Edible Innovations: These Complementary Partners Are Growing a Fermented Foods Business

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Edible Innovations: These Complementary Partners Are Growing a Fermented Foods Business

From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Food Innovation Program — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.

Mara and Willow King are “probiotic picketers.” Born creators, they started making live, raw krauts and kimchi in their home kitchen. For those of you who are new to fermenting, kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine. It is made from salted and fermented vegetables, and usually garnished with a variety of seasonings like chili powder, scallions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal. There is a wide variety of microorganisms present in kimchi which provide plenty of recognized health benefits.

Pickling is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine or vinegar. It is most often accomplished by canning produce in a vinegar-brine or using fermentation equipment.

Opting for fermentation, Mara and Willow took their passion for pickling and created a dedicated factory and full time business called Ozuké.

Why did they do it?

“We loved eating and making fermented foods at home but didn’t find a lot of options in the grocery market” said Willow. “We knew these foods were a vital, delicious addition to the diet of many Americans that were facing gut imbalances and wanted more probiotics, so we decided to enter the grocery fray!”

How did they face it?

The two makers come from varied backgrounds. Mara is from Hong Kong and is a lifetime chef. Willow is from Boulder and has a marketing and sales background. Their differences in evaluating and solving problems has been crucial in making the physical solution and place it on the market.

Mara is a very hands on R&D maven. As a chef, she brings expertise in flavor, texture, and visuals. From the other side, Willow has been able to implement “a really scrappy sales and marketing strategy.” Their combined efforts have led to successful social media crowd sourcing campaigns, samplings at all sorts of varied events, and teaching opportunities for community outreach. “We have really maintained a hands on approach to growing our business,” said Willow.

What exactly do they make?

Ozukè offers high quality probiotic foods and makes them accessible to a large audience via natural and conventional grocery stores.

The process is pretty simple: chop fresh veggies, add salt and spices, let them ferment in a temperature controlled cave, and then package them. Just like that, an age old technique is scaled to the modern marketplace! “As we know,” said Willow, “gut heath is the new point of focus for health and wellness. In some small way, our products are helping boost gut flora, which boosts health, which is good for everyone!”

Pickling by fermentation is an entirely different approach in comparison to using a vinegar-brine method. Fermented foods contain beneficial live bacteria and probiotics that vinegar-brine foods do not.

It is totally possible to make fermented foods at home as well! To make fermented pickles you should completely submerge your produce under a salt-water brine (usually in a common fermentation vessel). Pickling weights are used to keep produces submerged at all times. It is important that the foods are never exposed to any oxygen or bacteria that exist in the open air.

They should be left to ferment for several days (or weeks). Fermentation times vary depending on recipe and environment and personal preference. There is not a carved-in-stone rule! While produces are fermenting, the salt draws the natural water out of the vegetables. Microbes digest the sugars and form lactic acid and other beneficial bacteria. This process push the pH of the liquid down enough to preserve vegetables and ensure their safety.

Overall, it’s actually a very easy process!

Willow, what parts of your entrepreneurial journey do you think deserve to be mentioned?

“The journey has been a wild ride! Too many ups and downs to count. I continue to believe in my products, my partnership with Mara, and the power of the consumer to choose products that are made with care and consciousness. It can feel like an uphill battle in a world of big food, but things are changing and we can feel that.”

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Chiara is fascinated by food as a means to impact bodies, minds, and environment. She has studied international business in three different countries, and is an alumni of the Food Innovation Program and US Director at the Future Food Institute.

Based in California, she is also a Research Scholar at Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, working on building the first comprehensive Internet of Food to enable food care through food systems semantics. She is a selected member of Barilla Center Food Nutrition Foundation, a Research Affiliate at Institute For The Future, Board Member at Maker Faire and selected member of the Global Shapers, a young global network of innovators promoted by the World Economic Forum.

She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and impact investing, and aims to leave her mark on society.

View more articles by Chiara Cecchini


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