The discerning eater has always sized up their choices before plunking down their hard-earned dollars on foods. We consider the food’s country of origin, its ingredient list, whether it was grown with pesticides or not. We tend to think of our food as something we put into our bodies, as something totally separate from our bodies. But what if our food was actually alive? And what if our food became a part of our bodies after eating? The movement behind fermented foods explores living foods, which its proponents believe improve health. To learn more about fermentation, we spoke with Sarah Underberg of Agri-Cultured Foods, a local manufacturer specializing in fermented foods.
Underberg credits fermented foods with helping a variety of her own health problems, inspiring her to start her business to share her knowledge and enthusiasm for fermented foods with her local community. While people often think of fermented foods as “rotten” or “spoiled,” Underberg reframes the conversation, saying these foods “are a lot like the creation of diamonds … time and pressure in a controlled environment gives us beautiful results!”
As fermented foods continue to boom in popularity, Underberg has noticed that consumers seem much more familiar with these once-fringe foods. “People come up to me now and say, oh my friend drinks kombucha! Instead of … what IS this?” Underberg cites Agri-Cultured Foods kombucha as one of their best products, containing adaptogenic herbs which are purported to help manage stress. Underberg encourages consumers to try fermenting on their own (Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz is an excellent resource) as a way to learn more and experience living foods for themselves.
Underberg’s passion for health and education are at the core of Agri-Cultured foods, as is her devotion to her customers. “We genuinely care about each and every customer”, says Underberg. “We want them to feel the difference. We want them healed. We want them to thrive.”
Agri-Cultured Foods products ranging from kimchi to live sauerkraut, kombucha to pickles can be found at grocers and markets throughout the corridor.
Looking for more culture?
After recent renovations and menu overhauls, Deluxe Cakes and Pastries (812 S Summit St, Iowa City) now offers fresh made baguettes and English Muffins and housemade yogurt in addition to their tried-and-true favorites. Baguettes and English Muffins are made with a “starter” — a mixture of water and flour that has been converted into a leavening agent through the process of fermentation. Deluxe’s delicious housemade yogurt is produced by the skilled bakers by fermenting lactose to produce lactic acid, causing the milk to clot and form the soft gel that is characteristic of yogurt.
Curious cured-meat-eaters take note of Cobble Hill’s (219 2nd St SE, Cedar Rapids) Community Supported Pig. Operating under the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) framework, Cobble Hill connects community members directly with made-in-house pork products. For about $40.00 a month, members receive a selection of cured and fresh meat products, a pint of house-pickled vegetables and a loaf of sourdough bread monthly for half a year. Be sure to snag your share; contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to try your hand at brewing up some kombucha? Owners of Iowa City-based Wild Culture Kombucha, Rachelle Schmidt and Tim Roed, sell scoby and starter liquid to interested homebrewers at their farmers market stands. Unfamiliar? “Scoby” is actually an acronym: Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast and acts as homebase for the bacteria and yeast that shifts your standard tea into the zippy, bubbly gut-healthy drink.
Visit Brix Cheese and Wine Shop (209 N Linn St, Iowa City) to get your fill of cultured and fermented foods. Part retail outlet, part dine-in cheese and wine bar, Brix offers a wide selection of cheeses, cured meats and pickled goods. One of the only places locally to buy Raclette, be sure to visit on a Sunday for their Raclette service where the wheel of cheese is heated and the melted portion is scraped off and paired with roasted potatoes and onions as well as a host of delicious add-ons like poached eggs and ham.
Recipe: Pickled Red Onions
Developed by Ari Ariel
Pickled onions are a great addition to your cooking repertoire. They add a little kick and a lot of complexity to so many dishes. Best of all, they are really easy to make: slice some onions, add a bit of salt, cover in vinegar and wait an hour. Then add them to salads and sandwiches and use them as a substitute any time you want to tone down the overwhelming sharpness of raw onion. The trickiest part of this recipe is getting the balance between sweet and sour right. Most pickled onion recipes call for sugar, but I find that too sweet. Instead I mix a small amount of balsamic vinegar with red wine vinegar. If you’d like your onions a bit more tart, replace half of the red wine vinegar with distilled white vinegar. You can store these in a glass jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
- Red onion
- Kosher salt
- Red wine vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
1. Slice the red onion and place in a glass jar or other non-reactive container. Add 2 teaspoons of kosher salt for a medium size onion. You can scale this up or down depending on how much onion you are using.
2. Pour in enough red wine and balsamic vinegar to cover. The amount you need will depend on the size of your container. For every cup of red wine vinegar use ¼ cup of Balsamic vinegar.
3. Cover your container and place it in the refrigerator. Wait at least an hour before using. These will keep for several weeks.