If just 10% of the population chooses to eat fermented foods, could the food industry be disrupted? Fermentation guru Sally Fallon says: absolutely.
“With fermented foods, you could get rid of all this huge medical industry selling you antacids and digestive aids, and this huge industry that’s grown up around IBS and celiac disease. We can destroy that industry by eating the right foods, and that means eating fermented foods,” Fallon says. The author of cookbook and nutrition guide “Nourishing Traditions” is often credited with bringing ancestral diet methods back into vogue.
Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, founder of A Campaign for Real Milk and author of the new book “Nourishing Diets,” discussed fermentation during The Fermentation Summit. Below, selected highlights from Fallon’s interview with Paul Seelhorst, host of the summit.
Seelhorst: Tell us more about yourself and how you got into the fermentation topic.
Fallon: Well, when I was writing “Nourishing Traditions,” I wanted to make sure I was really describing traditional diets and not something people just think they are. I was very fortunate to find a book in French about fermented foods. I had never read about these before, lacto-fermented foods.
Recipes were very complicated – keep them at certain temperature for this many hours, then switch temperature for another few hours.
I kind of took this principle and worked out a way that was easy and fool-proof, using glass jars, we use way of innocuous so they don’t go bad while they’re starting to ferment.
Tried all these recipes, experiments, made children try – kids have funny stories about trying all these
The neat thing about fermentation is that it is a practice that’s traditional. When you ask traditional people why they do this, they wouldn’t know what to say or how to answer you, they just do it. But it totally accords to modern science. We have seen a complete paradigm shift in the last 20 years. In the past, bacteria were evil and they attacked us and made us sick. Now we realize that bacteria are our best friends, and we need at least 6 pounds of bacteria lining our guts in order to be healthy.
The way traditional people made sure that they had plenty of this good bacteria restocking everyday was to eat these raw fermented foods full of this healthy bacteria. They ate them in small amounts with the rest of their meals. This is how they did it, they had really healthy guts. We know when you have a healthy gut, everything goes better in life. You feel better, you digest better, you have more energy.
I recently wrote this book called “Nourishing Diets” which is about diets all over the world and what really struck me was the fermented foods. Every single culture in the world without exception eats fermented foods. Now some of these foods are pretty weird – like fermented seal flippers. Africa is the land of fermented foods. Almost everything they eat in traditional culture is fermented in Africa. They’ll kill an animals and ferment every part of the animal — the blood, the bones, the hoofs, the skin, the organ meats, the fat, the urine. Everything is fermented when they kill an animal.
Seelhorst: That’s pretty easy because its warm?
Fallon: Its warm, the bacteria like it. They have a saying – a rich man needs 10 animals to feed the wedding feast because he feeds everything fresh, but a poor man can feed the same feast with one animals because he ferments everything
Seelhorst: Do you know what they make out of urine, like a probiotic lemonade?
Fallon: I don’t know, they didn’t say. There’s two wonderful books on fermented foods – one is the “Handbook on Indigenous Fermented Foods” by Keith Steinkraus. He was at Cornell and is retired now. I fortunately talked to him while I was working on “Nourishing Traditions” and what he shows, he has a bunch of students from all over the world, especially Africa, and they do studies on the food. For example they take a food like cabbage and they’d measure the Vitamin c and the amino acids then they’d ferment it and measure it again. The vitamins goes way up – some 10-fold increase – and the amino acid increase.”
The other thing fermentation does with grains and meats, it releasees the minerals so they’re easily available.
There’s another wonderful book called “The Indigenous Fermented Foods of the Sudan: A Study in African Food and Nutrition.” The author was a student of Dr. Steinkraus. He reminds me a lot of Weston Price – he’s going to these traditional people not to, you know, lord over them and tell them how superior Western culture is. He goes with hat in hand saying “You guys have the secret here. You know how to eat; you know how to prepare food. Not only that, these foods can be done at the homestead, they can be taken to the market and sold, they are a good income for millions of people.” So he’s not pushing the industrial system, he’s pushing artisan food.” I just thought what a wonderful man, how humble. That’s how we need to come to these traditions – not how to make millions of dollars on them, but how to make a decent living for thousands of people and provide a healthy food for millions of people.”
Seelhorst: What I also like about fermentation is the sustainability aspect. People can make food sustainability and do not need fridges to keep the food good and not get it moldy.
