Saurkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and pickles of all forms are great examples of fermented foods. As a general rule, fermented foods have a reputation for being "Good For You" and promoting digestive health. The popularity of high-end apple cider vinegars that contain "the mother" [as it is affectionately known], which are rich in acetic acid, is a byproduct of fermentation.
That stated, I love fermented foods, not necessarily because they're good for my gut, but because they taste good and open up the opportunity to get creative on a vast range of dishes and menu segments. From burgers, Bahn mi, and beyond… On breakfast and dinner menus, or as appetizers, fermented foods are increasing because they are great flavor drivers.
When I was a kid, my grandmother and I would make fresh pickled vegetables of all kinds, with produce harvested right off the vines of our garden. Back then, we didn't do it because it was trendy or healthy; we did it to preserve our generally bountiful harvest (and, more importantly, because it tasted good). My greatest professional experience and education regarding fermented foods came when a group of us from Custom Culinary® had the great fortune to spend some time in South Korea as part of the World Association of Chefs' Societies (WACS) Congress.
On that trip, we worked in several Korean kitchens, learning their uniquely delicious cuisine (the scope of which spans much further than kimchi). On that very trip, I fell in love with fermented gochujang as an ingredient to elevate all sorts of dishes. Just a touch of this impactful paste brightens the flavor of foods without overpowering them—the unsung hero, if you will. As the nature of our Blog is short, I won't go into greater detail, but I recommend you purchase a small tub of this stuff and start playing with it; I know you won't regret it!
Another one of my favorite fermented ingredients of all time harnesses miso. Albeit most commonly featured in soup, one of my favorite dishes is Miso Chilean Seabass. The best I've ever had was at a little restaurant in New York City called Blue Water Grill. Their version with added soy literally dissolved in your mouth "like butta," served atop sticky rice and charred bok choy; this version was clearly the most delectable I have ever enjoyed.
A lesser-acknowledged fact is that fermented foods also fall into the realm of spirits. Not that the healthful aspect comes into play in this category, but most concoctions are pretty tasty. On a side note, from a health perspective, ginger is known to soothe the stomach… This individual [to remain nameless] would enjoy several Ginger Martinis the night before the trip in case of rough seas… Let's say that didn't work out all that well…. But I digress...
My favorite fermented spirit is Mezcal, or tequila's smoky cousin. Mezcal is made when yeast and bacteria are introduced into crushed agave. My favorite Mezcal concoction, the Paloma, was served at Comal (a little in Berkeley, CA). Their version of the libation was prepared with Mezcal, fresh grapefruit juice and Cocchi Americano, a quinine-laced aperitif.
As we keep you up to date with the hottest trends out there, I hope you take some time to experiment with fermentation. Whether it's house-made pickles, gochujang, fermented spirits or any other familiar fermented foods or ingredients, one thing is sure: it will help you drive flavor and profits.
Until we chat again, have some fun in the kitchen and get funky with fermentation.