It’s absurd to call fermentation a new food trend, says Sandor Ellix Katz, author of “The Art of Fermentation” and “Wild Fermentation.” Fermenting practices date back to early man. But, after decades of active pasteurization and a war on bacteria, fermentation is experiencing an awareness as a food phenomenon, Katz says.
Katz – who calls himself Sandorkraut, the fermentation revivalist – spoke at a TEDx Talk in Sao Paulo on wild fermentation and the power of bacteria. Coffee, bread, cheese, beer, wine – Katz points to these as examples of “the greatest delicacies that people around the world enjoy, products of fermentation that have never gone out of style and have not recently just come into style.”
No one needs to master biology or study microorganisms to practice fermentation, Katz stresses. Before microbiology became a field, fermentation historically was viewed as mysterious or mythical because no one understood the mechanisms of it. He adds: “I cannot find one single example of a culinary tradition anywhere the does not incorporate fermentation.”
Microbiology has illuminated and harmed fermentation. For decades, the information surrounding bacteria and microorganisms was negative. People were taught the dangers of bacteria and disease – and grew to fear fermentation. But discoveries in microbiology also found that everything we eat, plant and animal, is populated by microorganisms. All life is descended and created from bacteria.
“In a way, we’re bacteria super structures,” Katz said. “For the first time, from the scientific analysis, we began to understand that fermentation is the transformative action of microorganisms.”
Fermentation often gets a bad reputation because people consider fermenting the process rotten or spoiled food. But fermentation is manipulating environmental conditions to encourage the growth of good organisms and discourage the growth of bad organisms, Katz explains.
“Fermentation is making food that is more stable than the raw product of agriculture that we began with,” Katz says. “We’re creating something that is more delicious, we’re creating something that is more easily digestible, we’re creating something where some toxic compound in the food and the otherwise dangerous food is made safe.”
For the first time in history, science is revealing the benefit of eating the live bacteria in fermented foods. The prevalence of antibiotic drugs, antibacterial cleaning products and chlorinated water now kill all bacteria in food. This war on bacteria narrows the diversity of bacteria in our intestines, Katz points out.
“If they were to kill all those microorganisms, we couldn’t possibly exist because we rely on those microorganisms for our digestion, for our immune system, our ability to withstand disease our brain chemistry,” he says. “Yet this chemical exposure…narrows biodiversity that we have inside of us.”
Katz focuses his work on public education of fermentation, helping shed light on its safety and effectiveness. More people today are seeking fermented foods because of the growing recognition of the benefits fermentation, Katz says. He teaches that the greatest benefit of fermented products are the bacteria themselves. Eating fermented foods – foods that haven’t been cooked or heat processed, since that kills the bacteria – restores the biodiversity in our intestines.
“In addition to being this important mode of transformation of food and beverages which enables people to make effective use of the food resources that are available to them, fermentation is also an engine of social change. And all of us are the starter cultures,” Katz said.
When Drew Anderson was ready to sell sauerkraut he homemade with brother-in-law Luke Visnic, Drew knew just where to start — the farmers market. His mother started farmers markets all over Northeastern Ohio, markets where Drew and his little brother Mac spent their weekends working as kids.
“We saw how small food businesses would start. Farmers markets a great way to test your products, to pitch, to get direct feedback on what’s working and what’s not. You’re getting paid for market research,” says Drew, who started Cleveland Kraut with Luke and Mac (chief marketing officer) over six years ago. “Farmers markets are going to be some of your most honest customers, and those original farmers market customers are still some of our best customers to this day. We raised our first capital at farmers markets.”
Sage advice from the fastest growing brand in the fermented foods industry. Cleveland Kraut continues to grow since its humble beginnings in 2013 as a side hobby of three brothers. Back then, when Cleveland Kraut was ready to expand to retail, Drew liquidated his savings to buy equipment, slept in the warehouse and drove truckloads of kraut himself to avoid shipping costs. Today, Cleveland Kraut will produce 4 million pounds of sauerkraut this year, thrives on capital from backers like NBA star George Hill, employs a growing staff of 20 full-time employees and will expand internationally later this year.
Check out our Q&A with Drew, a Forbes “30 Under 30” honoree and board member of The Fermentation Association.
