Austin Fermentation Festival 2017 Focuses on Health, Innovation

Rain did not dampen the enthusiasm at the fourth annual Austin Fermentation Festival. Kombucha was front and center in our minds, and we were not disappointed with five vendors on hand. Much to our delight, as more people learn about the health benefits and tastes of fermented foods, the range of food, beverage, and related products at this yearly event has expanded, essentially outgrowing its quaint, earthy location at the Barr Mansion.

Newcome Casper Fermentation shared their kombucha, made with raw black tea purchased from a Nannuo Mountain farm in Yunnan, China. They are the only buyers of this tea in the U.S., and their kombucha is a light, tea-flavored product. Owner Benjamin Hollander stated that sugar is added only for the fermentation time, but it is “dry” for the bottling. This small company also offered raw apple cider vinegar and dill pickles, available at a few select Austin locations.

Three home-town kombucha brewers shared their goods. KTonic launched their fifth flavor on tap at the event. It is Cherry Blossom– thirst-quenching, fruity with spice flavors with hints of cherries, cardamom, and pepper. The new flavor will be available in stores on Jan. 1, 2018.  Buddha’s Brew offering tasted of all their flavors, including basil, honey, and ginger. The company founders generously put on a workshop on “how to” brew kombucha and shared scobies with some of the participants. Wunder-Pils, most often found at the farmer’s markets locally, tasted their products and shared a prickly pear kombucha that was refreshing. New for them is a canned herb and tea beverage with the properties of a natural energy drink.  Chipotle hot sauce made with kombucha was delicious– pleasantly hot with a perfect texture. The use of kombucha in new products is certainly a growing trend, as in the Wunder-Pils popsicles.

Los Angeles based Health-Aide Kombucha was also on hand offering tastes of their original flavor profiles. Pomegranate was particularly interesting–tart and lightly fizzy.

In the beverage area, Texas Keeper Cider has been expanding its offerings. A workshop on making cider was lively for those that were part of the hands-on tasting, while the remainder of the attendees heard the history of orchard-based cider brewing back to the Middle Ages. With heirloom apple popularity on the rise, this is certain to continue to expand as a popular fermented beverage.

Boggy Creek Farm is one of the original urban farms in Austin, and Larry Butler, the co-owner, offered a workshop on pickling/fermenting vegetables, entertaining the crowd with his trial and error experiences in creating products from their farm’s own produce. His smoked tomatoes, pickled squash, and zucchini have long been in demand at their popular on-site farm market. Austinite Kate Payne, the author of The Hip Girl series, shared some tips on successfully fermenting sauerkraut. Kirsten Shockey gave a hands-on demonstration of making fermented hot sauce and spicy pepper mash. Other workshops ranged from fermenting vinegar, making chocolate, kimchi techniques and butter/cheese making.

Sourdough is becoming more visible in fermentation discussions, given the bread and water (and sometimes yeast) are fermented to create the sour taste and smell.  A chef from L.A.’s Manuela led a workshop on making whole wheat sourdough. The concept of bread as an additive to beer brewing is catching on, as grains, yeast, and water form the basic beer brewing mix. With discussion of food waste, it has become evident that one-third of the bread made in the U.S. is wasted so some beer brewers are using it as part of their beer starters. Other vendors in the fermentation tent offered dehydrated and freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, sourdough baked goods, vinegars and oils and Barton Springs Mill sold single grain flours, milled from Texas wheat varieties.

Sandor Katz, a “fermentation revivalist”, was once again the inspirational, trendsetting event keynote. He tells his stories about fermentation, its benefits and the reemergence of the interest in “high quality living fermented foods and beverages. The evidence of small, cottage, family businesses making fermented products definitely was visible at the festival, reviving interest in fermentation arts, reinforcing Katz’s message.

Inside the Barr Mansion at the event, films, and music (of course, this is Austin) provided a lively backdrop to the day. “Fermented” a new, heralded documentary by food lover and storyteller Edward Lee was shown as part of the festival. This is a must-see movie detailing fermentation techniques in various parts of the world. It launched at the Seattle International Film Festival and is being gradually shared with the foodie world.

Arizona Hates Kombucha? Say It Isn’t So!

Believe it or not, a person named Teresa Strasser–someone who makes lists for a living–has created a map that has each state’s least favorite food. For Arizona, she chose kombucha which, by the way, is not a food.

And, by the way, Florida hates licorice, also begs credibility.

