Seaweed will be 2020’s super ingredient, according to Bloomberg. The regenerative ocean plant is being used by entrepreneurs in fermented food products like hot sauce, tea, alcoholic beverages and even kimchi and sauerkraut. Atlantic Sea Farms in Maine is the largest kelp aquaculture business in the U.S. and makes Sea-Chi (spicy marine version of kimchi) and Sea-Beet Kraut (beets, carrots and kelp). Atlantic Sea Farms, run by former diplomat Briana Warner, plants to expand its harvest and production from 250,000 pounds this year to 600,000 pounds in 2020.

Read more (Bloomberg)

Fermented drinks are becoming a major part of the food industry, and San Diego’s Mesa College is taking notice. Mesa College is offering a new Fermentation Management Certification Program. The program aims to prepare students for a variety of careers in San Diego’s $1.2 billion craft beer industry. But the program focuses on other fermented beverages as well, like kombucha, mead, cider, coffee and tea. In the 30-unit course, students will learn the basics of brewing and learn the business side of running a brewery, from sales, marketing, law, accounting, importing, distribution and operations. “There’s so much fermented beverage going on, that there’s gotta be at least 250 companies out there looking for qualified people,” said adjunct faculty member Kevin Rhodes, who co-founded Groundswell Brewing.

Read more (NBC San Diego)

Raw, clean ingredient pet food is the fastest growing part of the pet food category. More pet food brands are inventing ways to feed their pets unprocessed, organic ingredients. A new article highlights Answer Pet Food, the first (and so far only) fermented raw pet food supplier. Answers Pet Food utilized kombucha, raw cultured whey, cultured raw goat’s milk and kefir in their pet food products. Their products include fermented chicken feet and fermented pig feet. Answers Pet Food says: “Fermentation is the most natural and effective way for us to make our products as safe and healthy as possible. … Our raw fermented pet foods are formulated to create a healthy gut. Fermentation supports healthy immune function by increasing the B-vitamins, digestive enzymes, antioxidants, and lactic acid that fight off harmful bacteria. It’s also the ultimate source of probiotics.”

Read more (Pet Product News)

Josko Gravner of Gravner Wines ferments deeply — he ferments his wine in large amphora, clay vessels that he buries outdoors. Gravner, who helped pioneer the wave of orange wines, runs a family cellar in northeastern Italy. He became “disillusioned with modern enology’s techniques” of conventional wines — like steel tanks in the cellar and chemical fertilizers in the vineyards. Gravner Wines is now an organic farm and very low tech, using a 1950s-era hydraulic basket press and ancient fermenting techniques. The wine is not only buried, it’s made using whole-cluster fermentation with the stems. Gravner finds whole-cluster fermentation in amphorae keeps the grape skins naturally submerged while still aerating the wine without manual punch downs.

Read more (Wine Spectator

Good news for fermented food and drink brands. Today’s increasingly disruptive, consumer-driven economy is favoring brands that are craft and artisanal, source responsibly, reduce waste, nourish their microbiome and aim for better treatment of the planet. These are already core operating values for many fermentation brands.

“Consumer values are shifting in the marketplace; businesses are working hard to find ways to use their business as a force of good. Consumers are increasingly engaged in supporting the businesses that are looking to disrupt the status quo, that are looking to change,” said Eric Pierce, vice president of strategy and insights for New Hope Network. “Our market is moving in this direction with more innovation, with more access, with more options for consumers that are easier for them to get a hold of…we will find more and more people opting into the products we are bringing to the marketplace.”

The top trends driving the natural products industry were shared at a “What’s Next” session for industry leaders at Expo East. Here are six trends the fermentation industry can use to grow their company.

1. Brands Supporting the Planet

From the treatment of animals on the farm, the soil used to grow the vegetables and the type of packaging used, the environment is on the top of consumer’s minds. Consumers want to support brands that practice regenerative farming, zero waste production and responsible supply chain sourcing.

 “The top three trends fell under purpose-driven commerce,” said Amanda Hart, market research manager for NEXT Data & Insights. She said consumers want brands to be more mindful, proactive and “really dive in and solve for community health and issues where government regulation is lagging or lacking.”

2. Selling Outside the Health Food Crowd

Since the start of the natural food industry, natural and organic foods were mostly purchased by a demographic of shoppers SPINS market research defines as “Core Natural/Organic.” These “true believers” and “enlightened environmentalists” make up the majority of natural industry shoppers.

Meanwhile, the mainstream consumer has traditionally been a harder group for brands to reach. These “indifferent traditionalists,” “struggling switchers” and “resistant non-believers” make up the smallest part of natural product sales.

That gap is closing – today 92 percent of all households buy organic products, and 99 percent buy natural products.

Pierce noted he was surprised when studying these groups that the reason they purchase natural products is now the same.

