Have you ever gone to a store and thought “I’d love to grab some Milk Kefir, I’ve heard great things about it!” What if I told you that the regulations do not allow authentic products to be sold in stores? This is a new industry with no standard of identity when it comes to fermented foods. We are talking with an industry leader today, Sharon Flynn, as she shares her background with her company “The Fermentary.” Read on to learn about the easiest foods to ferment, why you should be adding fermented foods into your diet, and how keeping the authentic versions of ferments are better!
The first time I ever came across Sharon’s Business, The Fermentary, it was in a local shop. We wanted to grab some Water Kefir and we opened it. When we opened it, it was spraying all over the place and we thought “this is proper Water Kefir'' It was the most amazing Water Kefir I have ever tasted and I just fell in love with the product. -Kriben Govender
How Did You Begin The Love Affair With Fermented Foods?
When I fell in love with it I wouldn’t have called it “fermented food.” When I was 16, I started my interest with fermented foods and interesting flavors. I was an exchange student in Denmark and they lived on a big pig farm. It was an old house so instead of a refrigerator they had a large walk-in “cold room”. Things would get fizzy, sour, and they would say that it was on purpose because they liked it like that. They would make a sweet pie then put the soured cream on it…. I would be thinking “That is SOUR, something is not right.” They were aiming for this, it was not rotten, it was part of their life.
I grew up eating the opposite, so when I went here and tried these foods it was mind-blowing. I moved around a lot and was exposed to a lot of flavors but when I moved to Japan in my 20’s, I started fermenting. I had this thing called “dinner service '', it was like “hello fresh”. And that is how I learned how to cook. I was too busy so I would get my box, make the food, and the neighbors showed me how to make miso and natto. That was my first real experience digging my hands into things and making these beautiful things.
Then we moved to Seattle. I joined the CSA-Community Supported Agriculture. It is where a farmer will decide how many families they can feed over a year on their land. You join by paying in advance and then that farmer feeds you. At first, you may just get lettuce until the rest of the harvest starts. But if a certain vegetable is abundant, you will get it. With this abundance, you start to wonder about the veggies you get, especially if you’ve never used them. By the end of summer, you get SO much! So they had fermenting and pickling days where you can learn how to keep the harvest. Those are the real learning days. When you have this abundance, you need to hold onto it because next spring it is just lettuce for a little while again. If you want to do this for a few years you need to get familiar with the preserving process.
Then I moved to Chicago where we lived in a Jewish neighborhood. There were pickles in the supermarket and they would give the kids a free pickle when you went shopping. But in that neighborhood, I could not find good bread. So I started to make my own. There was a moment when I was sprinkling the yeast on and I was thinking “who makes the yeast?” So I went to a baker and said: “how do you get your yeast?” And he said this block, and he gave me some. Then I thought..well where did he get this block from and what is it?
Sandor Katz (you can read more about fermentation from him HERE) was in town and I heard about that so I went and bought his first book and read about sourdough bread. This was the answer I was looking for in Chicago. I was always wondering how you made bread without a packet. This was a spiritual awakening because I felt that with all of my moves I became a knowledgeable foodie. But when I read about sourdough, I realized I didn't know anything! There is so much that we don’t see that is so powerful! I went through the breadmaking and cheese making phase. I even made my children do their science experiments on water and flour!
When Did You Decide You Wanted “The Fermentary” To Be A Full-Time Business?
We moved to Belgium and I didn’t have the room to keep experimenting. Plus I was very busy relocating everyone and enjoying everything there. Towards the end of our 3 years there, my youngest daughter got very sick. No one knew what it was. It was a random thing where she would get a high fever every 12 hours.
In the end, she ended up getting a really strong antibiotic. The doctor said that it will knock her around a bit. So I thought maybe she would just be a bit tired. I didn't think that it would wipe all of her bacteria out for years. After she took the antibiotic, she couldn't digest food at all. Since she couldn't eat, she ended up losing weight and she was only four years old. In the end, the doctors said that it was either autism, childhood depression, or an eating disorder spectrum. I knew that wasn't the case.
By then, we ended up moving back home. I spoke with a lady who mentioned that her naturopath told her to “stop chasing the virus and just try to put bacteria in her gut from what the antibiotics wiped out.” Then she gave me a list of foods. It became a hobby because the empowerment was wonderful.
When I came home I bought “The Gaps Book”. The first thing I started adding was Water Kefir, the store-bought miso & natto, and cut out the carbohydrates. Within 3 weeks she would wake up and ask for her “drink.” Things started changing and she started eating again. I kept putting different sauerkraut on her plate and she started eating it and getting better. A lot of people that were going to her school started noticing the difference and I explained exactly what I was doing to help her.
