Zymbiotics puts the zaur in the kraut

republished from http://onmilwaukee.com/dining/articles/zymbiotics.html

Zymbiotics puts the zaur in the kraut

A new line of naturally lacto-fermented food products hit the farmers market circuit this summer, and is gradually making its way into grocers and butcher shops around Milwaukee.

Zymbiotics, a company founded by Jeff Ziebelman with help from his girlfriend Betty Holloway, is on a mission to bring healthful fermented products, including its playfully named Zaurkraut and Zimchi, to members of the Milwaukee community.

A former importer of pianos from the Soviet Union, Ziebelman made the decision to step into the world of food production last spring after working with Holloway to perfect recipes for both sauerkraut and kimchi.

Holloway, a registered dietitian who works as an instructor for NuGenesis, spends her days educating individuals about the health benefits of eating the right foods and cooking to maximize their nutritional value. But it was a visit with author Michael Pollan last fall that inspired her to make her first batch of raw, fermented sauerkraut.

"I really liked Pollan when I met him," she says. "And the message he brought forward in his discussion of his book, "Cooked," – particularly what he said about fermentation – really resonated. I started realizing that this was one way that I could help the people that I work with."
When Holloway made her first batch of sauerkraut, Ziebelman says he was hooked.

"We liked it so much," he says. "And our friends and neighbors liked it. And it occurred to me that we might be able to start a business making it."

So Ziebelman began researching. He tried various fermented products on the market, but didn't find anything quite as good as what he and Halloway were making. So, he embarked on a journey to create the most flavorful and healthful fermented foods on the market.

"I've always liked playing in the kitchen," says Ziebelman. "I'm not necessarily a recipe person. But, I play and tweak. I pay attention to textures and flavors and go from there."

Ziebelman says it all started out with a knife and a cutting board and deciding on the perfect size for the pieces of cabbage.

"I didn't like the shredded products because they didn't have exactly the right crunch," he says. "So, I played with the recipe until it came out just right."
Holloway also began to explore other fermented products.

"One of my friend's daughter-in-laws is from Korea," she tells me. "And they missed the kimchi they ate back home. So, she and her Korean friends would take turns making trips down to the H-Mart in Chicago to get the supplies for making it."

When Holloway was invited to take part in their kimchi-making, she was delighted.

"We made a huge Rubbermaid tub of kimchi," she says. "And I can still smell it. There were ladles full of red pepper and daikon and cabbage. And a few days later, we made it into a soup. And it was so good … really warming on a cold day. And so delicious."

By the time summer hit, Ziebelman was ready to take his product to the farmer's market. He started at the Fox Point Farmer's Market, and gradually introduced his product to the Thiensville Market and the market in South Milwaukee.

"First, you have a concept," Ziebelman says. "Then you make a product. You find out if people like it, and if they'll buy it. The next question is – do they buy it again? And when they do, you have a business."

But, Ziebelman's business is based as much on the idea of spreading health as it is producing an income.

"For me especially, it's all about health and nutrition and getting people to eat better," says Holloway. "So, the prebiotic and probiotic elements resonate with me. Some of the research was showing that you could take an obese mouse and a thin mouse and by introducing probiotic elements you could get the one mouse to lose weight and the thin mouse to gain. And that' fascinating."

Fermentation is well known for increasing the digestibility of foods that can otherwise create intestinal distress. Ever wonder why a person with a lactose intolerance, who has problems drinking milk can more easily consume yoghurt and aged cheese? Fermentation. A similar phenomenon is present in sourdough bread, since large quantities of gluten are broken down during the fermentation process, making the bread easier to digest.

It makes vitamins more bio-available and liberates minerals by reducing anti-nutrients like phytic acid, which can bind to minerals and prevent their absorption.

"Cabbage naturally has a large amount of vitamin C," she notes. "But by breaking down the cell walls through fermentation, you increase the bio-availability of the vitamin."

Holloway adds that red cabbage was used for the Zymbiotics sauerkraut intentionally, not only for its beautiful color, but also for the antioxidant benefits.

"We've also minimized the amount of salt we've put into our product," Ziebelman notes. "And we've sweetened it naturally, with carrot."

But, one of the most highly beneficial aspects of fermented foods is that they contain live, beneficial bacteria which promotes healthy flora in the digestive system, positively impacting not only digestion, but also immune function and defense.

And anecdotal evidence suggests the claims are true.

Halloway says they've heard from a wide variety of customers at farmer's markets that adding fermented foods to their diets has resulted in positive health benefits, including significant improvement in digestive issues, reduced inflammation and even a reduction in blood sugar levels.
"People are increasingly looking for ways to get away from medication and use whole foods to promote health," says Holloway. "And that's definitely an area we're interested in exploring."

The company is also growing. Just over a month ago, Zymbiotics received their commercial processing licensure and is currently processing between 500 and 1,000 pounds of sauerkraut and kimchi at the Klasiana Pizza kitchen in Cudahy. In the coming weeks, Zymbiotics will release a new product called Zarrot, which provides an alternative for sauerkraut lovers who aren't fond of cabbage.

Zymbiotics products, which sell for $6-8 per jar, are currently available at about 18 retail establishments, including Riverwest Coop, Ray's Butcher Shop, Bunzel's Meat Market and the Growing Power CafĂ© & Market. Ziebelman also makes appearances every other Saturday at theMilwaukee County Winter Farmer's Market and every Sunday at the Milaeger's Great Lakes Winter Farmer's Market on Douglas Avenue in Racine.

To advance their mission of promoting health and education, Zymbiotics will also begin offering instructional classes to the public regarding the benefits of fermented foods. Their first class, which will provide instruction on making sauerkraut, will be held on March 19, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Nicolet High School. For more information see page 45 of the Nicolet Recreation Department Winter/Spring bulletin.

"It's been a lot of fun doing this," says Ziebelman. "People are so gracious and helpful. And we've found the community to be really supportive."

And, lest you think sauerkraut and kimchi are condiments with limited uses, here are some ideas for using both in your everyday cooking and eating.
  1. Add Zimchi to scrambled eggs for a flavorful breakfast dish.
  2. Make a variation on bibimbop by combining rice, greens and Zimchi.
  3. Use Zauerkraut with a drizzle of olive oil in place of dressing for your next salad.
  4. Top steamed or seared whitefish with Zimchi for a delicious main course.
  5. Substitute either Zaurkraut or Zimchi for pickles on your next sandwich or wrap.
  6. Zaurkraut goes great with apples; mix together for a tangy sweet salad.
  7. Use leftover brine from both Zimchi and Zaurkraut to make flavorful dressings for greens or pasta salad.
  8. Add brine to your next Bloody Mary for added flavor and zing.
For more information on Zymbiotics, visit the web site or follow its activities on Facebook.