meal.

Seelhorst: Are those the oldest fermented foods that we ate?

Fallon: In Europe, yes. We don’t have a tradition of eating fermented bones or fermented blood. But we definitely had fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, that dates to Roman times at least. And also fermented fish, the fish sauce, the universal seasoning, they found it in the ruins of Pompei where they were making it.

Seelhorst: What’s the difference between industrialized and self-made fermented food.

Fallon: once you industrialize something, they start to take shortcuts because they want to lower the cost. Typically, what they’ll do is eat something. So they’ll heat the sauerkraut and package it in plastic bags or something horrible or they’ll can it. So it will last forever and be shelf stable. Typically, the industry has not done genuine fermented foods because its not something that lends itself to an industrialized process. The things we consider true fermented foods in the united states, they’re being made by small companies.

Now the one exception to that might be yogurt. Yogurt is big business, it’s made by the big conglomerates. I would never even eat that yogurt because apparently the cultures are not even any good and the milk has been pasteurized.

Seelhorst: What’s your favorite fermented food.

Fallon: Kombucha. I make my own kombucha. I have a 30-day kombucha, I call it kombucha like fine champagne. It gets these tiny, tiny bubbles in it, it gets really, really sour and a little thick. I also make sauerkraut. It’s interesting – I’m a lot busier than I was when I wrote my book, I don’t have as much time as I used to have, but I still make my own fermented food. I do carrots and cabbage, I’m just about to pull some carrots and make some fermented cabbage.

I forgot to mention cheese. And cheese. Cheese is a fermented food. Here on our farm, we make cheese. I’d have to say cheese is my favorite fermented food. And also, traditionally made salami. A charcuterie is fermented. They hung these sausages up and fermented them. So they are fermented foods, they’re full of bacteria, good bacteria. They should be kind of sour, they’re very good for you.

Seelhorst: Do you want to add anything for people that just found the Fermentation Summit and may not know what fermentation is, they want to try it

Fallon: I will say this – you don’t have to make it yourself, there’s a lot available, in the states there’s now hundreds of artisan producers making sauerkraut. I love to see that – I love to seen an individual be able to start a little business without a big capital investment and make food that’s really good for people and make a decent living. Here on our farm, we have a store and we sell sauerkraut made by a Russian lady who has just made a wonderful living doing this. I love to see that. Just like artisan cheese. I love see small production of cheese; I love small production of fermented goods. Bread is another one, we now have a lot of artisan bread makers. This is the future of food – its sustainable food, its moral food, its food that makes you healthy, its good for the economy, it keeps the money in your community. I think people need to realize that every morsel of food they put in their mouth is a political act. It’s a decision they make. What are you going to support? Are you going to support Monsanto and Kraft and Unilever? These huge corporations who don’t care about you at all, all they care about is making a profit. Or are you going to support local artisan producers? People just like you making a decent living and providing a healthy food. And you’re also deciding whether you’re going to put something healthy or unhealthy in your body and in your children’s bodies. The traditional cultures, they had no choices in what they ate. They ate what was there, they ate according to their traditions. Today, we are not traditional people. We have left all that behind. We have to think what we eat, everything we eat is a choice. They didn’t have a choice, they just had healthy food. Now we always have this choice between healthy artisan food and unhealthy corporate food. So what kind of society do you want to live in?