Though researchers still disagree about the data, people suffering from a variety of ills say that fermented foods have been a vital way to treat conditions as wide-ranging as autoimmune conditions, allergies, skin irritation, or even serious, life-threatening conditions like C. diff. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, fermented, probiotic foods (think kefir, pickled vegetables, tempeh, kombucha and many others) help keep balance between the 100 trillion bacteria and microorganisms that live in our gut biome. It’s a health movement that’s gained solid footing in the Bay Area, and there are a slew of local companies that create fermented foods to choose from. Even if your gut feels fine (or you’re just a probiotic skeptic), these spots produce tasty yogurts and savory pickles that are worth enjoying on their own.
Cultured Pickle Shop: A variety of fermented food and drink
Cultured Pickle Shop is the grand dame of fermented foods in the East Bay. Established in 1996 by spouses Alex Hozven and Kevin Farley, this restaurant-cum-shop features krauts, pickles, kimchis, kombuchas, umeboshi plums, and more.
It all started when a teenaged Hozven got into macrobiotics, a way of eating that is heavily influenced by traditional Japanese foods, especially traditionally fermented foods like miso. That led to her learning more about how fermented foods boost our gut microbiome.
“Microbiomes are essential to health,” Hozven says. “The science behind it is ever clearer, but there is an extremely important gut/brain connection, there’s an extremely important gut/immunity connection. That’s a given for me.”
In addition to prepared foods to go, Cultured Pickle Shop offers weekly rice and pickle bowls, set up as a tasting experience. “As fermentation became a more trendy thing, there was more interest in technique and process,” says Hozven. “We started the rice and pickle experience as a workshop to represent all these different techniques in a bowl.”
Launched just before the COVID-19 pandemic, the tastings were a huge hit while they were allowed. Now, as things open back up, Cultured Pickle Shop is offering the experience again — on Saturdays and Sundays — with a few tables set up outside and one inside. Order premade foods on their website; reserve your weekend rice and pickle experience in advance.
Cultured Pickle Shop, 800 Bancroft Way, Suite 105 (near Fifth Street), Berkeley
House Kombucha: Kombucha
The website of this San Leandro-based kombucha manufacturer bears the tagline, “Heal your gut, soothe your soul.” Kombucha, a lightly fermented tea drink that encompasses several lactic-acid bacteria, is purported to have many health benefits; the bacteria may have probiotic qualities.
“I knew how to make kombucha from my mom,” says House Kombucha founder Rana Lehmer-Chang. “She used to make it back in the ’90s. The first time I tried (to make it) in 2005, it was interesting to do it differently, to bring out the real tea notes and make it beautiful.”
Lehmer-Chang started brewing her own kombuchas after finishing law school in 2008 and never looked back. “I love how the probiotic (properties) make your stomach feel and I really like the social idea of having a nonalcoholic beverage that is social and fun.”
Her kombucha comes in a variety of flavors: lavender lemonade; jasmine apple; ginger healer – a mix of ginger, lemon, and turmeric; and her most popular flavor, sun blossom, which is white tea-based with orange blossom essence. Pick up House Kombucha at Whole Foods, your local natural grocery, or by the case on their website.
Manny McCall: Pickles
Psst, wanna buy some pickles? If homemade Persian cucumber-based pickles float your boat, stay tuned to Oakland-based producer Manny McCall’s Instagram page, where he periodically announces a new pickle batch available from the back of his car at a predetermined meeting spot.
His unconventional business model hasn’t kept away his fans, as he estimates he’s sold 6,000 jars of his product since his girlfriend suggested he give the pickle business a go in 2020.
McCall is a restaurant business veteran but lost his job when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. “Along with many other people, I started freaking out during the pandemic, looking at ways to make money,” McCall says. “At that time, I was just experimenting with a lot of different things in the kitchen because I had a lot of spare time. I was making pickles and my girlfriend said, ‘Why don’t you try selling these?’”
Though vinegar-brined pickles don’t have the probiotic benefits of the other foods on this list, studies show they may help control blood glucose and also contain antioxidants.
He sells his “Pickle Pana” jars for $9 a pop, with a percentage going to local charities, like Black Earth Farms. Follow him @tacosandbanchan to be in the know when he drops the next 100 jars of the good stuff.
Preserved: DIY fermentation
If trying your own hand at fermentation appeals, head to Temescal’s Preserved for the gear and the knowledge. Pre-COVID, the store hosted in-person workshops. They’ve now moved online with the summer 2021 schedule to be found here.
Fermentation is the heart of the business, which was founded by Elizabeth Vecchiarelli in 2015.
“The fermentation angle of the shop is definitely what makes us stand out, where my passions align,” says Vecchiarelli. “I worked in restaurants for many years … but as I got into my own homesteading and growing my own food, preserving became the next step.”
And then she realized that “in such a food centric Bay Area there was no place to buy good quality kitchenware as they related to preserving and fermenting.” Thus Preserved was born. Shop here for pantry basics, kitchen gear, and their kits to make your own kombucha, fermented veggies, miso, and more.
Preserved, 5032 Telegraph Ave. (near 51st Street), Oakland
Purely Drinks: Drinking vinegar
Judy Tan of Purely Drinks handcrafts small batches of drinking vinegar at Gate510, a coworking space for makers in San Leandro.
Her grab-and-go product, Q SOO, comes in flavors like ginger lime and mint lime q-jito; her concentrates are available to mix with sparkling water or for cocktail making.
“It’s called drinking vinegar,” Tan says of her products. “But it’s been around for thousands of years. I learned about it from my grandmother. When I was little, I’d watch her make infused fresh plums in rice vinegar and infuse it with honey.”
“With our product, inspired by my grandmother, we use apple cider vinegar and infuse it with fresh fruit, herbs, roots, and botanicals and then we sweeten it with monk fruit, which gives it a lower sugar content. It’s really healthy and functional and delicious.”
“It’s right between a soda and a kombucha. Not a soda, not a kombucha, but offers the same health benefits because it’s fermented,” Tan says.
Find Purely products on their own website, on Amazon, at local natural grocery stores — including Berkeley Bowl — and at select restaurants.
Three Stone Hearth: A variety of fermented and other food and drink
This cooperative Berkeley production kitchen has been making everything from sauerkraut to body care products for 15 years. In addition to pantry staples (many by other local makers), Three Stone Hearth serves up premade meals with a menu that changes weekly. All their food products come in glass jars, returnable for reuse.
“We’ll have some sort of casserole, soup dishes, side dishes, a different kraut each week, sometimes pickles, and kombucha or kefir,” says brewer and worker-owner Hanna Towers. “We are trying to create really nutrient dense foods, mostly based on traditional diets.”
Favorites include shiso nectarine kombucha (only available in late summer), golden guardian kraut, field of greens kraut (which incorporates whatever leftover greens the kitchen has to reduce waste), turmeric ginger cabbage tonic, and beet kvass, a tonic made of beets, yogurt whey, and Celtic sea salt. Orders can be placed in-store or online for pickup or delivery (for a fee).
Three Stone Hearth, 1581 University Ave. (between University and Sacramento Streets), Berkeley