Fermentation is Not a Trend

Fermentation intersects several major food movements – it’s natural, artisanal, sustainable, innovative, functional, global, flavorful and healthy. Now is an ideal time in the food market for fermentation producers.

“Fermentation is not a trend. It’s experiencing a resurgence, a renaissance,” says Amelia Nielson-Stowell, editor for The Fermentation Association. “Fermentation never went away. It just became less of a common type of food craft, especially in the U.S. where Americans became accustomed to other types of food processing.”

Nielson-Stowell was a speaker at the Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show in Las Vegas. Her remarks touched on growth opportunities and challenges for the fermentation industry. It was well-received by the audience. Two food business news magazines wrote articles about it. The show’s keynote speaker, author Paco Underhill, was also in attendance and brought up Nielson-Stowell’s presentation during his keynote.

Fermentation is a growing industry, slated to reach $846 billion in global sales by 2027. Kvass, pickles, kimchi and hard cider are the products experiencing the largest growth. 

There’s no denying fermentation’s popularity – “there’s widespread scientific agreement that eating fermented foods will help the microorganisms in your gut.” But reputable clinical trials proving the health benefits of fermented foods are few and far between because they’re incredibly expensive. There are plenty of studies on the health benefits of yogurt because there’s a lot of money in the dairy industry. Other ferments don’t have the monetary backing.

Nielson-Stowell points to the 2021 Stanford study as a “watershed moment” in fermentation. It’s one of the first clinical trials proving diet remodels the gut microbiota. The research, published in the journal Cell, found a diet high in fermented food like yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, kimchi, kombucha, fermented veggies and fermented veggie broth led to an increase in overall microbial diversity. 

“This microbiome world we are in right now is a real opportune time to talk to consumers about fermented foods and health,” Nielson-Stowell said. “Humans have long consumed fermented foods for thousands and thousands of years, but now we have the scientific techniques to dive into fermented foods and analyze their nutritional properties, their microbial composition and better understand how they may improve a person’s health.”

Educating consumers is another major challenge. Nielsen-Stowell encourages brands to focus on simple messaging, then delve deeper into the science on their webpage for consumer’s that want to know more about the intricacies of their food. 

“Many consumers are confused about fermentation. They know it’s good for them, but they don’t understand why or what products are fermented,” she said. 

Tradition, too, should be shared.

“Fermented foods have a unique story to them compared to other foods,” she adds. “Every culture in the world has a traditional ferment. We are here today because, thousands of years ago, our ancestors fermented.”

“The American Wine Industry Has an Old People Problem,” reads the headline from the New York Times. The article dives into the challenge highlighted by a new report: winemakers are missing younger consumers. The biggest growth area is among 70- to 80-year-olds.

“It’s worse than I thought,” Mr. McMillan said in a phone interview. “I thought we would have made some progress with under-60s. I’ve been talking about this problem for seven years and we still haven’t reacted.”

Younger consumers have a plethora of trending alcoholic drinks to choose from, much more than baby boomers. Craft beers, hard kombucha, hard seltzers and canabis-infused cocktails all compete with wine. 

Rob McMillan, executive vice president of Silicon Valley Bank and author of the State of the U.S. Wine Industry 2023 report, says he believes wine’s downfall is a marketing problem. His tips:

  • Emphasize social responsibility with the environmental sustainability of wine
  • Embrace health awareness with ingredient labeling and transparent nutrition
  • More introductory wines, like wine coolers, wines mixed with carbonated water and sold in cans, wines sold in smaller bottles
  • More advertising and promotion targeted to a younger audience

Read more (New York Times)

Noma – the New Nordic restaurant that inspired the restaurant fermentation movement – announced it will be closing in 2024, reopening as a food lab. This reiteration (owner René Redzepi calls it Noma 3.0) will focus on developing new dishes and products for Noma Projects, Noma’s e-commerce, CPG operation. 

Within days of the news, Noma announced the hire of Arielle Johnson, PhD, as Noma Projects’ Science Director. Johnson, a flavor scientist, food chemist and gastronomy researcher, co-founded the Noma Fermentation Lab in 2014.

Since first opening two decades ago, Noma has been named one of the world’s best restaurants. The announcement shocked the restaurant industry as Noma is seemingly at the top of their game. Noma redefined fine dining – meals at Noma were largely local, Nordic ingredients turned into artistically beautiful and culinarily unique dishes.  

“The style of fine dining that Noma helped create and promote around the globe — wildly innovative, labor-intensive and vastly expensive — may be undergoing a sustainability crisis,” writes the New York Times. 

Redzepi himself says the long hours and fair compensation for the large team “is not workable.” Noma came under fire for their stagiaire program, the term for unpaid restaurant interns. Noma started paying their interns in October 2022.