Fallon: Foods like grains are impossible for humans to digest unless they are fermented. So many people can’t do grains, they’re sensitive to gluten. But when you ferment, as in the case of a sourdough bread or soaking your oats or pressed cakes all over the Southeast and Africa, these are fermented grains pressed into biscuits, this takes a food where most of the nutrients are unavailable to us and makes it readily available.
Seelhorst: Nowadays, people have fancy equipment to
ferment food. How did people ferment food back in the day?
Fallon: Usually they did it in large terracotta pots. And the culture was sort of in the holes of the pots, they didn’t have to add a culture, it was just hanging out there. When I started this in the late 1990s, this book I read in French was talking about these big pots. You couldn’t get these pots in the states when I was writing this book. I thought this isn’t going to work, the pots are heavy they’re expensive and they make a very large quantity which you may not be able to use. I thought we need a different method for the modern house wife or modern father. I thought “Let’s try to do this in Mason jars, the big quart jars with the wide top. Instead of having the culture hanging out in the holes, we didn’t have that. You had to add something in your culture, so that’s where we came up with adding whey. You have your cabbage or pickle or carrots or whatever it is you want to ferment, you put them in a bowl, you toss them with salt and a little bit of whey. You toss them, pound them a little bit, push them in the jar, push down heavily so the liquid comes and covers the top, this is an anerobic fermentation. Leave it at room temperature for a few days and its done.
Seelhorst: Where do people get the whey from?
Fallon: We teach people how to make it. You start with yogurt or with raw milk or something fermented like yogurt or kefir and you poor it through a fine cloth and the whey will drip out. From a quart of yogurt, you get about two and a half cups of whey. You’re only using a little bit at a time – a tablespoon or two – so that will keep a long time in the fridge. That’s your culture. There are other cultures, too. People are selling powders in culture. The only thing I would warn you is don’t try to do this without salt. Because the only time I heard about someone getting sick from fermented foods is when they didn’t use salt.
Seelhorst: Simply put – what happens during fermentation.
Fallon: What happens during fermentation is lactic acid is created by the fermentation. And in some foods, the lactic acid is already there. Like cabbage, cabbage juice is full of lactic acid. This makes whatever you’re fermenting get sour, it lowers the pH to under 4 and no pathogens can exist at a pH under 4. It makes the foods very safe and they don’t spoil after that. Lactic acid is a preservative just like alcohol is a preservative, but lactic acid doesn’t make you drunk. So, at the same time, these bacteria that are fermenting in there, they’re creating vitamins. Vitamin C, b vitamins. They’re breaking down what we call anti nutrients that block the simulation of minerals. They’re creating digestive enzymes that help you digest your food. The interesting thing is these bacteria and these enzymes do get through the stomach, they do get through and are passed into the small intestines where they are really useful. We’re not sure how that happens, they’re buffered in some way, but we do know these bacteria do get through
Seelhorst: How do you think fermented foods can fit into a modern diet.
Fallon: You can include them every day. One of my favorites foods is a fermented beet juice, I first noticed it in Germany, it’s called beet kvass. I have that every morning for breakfast. Sauerkraut is a really easy way, that’s the way most people do it, they just have sauerkraut with their meal. And then the fermented dairy foods like yogurt or kefir, those are wonderful fermented foods. You have a little bit with every meal.
Seelhorst: Are those the oldest fermented foods that we ate?
Fallon: In Europe, yes. We don’t have a tradition of eating fermented bones or fermented blood. But we definitely had fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, that dates to Roman times at least. And also fermented fish, the fish sauce, the universal seasoning, they found it in the ruins of Pompei where they were making it.
Seelhorst: What’s the difference between industrialized and self-made fermented food.
Fallon: once you industrialize something, they start to take shortcuts because they want to lower the cost. Typically, what they’ll do is eat something. So they’ll heat the sauerkraut and package it in plastic bags or something horrible or they’ll can it. So it will last forever and be shelf stable. Typically, the industry has not done genuine fermented foods because its not something that lends itself to an industrialized process. The things we consider true fermented foods in the united states, they’re being made by small companies.
Now the one exception to that might be yogurt. Yogurt is big business, it’s made by the big conglomerates. I would never even eat that yogurt because apparently the cultures are not even any good and the milk has been pasteurized.