Q: What is your advice for other fermented food producers who want to sell in retail stores?
Honestly, you have to grind. It’s a category that buyers are just now waking up to, so getting in the door is difficult. Especially when you have established players who are doing really well. You have to go in and say “How am I going to compliment the competition? How am I going to add these other flavors?” It takes time. It’s a lot of grind, you’re going to lose some sleep.
Q: Where do you see the future of the industry for fermented products?
Obviously, you have a lot of beverages out there that really paved the way, kombucha has been a huge success story. But fermented vegetables I think are, one, you’re getting a ton of free press from dietitians and doctors who are saying you need to eat this stuff, the rest of the world eats this every day, Americans need to eat it, too. Second, gut health is tied into everything, and that’s pushing fermented product sales. There are studies proving gut health is linked to your mental well-being, its liked to weight managements, its linked to your skin health. Then third, exciting flavors and new and exciting brands. Fermented products need to be approachable products for the American palate, and I’m proud to say that we’re a big driver of that. We’re showing what can be done with a simple product.
Q: What problems do you see facing the fermentation industry?
It’s not a huge category right now. The challenge is continuing to push consumers. We have to taste test, teach consumers what is this, what are the benefits, we need to get the mass market to understand what real fermented foods are and to test them out. We need to expand the category by showing people how good fermented foods are and how good they are for you. That’s going to be a big challenge.
I also think, the challenge on the retail side, buyers are continuing to expand the set. I think there’s room for a lot of different brands in one fermented set. When we go in to the market, we have a lot of competition. But competition brings the whole category up. It’s less cannibalization, it’s opening up a category and growing it.
Q: What about strengths, do fermented producers have unique strengths for the food industry?
There are not many co-manufacturers that make a quality product. So you have young companies who are still manufacturing their product. It’s not just a brand with a manufacturing facility miles and miles away. These young companies are putting really quality products out there. And I think that’s a real strong suit. The product is the same as everybody else when you have co-manufacturers involved. Brands that own their manufacturing, I think you get more interesting, higher-quality products.
Another strength is fermented foods can be something that’s delicious and exciting but also super beneficial for you. This is true health food, this is not fake healthy. This directly impacts people. If more people were eating fermented food products every day, our country would be a lot healthier. I think that’s a huge strength for us and we’re going to lean on that hard.
Q: Tell me about Cleveland kraut. What makes it so unique?
We are a manufacturer but we’re culinary branded. We really care about taste, texture and health. If you’re doing fermentation right, then its always going to be healthy. But we want the crunchiest, most vibrant sauerkraut. We’re the taste leader, we’re the fastest growing brand in fermented foods. We’re about flavor. You go to Asia and they eat fermented foods every day. For us, we’re creating the fermented foods that Americans will eat every day. And we’re seeing that with our customers. They’re eating it with their eggs for breakfast, they’re putting it on their salads for lunch, they’re making it traditionally and eating it with meat and sauerkraut for dinner. It’s fast, quick meals, throwing it on rice bowls, soups, burgers.
Q: A lot of Americans are still scared to eat a fermented food. They’re unsure of trying the food, they don’t know what it is. Do you think that’s starting to change?
Oh yeah. One of our taglines here is “People try it, they like it.” You walk into a room and ask 100 people “Do you like sauerkraut?” and 75 percent of them are going to say no. We flip that after they try it. They try our product, they go “Wow, I never knew that was what sauerkraut tasted like.” It’s a natural fermentation, its crunchy, its vibrant, its bright, its fresh – that’s real sauerkraut. We change minds.
Q: You have a business background and were an analyst in finance industry. What made you decide to move over to the food industry?
Our mother started farmers markets in Northeastern Ohio. She was a chef, she had a degree in biology and she was super into where food comes from and what she’s feeding her kids. We grew up running farmers markets on the weekends, cooking in the kitchen, everything was central around food. We learned early on how to cook, how to prepare our own food and how to identify good products. It kind of helps you see why we’re so tall, we ate really well.
