Canada’s Culinary Trailblazer

Briana Kim is making a name for herself in the Canadian food scene, “putting Ottawa on the map with a focus on fermentation,” writes the Ottawa Citizen. Kim, a self-taught, award-winning chef, runs Alice, a vegan restaurant in Ottawa’s Little Italy neighborhood. Her specialty is fermentation-applied, plant-based cooking. Last fall, she was invited to Eleven Madison Park in New York to share her insight with the chefs as they transitioned to a vegetarian-oriented restaurant. 

Continues the article: “It’s definitely a rarefied subject. But in the world’s top-tier kitchens, fermenting food is a red-hot trend, with plant-based cooking not far behind. At Alice, Kim’s imaginative creations such as charcoal-grilled dried maitake mushrooms and sunchokes served with a salsa of tomato and fermented green strawberries, and a sweet pea miso dipping sauce make clear that Alice’s name’s alludes to a surprising culinary wonderland.”

Alice, which opened in 2019, operates with a culinary and scientific focus.

“The innovation and the R&D have to be the No. 1 focus for us,” Kim says. “Fermentation allows us to discover how different food molecules break down and change in texture and flavors, and we are always searching for flavors we haven’t tasted before.”

The waiting room at Alice is filled with jars of Kim’s different ferments, many of which she sells under her Mad Ferments label. She utilizes locally-grown ingredients, planning the menu at Alice months in advance.. For example, she serves cauliflower, spring greens and melons in the middle of winter by fermenting them in the summer.

“Fermentation has existed for such a long time, but I think we are putting our twist on it,” Kim says.

Read more (Ottawa Citizen)

From Chemist to Fermenter 

Four years ago, Bob Florence, 62, made a radical turn in his decades-long career as an industrial chemist. With the help of his wife Debbi Michiko Florence and business partner James Wayman, he began making small batch soy sauce, miso and other condiments under the brand name Moromi (Japanese for “mash”) Artisanal Shoyu. 

Florence always enjoyed cooking, but making soy sauce (shoyu) piqued his interest. “It’s technically really super challenging,” he says. The different types of soybeans, wheat, salt and koji that can be used to create different varieties were especially appealing. Florence trained in Japan with the president of Chiba Shoyu, Kyosuke Iida. 

Florence’s partners bring their own skills and perspectives to Moromi. Wayman, a chef at Nana’s Bakery and Pizza and Grass and Bone Butcher Shop in Connecticut, focuses on using local ingredients, some of which he forages. Michiko Florence, a third-generation Japanese American, is a children’s book author who has made food and Japanese culture features of her books.

Read more (The Day)

“More Brew, Less Buzz”

The craft beer industry has been dominated by strong brews or alcohol-free varieties. The New York Times highlights how “craft brewers are increasingly aiming for the sweet spot in the middle.” Low-alcohol beers are growing in popularity, appealing to consumers who want moderation not abstinence. 

 “There’s just this completely unexplored space,” says Sean Boisson. He started Bella Snow Soft Ale in California, which focuses on ales with no more than 2.4 percent ABV (about half the strength of a traditional beer). Christophe Gagné, owner and brewmaster of Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers in Massachusetts, created a series of low-alcohol beers he calls the 2% Beer Initiative, which has become a  bestseller. “I would much rather have two beers and not fall over,” he adds.

The trend is reflecting the preferences of  older beer drinkers. Their bodies can’t handle the aftereffects of alcohol and they want to ease back into their IRL responsibilities without a hangover.

“We’re not surprised that lower-ABV. beers are coming of age because, well, millennials are coming of age,” said Lester Jones, the chief economist for the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

Brewers note low-alcohol beer is a challenge. A beer with less alcohol is not easier or even cheaper to produce. Low-ABV beers require less malt (the grains supplying the sugars that are fermented into alcohol) but, if hops are too plentiful, the flavor becomes bitter. And a quality low-alcohol beer also can’t be watery.

Read more (The New York Times)

Renowned professor, epidemiologist and author of The Diet Myth and Spoon Fed Tim Spector is encouraging people to eat the 4k’s: kefir, kombucha, kimchi and kraut. His studies found diet plays a role in preventing severe symptoms of Covid.

Spector is a leading expert on long Covid, the symptoms that can continue for extended periods after an initial infection. He leads the ZOE Covid Study, created by scientists and doctors at King’s College London (where he is based), Stanford, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital and health science company ZOE. Last year Spector helped research the attributes and predictors of long Covid, the results of which were published in the journal Nature Medicine.