Kombucha Network Heads to Europe

A recent story in Tablet Magazine touched a nerve as we embark on a journey of discovery in Eastern Europe. Our interest in healthy eating goes beyond kombucha; it extends to other fermented foods and techniques that create probiotic-rich delicacies.

The Tablet piece points out that the days of vendors in the Lower East Side hawking pickles from large wooden barrels may be in fade-out mode, fermentation is on the rise. The vast majority of those using this traditional method are doing so in their homes.

In more recent years, the pace of new pickle companies seems to have slowed down, though people’s passion for fermented and other preserved products has not waned. It has merely shifted focus. “What I’m seeing now is the influence of Sandor Katz everywhere I go,” Jeff Yoskowitz, co-author of The Gefilte Manifesto said, speaking of the self-proclaimed “fermentation revivalist,” who has become the country’s patron saint of pickling.

Which leads to our voyage of discovery. We, the co-founders of Kombucha Network, are headed to Poland and Germany on a three-week trip to unearth some hidden food treasures that speak to techniques handed down from generation to generation with perhaps a modern twist. We will be in Warsaw, an area an hour south of Gdasnk, in Gdansk proper and then on to Berlin.

We will share, on our site, everything we learn and find along the way.

Please stay tuned and be free to share your feedback.

Kombucha Brewing Ferments Collaboration and Innovation

Most of the information found about kombucha focuses on the healthy benefits of this fizzy, probiotic tea beverage. There are some that doubt the ability to quantify these beneficial properties, hence creating a labeling controversy. But that is but one of many emerging trends in the kombucha marketplace.

In the past few weeks there have been several news items about kombucha that point to innovation and collaboration. These are popping up in such areas as creating new flavors, the concept of canned kombucha and new consumer-facing retail concepts.

One story tells that tale of a kombucha company, Inspired Brews Kombucha that has opened a brewing facility in downtown Philadelphia. The co-founder creates an interesting profile of flavors, initially starting with dessert-style flavors. In addition, there are root vegetable based flavors. Based on the season, the flavors vary but eight to 10 offerings are always available. The flavors are developed in conjunction with her co-creator located in Dallas, TX, who began as an avid home brewer.  According to BevNet, Inspired Brews Kombucha networked with other entrepreneurs to launch its storefront and increase collaboration with local non-profits and businesses. The story described the background of the company and made me want to travel to Philadelphia to taste the various flavor options, many of which have Texas-inspired combinations.

Up Dog Kombucha, started by two students at Wake Forest University, was the focus of another BevNet piece. The students were producing the product on their own in two unused dorm kitchens, prior to becoming one of the startups in the university’s StartUp Lab. They represent a millennial market entry aimed at attracting and retaining college-aged students with their product – a “less vinegary, more mild and lightly fruity” version of kombucha.

Portland, OR is a city that is spawning kombucha creativity. As a story on Project NOSH indicated, “Portland is a hive of kombucha invention”, so creative kombucha concepts are a natural for Portland. Based on success in Washington State, with Kombucha Town selling cans of their brew to Trader Joe’s, the viability of canned kombucha is emerging. Canned wine and even craft beer in cans is becoming more popular as a way to transport beverages to outdoor events, or to the beach. With better canning facilities, it can provide an option to broaden the kombucha distribution as well. The challenge with kombucha is that it is a cold beverage and must be transported and stored in refrigerated trucks. Additionally, that makes it a challenge to expand the market area for a small fermentory unless it is willing to sub out its recipes and packaging to a packing plant or co-packer. Putting the kombucha in cans could help expand market opportunities.

On a recent visit to Portland, we had the opportunity to sample some of the variety of kombucha beverages available locally. One curious experience was the visit to SOMA’s new automated tasting room in the southeast part of the city. It was definitely a different way to taste and purchase some delicious probiotic brew. One delicious offering was a cold-brew coffee option, a concept just coming of age. The experience did reinforce the idea that Portland is a place for kombucha innovation and even ideas that seem a bit unusual have room to grow.

Cooking with Kombucha

Kombucha is most often consumed as a beverage, either alone, with a meal or even in a cocktail. My recent training as a plant-based chef unleashed a series of ideas for cooking with kombucha. Cooking with kombucha allows a chef to add the beneficial properties of this fermented beverage to an array of foods.

