Fermentation 101 - by Diane Melano
Fermentation is at the heart of what makes our product so special. So I thought I'd take some time to explain what it is exactly.
The most succinct way I can define fermentation is this: it’s the transformation of one ingredient into another by way of a microbe. It's one of the simplest processes you could undertake.
Let's start with the example of cabbage turning into sauerkraut through the process of fermentation. You have your cabbage, you shred it to rupture the cabbage cells, which makes it easier for bacteria to get inside. This lactic acid bacteria is what makes the magic happen. By the way, lactic bacteria are all around us. They live on our skin and on the skins of fruits and vegetables.
As you add salt to that shredded cabbage, you’re making sure that any malevolent microbes — things that might cause the mixture to rot — are kept at bay. Salt is a really great anti-microbial, but lactic acid bacteria have a little bit of resistant to it, they can tolerate salt up to a certain point. So, you kind of clear the playing field for lactic acid bacteria to do their thing. They start consuming the carbohydrates and sugar in that cabbage and in doing so they leave something else behind, and that something else is an exclusionary chemical. That’s lactic acid. It sours the mixture and then makes it even harder for different things to grow. And overtime, that fermentation process peters out, they consume as much sugar as they can, the PH drops because of all the lactic acid they’ve produced, you have sour cabbage (literally translated from German sauerkraut!).
Imperfect, Perfect Fermentation
There is more to fermented vegetables than probiotics, nutrient density, and food preservation. These three attributes are piquing people's interest, but to be honest, that's not enough. Just because you know something is good for you doesn't mean you're going to eat it. It needs to also taste GOOD. By fermenting, you unlock new, unimagined, complex, deep flavors. You get to experience a unique flavor and texture that comes from time and place.
This is where we found a beautiful space: the meeting of cozy comfort foods with science-based ferments, nutritional co factors, and flavor.
Our foods contain a unique imprint that could never be found in factory-prepared foods. There's something special that's there when someone uses their hand and is engaged in an intimate way with the creation of food.
This comes with a challenge: Fermentation never wants to be consistent. The idea that you can create peace with chaos—that even the slightest permutation or difference between one scenario or another will lead to outsized results months down the line as the thing ages—that’s what fermentation is and always has been. The fact that we have different styles of fermented foods is that idea in the flesh: in some way, chaos theory lived out.
It’s my job to make fermentation as perfect as possible every single time, which seems counterintuitive. It sometimes feels like trying to bash a square peg through a round hole. I've come to find peace in understanding that sometimes things don't work out, and as much as I research and experiment, ferments are truly wild.
Fermentation is Caring
Small batch fermentation at its root is care.
You realize that all over the world, in every culture that’s ever existed, this is what fermentation has always been. There is not a civilization on Earth that does not ferment: manioc being turned from poisonous to edible in the Peruvian Andes, the yams that people eat in Papua New Guinea, beer in Babylonia, the cheeses of France - for all of their splendor and variation. It’s a caring culture that ferments - a beneficial culture.
Food is culture, but fermentation is culture on a deeper level. And I love the idea that somehow, someway, these synonyms overlap—that “culture” and “culture” mean two different things to a biologist and an anthropologist, but in fermentation, they overlap completely. And for us, the nutrients that are at play, and the customers that enjoy them, is our culture.
Fermentation today is having a renaissance. It’s not undergoing a trend: it’s undergoing an understanding. People are realizing this has always been a power in our hands. These things are there, waiting to be used, if you know how. And that’s the beauty of it. To know that we, as a team, have hands that bring benefit to others.