I was trying to show people how to do this themselves. Then word of mouth got around and I had so much so I just offered it out to people. I started teaching people how to do it themselves and at the end of my lectures, no matter what I said, they would always ask “How much should I take?” The food system in Australia was pretty crappy. There were no fermented foods you could buy. Then I realized that it was odd that people were asking me how much I should take when I was talking about food.
I had three fridges in my garage and people would take what they needed and leave the money. It ended up getting a little strange when two guys pulled into my driveway and they asked if I was the sauerkraut lady. I asked the local health food store if I could put the orders there with notes on them. If you are starting a business in a small town this is a great way to market it! People wanted to have their name on a tag in the fridge. While I was still in my home kitchen every night, people from restaurants started calling me and asking if they could have it in their restaurants. It took me 6 months to say I am going to quit my job and do this full time!
It is hard to build a business. You have to have a passion for it. It is amazing that you did what you do because the food industry will short cut things. They will add additives, use cultures to make the product faster and cheaper commercially. The way you do things is a small batch by hand, labour intensive, cost-intensive, but the end product is out of this world! -Kriben Govender
There has never been any other way to make the product for me. Since I have been helping friends with gut issues, I want to be proud when I give you the product. I want to say “here taste this it's the real thing.” Every ingredient I had to buy I had to learn about. For example:
We couldn't get organic sugar in Australia. We had to get it for South American
It’s cheaper to get strawberries frozen from Chile than it is to get a farmer to deliver them to you locally.
It is time-consuming to find solutions. It always comes back to “We started this for our family, I don't want to give out a less than perfect product. We are still hand jarring and bottling!
What Are The Problems With The Other Products Entering The Market?
Some companies out there are riding a trend. And these products aren’t regulated since it is the cowboy days. There is no real standard of what you can call a product. For example, Kefir and Kombucha don't have an identity standard. If you go into any major supermarket shelf you will see Kombucha and Kefir sold even if they aren’t authentic. -Kriben Govender
The easiest way that I describe the result is that you are getting a wide diversity. What the food standards want is predictability, consistency, and to know exactly what is in there. When you don't know what's in there, (part of the magic is nature’s intellect), don't play with it because we don't need to know everything! We have a symbiosis with these things and we don't know best. We don't always know everything. One thing for sure is that there is diversity and there are bacteria. A lot of the labs that we get our water kefir measured at don't even have the technology to read what bacteria they have. We would have to send it to Wisconsin.
Our products are naturally carbonated. Some people may say, carbonation is carbonation. But that is NOT true. The reason people have to force carbonate is because of predictability, consistency, and there is no carbonation without alcohol. They have been forced to make a crappy product because of our fear of alcohol. We did decide to become licensed so we could keep the product real. It was that or nothing, I didn't want to make a product that I wouldn’t give my family. The alcohol carries the natural flavor further in your mouth.
When you put a spice in alcohol, it intensifies. It does its job a lot better and that's why we use tinctures. You’re missing out on a lot of the health benefits when something is watered down. I think every industry has its early days. And I feel like I can't be too judgemental on this because this is a market that needs to sort itself out. People need to learn and the best thing they can do is make sure that there is one to compare it to. This is the real one, it's more expensive, it may fizz, that is because it is real and good. You can also buy my book HERE and buy grains HERE to make your own!
You just have to hope that the market will change and people will want better quality.
The missing piece of this puzzle is that the consumer could be very confused and not have the right information to decipher what the real deal is VS a product that is more processed and does not contain the same benefits. One way the industry could deal with this is to put onto the label the percentage of the actives.
The way that they get around the alcohol legislation is to heavily dilute the product. Getting companies to put down “This product is 10% water Kefir or 15% Kombucha'' Then that will give clarity to the consumer. Hopefully, the industry does wake up to this and places in new labeling laws. The other thing is that Kefir and Kombucha can only be made with the cultures. Now I have seen products enter the market using yoghurt cultures to make so-called Kefir cheaply. -Kriben Govender
There are bacteria in a lot of things. But you have to be mindful because companies will just add “probiotics” and “good bacteria” to anything. When people hear the word bacteria, they are often afraid of what we are doing. But with store-bought sauerkraut, they would use citric acid or bleach onto the shredded cabbage and then throw probiotic powder on it. But my recipe is just cabbage and salt. I have to make sure to get cabbage that has not been rinsed and washed! I need the cabbage to have bacteria on it.
It is a flawed system. You look at companies like ours and we have HACCP plans, we are extremely regulated. And then you have all of these other companies that don't have to go through this scrutiny. These companies are unregulated people from home and it is extremely frustrating.-Kriben Govender
But on the other hand, you want to be a leader. You want to make sure we are doing it right so other people are trained to do it as well. Fermented foods were the first things that were cut out in the industrialization era because they couldn't make them faster. A prime example of this is a pickle. When I give someone a fermented pickle, they say “I can’t believe they are so sour with no vinegar!” It is much easier to do it with vinegar because you can get any type of vinegar and cucumber. Then you heat it up and the vinegar is imitating the sour flavor that you get from naturally fermented foods. But you should try to ferment your own pickles and get all of the good bacteria along with them! Once they hit your gut, your gut bacteria will tell you they want more!
