A bowl of live bacteria may not sound like the most appealing snack, but a pair of local women are banking on the idea.
Taya Mara and Kit Purnis are the founders of The Cultured Club, which began as a small group who met regularly to learn more about fermented food and to swap recipes. The pair were introduced to the wild world of fermentation over a decade ago when Mara was given her first kombucha scoby. Since then, they’ve hosted fermenting workshops across the North Shore, and have grown into the retail space, offering their scratch-made kimchis, sauerkrauts, salsas and more at local Farmers’ Markets and restaurants.
For millennia (before refrigeration), humans have been fermenting foods as a means of preservation. In recent years the practice has enjoyed a spike in popularity -- thanks in part to research touting the benefits of probiotics in overall health. Mara and Purnis have noticed a shift.
“When we started this five years ago, people were very, very leery,” says Mara. “We still get a lot of people that walk by [at the market] and they'll look at our sign and say; ‘what is kimchi?’ or ‘sauerkraut -- what do you mean, it is a live food?’”
"People are turning to making their own fermented food because it’s partly wanting to take back control,” says Purnis. “It’s the resurgence of DIY-- making your own food, and making it beautiful and healthy and delicious too,” says Mara. “You're creating something sort of unique, and you can tailor it to your own tastes.”
“Even in magazines like Chatelaine, there are more recipes for sauerkraut and other fermented foods than you would ever have seen before,” says Purnis. “There's more scientific research being done, and a lot of discoveries are coming out about your gut health and how important that is,” says Mara. “Especially [coming from] live, fermented food that hasn't been preserved by canning . . . a tablespoon a day [gives you] the same sort of benefit as taking a probiotic pill. You're doing pretty good stuff for your body when you eat it.”
While The Cultured Club has been able to nurture community support of their product, it’s been a challenge to get it to market.
“We are dealing with bacteria, essentially;” says Mara. “It's beneficial and good bacteria. But it's still that word. So it did take a little while [with Algoma Public Health] and a little bit of education on both parts to take that next step to be able to sell the product.”
They wouldn’t spill any trade secrets, but maintain that consistency is key in fermentation.
“A scientific equation needs to be followed to make good sauerkraut, specifically,” says Mara. “You need salt as a preservative, and the vegetable (along with the sugars in the vegetables). And time. The longer the ferment, the more sour it will be, depending on your ingredients.”
“You can ferment the sauerkraut for any number of months,” adds Purnis. “We tend to do a shorter format, and are fairly consistent on the length of time.”
If you aren’t up to the task of cultivating your own tasty bacteria, you can currently get The Cultured Club’s products at Mill Market, The Country Way, The Queen’s Tarts, and The Plaid Pig in Iron Bridge. And look for a special release ferment for their 500th batch, coming to shelves this Fall.
“We like to say that it is kitchen alchemy: science, art and magic,” says Mara. “Combining to create this product that you'll learn to love, and it will grow on you--and in you.”