Seelhorst: What’s your favorite fermented food.
Fallon: Kombucha. I make my own kombucha. I have a 30-day kombucha, I call it kombucha like fine champagne. It gets these tiny, tiny bubbles in it, it gets really, really sour and a little thick. I also make sauerkraut. It’s interesting – I’m a lot busier than I was when I wrote my book, I don’t have as much time as I used to have, but I still make my own fermented food. I do carrots and cabbage, I’m just about to pull some carrots and make some fermented cabbage.
I forgot to mention cheese. And cheese. Cheese is a fermented food. Here on our farm, we make cheese. I’d have to say cheese is my favorite fermented food. And also, traditionally made salami. A charcuterie is fermented. They hung these sausages up and fermented them. So they are fermented foods, they’re full of bacteria, good bacteria. They should be kind of sour, they’re very good for you.
Seelhorst: Do you want to add anything for people that just found the Fermentation Summit and may not know what fermentation is, they want to try it
Fallon: I will say this – you don’t have to make it yourself, there’s a lot available, in the states there’s now hundreds of artisan producers making sauerkraut. I love to see that – I love to seen an individual be able to start a little business without a big capital investment and make food that’s really good for people and make a decent living. Here on our farm, we have a store and we sell sauerkraut made by a Russian lady who has just made a wonderful living doing this. I love to see that. Just like artisan cheese. I love see small production of cheese; I love small production of fermented goods. Bread is another one, we now have a lot of artisan bread makers. This is the future of food – its sustainable food, its moral food, its food that makes you healthy, its good for the economy, it keeps the money in your community. I think people need to realize that every morsel of food they put in their mouth is a political act. It’s a decision they make. What are you going to support? Are you going to support Monsanto and Kraft and Unilever? These huge corporations who don’t care about you at all, all they care about is making a profit. Or are you going to support local artisan producers? People just like you making a decent living and providing a healthy food. And you’re also deciding whether you’re going to put something healthy or unhealthy in your body and in your children’s bodies. The traditional cultures, they had no choices in what they ate. They ate what was there, they ate according to their traditions. Today, we are not traditional people. We have left all that behind. We have to think what we eat, everything we eat is a choice. They didn’t have a choice, they just had healthy food. Now we always have this choice between healthy artisan food and unhealthy corporate food. So what kind of society do you want to live in?
Ever wonder why you crave umami, the savory food taste common in fermented foods? You were born with it.
“When you say taste, it’s actually just as much the nose because were actually using all the five senses when we say taste or taste experience,” says Ole Mouritsen, a professor of gastrophysics at Copenhagen University in Denmark. “Taste and particularly odor is very good to invoke memories, good memories and bad memories, because that’s the way its hardwired in the brain. These senders that store our memories are stored to the limbic center, and the processing center for taste and odor are in the same area. You can be brought back to your grandma’s kitchen in no time.”
The five basic tastes are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory (umami).
He continues: “There are some basic tastes and odors that you prefer. We’re born to like sweet and umami, and we’re born to dislike bitterness and too much sourness. But our preferences change over time.”
Mouritsen and Adam James, founder of fermentation condiments company Rough Rice, spoke with Cooking with Science host Kevin Glidden on the topic of fermentation and taste. Glidden brings researchers and foodies together in an interactive interview for the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture.
Glidden asked why Mouritsen and James think fermented foods played such a big part in other culture’s diets, but not in the Western diet.
James travelled on a Churchill Fellowship-backed fermentation world tour to study ancient and modern fermentation techniques. He pointed out that fermentation has never been part of Western culture.
“If you look at what my biggest influences are – Japan, Korea, China – they eat fermented foods pretty much with every meal, in the form of a pickle or a soy sauce,” James said. “But again, I think that’s something that’s just been part of their culture. Families would sit down and make kimchi together.”
Mouritsen agreed, adding: “If we want to learn about making old-fashioned pickles, we will not ask our mothers, we’ll ask our grandmothers, because the knowledge is lost.”
In the segment, James made a brown rice congee with Tasmanian abalone and fermented condiments. Congee – an Asian rice porridge – dates back 4,700 years, 1,000 years before shoes were invented. James’ cooked his congee using untraditional methods. Congee is usually made using a chicken stock or duck stock as a base, but James made his congee with shitake mushrooms, fresh tomatoes and kelp. Though no meat was used, the result was an umami-tasting flavor.