What Is An Easy Ferment To Start With?
Fermented Vegetables! You can use carrots to start with. All you need to do is:
Have a jar
Cut the carrot into circles or sticks
Put them into the jar and a litre of water and put a tablespoon of fine, LOCAL sea salt in there
Make sure the carrots are under the brine
Leave it for a few days!
You can also flavor the brine. You can add in:
Mustard seeds (these have antibacterial properties as well!)
Carrots are FAST. If you put that on Monday, you will have them by Thursday. Then you'll need to refrigerate them after that. You don't want the carrots to keep fermenting because they lose their crispness easily (and become slimy!). You can taste them each day. They should be slightly sour and brighter orange than what you started with!
If you think about the Japanese Bento Box, they would put something sour to preserve the lunchbox during the day. When I put something fermented, like a carrot, into a lunchbox... I felt as if it made the entire lunch safer!
Sushi was actually a fermented product to keep the product around for longer! I wouldn't be surprised if you added this good bacteria back into the lunch box itself. The lactobacilli will start producing all of these antibiotic compounds that then increase the shelf life of the food product. And this is a natural way of preservation! -Kriben Govender
I would also recommend to go at it with a sense of joy and wonder instead of fear! Some people will try it then say “well mine didn't work”...but how many times have you made a cake that was too dry? Would you give up? No. If it is something that you didn't see growing up then you will have to practice and get used to it because we were always told that everything has to go right in the fridge! Refrigeration is not very old, it's a very new concept! Think about how new this concept is and how we survived this long. People might have become sick sometimes but they are also becoming sick now more often from lack of bacteria!
The carrot recipe is fail-safe! You can use many other vegetables. Start adding them into your life without fear or guilt. Remember that it was only a generation or two ago that society got rid of these processes. We didn’t know better but now we do! What a great time to be alive, we know what plastics do, we know to slow down, and we have power and we can change things.
If There Was One Thing That Someone Could Do For Their Gut Health What Would It Be?
Add Milk Kefir into your diet! I have seen so many people's lives change from milk kefir. You can get a kit to make it yourself HERE. Or if you can buy it from someone else, it is magical!
I am embarking on a clinical study on Milk Kefir. It is the most miraculous food, in my mind. The benefits of milk kefir don’t completely lie in the bacteria, but the functional peptides that the bacteria produce. If you look at the studies, the functional peptides are what we call molecular mimicry. They mimic a lot of pharmaceutical drugs. If you think about adding 10-15 of these peptides into this product, that can lower your blood pressure or lower blood sugar. You have all this in a product that takes a few minutes to make….You can make this for the rest of your life from one packet of Milk kefir grains!- Kriben Govender
This is NOT the stuff you get at the supermarket! There are many ways to make Milk Kefir delicious. It has a lot of tryptophan in it and if you drink a shot of it before bed, it will be ideal. Remember that what comes in must go out so you have to be consistent! We are a tube and everything has to go in and come out all of the time. And if you have this at night, at least the tube is laying and it is going to stay in there in the intestinal wall and do some work. You will go to sleep and your body will be relaxed (and when it's relaxed it does a lot of detoxing!)
When my husband joined the company he was taking medicine for heartburn and acid reflux. I told him if he worked here he couldn't take that stuff! But he didn't like Milk Kefir. Within 3 weeks he would have a 750ml bottle of it a day. It's been 5 years and he has not had to take medicine since! Every time he stops drinking it, he will get it back. I have heard so many stories about this. You can even feed it to your pets!
No pharmaceutical company is going to invest in the research on Milk Kefir. It is so cheap for one packet of grains that a customer will buy once in their lifetime. On the other hand you have pharmaceutical drugs that you spend thousands of dollars on in a lifetime. It won't make sense for them to invest in this research nor would they. So I thought I would do it!-Kriben Govender
Milk Kefir is great for:
High Blood Pressure
Even topical as well!
You can make a green smoothie with milk kefir in it and it will stay green for a few days! Because there are so many antioxidants in there. And I feel as though the things that taste good in Milk Kefir are also really good for you like cinnamon, it seems to match with things that are good for you! You can grab a lot of different recipes for Milk Kefir HERE.
Make sure to try Milk Kefir if you have any of these ailments or if you want to boost your overall health. Try your hand at fermenting your food at home and share your progress in our Facebook group! You can also get many tips and tricks from members there. Share this with a friend that would benefit from this information!