Chefs are flavor-seekers, always on the lookout for the tastiest innovations. Modern diners are increasingly willing to jump aboard the exotic flavor train, especially if words like “artisanal” and “health promoting” are attached to a dish. At this intersection of flavor, method and nutrition, fermented foods are finding their center-stage moment. The unique taste of fermented foods, which include sauerkraut, craft pickles, and the fermented-tea drink kombucha, is caused by the creation of lactic acid during the fermentation process. The foods carry a significant health halo, with many experts lauding their promotion of “good” bacteria in the gut, digestion support and immunity boost.
Fermentation at its spiciest: Kimchi
“We’ve been talking about the popularity of fermented foods for a couple of years,” says Lizzy Freier, Menu Analysis Editor at food industry market research and consulting firm Technomic. She says the fermentation fad can also be linked to rising interest in ethnic cuisines. Korea’s national dish, kimchi, is a spicy blend of fermented cabbage, red peppers and vegetables. “Kimchi mentions have increased 3.8 percent on menus over the last two years,” Freier says. Still, it will take Americans quite a while to catch up in their consumption: South Koreans consume 40 pounds of kimchi per person each year.
Now trending: Krauts and Pickles
It’s not just kimchi that’s been adding the flavor of fermentation to everything from burgers to omelets: sour flavors in general have been big. “Cabbage-based sauerkraut and other new vegetable ‘krauts’ have been popping up in independent restaurant menus over the past few months, and we see this growing in more chain restaurants in the coming years,” Freier says. Another fermented trend to watch: pickling. “It’s relatively cheap and easy for operators, so it’s something we could see in more top chains,” she says. “Some restaurants are even using pickling jars as décor in their restaurants, such as at Chicago’s Perennial Virant restaurant.”
British food writer, Gareth May, explores the fermented trend and includes some favorite recipes