Fungi fermenter Shared Cultures was the featured cover story in a recent Food & Wine section of the San Francisco Chronicle. Company co-owners Elena Hsu and Kevin Gondo make small-batch fermented soy sauce, miso, and sauces and marinades using koji and wild, foraged mushrooms. 

The article calls Shared Cultures “the darling of the Bay Area food scene.” It details how they use traditional techniques with unexpected ingredients, like a shoyu with quinoa and lentils, a miso with cacao nib and a koji salt with leek flowers.

Hsu and Gondo also open up about the challenges of scaling  artisanal fermentation. They are the only employees at the companys and can’t keep up with the demand. Their ferments require a lot of time, some fermenting for eight months in a closet-size room in their rented commercial kitchen. They note that it is too expensive to rent or purchase their own warehouse in the Bay Area. 

Multiple California chefs use Shared Cultures products for an added umami punch. Hsu encourages home cooks to experiment with their products, too, “You don’t have to have a $300 tasting menu to try these flavors,” she says. “You can be the chef.”

Read more (San Francisco Chronicle)

Adding fermented pickles to sour cream increases the health benefits of the cream, lowering cholesterol and increasing antioxidant properties, according to new research. 

Scientists from the Poznań University of Life Sciences in Poland based their research on the French paradox, “the observation that… reduced heart disease is associated with a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol.” They picked sour cream because of its high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.

“The results also show that the health-promoting potential of sour cream is enhanced by the presence of metabolically active LAB,” continues the study, published in the Journal of Dairy Science

The scientists note future work will revolve around characterizing the properties of specific lactic acid bacteria produced by spontaneous fermentation.

Read more (Medical and Life Sciences)

David Zilber says the potential for fermented food is endless. “There isn’t any sort of food that doesn’t benefit from some aspect of fermentation,” he said. “There’s really no limitation to its application.”

Zilber, the former head of the Noma fermentation lab, co-authored “The Noma Guide to Fermentation” with Noma founder Rene Redzepi. In the fall of 2020, Zilber surprised the food world when he left his job at Noma to join Chr. Hansen, a global supplier of bioscience ingredients.

He shared his insight on fermentation on The Food Institute Podcast. An Oxford study found over 30% of the world’s food has been touched by microbes. Zilber, a microbe champion, says one of the best parts of fermenting with plant-based ingredients is the microbes don’t need to change.

“We do need to find ways to adapt them to new sources, but there will always be a place within the pie chart of what humans are eating on earth for fermentation,” he says.

Part of Zilber’s work at Chr. Hansen is in the plant-based protein alternative segment, fermenting plant ingredients to “bring this other set of characteristics” to a new food item. He advises fermenters using plant-based ingredients to make their ingredient list concise and pronounceable to consumers. 

“I am a huge proponent for formulating recipes from whole ingredients,” Zilber says. “Keeping the ingredient list short and concise and using natural processes to achieve flavor or textual properties … because it is the healthiest way to eat.”

Across the spectrum of fermentation, he feels fermented beverages is the category where he sees the greatest opportunity.

Read more (The Food Institute)

AI-Generated Wine Reviews? 

New artificial intelligence software writes wine and beer reviews said to be indistinguishable from those by human critics. Researchers hope this tool will help wine and beer producers aggregate more reviews, and also provide human reviewers with a template. But the software has a major limitation: it cannot accurately predict the flavor profile of a beverage, something that can only be sampled and described by human taste buds. 

Keith Carlson of Dartmouth College, who co-developed the algorithm, said wine and beer are perfect for AI-generated text because of the variety of their descriptors. Fermentation style, growing region, grape or wheat variety and year of production are all mentioned in reviews, aiding the AI algorithm. Reviews also tend to use the same vocabulary — words like “oaky,” “floral” and “dry.” 

“People talk about wine in the same way, using the same set of words,” Carlson said, adding “it was just a very unique data set.”

The research team — interdisciplinary scientists from Dartmouth, Indiana University and The Santa Fe Institute — used more than a decade’s worth of reviews (over 125,000) from Wine Enthusiast, and 143,000 beer reviews from the website RateBeer. Results were published in the International Journal of Research in Marketing

Next, they envision using the software for other experiential products, such as coffee or cars.

Read more (Scientific American)

Will alternative proteins save the planet? A report by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) says alt proteins – or what they call “lab meat” – aren’t the answer. In a new report, these experts say major reforms need to be put in place to increase biodiversity of food, improve access to better nutrition and limit Big Food’s control over the food system. 

Companies, governments and investors are turning to alternative proteins as a way to feed a rapidly growing population but, the panel notes, they don’t address the world hunger crisis.

“In reality they lead us back to the same problems of our industrial food system: giant agribusiness firms, standardized diets and industrial supply chains that harm people and the planet,” announces a video created by IPES-Food.  “We need to change the system, not the product.”

Adds Phil Howard, lead author of the report: “It’s easy to see why people would be drawn to the marketing and hype, but meat techno-fixes will not save the planet. In many cases, they will make the problems with our industrial food system worse — fossil fuel dependence, industrial monocultures, pollution, poor work conditions, unhealthy diets, and control by massive corporations. Just as electric cars are not a silver bullet to fix climate change, these solutions are not going to fix our damaging industrial food system..”

The report suggests that, to feed a  growing population, the food industry should focus on sustainable food systems, not a transition to alternative proteins. A healthy food system should be regional, nutritious and focused on how real food is produced.