Cooking with tea, or fermented tea, provides an option for people trying to avoid fats in their diet. A liquid is necessary to soften the food while sautéing. Often chefs utilize soup stock in this manner. Depending on the flavor of the kombucha, it can substitute for a sweet or citrusy taste in the finished product. My cooking style is to take a recipe as a base for inspiration and then vary it with substitutions or alternatives.

One easy substitution is with the preparation of instant oatmeal packets. Substitute some of the water with kombucha to add some flavor and health benefits. When sautéing vegetables, you can start your pan with water or soup stock, later adding oil and some kombucha as the food begins cooking. Those are effortless ways to use up the few last sips in the bottle sticking around in the fridge.

For Passover, the Jewish holiday, charoset is a traditional holiday food. It is a mixture of chopped nuts, dried fruits, and spices, usually soaked with wine to hold it together. It is created as a symbol of mortar for building brick walls, with the consistency of a chunky condiment. For the holiday this year, I soaked dried cherries and dehydrated apples in kombucha until they were softened. I then ground pecans, almonds, and the fruit with some of the liquid in the food processor, adding cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. The finished product was remarkably delicious. I used Joan Nathan’s recipe as a foundation for my creation.

Marinating with kombucha is another trick I have started to use. When making a raw vegetable salad, it can help soften the vegetables as the salad begins to meld together. My greatest success has been with thinly sliced fennel on the mandolin. When assembling the salad, I add the kombucha, dill pickle juice and lime juice to cover the ingredients. The flavor we had brewed was blood orange kombucha, so it complemented the remaining ingredients of blood orange chunks, black olives, fresh dill, and pistachios. The recipe from Nerds with Knives was a good place to start.

One recent experiment was a failure. I replaced the kombucha in my raw cucumber/red onion salad but the kombucha soaked the cucumbers too much and they were mushy. I think the trick is to use a stronger-flavored, harder vegetable, such as carrots, beets or celery root.

When creating muffins with my sourdough starter, I often utilize kombucha as one of the liquids in a sweet mixture. I have the starter ready and add the liquid when I add oil and other flavoring elements. Often, I soak dried fruit in the same manner as the charoset and add both to the baked items.
Knowing that my husband is a willing consumer of any of my odd culinary concoctions encourages me to keep trying. Back to the drawing board for more experiments.

Top Five Reasons Why Kombucha Is More Than Hype.

Big-name retail chains such as Target, Costco and even Walmart have added kombucha to their product lines.
Grocery stores such as Sprouts and H-E-B, Wegmans are adding private-label kombucha to their shelves reflecting increasing demand.
Sports stadiums such as Safeco Field and Centurylink Field have added kombucha to their concessions.
Increased availability in bars and restaurants, alongside beer on tap.
Large multinational beverage conglomerates are buying (or consider buying) established kombucha brands.

Fermentation Farm’s Painstaking, Community-Based Approach to Kombucha Leads to Growth and Popularity

The story of Costa Mesa, Calif.-Fermentation Farm begins much like many others, with a mom in search of better nutrition for her children. From that inspiration, Orange County’s Yasmine Mason, a chiropractor by trade, decided to share her discoveries with the world and Fermentation Farm, a hub for all things cultured and fermented, was born.

Brad Hill joined Fermentation Farm a few months after it opened in 2014, is now the director of marketing. He brings to the mix his background as a digital marketer and personal mission to spread the gospel of health eating. Hill, with great passion, speaks to Fermentation Farm’s place in the community.

“When ownership first started, they were not sure the store was going to go. They wondered if people were prepared to jump on board and accept this new idea of fermented food products,” recalled Hill. “The idea was to build it like a co-op where people in the community invest in the idea.”

As with other co-ops, Fermentation Farm charges a membership fee–$5 per month or $25 for lifetime access. Hill said one reason for the charge is to recognize the dedication that goes into their production process. Ingredients are hand peeled, and every step of making kombucha, fermented vegetables and sauerkraut (to name a few products) are done with painstaking care.

Hill sees Fermentation Farm’s members—now numbering more than 2,100– as participants in a crowdfunding exercise much like you would find on Kickstarter. As the number of fermented followers grows (the folks aren’t fermented, but the probiotic delights are), the business will expand. For example, as the ranks of its consumers grew, a second kitchen opened two doors down from the main store with a new brewing facility in the works which will pump out 100 gallons of kombucha per week. The store’s marketing guru says the goal is to keg more of the kombucha and get it into local cafes and restaurants.