Fast forward, I went to school at Cleveland State University. I have a degree in statistics, so I was hired by a bank to build models and forecast. I moved to Virginia on the east coast where I couldn’t really get authentic, Eastern European fermented food, the sauerkraut and sausages which we grew up with in the Midwest. I started fermenting my own sauerkraut and making my own sausages. I got hired by a bank, moved back to Cleveland, and I found out my brother-in-law (COO Luke Visnic) was also making sauerkraut. He has a history – his grandmother is from Germany and they always had a crock bubbling away. One night over a beer in 2013, we’re eating some really fresh sauerkraut right out of a Mason jar. We’d been reading about this huge movement of fermented foods and probiotics. So we said “Let’s take it to the farmers markets.”
For a couple years, we would work our day jobs – Luke’s an architect, me in finance and my brother Mac who had just graduated college and was working in finance. We were teaching Mac how to ferment while he was in college. So all three of us, we’d work our day jobs and then come to the commercial kitchen in suits and start making sauerkraut until 2 in the morning, packing, processing. And then on the weekends we’d sell it at the farmers markets and to restaurants.
Q: When did you finally decide Cleveland Kraut was big enough to make the switch from your day jobs to working on Cleveland Kraut full-time?
In the second half of 2015, when we launched retail. We built a new commercial kitchen in this big factory, this old warehouse, that we cleaned out and made a nice fermentation space. I slept in an office way above the floor. There were no showers, so I joined the Y up the road, and I would shower there and then go into work and sleep in the office at night. It was great.
Q: Tell me about your unique flavors.
We have the traditional Classic Carraway that’s very Bavarian style. We have a Whiskey Dill where we add a little bit of whiskey, it gives it a subtle sweetness on the back end and a lot of dill up front. Roasted Garlic is probably our best seller besides the classic. It’s made of raw garlic, black pepper, its fantastic, super savory, people put that on everything. Beet Red is huge for us – it’s red cabbage, beets, carrots. This is the really fresh, super healthy sauerkraut that people are throwing on salads. Think of like an arugula salad with a little bit of spice, a goat cheese, almonds and then a light vinaigrette then with a Beet Red sauerkraut on there. Oh, its beautiful. Curry Kraut, that’s definitely going to be our healthiest. You have turmeric in there, ginger, garlic, it’s got a little bit of zip to it, a beautiful yellow color.
But our game changer, our conversion kraut is the Gnar Gnar. This one’s interesting. We knew we had to make a spicy kraut because our favorite is to eat a spicy sauerkraut like a kimchi. When we were first testing out flavors in my mother’s cellar, we had this spicy concoction going and this super, super potent smell and we were like “Man, this is going to be so gnarly!” and my mom starts saying “What’s that gnar gnar down there?” So we had to name it Gnar Gnar. That’s the one chefs are using. Iron chef Michael Symon, he’s got a BBQ restaurant at the Palms in Vegas, every plate serves Gnar Gnar.
We’re bringing excitement and life with our flavors, our crunch, our branding. We’re really brightening up this category and bringing a lot of new consumers.
When we go in to the market, we have a lot of competition. But brings the whole category up. It’s less cannibalization, it’s opening up a category and growing it.
Q: Your brand name, you wanted to true to the Cleveland area?
For us, fermented foods really come from the Midwest. It’s a lot of Eastern European roots, it’s a working-class food that comes from farmers. It’s a blue-collar food, its simple food, cabbage is cheap. It’s a way to preserve foods when you didn’t have refrigeration. People have been surviving on cabbage for thousands of years.
For us, growing up, sauerkraut was a food that was local. It comes from the Midwest. We have glacial till soil here, super nutrient-rich soil. All our cabbage is hearty, it’s delicious, you eat the raw cabbage and it has a spice to it, it’s fantastic. We’re super proud of where we are in the Midwest. Building a factory and putting our city on the front of the package has been key to us. Honestly, it creates a local vibe wherever you go. People in Southern California are buying us at Lazy Acres and Gelson’s and Bristol Farms and they’re saying “I like the Cleveland stuff. They know what they’re doing in the Midwest. They know how to ferment things.”
Q: Tell me about the Cleveland food scene.
The Cleveland food scene is growing. We have a lot of good chefs, we get a lot of ex-New York chefs who want to open their own spot and they come to Cleveland because there is a lot of wealth there so it can support the fine dining and experimental restaurants.