“What this means to us is their level of commitments to products in the industry, their level of commitment to brands is dramatically different,” Pierce said. “But consumers across our economy value similar things what it comes to what they’re looking for from us.”  

“Increasingly, these products are resonating with mass retailers,” he continued.

The findings also showed the food trends that resonate with consumers were not influenced by their political leaning. Whether Democrat or Republican, consumers care about the same food values.

The top five food trends these groups care about: waste reduction, responsible sourcing, responsible meat and dairy, craft and artisanal and responsible packaging.

3. Expanding Knowledge of Microbiome

Probiotics – which has topped SPINS trend lists for years — is no longer claiming a top spot. This doesn’t mean consumers don’t care about gut health, though. Consumers are looking at different beneficial options for their microbiome.

“How can consumers cultivate a health microbiome, to make us our strongest selves as we navigate the forces of modern life?” Hart said.

There is lots of research on nourishing a healthy microbiome. Brands should market gut health to consumers, especially with scientifically-backed claims on how fermented foods aid the gut bacteria.

4. No Added Sugar

Sugar – especially added sugar – has long been the nemesis of natural food shoppers. But consumers now want blatant communication from brands on product flavoring.

“Sugar and sweetener are different, so some brands now are starting to leverage both of those terms and really communicate how they’re adding a sweet flavor to their product – or not adding,” Hart said.

Botanical flavoring is starting to become a sweetner alternative for brands.

5. Alcohol-Free Drinks

Concerned with their health and focused on mindful drinking, Americans are purchasing less alcohol. Data from industry tracker IWSR found that U.S. alcohol volumes are dropping every year. Beer was the lowest, with volumes down 1.5 percent in 2018 and 1.1 percent decline in 2017. Growth in wine and spirits also slowed. This is especially true among younger, millenial consumers.

The taste for a fermented craft beer or cocktail is not waning, though.

This trend was seen on the show floor, where more and more alcohol-free brands are marketing alcohol-free drinks, like non-alcoholic beers, sugar-free mocktails and sparkling vinegars.

6. DIY Rules

Consumers want to be part of the creative process, “like they’re building products for themselves,” Hart said. Pierce added: “consumers value innovation efforts…that engage their sense of adventure and exploration.”

Fermentation brands are catering to consumers DIY nature by offering recipes to experiment with their product, like kefir smoothies, kombucha cocktails or sauerkraut omelets. Some fermentation brands are even selling fermentation kits for home use.

Summer Bock compares the gut microbiome to a forest. If a fire destroys the forest and forest restoration is attempted by just introducing a few animals, the forest would never rebuild.

“That’s what we’re missing with probiotic pills,” Bock says, adding that relying on a probiotic pill to fix the gut is like telling a few bacteria strains: “’You’re in charge of building our entire gut microbiome,’ you just can’t. if you’re just picking a few probiotics and saying ‘You’re the work horse, you’re going to do all of it,’ they can’t. You have to go think of this bigger picture ecosystem. When we use ferments, we’re bringing in some of the nutrition, the soil and even bringing in a greater variety of probiotics than what you find in most pills. …there’s a huge benefit of ferments that people are missing out on.”

A fermentationist, health coach and founder of Guts and Glory, Bock detailed how fermented foods can improve overall health at the Fairmentation Summit. She coined the word “gut rebuilding” and was the founder of the Fermentationist Certification Program.

Bock started fermenting after becoming incredibly sick. A trained herbalist, Bock began treating multiple food allergies, regular panic attacks and chronic exhaustion with herbs. This was long before terms like probiotics and gut microbiome were a regular part of diet discussions. But Bock was recommended by a naturopathic doctor to try taking probiotics, and “a lot of my symptoms started clearing up very quickly.”

Bock, though, is a purest, and wanted to know how she could ingest probiotics without taking a pill.

“What’s the whole food version of probiotics?” Bock said. “If I’m missing it and I’ve wiped it out with antibiotics, how did my ancestors get this into their body on a daily basis? That’s how I discovered fermented foods.”

So Bock started fermenting everything. During this experimentation process, Bock sold sauerkraut and kimchi from her fridge, launching her first sauerkraut company. She described sharing sauerkraut with her roommate’s friends, skeptics who would initially say “I don’t like it,” but would come back a week later and tell her “I have to come back and but it because I can’t stop thinking about that one bite.”

“This is an addictive healthy food, and I got fascinated by what is happening on your taste buds that makes your body go ‘I don’t like this right now,’ but your body recognizes that health benefit,” Bock said. “If there’s some communication happening through one little bite of food and that person can’t stop thinking about it and they want it, I’m still utterly fascinated by that today.”

Her favorite fermented food is kimchi “because it has all the benefits of lacto-fermented vegetables, it has all the great probiotics in it plus it has prebiotics, it has organic acids and the lactic acid which is a natural microbial.”

