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Natural Awakenings Chicago

Healthy Fermented Food Trend : Catching on Locally

Aug 25, 2016 05:50PM ● By Heather Lalley

There's nothing new about fermentation, but this food preservation technique that’s been around for thousands of years is winning new fans as more people embrace the health benefits of the probiotic “good bugs” that thrive in fermented fare.

       Foods like sauerkraut and kimchi owe their distinctive flavors (not to mention lengthy shelf lives) to the process of lacto-fermentation. Produce is salted to kill any harmful bacteria, allowing gut health-boosting bugs like lactobacillus to flourish. Many fermented foods are raw, and proponents say, packed with nutrients that would otherwise get destroyed via pasteurization, canning and similar techniques. Other popular fermented foods are tempeh and kombucha.

       “Our bodies are craving it, quite frankly,” says Mara King, owner of the Boulder, Colorado-based pickling business Ozuke ( “A lot of people are craving these foods and looking for them, almost out of desperation.”

       King, whose company name means “the best pickled things” in Japanese, started the business five years ago after working as head chef in several Colorado sushi restaurants. Ozuke grew 100 percent  each year for the first four years. She sells roughly 2,000 cases per month of fermented creations such as citrus-ginger sauerkraut, gingery kimchi and garlic-packed pickled beets. “This is a process of making food that actually makes it safer,” says King.

       Another benefit of fermented foods is that it’s the perfect way to preserve locally grown produce. That’s one of the missions of The Brinery (, a quickly growing fermented foods business in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Last year, the Brinery preserved about 175,000 pounds of local produce, says David Klingenberger, owner and “chief fermenting officer”.

       Klingenberger became interested in food preservation and fermenting about 16 years ago while working on a farm. He said he’s experienced improved energy and better digestion, among other benefits, over his years of daily consumption of fermented foods. “You get some super powers,” he says. “You get a healthy vibrance on a cellular level. It’s linked to cancer fighting, to digestion, to happiness.”

       Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are fun and easy to make at home. Recipes abound online, but the most basic involve simply massaging cut cabbage with a bit of salt until it releases liquid. The resulting mixture is left to sit and ferment for days or weeks. Experts recommend tasting these creations along the way to see how the flavors evolve. Refrigeration will slow the fermentation process.

       Most importantly, don’t be afraid to try fermented foods, says Andrew Sauter Sargent, owner of Spirit Creek Farm, in northern Wisconsin. Sauter Sargent calls his business “your basic local, organic, probiotic, live, raw, vegan, gluten-free, Northern-most Wisconsin-based, family-owned, lacto-fermented sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented food producer.”

       He says, “There’s never been a reported case of food-borne illness from fermented foods. That’s a pretty amazing claim. You’re making foods safer by increasing the pH. You’re killing all these bacteria. You’re doing something to make it better.”

       When it comes to eating these fermented foods, it’s best to think of them as condiments or side dishes. That way, it’s easy to add them to everyday meals without relying on special recipes. Sauter Sargent adds some to his eggs for breakfast. For lunch, he often has a kimchi quesadilla, and for dinner, he likes a side of fermented green beans or beets.

       King says, “Americans think in terms of recipes and dishes. You need to have an Asian approach to eating, of shared foods served family-style.” She likes to mix kimchi with her rice or meat, use it as a sandwich spread or with a stir fry or soup. “When you first start eating fermented foods, it’s very physically compelling,” she says. “You start to crave it. You start to want more. I eat them every day.”



Spirit Creek and The Brinery products are available at many local outlets, including most area Whole Foods Market stores, Dill Pickle Co-op, in Chicago, Sugar Beet Co-Op, in Oak Park, Local Foods, in Chicago, and Standard Markets, in Naperville and Westmont. Ozuke products are available online and in several WI locations, and plan to enter the Chicago market soon. Visit their websites for a full list of retail outlets.

Heather Lalley is a Chicago-based freelance writer, culinary school graduate and author of The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook. Follow her on Twitter


Tempeh Joe

Yield: 6 large or 10 smaller sandwiches

Cooking oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 lg green pepper, diced

1 lb Traditional Brinery Tempeh,
   thawed and coarsely grated

2 cups tomato sauce

1 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 Tbsp honey or sugar

2 tsp powdered garlic

1 tsp powdered yellow mustard

1 Tbsp smoked paprika

1 tsp coriander

1 tsp thyme

1½ tsp cumin

Salt to taste

6 large or 10 small soft sandwich buns

In a medium pan, heat the oil and sauté the onions and green pepper until the onions are translucent.

Add the tempeh and cook, stirring occasionally, about five minutes.

Stir in tomato sauce, tamari, vinegar and honey.

Once well mixed, add in remaining dry ingredients and cook for seven minutes to allow flavors to meld.

Serve immediately on buns, transfer to a slow cooker to keep warm or refrigerate for the next day.

Recipe courtesy of The Brinery.


Ida’s Udon Kimchi Salad

1 pkg cooked udon noodles or
   rice noodles

¼ cup hijiki (seaweed)

½ cup chopped green onions

½ to 1 pint of kimchi
   (depending on taste preference)


¼ cup sesame oil

1/8 cup rice vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix first four ingredients and then make dressing and add to noodle mix. Serve immediately or chill and serve later (best if taken out of the fridge for a little while before serving to soften noodles)

Recipe courtesy Jennifer Sauter Sargent and Sarah York (collaboration), Spirit Creek Farm.


Fermented Tomato Salsa

Yields: depends on amount of produce used

This is a simple recipe, and one that has a lot of flexibility, too. It can be spicy or mild, red or green (tomatillos), garlicky or garlic-free.

2.5 to 3 lb. tomatoes

1 or 2 yellow, white or red onions

½ cup or more fresh cilantro

1 lemon, juiced

2 or 3 limes, juiced

2 Tbsp sea salt

Salt and pepper to taste (cumin,
    oregano or powdered chili optional)

Sweet or spicy peppers

Chop tomatoes, peppers, onion, cilantro and (optional) garlic.

Toss all ingredients into large bowl and add the citrus juice.

Add salt, pepper and other spices and pour into quart or half-gallon mason jars and cap.

Leave on the counter for approximately two days.

After fermentation is complete, store in refrigerator for up to nine months.

Recipe courtesy of Ozuke.


Quick and Easy Kimchi Fried Rice

Yield: 4 to 6

2 Tbsp vegetable oil (or sesame or
   coconut oils), divided

1 onion, chopped

4 oz chopped pork loin
   (or 1 pkg tofu, cubed or 2 eggs)

3 cups cooked rice, any variety

2 green onions, chopped

1 cup kimchi with lots of kimchi liquid

Salt to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in medium sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté for three minutes. Add the pork or tofu and fry for five to eight minutes or until cooked through and slightly golden. If using eggs, scramble them.

Add remaining oil, rice, green onion, kimchi and kimchi liquid and cook until warmed through. Salt to taste and serve with extra kimchi and chili-garlic sauce.

Recipe courtesy Ozuke, adapted from Quick and Easy Korean Cooking, by Cecelia Hae-Jin Lee.