“We have to completely rethink the industry,” he told the Times. “This is simply too hard, and we have to work in a different way.”

“Fine dining is at a crossroads, and there have to be huge changes,” he said. “The whole industry realizes that, but they do not know how it’s going to come out.”

Read more (New York Times)

When demand in Vietnam for Song Huong Foods (SHG) fermented foods began to wane, brand owner Nguyen Le Quoc Tuan decided to take the brand overseas. 

The 20-year-old ferments company is most famous for their ferments, like pickles, seafood, eggplant, sauces and pastes. But, after the pandemic, a number of Vietnamese stores selling SHG products shut down. So Tuan, knowing Vietnamese expats love to eat Vietnamese specialties, turned to U.S. exports.

After six months of food safety tests and certification from the U.S. FDA, SHG released in 32 U.S. states in December 2022, “just before the upcoming Lunar New Year,” Tuan said. 

Their distributor, CTWS Group, an Asian food wholesale distributor, said it’s the first time fermented products from Vietnam are sold in the U.S. 

Local production has been a challenge, so supplies are still sourced from Vietnam. Tuan’s goal is to expand in the U.S., eventually selling in Costco, then export to Japan, Taiwan, Australia, Russia and China.

Read more (VnExpress)

A new study published in Nature reveals some new insight into the gut-to-brain pathway. Certain bacteria types boost our desire to exercise. 

The study, performed on mice by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, found differences in running performance based on the presence of gut bacterial species Eubacterium rectale and Coprococcus eutactus in the higher-performing mice. The metabolites known as fatty acid amides that the bacteria produce stimulate the sensory nerves in the gut, enhancing activity in the motivation-controlling region of the brain.

“If we can confirm the presence of a similar pathway in humans, it could offer an effective way to boost people’s levels of exercise to improve public health generally,” says Christoph Thaiss, PhD, an assistant professor of microbiology at Penn Medicine and a senior study author.

Researchers were surprised to find genetics accounted for only a small portion of performance differences in the mice. Gut bacterial populations were “substantially more important,” reads the study. Giving the mice antibiotics to get rid of their gut bacteria reduced the mice’s running performance by half. 

“This gut-to-brain motivation pathway might have evolved to connect nutrient availability and the state of the gut bacterial population to the readiness to engage in prolonged physical activity,” says J. Nicholas Betley, PhD, an associate professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences and a study author. “This line of research could develop into a whole new branch of exercise physiology.”

Read more (Science Daily)

Ugly Fruit into Delicious Kombucha

A new Los Angeles-based kombucha brand has a unique approach to their fermented tea. Sunset Cultures owner and chef Balo Orozco (pictured) uses the unsold or “ugly” fruits and vegetables from local farms into “some of L.A.’s most creative kombuchas, hot sauces and condiments.”    

Staying true to his goal of curbing food waste and helping local farmers is certainly not easy. Orozco spends much of his days driving across the state to pick up boxes or pallets of produce that would otherwise be thrown away or composted. Another challenge: the kombucha flavors and condiment offerings change with the amount and type of surplus product Orozco receives from farmers. (Sunset Cultures does consistently sell four core kombucha flavors).

Orozco’s roots are in the restaurant industry. As a chef, he was alarmed at the amount of kitchen waste restaurants would throw away. His specialty soon switched to reusing kitchen scraps and fermenting house-produced condiments. After the last restaurant he worked at folded due to the pandemic, he began working on Sunset Cultures.

Sunset Cultures products are always changing and adapting based on available products. In the last six months, Sunset Cultures began making jam, a solution to their own wasted byproduct from the lightly boiled strawberries used in their kombucha. 

Sunset Cultures products are currently sold in 40 retail shops and online, with plans to expand to other cities in 2023. 

Read more (Los Angeles Times)

Froyo’s Comeback

Frozen yogurt has been victim to trending food cycles for decades, first coming to America in the 80s, experiencing a boom in the 90s, then again in the early 2000s. Now industry leader say froyo is poised for its second (fourth?) act, thanks to the healthy ice cream alternative trend and wellness-focused product boom. And froyo this time around will be different. 

“This trend will only grow stronger,” says Sam Yoon, president of froyo chain Yogurtland. Sales at Yogurtland were up 27% in 2021. “Frozen yogurt is healthier and contains probiotics that boost immune systems. Our frozen yogurt contains at least 10 million cultures at the time of manufacturing, and our flavors are developing around plant-based flavors our guests love, as well as sugar-free options.”

Plan for modern froyo shops to use high-quality ingredients, offer dairy-free options, highlight yogurt’s fermented and probiotic punch, utilize tech-driven self-service machines, partner with CPG brands and create diverse, global flavors.