The store has become more than a center for Fermentation Farm’s own products which include fermented soda, water kefir grains, kits for home brewers and even fermented cod liver oil. With the spirit of community as its mantra, the retail space has become a hub for local artisans to sell their goods. Hill said, at this point, the store is split 50-50 between its own products and those from outside vendors.

Growth plans for Fermentation Farms follow a logical path. For a business that deploys old-world techniques of creating probiotics goodies, the future is built on a decidedly modern approach. “One nice thing about membership is that we are able to gather data on our customers,” Hill explains. “With that information, we know other possible areas of expansion based on where our customers live. It gives us a built-in market.”

Describing Fermentation Farm as a retail storefront that sells trendy probiotic and gluten-free goods does not do it justice. The store blends small-batch crocks of Lacto-fermented vegetables with such modern touches as in-store seminars and healthy cooking classes (led by Hill). As you enter the store, a Kombucha bar is on the left and a retail space on right. Hill said they want people to immerse themselves in the experience by tasting taste everything and asking questions. “We want to make sure people are really happy with what they are getting,” Hill noted.

The Costa Mesa store features 15 flavors of kombucha, with six taps constantly rotating. Theirs is a fruit-based kombucha that uses a 21-day fermentation, which includes organic cane sugar as well as green and black teas with local fruits.

“Our goal is to be the best fruit-based kombucha in Southern California,” Hill adds. With the small batch approach, combined with the focus on “community” and smart grown, there is every reason to believe Fermentation Farm could become a Southern California staple.


Will The Global Kombucha Market Really Be Worth $1.8 Billion by 2020?

It’s a scene out of Shark Tank: “Where did you get that crazy valuation?”

I found a report from a few months back from the research firm, Micro Market Monitor, which suggests the Kombucha market will be worth $1.8 billion by 2020, after being worth half a billion in 2015. The math says that’s growth of 25% compounded annually.

Without a careful evaluation of its research methodology, I would be remiss in poking holes in the India-based research firm. However, after more than 20 years of working in the market research field, and seeing lots of over-hyped projections fall flat on their faces, I need to think aloud about the viability of such growth. I don’t necessarily think a number such as $1.8 billion is off –but it’s worth some thoughtful rigor.

For example: the U.S. soda (soda pop or pop depending on you region) is worth north of $97 billion, according to Statista. Figure 10x that for a global number. The Ready to Drink Tea (RDT) market is past $50 billion worldwide and growing at a slower rate that is projected for kombucha. What sort of clues can we gather from this data?

Soda and tea are driven largely by well-established global brands with bottling facilities in every nearly country. These companies such as Coca-Cola and Nestle have billions to spend on marketing. Both beverages have cracked every channel of distribution, often dominating shelf space in supermarkets and convenience stores. New competitors emerge—some with new angles such as less sugar or sparkling flavors—but fail to make a dent in the leaders’ revenues. The hope of many newcomer–which is true in any business–is that Coke, Pepsi, Nestle or Tropicana will snap up their brand in a lucrative buyout. And that’s a key: soda and (RDT) upstarts have a clear exit strategy the day they sell their first can or bottle.

Currently there are a number of kombucha brands that seemingly dominate the landscape and are featured on the shelves of such retailers as Whole Foods, Sprouts, and even Target. It’s likely these leaders will remain recognizable for a while but two—possible three—events could change the face of the market and prove the $1.8 billion market number wrong.

First relates to overcoming the scalable bottling issue. As many brewers have told me, the reason they cannot expand is that if they open a second plant in another state—one a few thousand miles away—they lose quality control. These same brewers are hesitant to work with copackers inexperienced with the temperamental nature of this fermented brew. Alongside that concern is the fact that kombucha (unlike soda or tea) needs to remain refrigerated for transport. Such a requirement adds cost for long-haul distribution.

Secondly, all it takes is for one buyout domino to fall for the industry to take off. When whatever research a company like Coca-Cola uses to determine precise market timing indicates go-time for a kombucha product launch, the Atlanta-based giant will probably buy an existing brand. After Coke, every major beverage brand (and some food brands) will start a feeding (or drinking) frenzy in the kombucha market.

In the wild card position is Starbucks. While I have not looked at every Starbucks, the ones I frequent don’t have kombucha among their cold bottled drinks. Adding a kombucha or two—or perhaps even having some on tap—will help obliterate a less-than $2 billion four-year forecast.