A new Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute white paper titled “Umami: The Taste that Perplexes” details why umami is a vital food flavor. Umami’s functions and biological mechanisms are not very well understood. “…Unfortunately the way many people have learned about umami is through the stigma of monosodium glutamate (MSG), the prototypical stimulus of umami taste,” writes author Nancy Rawson, the associate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center.
The umami flavor, though, extends well beyond MSG. It can be found in every day food, like mushrooms, tomatoes and aged cheese. Umami is popular in Asian cultures, where fermented food is high in the glutamate compound. Fermented fish and fish sauce are a common cooking item in South East Asia cuisine, creating “a more balanced taste.” Miso and soy bean paste are used in North Asia, where they flavor food with “a natural and longer lingering taste and mouthfeel.”
Mouritsen said umami is one of the ultimate dining experiences. He adds: “It gives you appetite, when you stick it in your mouth, the saliva starts running. It’s a very good way of getting appetite. We have receptors in the stomach, in the intestinal system, that signals back to the brain that those umami-rich food, and it will eventually tell you to stop. It’s knowledge one could use to make more healthy eating patterns for people.”
Western North Carolina is becoming “a hot spot for fermented goods” thanks to female entrepreneurs. These fermented product brand leaders credit the health-conscious culture of Asheville, N.C. with helping their businesses thrive in “Ferment City.” Sara Schomber of the Buchi Mamas tells Asheville’s Mountain Xpress: “Fermentation is all about the alchemy of ingredients normally found in the hearth and home where, for centuries, women have been the keepers. We believe fermentation is the expression of a natural tendency, the human spirit’s way of giving itself permission to heal and inviting all of us to extend beyond our own immediate mortality. It’s normal and natural for humans to want to preserve, put away and celebrate.” Local brands featured include: Shanti Elixirs Jun, Smiling Hara Tempeh, Yoga Bucha kombucha, Buchi Kombucha, Sister of Mother Earth cider and honey, Serotonin ferments ferments and Fermenti Foods ferments.
Read more (Mountain Xpress) http://bit.ly/2B61p0Q
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)
As the dairy industry declines rapidly – milk sales plummeted by $1.1 billion in 2018 – fermented dairy could help dairy farmers reclaim the grocery aisle.
More Americans are turning to plant-based options, like nut, oat, rice and soy milk. The demand for milk-based alternatives from companies like Miyoko’s Kitchen (vegan, plant-based dairy products) and Perfect Day Foods (oat milk with fermented yeast) are popular with modern consumers.
A study from The Nutrition society published in the Cambridge University Press found multiple health benefits of fermented milk drinks like kefir. Fermented dairy improves digestion, produces anti-inflammatory effects, increases colonization of good gut bacteria and stimulates antioxidants, researchers found. Fermented dairy is high in protein, high in live probiotics and improves lactose digestion.
“Consuming fermented dairy can [help] the digestive system because it actually adds more beneficial bacteria to the system,” said Nicole Dynan, a dietitian with gut health expertise. She spoke to Dairy Australia in an article about the power of fermented dairy. “If we put it in simple terms, most of our bacteria live in the large intestine and can assist that existing population of bacteria to balance out the good and bad. Fermented dairy can contain microbiota that make by-products called short-chain fatty acids that can help release anti-inflammatory benefits into the body.”
“Fermented dairy can also represent a precious source of other nutrients and vitamins such as C and E, while balancing out the ‘bad’ bacteria that can lead to common digestive problems such as bloating, diarrhea, pain and gas,” she says.
Dairy Alternatives Full of “Frankenfood”
Today, 19 percent of yogurt varieties are plant-based. Christopher Malnar, vice president of marketing for Stonyfield, says the ingredient lists on dairy-free yogurts are often alarming. They’re highly processed, full of sugar, chemical stabilizers and what he called “frankenfood.” Organic dairy, meanwhile, is a clean ingredient list with no high processing.
Brands can create demand for dairy again by raising awareness, Malnar said. They can educate on the benefits of dairy and organic products.
“How can we be more innovative as an industry?” Malnar said. “We understand where the market is going [but Stonyfield is] staying true to our core in dairy, recognizing that there are some needs out there.” Stonyfield is currently testing a fruit and vegetable pouch.