A microbiome researcher, Spector advocates for people to eat a diverse diet to improve the trillions of microbes in the gut. 

“We know from Covid now that your gut health is crucial for your immune system,” he told ITV. “If we can focus on our gut health…gut microbiome is really crucial.”

Diet must be high-quality to improve immunity, he stresses. In the ZOE Covid study, researchers have found eating “the right things and avoiding feeding (the gut) the bad things, that’s what made the difference to getting long Covid,” he said. Fermented foods have proven health benefits, but Spector says many people opt for cheaply-made yogurts and cheeses prevalent in the grocery store to get their daily dose of fermented foods. This dairy is full of sugar and artificial ingredients, which thwart the positive effects of fermentation.

“The other fermented foods that many people don’t know about are what I call the 4 k’s,” Spector says: kefir, kombucha, kimchi and kraut (sauerkraut). He encourages “small shots a day” of a fermented food or beverage. “That really is a powerful enhancer of your microbes. And all these things are going to be cheaper actually than taking multivitamins every day of your life.”

Spector is not a fan of supplements, like pill forms of vitamins and nutrients. Many are proven not to work, he explained. In his studies on the effects of supplements on long Covid, there were minimal benefits for women and none for men. 

“People are much better off getting all their vitamins and nutrients by having a diverse diet,” Spector said.

If alt protein companies want to increase sales, they have to stop marketing to vegans, says Kimberlie Le, CEO and co-founder of Prime Roots, makers of koji-based alternative proteins. 

“There has to be a mindset shift within the industry to say ‘We’re not making products for vegans or vegetarians; we’re making products for meat eaters.’” 

Le spoke on shifting consumer behavior at the Fermentation-Enabled Alternative Protein Innovation Summit. She sees the industry’s greatest risk is the perception that its products are just for vegans. Companies are expecting consumers to make huge lifestyle changes, rather than encouraging flexitarians – a vegetarian who still eats meat occasionally – to make mealtime swaps between traditional and alt meat. A whopping 79% of Prime Roots customers do not identify as vegan. A Yale study found 94% of Americans are willing to eat more plants, and 55% are willing to eat more alt meat.

“We really want to make a product an experience that’s catered to meat eaters and encourages simple swaps,” Le says. “Our biggest impact on the planet will be convincing the meat eaters to try our product.”

Critical Sensory Experiences

In the U.S., 10% of greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture. About 39 calories are required for just 1 calorie of beef. 

“There’s not enough resources in the world to sustain our collective love of meat,” Le adds. “I think of a cow or an animal as really outdated technology.”

But alt food companies won’t win appetites on sustainability alone.

As alternative proteins become more widely accepted, companies must “crack flavor and crack texture.” Diners want alt meat to mimic the taste and feel of animal meat. 

“There are way more bad products on the market than good products today,” Le says. “If a meat eater eats a bad plant-based product, that will sour their whole perception of plant-based products.You only have one shot as a brand, one shot as a product and you could even say one shot as an industry.” 

Making Alternative Meat the Conventional Choice

Le points out innovation is lacking in the alternative protein space. It’s oversaturated with nuggets and burgers. Prime Roots is currently pausing their operations while they develop more appealing products. Their koji-based bacon — sold via online subscription — was a big seller.

“It is a shame there is still a lack of innovation in terms of the actual types or proteins,” she says. “As a meat eater, a lot of the products don’t appeal to me. They’re very plant-like.” 

“One of our missions as a company is to make alternative meats conventional,” Le says. “I do believe there’s a day when that will be flipped.”

Tastier Apple Spirits

Thanks to their high sugar content and strong flavor, apples have been a great base for spirits like cider, calvados and applejack for hundreds of years. But “many decisions about their processing are still subjectively determined.” When to stop distillation for the most flavorful liquor, for example, is open to question. But new research has identified the best conditions for making apple-based spirits with the most desirable qualities and taste.

Researchers with the American Chemical Society fermented apples into a mash, then distilled it in a German-style batch column. Heat concentrates the alcohol and “removes unpleasant fermentation byproducts, such as carboxylic acids that can impart unclean, rancid, cheesy and sweaty flavors.” The researcher’s mash was continuously monitored during heating, and the levels of the nine carboxylic acids measured. 

Heating the mash too quickly yielded unwanted flavor compounds and a bland aroma. But raising the temperature of the cooling tower slightly produced a good fragrance intensity, and reduced carboxylic acid levels.