And the business food scene, the manufacturing, its growing. There’s a popsicle company from Cleveland that’s taking off, Chill Pop. Nooma is an organic electrolyte beverage that is taking off nationwide, they’re in stores like Walmart and Whole Foods. There’s a lot of us, we’re paving the way. Then the Akron, Canton, Cleveland areas, there’s a lot of big, big manufacturers that are behind the scenes, you’ve never heard about them, but there’s a lot of food being made here. Cleveland is young – we’re not a Boulder, we’re not a San Francisco, but its popping up. We’re going to give Brooklyn a run for their money in 10 years.
Q: Last year, you started putting your kraut in new packaging, you switched from glass jars to resealable pouches. Tell me about that.
The issues with glass jars is you’re putting in a live product. When you’re at natural stores, a Whole Foods, and you have early adopters buying it, they understand that when you twist that lid, it might bubble it, it is still alive. But when you get into a place like Walmart, Giant Eagle, Target, these people are later on the adoption curve, they may not know so much about what a fermented live product is, so when they open it up and see a bubble, they think “Whoa, something’s wrong.”
The other thing is we couldn’t fully automate the jar the way we wanted too. Our demand was so high, we were in there packing jars, and we couldn’t find the right equipment to automate it. We searched for years. And so the pouch solved the issue, because it has a vent and allows the kraut to breath, to exhale. And it can be automated.
We’re cutting down our carbon footprint significantly. A full truckload of glass takes so much diesel because it’s so heavy. Pouches can fit on a single palate and they’re fully recyclable. We have a great customer base, so I trust people are going out and recycling.
Q: What’s next for Cleveland Kraut.
We’ve got a lot of new products coming out. We’re going to really take hold of the fermented space, the fermented category, were going to drive a ton of growth. I’m excited for the next year and a half, you’re going to see some exciting things out of us, we’re going to keep pushing the brand.
We don’t just play in natural stores anymore. We love those stores, that’s where we started, we’re always going to be there, that’s where our best relationships are. But were pushing into conventional heavily. That means mass market people are getting the experience. On the back of our products, it says “Fermented foods for all.” This is not just a high-end product that only wealthy people who are super focused on health need. This is going to sell at Walmart, this is going to sell at Whole Foods. We’re going to get fermented foods everywhere. We’re going to push it very hard. In five years, people are really going to be eating fermented foods every week, every day, and were going to be a big driver of this.
Fermented foods are “a ‘new’ health trend with roots dating back to 6000 B.C. in civilizations all over the world” writes nutritionist Danielle Mein from the University of Maryland Medical System in a column for the Baltimore Sun. The amount of probiotics in a food is determined by the length of fermentation, Mein adds. True fermented foods, she argues, “must be refrigerated and unpasteurized” — what do you think, would you still call a product fermented if it was shelf stable?
Read more (The Baltimore Sun)
The head of the fermentation lab at NOMA, David Zilber, says fermentation is not making a comeback — fermentation is “undergoing an understanding.” He adds: “Fermentation is definitely a commitment. It is committing to something. It’s being responsible for life and watching it grow. It’s a slow and patient process. But it’s also being rewarded.” The Guardian’s recent interview with Zilber offers insight into the chef’s background in fermentation and NOMA’s lab, which houses 10 fermentation rooms at varying temperatures. He says his food is an artist’s statement.
Read more (The Guardian)
Are More People Leaving Stressful Jobs for Simpler Life as Food Producer? Story of Oshikida Brand Miso’s New Owners
Are more people leaving stressful, fast-paced careers to start a simpler, rewarding life as a food producer? Articles are popping up all over the world about people ditching the corporate rat race and transitioning to traditional food making. An article from Japan Times details the story of a couple who left tech jobs in Tokyo to make miso in the country. Yu Maeda and Michinori are now taking over a 34-year-old Oshikida brand miso, an additive-free miso producer. Their miso is made by mixing cooked soybeans with kōji fermentation starter, salt and water.
Read more (Japan Times)
Blending ancestral kitchen traditions and new scientific research will allow fermentation to change our diet — and our planet.
In a TEDx Talk, Mara King, co-founder of fermented food store Ozukè, shares why she is proudly releasing trillions of good bacteria into the population. Her food philosophy rubs against everything the Food and Drug Administration and state health departments practice. While government agencies enforce strict sanitation standards in the name of protecting American’s food, King preaches that it’s wiping out good bacteria and dumping more toxins into the environment.