Malnar spoke at a panel on organic dairy in September during Natural Products Expo East. When educating consumers on dairy, the panel of organic dairy leaders said it’s important to highlight proper animal treatment. Fairlife Dairy recently came under fire after a video was released of employees abusing calves and cows in a processing facility. Tim Joseph, the founding farmer at Maple Hill Creamery, said he thinks brands lose consumers when they educate them with scientific facts “because it’s just too much information.” Animal welfare is a major consumer driver.
“It’s not whether we think it is right or wrong in the end, it’s what the consumer is looking for,” Joseph said. “Animal welfare is I think the next biggest areas consumers are focusing on.”
Not all Milks Are Equal
A major consumer for plant-based milk: new moms. Mothers, many who adopt a healthy, organic lifestyle once they have children, are turning to dairy alternatives because they believe it’s the healthiest option for their child.
“We’re feeling like we have to go back in time and educate on the value of dairy,” said Melissa Hughes, chief mission officer and general counsel for Organic Valley. “It’s not necessarily to say that plant based isn’t the right thing, but especially for a lot of young moms, make the choice based on good science and good understanding of what the nutritional value is for your child.”
American dietary guidelines dictate that, besides water, milk is the only other drink recommended for children.
Jessica Shade, the director of science programs for the Organic Center, presented findings of a study on modern milk in today’s grocery market, comparing organic and conventional milk. The biggest takeaway: Americans should be choosing dairy milk for the nutritional benefits, and organic milk to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals.
Shade said she was surprised testing milk that non-organic varieties test positive for antibiotics, high levels of growth hormones and pesticide contaminants. “…it is much more ubiquitous than previously thought,” Shade added. Many of these are illegal residues are banned by the Food and Drug Administration. They concentrate highly in cow milk, and research shows they can lead to a wide array of health problems in humans. Allergies, hypersensitivity, rashes, headaches, birth defects, hyperthyroidism are all linked to consuming contaminants in milk.
Organic milk, meanwhile, did not test for any illegal residues.
“The findings about conventional milk are really concerning,” Shade said. “That’s the question that needs to be asked and needs to be addressed – how are these chemicals getting into the milk supply when they shouldn’t be there? The difference between organic and conventional are extremely significant…the easy way to avoid all of these residues is by choosing organic.”
The American dairy industry is in a period of oversupply, hurting farmers especially who are forced to throw out milk. On average, it takes three years to transition a dairy farm from conventional to organic.
“The challenge with any dairy, whether it’s organic dairy or conventional dairy, is balancing this perishable product that’s coming out of the cows and making sure you put it into the system as quickly as you can in order to return a value,” said Hughes.
“We’ve seen the slowdown. For Organic Valley, we’ve seen the slowdown of consumption in fluid milk. For us, quality really becomes a very important thing. Volume becomes a very important thing, and how do you control that when most of your volume is folks drinking milk? But at the same time we’ve seen an incredible increase in the consumption of butter. Everyone loves butter and fat. It’s really pushing some pressures on our supply chain to make that all work together. We’re starting to see more opportunity.”
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.
A Los Angeles brewery has created an iconic California beer: avocado ale. The beer has a creamy texture Angel City Brewery makes through a process they call “dry-guacing.” Similar to dry-hopping — a term used to describe adding hopes to a beer after it’s already fermented — dry-guacing adds guacamole to the top of the tank, then it ferments for another two weeks. The process adds flavor to the beer. Avocados, lime juice and fresh cilantro are added to the mix. The brewery produces about 1,000 gallons of avocado ale a year, only available for a limited time at the end of the summer.
Read more (The Insider)
More fermentation brands are creating ways to connect with their customers, face-to-face. Harvest Roots Ferments started in 2012 as a small farm in Birmingham, Ala. “At the time, Lindsay was fermenting kraut and kombucha for our farmers market table. Our customers wanted ferments way more than kale,” said Pete Halupka, who runs Harvest Roots Ferments with Lindsay Whiteaker. “About three of four years ago, we committed fully to fermentation. Now we produce kombucha, kraut, kimchi and other fermented vegetables and sell them across Alabama.” Now Harvest Roots Ferments is opening Birmingham’s first kombucha taproom. No longer traditional farmers (they source from local farmers, buying 75,000 pounds of produce since 2015), Harvest Roots Ferments is looking to build and connect to the Birmingham community that has helped their business grow. Halupka continues: “We love community in all forms—from the microbial community in action fermenting our products to the community found in our Southern forests and our human community across Birmingham—and we want our space to be a reflection of this.”
