Willow King has a way of talking about fermented food that leaves room for the mystic as well as the skeptic. The owner of Ozuké and Farmhand Organics describes the process of fermentation as a magical, little-understood phenomenon. It has also been a traditional means of sustenance developed over thousands of years.
Fermentation is the biochemical process behind many beloved foods: cheese, wine, sourdough and vinegar, to name a few. It’s also the preserving method behind sauerkraut and kimchi. But cabbage isn’t the only vegetable that can be fermented, and in fact, this is a good time of year to sort through extra garden veggies to see which can be fermented and stored.
"Fermentation originated as a way to preserve the harvest throughout the year,” King explains, adding that these days, “people who are getting to know their local [food] systems...are really into this kind of food.” They’re revisiting the way that people used to interact with, preserve and consume food before modern-day agriculture existed, the business owner says.
This often requires a small-scale approach based on what’s in season. King uses that philosophy while creating Ozuké and Farmhand Organics products. The sauerkrauts, kimchis and pickles are made with local ingredients — often harvested from their own farms in Hotchkiss and Paonia.
However, the recipes themselves draw ingredient pairings from different parts of the world. There’s a Just Juniper kraut that takes inspiration from Danish recipes, a Citrus & Ginger kraut based on Japanese cooking, and, of course, a Napa & Garlic kimchi, which originated in Korea.
But King doesn’t want people to just purchase products from Ozuké and Farmhand; she wants them to try fermenting vegetables at home. “I think it’s a great thing for people to poke into and explore,” she says, especially now, when the fields and gardens are full.
Learning to ferment is something that should be accessible to everyone, according to King. “It’s also like magic,” she continues. “Don’t overthink it. Fermentation does its own thing, but it’s also fun to babysit. The foods themselves, you kind of get hooked on them.”
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On Ozuké’s website, King writes that fermentation works because of salt. When a food is fermented, it is soaked in a salt brine and left at room temperature. The salt kills microbes — such as certain yeasts, molds and bacteria — that are harmful to humans, while the beneficial, probiotic lactobacillus microorganisms survive, producing the tartness found in many fermented products.
Some practitioners believe that the probiotics in fermented foods have additional health benefits because they help bodies break down and digest food. “Fermented foods are traditionally thought of as an immune-boosting food,” King explains, because of the probiotics and because the raw foods themselves are full of vitamins and antioxidants.
This year in particular, “people are coming to the market looking to strengthen their bodies,” King continues — and fermented foods certainly can’t hurt.
If you're interested in learning more about fermentation, you can sign up for an online Fermentation Technique Class offered by Colorado State University Extension: El Paso County. It will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Monday, September 21. Registration closes on Sunday, September 20.