Read more (IPES-FOOD)

Doctors and microbiologists warn: despite what the latest social media trends proclaim, there’s no quick fix for better gut health. More influencers are promoting  their “cures” — from drinking aloe vera juice to boiling apples — on TikTok. Their videos are getting millions of views — and are raising concerns from medical and scientific authorities.

“If somebody is claiming to have something that will immediately turn gut health around, you should be skeptical of that,” says Justin Sonnenburg, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford. The article in The New York Times notes Sonnenburg advocates for  “long-term lifestyle habits that can benefit the gut — ones that rarely go viral or make their way to social media acclaim.”

Sonnenburg’s groundbreaking study last August showed fermented foods — like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha — can increase the diversity of gut bacteria. “His research found that people who ate six servings of fermented foods each day saw these benefits — the equivalent of consuming one cup of yogurt, one 16-ounce bottle of kombucha and one cup of kimchi in a day,” the article continues.

The Times interviewed a panel of experts that included a dietitian, sociologist, gastroenterologist and Sonnenburg. They say, to improve your gut, change your lifestyle. They encourage eating more fiber, eating fermented foods, limiting processed foods and lowering stress levels.

Read more (The New York Times)

Paste Magazine highlights the fermentation philosophy of Chef David Porras, who operates the Oak Hill Café and Farm. The hyper-local site, a 2020 James Beard semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant, operates in Greenville, South Carolina, on a 2.4-acre farm. 

Porras’ kitchen, according to the magazine, “looks like an alchemist’s workroom, jars and tubs of experimental pickling, emulsions and infusions dotting the counter.” 

“I was always interested in learning about fermentation. Fermentation is a flavor — you can use it for cooking just like lime or lemon juice,” he said.

The restaurant’s menu reflects a true farm-to-table approach. They use permaculture (sustainable agriculture planning to mimic nature) to keep the farm at peak fertility to grow healthy produce. By fermenting instead of trashing unused food, they’ve reduced 50% of their food waste.

“We try to be zero waste by applying fermentation techniques as well as drying, infusion, teas, powders and compost tea,” he said.

Read more (Paste Magazine)

Kombucha can no longer be legally sold as non-alcoholic in the state of South Carolina. A new rule change in state code set a maximum alcohol content for beers and other fermented beverages, but did not set a minimum alcohol level. Any fermented beverage with an alcohol content above 0.0% — any trace of alcohol — is now considered alcoholic by default. 

Last month, TFA wrote about a decades-old South Carolina law that threatened kombucha and non-alcoholic beverage producers selling their fermented drinks in the state. Kombucha, which typically contains less than 0.5% alcohol [the legal definition of an alcoholic beverage in the U.S.], has always been deemed non-alcoholic, sold on grocery store shelves next to refrigerated juices. 

Now, any brand selling a fermented beverage in the state must apply for an alcohol license, and their drink cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 21. 

“Effective immediately, all of these producers and retailers will have to cease business until they receive the proper licensing, which will take several months to get if they’re located in South Carolina and the money to get their facilities up to code,” said Brook Bristow, an attorney specializing in beverage law, in a statement about the rule change. “So, until then, no sales, i.e., no money.”

Adds Gabriel Coggins, owner of the S.C.-based Kava Konnection:“Of all the things lawmakers could focus on to restrict and take away from the public, kombucha was the last thing I expected. It’s a healthy product, and the only logical reason I can see beyond some strange maliciousness toward it is that they just didn’t understand what they were doing.”

Read more (Greenville Journal)

Soy sauce is arguably the most important seasoning in Japanese cooking. Its well-balanced, salty-sweet taste and deep layer of umami richness make nearly all foods taste more delicious and satisfying. Its uses range from a dab on sushi to a splash into noodle soups and stir-fries, as well as the featured flavor of glazed dishes like teriyaki,” reads an article in BBC Travel.

The author traveled to the port town of Yuasa to learn more about the history of the “holy grail of Japanese cuisine: soy sauce.” In 2017, the country’s Agency for Cultural Affairs designated Yuasa as a Japan Heritage Site for being the birthplace of Japanese soy sauce. Soy sauce was first made in Yuasa in the 13th Century. 

At its peak, the small town with a population of around 1,000 had more than 90 soy sauce breweries. Today, there are five soy sauce shops and six Kinzanji-miso makers. The decline is related to the rise of mass-produced soy sauce brands, who skimp on quality for a lower-priced soy sauce. It’s estimated that only 1% of soy sauce brewers still produce using traditional methods.

Read more (BBC)

After four decades of research, brothers from Copenhagen have developed a method to reliably cultivate morel mushrooms indoors, year-round, in a climate-controlled environment. Morels typically grow for only a few months in the spring in finicky, woodland locations. They also sell for a high price.

Jacob and Karsten Kirk, 64-year-old twins, yielded 20 pounds per square yard of morels in last year’s crop. Karsten said: “the cost per square meter for producing a morel will be roughly the same as producing a white button mushroom.” They call their efforts the Danish Morel Project and they’re still figuring out how to commercialize it.


Kenneth Toft-Hansen, a Danish chef and winner of the 2019 Bocuse d’Or, notes if the Kirk brothers are able to master sourcing morels widely and affordably, “it will be a game changer for the food industry.”

Read more (The New York Times)