Read more (BHam Now)
Baltimore-based Wild Kombucha has grown massively since their founding almost five years ago, increasing sales 466 percent in the last three years. The founders hard work and the drink’s delicious flavor helped propel the brand into 1,000 stores in eight states and Washington D.C.
At Natural Products Expo East, Wild Kombucha’s three co-founders point to another factor in their success: the city of Baltimore.
“A big piece was telling people we’re a local kombucha company, it’s Baltimore made,” says Sergio Malarin. “People here are super focused on local, they really love it. A lot of the initial accounts we worked with didn’t even bat an eye about bringing us in. Eddie’s Market, Charmington’s, One World Café, all the healthier, vegan and vegetarian independently-owned grocery stores and cafes, they brought us in and started selling us, fast.”
Co-founders Malarin, Adam Bufano and Sid Sharma are all first-generation Americans raised in Baltimore. The trio (Bufano and Malarin are step-brothers – Sharms is a childhood friend) take great pride in their hometown, praising the locals as a factor in Wild Kombucha’s success. They started selling under the Wild Kombucha label in February 2015 as a side gig, brewing in the evenings after their day jobs. They officially left their former careers for Wild Kombucha in August 2016, the day Whole Foods agreed to sell Wild Kombucha.
Today, Wild Kombucha employs 21 people and is brewing 10,000 bottles and 50 kegs of kombucha each week. They’ve moved to a 13,000-square-foot brewery and taproom in Baltimore. They will release their new flavor — a CBD kombucha flavor — in October.
“We’ve focused on how to educate the community around us on the health benefits of kombucha,” says Bufano. “So many people come to our demo tables and say ‘I don’t like kombucha, but then they try ours and they buy a bottle because it’s very approachable.”
Below is a Q&A with Bufano, Malarin and Sharma, who spoke with The Fermentation Association at their booth during Expo East.
Q: How did you start Wild Kombucha?
Bufano: Sergio and I are stepbrothers. Our family brewed kombucha when we were younger; our parents taught us when we were like 10 years old. And then I continued to brew from then basically until now, perfecting the recipe every time. I started selling it to my friends and then, at a certain point, I was trading it for rent. I was selling it to Hopkins students (John Hopkins University of Medicine). I had this big group of Hopkins students that would come to my house, grab a six-pack and bring me the empty bottles, I’d sanitize and refill them. And then I reached a point where I had to start charging people a little bit more to make it an actual business. That’s when Sergio and I hooked up and came up with a plan to expand and make it a little more legit. Sid is a childhood friend of ours, so we brought him on, too.
Q: You started with your parent’s kombucha recipe. Where did this kombucha recipe originate from?
Malarin: Our parents learned about fermented foods was from this woman, Sally Fallon, who wrote this famous book called “Nourishing Traditions.” She is a best-selling author, and my mom actually became one of her top volunteers and became friends with her.
Bufano: So we would make like sauerkraut, kefir…
Malarin: Water kefir, milk kefir, sourdough…
Bufano: And it went beyond fermentation. Our fridge was pretty crazy.
Q: Sounds like your parents were very health.
Malarin: Yes. They were super into fermented foods.
Bufano: And this was in the ‘90s, before it was cool.
Q: Where did your kombucha recipe originate from?
Bufano: My parents learned from Sally Fallon how to make it, but they really made it their own. I used their recipe, which wasn’t very good at that point, and improved it.
Q: What makes Wild
Malarin: It’s a lot more approachable than other kombuchas. So the taste, but also the package. Our mission is to make kombucha approachable and available to everyone. So not necessarily the Whole Foods crowd, we want this something the average joe in Baltimore can grab.
Sharma: It has a fresher flavor profile. So because of that, we also have lower sugar, so really the fruit comes out so you don’t need to add sugar after the fact.
Malarin: What really differentiates us as a company is we are one of the few cause-driven kombucha companies. We donate 1% of our sales to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation – that’s what makes us Wild Kombucha.
Q: Why did you decide on the Chesepeake Bay Foundation?