“Millennials love the brand in New York, so we’ll keep playing to that,” Hershman adds. “For (Millennials), they grew up with frozen yogurt always being available, so to have a cool, clean kind of modern, sleek store to go to that sells frozen yogurt, versus kind of a dingy local shop, is a nice benefit,” says Neil Hershman, the largest franchisee of froyo shop 16 Handles.

Read more (QSR Magazine)

Fermenting Sustainable Food

The food industry is at the center of multiple bottlenecks hurting food production – global food crisis, extreme weather, supply chain disruption, inflation and geopolitical conflict. Researchers at Singapore’s prestigious Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have found a sustainable food solution: fermentation.

An article in New Food Magazine details the fermentation innovations of NTU and how they’re fermenting the edible by-products of food manufacturing to produce new food. Their food studies found great promise in okara (the “insoluble remains of soybeans from the production of soy milk and beancurd”) and spent grain (the “residual barley pulp from the beer industry”).

“Fermentation is a way to repurpose okara, a major food manufacturing side stream that is often discarded, and transform it into a highly nutritious food,” says Dr. Ken Lee (pictured), senior lecturer at NTU’s School of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, who led a study published in LWT – Food Science and Technology.  

The study showed okara fermented with a mixed culture of the fungus Aspergillus oryzae and the bacterium Bacillus subtilis made a nutritional-rich food. This inoculated fermentation process is also used to make soy sauce.

Fermenting spent grain also makes a nutrient-rich, upcycled food: a protein-rich food emulsifier. A separate study by NTU researchers published in Food Chemistry found that plant-based food can replace dairy and eggs in condiments like mayonnaise, dressings and whipped cream.

“Upcycling food waste such as spent grain for human consumption is an opportunity for enhancing processing efficiency in the food supply chain, as well as potentially promoting a healthier plant-based protein alternative to enrich diets,” says Professor William Chen, professor and director of NTU’s Food Science and Technology Programme.

Read more (New Food Magazine)

Is Water Kefir Drink of 2023?

Water kefir or tibicos is making a splash. Food trend analysts are highlighting tibicos as the “it” drink of the new year.

Tibicos is ripe for popularity in 2023. More consumers are shunning soda in favor of functional drinks. Tibicos is not sugar-filled like soda, not as tart at kombucha and more flavor-filled than seltzer water. 

An article on Yahoo notes that water kefir has a unique taste compared to other fermented drinks like kombucha or kvass. “Tibicos is knows as a ‘softer’ fermented beverage because of its lactic acid,” the article reads.

The growing trend is worth highlighting, but TFA notes the Yahoo article got a few facts wrong — like the spelled of kvass and chicha (a fermented soda). Also, though the article states the microbiota of tibicos contains different acids, yeast is not one of them. Yeast will never produce acid.

Read more (Yahoo)

Slow Burn Serves Travelling Ferments

Hear the origin story of traveling restaurant Slow Burn and you’ll wonder what’s the meaning behind the name. Chefs practice zero waste through slow cooking methods, fermenting, preserving and dehydrating scraps to use as an ingredient in the next sustainable meal.  The chefs founded Slow Burn after feeling frustrated with the traditional restaurant industry, from the exhausting grind to the amount of food waste.

Slow Burn will travel through California’s coast this fall and winter, then head to multiple cities in Canada. Husband-and-wife duo Andy Doubrava and Tiffani Ortiz drive to each location towing a “trailer full of their carefully packed jars of fermented sauces, pickled produce and whatever else they’ve smoked and preserved, then travel from kitchen to kitchen. Whatever isn’t utilized at one event will appear on the next menu, or the next — sometimes as an oil, sometimes a relish, sometimes as part of a dessert in the name of creative waste mitigation, and hopefully, building awareness and community around it.”

Of their food cost, 65% goes towards what’s plated, while 35% goes toward future meals. In addition to creating new ingredients out of food scraps, they’re using waste to compost, dye merchandise and create soaps from the kitchen grease. 

Unsure how guests would respond to a roaming, sustainable restaurant, Doubrava and Ortiz were surprised at the amount of tickets purchased through the 2022 – and the amount of invitations from chefs around the world.

“It’s really hard to put what we do in a box,” Ortiz told the Los Angeles Times. “I had to put ‘international food’ on our Tock page because how do you explain to people the weird s— we’re doing sometimes? It doesn’t sound good when you say that we’re fermenting rhubarb, but it’s kind of one of those things where when they’re here, they understand.”

Read more (Los Angeles Times)

https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2022-11-28/slow-burn-tour-roving-restaurant-sustainability