Read more (American Chemical Society)

Journalist Dan Saladino explores the world’s endangered foods in his new book Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them. He argues that the world could lose culinary diversity. “The story of these foods, and the way in which they’re presented in the book,” says Saladino, from wild foods associated with hunters and gathers, to cereals, vegetables, meats and more, “is really the story of us and our own evolution.”

A review of Saladino’s book in Smithsonian Magazine shares 10 of the world’s rarest foods — five of them fermented. These rarities include:

  • Skerpikjøt (Faroe Islands, Denmark): Dried and fermented mutton made from the shanks and legs of sheep. It ferments in wooden sheds called hjallur, which have vertical slats that allow space for the salty sea wind to blow in.
  • Salers cheese (Auvergne, France): One of the world’s oldest raw milk cheeses made from the milk of Salers cows. The semi-hard cheese is made with varying fermentation lengths, which change the flavor.
  • Qvevri wine (Georgia): Winemakers fill the egg-shaped terracotta pots called qvevri with grape juice, skins and stalks, then bury the pots underground. The steady temperatures and the pot’s shape allows even fermentation. 
  • Ancient Forest Pu-Erh Tea (Xishuangbanna, China): The fermented tea is made from wild tea leaves that grow in China’s southwestern Yunnan province. The leaves are sun-dried, cooked, kneaded, then formed into solid cakes and fermented for months (or years). 
  • Criollo Cacao (Cumanacoa, Venezuela): The world’s rarest type of cacao, it represents less than 5% of the cocoa production on the planet. The bean lacks bitterness, but is difficult to grow.

Read more (Smithsonian Magazine)

Beet Kvass: Next Fermented Favorite?

A sign beet kvass is experiencing popularity in America’s artisanal food culture: a beet kvass by New York-based Food & Ferments won a Good Food Award from the Good Food Foundation. 

“I kind of describe it as a beet pickle juice,” said Carly Dougherty, co-owner (with her husband Dave) of Food & Ferments. “It’s savory. It’s got ginger and garlic in it as well. It’s not just a beet flavor. It’s really got this, like savory, beet pickle juice kind of vibe to it.”

Kvass originated in Eastern Europe. The Doughertys source their beets locally, which they say makes the beets juicier and better tasting. It ties into their mission to make products “tied to the local landscape that supports farmers.”

This is the second Good Food Award for Food & Ferments. Their first award in 2018 was for their Hearts on Fire Sauerkraut.

Read more (The Ithaca Voice)

“It’s fermented. It’s stinky. It’s delicious. And during the pandemic, it’s become a national sensation.”

Luosifen — snail noodles — is the subject of NPR’s latest All Things Considered program. The Chinese dish is made with rice noodles soaked in a broth of peeled river snails. It’s then topped with tofu, lemon vinegar and bamboo shoots (which have been covered in salt and fermented for a few weeks).

“Much of the preparation relies on fermentation, common in cuisine from southern Guangxi province where the noodles first began,” the NPR piece continues. “Their malodorous reputation also makes snail noodles quite possibly one of the worst meals to make at home: The smell of the pickled toppings and the stewed snails can linger for hours.”

Social media stars began sharing about the “disgustingly good snack” in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result,over 1.1 billion packets of snail noodle home kits were sold last year. And the city in China where snail noodles originated 25,000 years ago — Liuzhou — is experiencing an economic boom, as the nationwide popularity brings new business to snail noodle food stands, factories and chain restaurants.

Read more (NPR)

Preserving Japan’s Miso Culture

A Japanese public-relations-exec-turned-chef has developed a unique product — Miso Drops, individually-sized servings of stock. She felt it was difficult for an individual customer to use miso from traditional breweries because they only ship products weighing at least 500 grams. Her drops weigh around 26 grams.

Entrepreneur Motomi Takahashi, “alarmed by the gradual disappearance of small-scale miso breweries that have been a key part of Japan’s tradition of fermented foods,” created the soybean paste balls using traditional methods. And, different from the large factories that mass-produce miso products, Takahashi’s miso drops are handmade.

Important to Takahashi is preserving Japan’s rich miso culture. Small-scale miso brewing in the country is “in danger of extinction,” notes an article in Kyodo News. In Japan’s Nagano Prefecture, where most of the miso in the country is made, the number of miso breweries declined 42% from 1963-2010. 

Takahashi is developing a product line called misodrop47, which will feature miso drops made in each of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Currently, hermiso drops come from eight.” I wanted to develop products for the misodrop47 project to allow customers to casually sample miso from all over Japan,” she says.

Read more (Kyodo News)