Malarin: Since we were kids, we’ve gone swimming on the Eastern Shore. For us, it’s super important. It’s where we live, it’s a huge ecosystem. We really feel our community goes beyond the people in it, it extends to the ecosystem and the wildlife as well.
Sharma: We want to put resources back into the place where we’re using the resources.
Malarin: For us it’s very important to be more than a bottom line. We want to be a business that gives back in many, many ways in the community. We are located in Northwest Baltimore, which is a bit of a food dessert. We opened a taproom out there and we’ve been hosting yoga classes there, we’ll do a speaker series soon. We want the community to be able to participate and be a part of wwat we’re doing.
Q: Tell me how important that was to be in Baltimore. You moved a few years ago from Baltimore to the suburbs, and now you’ve moved back to Baltimore.
Bufano: We tried to stay in Baltimore at that time, but in order for us to push ourselves forward, the only option for us was to move to this space that we found in the Timonium area outside of Baltimore. Just moving back into Baltimore was a huge thing for us. We’d been looking for a space for a while, anticipating our move back. We feel a connection here, we want to support the city. A lot of businesses are moving out of Baltimore, so Baltimore really needs support right now.
Q: Why does Baltimore need the support of local businesses like Wild Kombucha?
Malarin: Baltimore is getting a lot of negative attention in the media. From Freddie Gray and all the craziness that came out of that as well as just the stuff Trump has been saying, and there’s been a big focus on the violence. A lot of other big cities have a lot of negative things too, but you don’t hear people saying those things about, like Chicago. People say the sausages are good in Chicago, the jazz and blues music are good, but there are a lot of murders in Chicago, too. The media doesn’t focus solely on the negative in other cities like in Baltimore.
Sharma: There’s this unfortunate migration out of the city. And there’s a wealth gap, this poverty gap that exists within Baltimore. By employing people in the city, we’re able to make a difference there. By putting local products into the economy, we keep the dollars inside Baltimore as well. It’s about helping the people around us, helping the people who have supported us and allowed us to grow, and paying it forward.
Q: Your sales have skyrocketed since your start in 2015. How do you think you’ve grown so much?
Malarin: A lot of hands-on work on our part. We very much went out and met people and talked to people and shook hands and pounded the pavement and made real connections instead of going through a broker. We didn’t cut corners. Another reason is our product is delicious and approachable. And finally, the last reason is kombucha in general, it’s the fastest growing sector of the non-alcoholic beverage industry, so we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve gotten to ride that wave a little bit. We don’t have a lot of natural competition where we are. Kombucha is still a lot of west coast companies, and shipping is really expensive across the country. So we’ve been able to compete very directly in terms of price point with these multi-million dollar companies that are backed by Coca Cola and Pepsi.
Q: That’s impressive you can compete with the big brands.
Bufano: We started selling under the Wild Kombucha label in 2015. We were in Whole Foods in August 2016.
Malarin: We were selling at the side of a juice shop, initially. We didn’t have any starting capital. We were a bunch of 24 year olds, so no bank wanted to give us loans. We found a way to get around a lot of the licensing from the health department. We went to an active juice shop that had all the licensing, and we were able to circumvent all those costs by operating through a sublease from them. We initially rented a space that was tiny.
Bufano: We were making enough kombucha that we couldn’t fit it in the fridges we had, so we actually had to sell them when they finished fermenting, on the same day, since it needs to be refrigerated. So when the fermentation day was done, we’d immediately have to put the kombucha in our cars and drive it around to stores.
Q: Most new food brands I talk to have to start at a farmer’s market to get their name out there. You guys were able to get Wild Kombucha into local stores very quickly.
Bufano: We didn’t really go the farmers market route. We area in some now, but it’s really been in the last year that we started doing the farmers market thing because we felt like we weren’t connected as much as we liked to be to the community, we felt we took a step back in the wrong direction after a certain point. that’s why we started the farmers market program so we could be back in it.
Q: Your production and offices are on the same site; you’re not using a copacker. Why was that important to you, to have everything on site?
Bufano: Company culture to us is really important. Creating a team of people that all have a common goal that we’re all working towards, you really feel more unstoppable in that sense. If you separate people – we noticed this with some of our offsite sales people that were in Philly – we felt disconnected. We always had trouble making them feel like they were a part of the team. We wanted to make them feel a part of the team as much as possible. We want to keep everyone as close as possible. A lot of our demo team actually works out of our facility and we pay for them to travel farther away to do demos and come back to the Baltimore office.