Studies during the avian flu outbreak found birds who ate kimchi were not contracting the bird flu. One microbiologist in South Korea found 11 of 13 chickens infected with avian flu who ate kimchi made a full recovery. All birds in the control group died.  

“Fermented foods are really powerful, and I think that what’s fascinating about them for me is they differ from just probiotics. They contain probiotics, but they also have the prebiotics. They have the entire ecosystem,” she said. “We eat it because it’s delicious, but we also eat it because that food assists us in some way.”

Probiotic-rich ferments “acts as a fertilizer” for the gut microbiome, killing off pathogenic organisms. Microbes grow best at room temperature, a temperature the health department defines as a danger zone because it’s the best temperature for pathogenic, food-born illness to grow.

“What we’ve found is, when there’s that acidic environment, these pathogenic food-borne illnesses can’t exist there. They don’t grow,” she adds.

Multiple nutrients are produced through fermentation, like Vitamin B and Vitamin K. Only a few organisms produce these vitamins, Bock notes. They are critical vitamins because they’re not absorbed easily through food. Bok calls them the “star players” of the microbiome. People with an imbalanced microbiome are often lacking in vitamins B and K.

If not fermenting their own food at home, consumers need to practice due diligence when purchasing fermented food brands, Bock says. Kombucha, she shares as an example, is a great “gateway ferment” for most people, but how much sugar is in it? Is it fermented naturally or are lab strains of probiotics added?

“You have to ask yourself, what is the major probiotic we’re talking about,” in the food you’re eating, Bock said. “Is it a naturally-occurring probiotic or a…patented, genetically-modified probiotic?”

Americans have a “Supersize” mentality, Bock said. People shouldn’t be consuming bowls of fermented foods every day.

“Remember that fermented foods are generally a condiment, especially the ones with live organisms, like kimchi and sauerkraut, natto,” she said. “So if you treat it as such, you’re maintaining the respect for these organisms and for these foods,” she said. “Your body knows what it needs.”

Spicy kimchi cures baldness and thickens hair, according to a new scientific report published in the World Journal of Men’s Health. Researchers from Dakook University in South Korea studied men in early stages of hair loss who consumed a kimchi probiotic drink twice a day. After a month, hair count increased from 85 per square centimeter to 90; after four months, hair count increased to 92. Results were even faster and prevalent for female patients with hair loss, who went from an average of 85 hairs per square centimeter to 92 after one month. Hair thickness also increased. This is exciting research for people suffering from hair loss; the kimchi and probiotic product is a natural, safer alternative to hair regrowth drugs. Current hair regrowth drugs have adverse side effects, like irregular heartbeat, weight gain and diarrhea.

Read more (World Journal of Men’s Health)

Fermented foods are the most popular menu trend, increasing 149% on restaurant menus in 2018. As customers focus on wellness and gut health, they are ordering more naturally preserved foods in restaurants. – Upserve

The yogurt Los Angeles Times calls “the best yogurt in America” was forced out of California in 2011. White Moustache, which sells Greek and Persian yogurts with seasonal fruit common in Iranian cuisine added, moved to Brooklyn in 2012 after California Department of Food & Agriculture shut them down. According to California state law, making a milk-based product in a facility separate from the facility where the milk was pasteurized is illegal. Though White Moustache founder Homa Dashtaki produces her famous yogurt in New York, she now sells it in California — Manhattan’s brand of Eataly opened a Los Angeles store, and Dashtaki’s family members oversee production for the West Coast store.

Read more (The Los Angeles Times) 

Fermentation traces back to many Ancient cultures, Korean and European the most publicized. Here is a fascinating look at fermentation in India from the newspaper “The Indian Express.”

From the article: “Fermented foods are a staple in the Indian diet, with most meals incomplete without a bevy of lacto-fermented achaars that add a healthy kick of flavours, from sweet-and-sour to spicy and tangy. These household staples are made by immersing fruits and vegetables in saltwater brine, releasing microbes that generate a natural preservative, in turn amping up the vitamin quotient and nutrition levels of your favourite pickle, whilst enhancing the complexity of flavours savoured with each bite. …

South Indian staples from idlis to appams and dosas feature fermented rice-and-dal batters; in the North, fermentation has led to probiotic drinks suited to the regional climate from the creamy lassi to the tart-and-salty kanji, featuring antioxidant-rich black carrots, mustard seeds, water and black salt, with the potent concoction preserved in ceramic jars and left to ferment in the sun for as long as two to three days before being strained and served. In fact, when you get down to it, even your favourite snacks involve an element of fermentation, with fluffy tea-time dhoklas (a Gujarati speciality) made with a fermented batter of besan or chana dal, curd, water, baking soda and turmeric.”

Read more (The Indian Express)