A sustainable food industry will be built by flavor, says David Zilber, noted chef and food scientist.
Zilber made major headlines and surprised many in October when he left his job as head of the fermentation lab at Noma for a food scientist position at Chr. Hansen, a global supplier of bioscience ingredients. Noma, a two-Michelin star restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, has been regularly ranked one of the best restaurants in the world. In 2018, Zilber co-authored a bestselling book on fermentation with Noma co-owner Rene Redzepi.
In an Instagram live interview last week with Al Jeezera’s Femi Oke, Zilber elaborated on why he traded an apron for a lab coat. The global food system, Zilber says, is unsustainable. Waste is prevalent, food is created with long footprints, agricultural production is shrinking, meat is heavily consumed and large corporations control the industry.
“What I’m trying to do in my work is to make vegetables as God damn tasty as they can possibly be by using microbes, using things that are already at our disposal, and convincing people that this might have to have a little bit of a longer inventory life while you let it ferment, while you build a stockpile, but this is the result, this is why you’ll be able to convince people why eating this way is healthy for them and the planet,” he says. “Flavor is king.”
Ingredients created by Denmark-based Chr. Hansen (the company has 40,000 microbial strains used as natural ingredients) feed 1-1.5 billion people a day. These include microbes in yogurt and yeast in beer.
“I work with them to try and make the food system more sustainable, to get more people eating vegetables,” Zilber says, adding that 30% of every calorie consumed by humans is fermented by bacteria, microbes or fungus. “No matter what we eat in the future, that’s still going to be the case. That slot of the human diet still needs some form of microbial transformation, whether it’s meat or dairy or oat milk or peas. I work to figure that out.”
It’s a different philosophy compared to the food technology many new companies are utilizing to create alternative proteins like Beyond Burger. He complimented the company for their high standards, but he says a Beyond Burger patty is not a replacement for a juicy, beef burger. People pay more for an inferior eating experience.
“At the end of that day, that will not cut it,” Zilber says. “Why does food have to be that processed to be purportedly that delicious? With some skilled tricks in the kitchen, with some ninja jiu jitsu behind the stove, you can make vegetables really, really delicious.”
Sustainable Food Systems
A sustainable food system will look much like one from 300 years ago, Zilber hypothesizes. It will be localized, where people purchase food produced close by. Modern practices of shipping ingredients and processed food around the globe are harmful to the environment.
“A truly sustainable food system looks far more decentralized than [the current one] does right now. There are [only a] very few stakeholders that are responsible for really a lot of calories,” he continues.
Oke questioned how Zilber could change a broken food system controlled by large companies when he now works at one of the major companies.
“If you want to be an idealist, that’s great, you might end up being a martyr,” Zilber says. “Sometimes you have to work within those contradictory institutions to try to do as much good as possible.”
Restaurant Industry’s Responsibility
The restaurant industry plays a part in it too, Zilber says. Workers are stretched thin, overworked, underpaid “and then extremely vulnerable in a time of crisis.” The pandemic has exposed and highlighted these problematic parts of the restaurant business.
Zilber says there are still too many restaurants. It’s hard to find good cooks, and staff is often undertrained.
“I took a step into food production myself. Maybe more of these cooks, more of these people who are passionate about food, need to consider options beyond just the restaurant setting and see value in becoming a farmer, becoming a distributor, becoming someone who decides how those calories are made because restaurants aren’t the full picture of the food system,” he continues. “There are a lot of talented people within it who know food, who understand it, who understand the human experience of what it means to make good tasting food and satisfying food. There’s other places for them to work as well.”
Every segment of the fermented sauce market is growing in 2020; soy sauce/shoyu is up 31%, tamari 33%, fish sauce 40% and gochujang 57%. – SPINS
Yogurt’s evolution in America mirrors the country’s food culture. From the sugar-filled yogurt of the 80’s to the fruit-on-the-bottom cups of the 90’s to protein-heavy Greek yogurt of the 2000’s to artisanal styles (Icelandic, French, Australian) of the early 2010’s to the non-dairy varieties of the late 2010’s and to the current trend of low-carb, high-fat, keto-friendly yogurt. Americans used to scoff at tart-tasting yogurt — now it’s embraced and sugar-filled yogurt is shunned.
“With yogurt occupying more and more shelf space in grocery stores — and tracking so closely with American diet habits — companies are constantly trying to figure out what’s going to be big in yogurt,” reads the article. Experts are betting on yogurt made with cold-brew concentrate and protein-rich, dairy-free yogurt made with with synthetic proteins.
Continues the article: “(Frank Palantoni, former vice president of marketing for Dannon) compares what has happened with American consumers and yogurt to what happened with wine. ‘Americans have a very limited receptivity of their palate to new flavors,’ he says. But once given options, with different tastes and textures, ‘you will eventually develop your palate and it will get more sophisticated.’ The variety in yogurt has made many people more adventurous eaters. As packed as the yogurt aisle seems, expect even more wide-ranging offerings in coming years. And that, he adds, is a good thing.
Read more (Vox)
In an era where gluten is considered a dirty word, Vogue highlights three female bakers using traditional bread baking techniques, fermented ingredients and heritage recipes for a “modern baking renaissance.”
Read more (Vogue)
Fermentation guru and chef Jeremy Umansky is opening a restaurant that takes a modern twist on an old-world, Jewish-style deli. Larder: A Curated Delicatessen & Bakery in Cleveland serves fermented favorites like sauerkraut, pickles, giardiniera, pickled smelt, pickled radishes and fermented cabbage leaves.
Vegan cheese artisans are mastering the flavor of nut cheeses. The process requires a fermentation cycle of 8 hours to a couple days. The longer a nut cheese ferments, the better depth and “cheesy” odor. The flavor is added during fermentation, which at Dr. Cow cheese shop in Brooklyn includes nut cheese flavors like reishi mushroom spores, blue-green algae and saffron and truffles.
Two Kansas City kombucha brewers discuss starting up local, handcrafted kombucha labels. Teabiotics and Lucky Elixir (made by The Brewkery) praise the gut health benefits, and say the kombucha industry will continue to grow in the next 10 years.
New trend in wine production -ANS
A growing trend in the wine industry: fermenting in concrete tanks instead of oak barrels or stainless steel containers. Winemakers find concrete helps produce a wine that is bright and fruity, without the risk of introducing unwanted elements or a sterile taste. Ironically, though concrete tanks are growing in popularity now, Greek and Roman winemakers used to ferment wine in ceramic amphorae 2,000 years ago.
Oregon Fruit Products added a new limited flavor to their lineup of Fruit for Fermentation purees. Tangerine joins aseptic fruit purees like boysenberry and grapefruit that fermenters can add to kitchen creations. Citrus flavors have become especially popular purees adds the co. sales director.
Restaurants, food businesses, agricultural entrepreneurs: “be sure to recognize the food porn craze as your best friend, when it comes to growing your following and your business” advises Entrepreneur Mag. In your online marketing like social media apps and website, use well-lit food photography and include images of people enjoying your food.