When King and co-founder Willow King (no relation) opened their Colorado-based food business, a food scientist from the Denver office of the Health & Human Services Department performed a safety inspection. The food expert was confused by Ozukè’s live, fermented pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi. King: “He said ‘Your product is so weird. We follow all these FDA guidelines in food manufacturing in order to diminish bacteria and here you are making it on purpose.’”
“The food we make is actually super, super, super safe, unlike mots processed packaged fresh foods,” King says. “The reason this food is so safe is not because I’m better at this antimicrobial Macarena than anybody else. It’s because the bacteria are doing the work of making the fermented foods pretty much bomb proof.”
Though numerous cultures have been fermenting for generations (“It’s how humans have been eating raw, crunchy vegetables all through hard winters.”), King notes it’s only in the last 10 years that scientists have been able to map the complex fermentation process. By letting bacteria thrive in its own ecosystem, it “creates a food that’s no longer harmful to humans” and makes a more nutritious product.
“Nature does not operate in a vacuum and neither should we,” King says. “We need to understand the complexity of the world in which we live, then we can start to come up with solutions that do honor our heritage.”
King, who great up in Hong Kong, says older Chinese women store an impressive knowledge of food and medicine. Merging ancient tradition with new science is what will create the living solutions needed to continue living on our planet.
“In fermentation, we have a little trick that we use which is called using a started culture or a mother. I believe that our starter culture…is our human cultural history,” King says. “Once we start tapping this information…we’ll start to come up with amazing solutions, solutions that grow, solutions that rot, solutions that breath.”
Today Ozuke (which means “the best pickled things” in Japanese) still makes pickled veggies, but also teaches fermentation workshops. For more information, visit their webpage.
Today’s food is packaged in so much plastic that humans now regularly consume plastic molecules in their food. A Polish design student created Scoby packaging, an edible and recyclable packaging that farmers can grow to wrap products. The zero waste biological tissue is a similar texture to animal tissue used to encapsulate sausage or salami, but Scoby is vegetarian and can be grown with a simple chemical process student Roza Janusz of the School of Form in Poznan, Poland invented. The process is similar to making kombucha, and the fermentation growth time per sheet is two weeks.
Read more (Fast Company)
Female leadership is sparse in the craft beer industry – just 17% are CEOs and 21% are executives. Tanisha “T” Robinson talks about breaking the glass ceiling as the female CEO of BrewDog’s U.S. operations. Robinson says there is a huge demographic opportunity to draw in more women and people of color to the industry. “If craft brewers could figure out how to authentically connect to women and people of color, they could sell a lot more beer,” she said. “That’s something that I highly doubt most craft brewers are talking about or thinking about, but it’s something that is important to me — that craft beer should be open and accessible and authentic and approachable for everyone.” She says partnerships, events and collaborations are a great step.
Read more (MarketWatch) (Photo: BrewDog)
Today most miso is industrially produced, but one of the most popular miso vendors in Los Angeles still uses traditional Japanese techniques to ferment miso paste, “recapturing the individuality of miso” according to the Los Angeles Times. Ai Fujimoto, who owns Omiso restaurant in the Hollywood Farmers Market, has fermented over 350 pounds of handmade soybean paste this year. The paste ferments for a few months for a light miso and ferments for over a year for dark miso. Each batch is different, “That’s what I love about it” Fujimoto says. She rents space at a commercial, shared-use kitchen to make her soybean paste. She enjoys experimenting with new recipes, even using recipes from YouTube videos.
Read more (LA Times) https://goo.gl/72muVk
Business advice from the No. 2 pickle brand in the nation: hire the right high-level people, use creative marketing and sell a fresh product rather than one packed with preservatives. Grillo’s Pickles owner Travis Grillo talked with Yahoo Finance about growing his business from humble beginnings as a pickle street cart in Boston to a brand now sold in Whole Foods and Target, netting $25 million in sales a year. Travis said some of the most well-known pickle brands are made with chemicals for a long shelf life. But Grillo’s is made fresh with an all-natural, fourth-generation family recipe.
Read more (Yahoo Finance) (Photo: Grillo’s Pickles)