Malarin: With the copacking, or lack thereof, we produce everything in house. It’s been really important because, initially for us, it was very important to have full control of the product. Learning how to scale up and how to control it. At the end of the day, if you’re not making your own product, you’re just the middle man. We saw that go into effect in very negative ways for people that we’re friends with, people at other local companies. Once the copacker realized they were doing well, they’d raise their prices.
Bufano: Just relying on someone like that for your whole company and your whole product, that’s too big of a risk for us. Quality control is super important to us. We are right there all the time, making sure everything is how we like it.
Q: That enables you to be out on the production floor, too, monitoring brewing.
Bufano: Oh yes, I am right there. Watching the mother kombucha, singing to the cultures.
Q: How did you get funding to start Wild Kombucha?
Bufano: It was about $5,000 a person that we just put in.
Malarin: Shortly after, we signed a lease for a new space, but we did not have the money for it. We needed like $30,000 in the beginning. So we entered a business competition and the top prize was $30,000. So we signed the lease, then we went to the business competition and we won. It was called the Shore Hatchery at the Salisbury University Perdue School of Business, it’s a one-minute timed pitch, “Shark Tank” style. But they don’t take any equity, they just give you money, a grant. The most you can get it $45,000, but the most you can get at one time is $30,000. So we came and got the other $15,000 during the next competition.
Bufano: If that didn’t happen, we would have had to pull out of that lease. We would been a very different company.
Q: What would be your advice to other entrepreneurs wanting to start a fermentation brand.
Malarin: Don’t do it alone.
Bufano: I’d agree. Having the three of us was so amazing. If one of us was having a tough time, we could lean on the other person. You really feel lonely if you do something alone especially up to this caliber, you sacrifice your social life. Have a partner, give them some equity, do it together.
Q: Where do you see the future of the fermentation industry?
Malarin: It’s only going up. Soda sales have been tanking for a better part of the decade, if not longer, and there’s a lot of things coming in to fill the void. This whole expo is a testament to that.
Bufano: The awareness for kombucha seems to be growing faster than the industry is growing, the market share doesn’t seem to be getting smaller even with more companies popping up. More people are getting educated about kombucha.
Malarin: A lot of the other kombucha companies on the market help us, if they’re doing it the right way. Because they educate people on it, then those people, when they come into our area, they’re much more likely to try our product.
Bufano: It’s between 5 and 10 percent of the U.S. population that doesn’t know what kombucha is.
Sergio: Very few people know about it still, so there’s a lot of room for growth.
Q: What challenges do you think fermented drink producers and kombucha producers face?
Bufano: It might not be as big as an issue anymore, but just educating the government agencies about what kombucha is, that’s been a huge hurdle for us. Especially in smaller cities if you’re the first fermented beverage company that opens there. Educating them about it, especially the health department, that was huge for us. You have to create a whole other category for yourself.
Malarin: It will be nice too when there’s more regulation on labeling kombucha. Right now, people throw kombucha on whatever they want and it’s not kombucha at all. Its misleading and it’s confusing to people.
Bufano: We look forward to the day that kombucha is labeled correctly, so you can see what is authentic kombucha and what isn’t.
Q: What strengths do you think kombucha producers bring to the industry?
Malarin: I feel like a lot of kombucha producers in one way or another are very tied to the communities they produce in. Much more than these huge conglomerates, so I think it brings this much more dynamic side to business that a lot of these huge corporations just can’t have. It’s changing the whole way business is done, reverting to something a little more personal.
Bufano: What I’ve seen from other kombucha companies, they treat their employees really well, at least what we’ve seen so far. I think that’s kind of been a norm in the industry, which is pretty cool.
LA Times shares the story behind Health-Ade Kombucha, one of America’s top kombucha brands that will sell more than 4 million cases this year. It’s hard to believe the mega kombucha label began at a farmers market in 2012, with labels attached to bottles with scotch tape. Health-Ade struggled at the start, getting evicted from their apartment for brewing kombucha and racking up parking tickets when they drove kombucha around for distribution in their own cars. CEO Daina Trout said the company’s founders “were ‘success at any cost’ types of people.”
Read more (Los Angeles Times)