Icelanders make hákarl from shark flesh, Filipinos make atchara from grated unripe papaya and Indians make dhokla from rice and chickpea splits. Archeologists have unearthed 7,000-year old remains of wine in the Neolithic Chinese village of Jiahu. Every culture has its own fermentation heritage.
In the United States today, fermented products are cropping up alongside trends like the craft beer movement as consumers turn an eye toward slow food, sustainability and trust in gut-health science. Ferments are rich with probiotics, microorganisms naturally present in our intestinal tract that aid in food digestion, produce vitamins and ward off disease-inducing microorganisms.
“When I started eating fermented foods a lot it was out of exhaustion with all the supplements I was taking,” Amy Peddie says. “I couldn’t tell if any of them were working and I was spending a fortune on them, especially probiotics…. When I was working at Deep Roots, I started trying fermented foods…[and] I could tell that it was working because I could tell it was still alive.”
Peddie is the creator of Fermentology, a small business based in Greensboro focused on producing fermented foods from vegetables and fruits.
“[Grove Street] People’s Market started, and I wished someone was selling ferments for an affordable rate for people in the community to get healthy probiotics and whole foods into their diets,” Peddie says. “I thought, I guess I should do it. And then it was really lo-fi bootstrappin’. All I had was red kimchi and green kraut out of the back of my truck.”
Until her big break when she joined Kitchen Connect GSO, a shared-use kitchen for local food business entrepreneurs that provides resources like food-safety training and small-business classes in merchandising, marketing and finance that opened last year. She produces and packages Fermentology foods there, start to finish. She hopes to pay herself soon.
“Everyone wants to make their business profitable and be able to offer jobs to folks at living wages,” Peddie says. “I’m figuring it out, what the next steps will be. I’d like to take the brand a little further like getting into Lowes Foods and Whole Foods but that requires scaling up, and I just scaled up and finally hired some folks. I’m still trying to get a restaurant to start using my green kraut on a Reuben.”
She currently offers five krauts: classic, green, purple, “chowhound” and “trifecta.” Fermentology also carries red (spicy) and white (tangy) Korean-inspired kimchi and the “beetiful curtido,” loosely based on the traditional Salvadoran dish.
“I’m not Korean and I’ve never been to Korea but there are lots of types of kimchi,” Peddie says. “Mine is sort of in a sauerkraut style because it has no fish and the method of it — I want to know exactly how much salt is involved in the process, and when you make kimchi the authentic way, you salt it liberally.”
She purchases from the best wholesalers she can find (and afford) and sources locally whenever possible. Her ferments sit for at least two weeks under airlock so that gases created during the process can exit, but nothing can enter, encouraging consistently excellent probiotic profiles.
“I create an environment with an amount of salt that favors a certain type of bacteria — so, lactobacilli and not things like botulism — and then during the lactobacilli life processes it’s eating all the carbs and sugars. So the white kimchi has fruit in it, but it doesn’t taste sweet because [the bacteria] eats all the sugars.”
Peddie uses Redmond’s Real Salt, mined in Redmond, Utah, because determining ethical mining practices proved difficult during research on Himalayan salt sourcing.
Understandably, citizen scientists raise concern because many food-grade plastics leach in the presence of sunlight, which breaks down carbon bonds.
“I get a lot of pushback from customers who think I should be using crocks,” she says. “I’m of the opinion that — besides being expensive and heavy — you could have hairline cracks in crocks that you’d never see and I’m just not comfortable using something like that that I can’t tell if it’s is completely sanitized and then selling it to people.”
Peddie reassures potential customers she’s done her research, too — she keeps the containers in a room without windows. When it comes to shelf packaging, she uses recycled glass jars and a safe plastic lid. She says the two-part metal lids associated with canning can contain trace amounts of BPA, an industrial chemical used in the production of some plastics since the 1960s.
The most common reaction she encounters at markets, though, is skeptics’ scrunched-up faces.
“If people will just try any sample, that’ll satisfy me,” she says. “A lot of people won’t because they think sauerkraut is disgusting and limp and pasteurized and canned, which is disgusting. So when someone comes by and tries your sauerkraut and says, ‘That’s better than what my grandmother made,’ it’s incredible.”[pullquote]Learn more at fermentologyfoods.com.[/pullquote]
Peddie, who keeps three chickens, pairs her morning eggs with green kraut and gravitates toward eating the beetiful curtido in grain bowls garnished with cilantro and mint lately.
“One that blows people’s minds is red kimchi with peanut butter as a sauce,” she says. “The other day, I made some tempeh and added that or really with any kind of noodle. It’s a delicious dipping sauce for spring rolls.”
Some consumers are sold the moment they learn the benefits of fermented foods’ probiotic, vitamin and mineral profile. Others require tempted taste buds.
“It’s a little bit magic to take ginger and garlic and salt, and when you ferment them together, you get this weird synergistic effect and it’s not, ‘Two plus two equals four,’ it’s, ‘Two plus two equals 17,’” Peddie says. “It’s not just the salt, or the probiotics or the health qualities; you’re getting so many amazing flavors and you can experiment. At the end of the day, eating well should taste good.”