Cleveland Kitchen: Bringing Fermented Goodness to America
The diverse, cultural heritage of the United States is one of the resounding characteristics that makes the country unique. Throughout the past centuries, as migrants made their way towards the United States, many elderly grandmothers would carry with them, hidden in their suitcases, fermentation starters from their countries of origin. These specific mixes of fungal and bacterial strains, along with an assortment of microflora, allowed migrants to bring a “taste” of the old country on their new journeys. The result was an amazing diversity of bacteria and yeasts yielding delicious sourdough bread, radish kimchi salads, sauerkraut, yogurts, and many fermented kitchen secrets passed down through family cookbooks.
In the past decades, however, these fermented treasures have unfortunately begun to disappear from the dining room tables of families in North America. The industrialization of the food system not only leads to increased homogenization of what we eat, but strict standards regarding preservatives, pasteurization and the inclusion of other food additives essentially replaced the role of fermentation in preserving food.
Today, fermented foods are mostly associated with the ethnic market in the United States. Cleveland Kitchen, a startup food brand based out of Cleveland, Ohio, is attempting to change that reality by bringing fermented foods back into the kitchens of Americans.
The Role of Fermented Foods as part of a Health and Wellness Diet
Those grandmothers who brought sourdough starters and other microbiological cultures hidden in their suitcases wanted to bring with them more than just a taste of their home country. The ancestral knowledge passed down through generations understood that many fermented foods play an extremely important role in strengthening the immune system and improving overall gut health. The well-documented probiotic activity associated with fermented foods provides the gut with needed bacteria that enhances immune function, improves digestion, and can actually expand nutrient assimilation.
A recent study looking at the health-promoting components in fermented foods finds that fermented foods can enhance the antioxidant, bioactive, anti-hypertensive, anti-diabetic, and FODMAP-reducing components in food products. Specifically, the study determined that “fermentation was found to increase the antioxidant activity of kinds of milk, cereals, fruit and vegetables, meat and fish. Anti-hypertensive peptides are detected in fermented milk and cereals. Changes in vitamin content are mainly observed in fermented milk and fruits. Fermented milk and fruit juice were found to have probiotic activity.”
Besides enhancing the nutrient content and assimilation of common food products, fermentation also creates biologically active peptides, which are produced by the bacteria responsible for fermentation. These peptides are responsible for a wide range of health benefits, including:
• Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) can lower blood pressure,
• Exopolysaccharides exhibit prebiotic properties,
• Bacteriocins exhibit anti-microbial effects
• Phingolipids have anti-carcinogenic and anti-microbial properties,
• Bioactive peptides exhibit anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, opioid antagonist, anti-allergenic, and blood-pressure-lowering effects.
Who is Cleveland Kitchen?
Cleveland Kitchen, which was branded from Cleveland Kraut earlier this year, is one innovative health food brand bringing fermented foods back into the mainstream. The company got its start back in 2013, producing raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut that incorporated unique flavor profiles such as Indian spices, whiskey, dill, and beets. Recently, the brand expanded its product offerings to include the world´s first line of Fermented Dressings and Marinades.
Their Hail Caesar, Sweet Beet Dressing, Gnarly Miso Jalapeño, and Roasted Garlic marinades and dressings were recently Keto Certified by the Paleo Foundation. Whereas traditional dressings and marinades are teeming with sugars, chemical preservatives, and other unhealthy additives, Cleveland Kitchen´s line of dressings and marinades are made from a base of organic sunflower oil. No added sugars are added to the dressings as they are naturally sweetened with date syrup.
According to the company´s website: “With a base of fermented vegetables, these dressings bring gut-healthy probiotics to your plate in a seamless way. We used our classic flavors of sauerkraut and transformed them into tangy dressings that will light up taste buds and add untold volumes of flavor to any dish.”
Cleveland Kitchen´s complete plant-based food product portfolio is also dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free, and Non-GMO Project verified. Dijon mustard, red and green onion, basil, thyme, fermented cabbage, garlic, caraway seed, salt, and black pepper go into their Hail Caesar dressing. The Sweet Beet dressing is made with Dijon mustard, lime, black pepper, ginger, and fermented red cabbage, beets, carrots, and salt.
For people who like spicy dressings, the company´s Gnarly Miso Jalapeño dressing and marinade incorporates roasted jalapeño, fermented miso paste, salt, smoked paprika, black pepper and fermented cabbage, bell pepper, jalapeño, leeks, chili sauce, garlic, and red chili.
Since revealing their line of marinades and dressings earlier this year, Cleveland Kitchen has quickly found a way into a number of retailers around the country. All four of the Keto-certified dressings and marinades are sold at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide as well as being sold on their online store. Additionally, the company just announced this month that its products would soon be sold in the produce aisles of leading retailers such as Target, Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts Kroger, Giant Eagle, Meijer, Albertsons, Publix, and Heinen’s. In total, the unique line of fermented foods produced by Cleveland Kitchen can now be found in over 9,000 storefronts.
Drew Anderson, co-founder and CEO of the company (and recently featured on Forbes Magazine 30 under 30 list of business leaders, says in a recent press release: “This expanded distribution is an integral part of our brand’s mission to integrate healthy and absolutely delicious fermented foods into the American diet by giving our consumers an easy entry point into fermented (foods) that they don’t have to be intimidated by.”
Anderson also says that with Cleveland Kitchen´s line of Keto Certified dressings and marinades, “we created a non-intimidating entry-point into fermented food that is bright and inviting to illustrate the health benefits that can come from regularly consuming fermented products.”
Creating Value Added Products from “Waste”
Refrigerated sauerkraut might not seem like a major player in the health food industry as it is often more associated with your grandma´s kitchen than the health food aisle of organic grocers. However, Cleveland Kitchen has been fundamental in driving the national, fermented food market. Increased demand for their fermented kraut has allowed the company to drastically increase the size of its Cleveland-based operating facility from 5,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet.
The two million pounds of sauerkraut that they produced last year, however, has also come with certain challenges. Finding ways to deal with an enormous amount of kraut juice produced from their sauerkraut production was one such challenge.
A 2013 report found that food manufacturing facilities across the country were responsible for 2.4 billion pounds of food waste. While manufacturing facilities did donate around 700 million pounds of food that would have otherwise been wasted, much of that food waste did eventually end up in landfills around the country. Food waste, besides the ethical considerations, is also linked to major methane emissions thus helping to drive global warming.
In an attempt to avoid dumping enormous amounts of kraut juice, the folks at Cleveland Kitchen bottled up that juice and took it to their local farmer´s market where they do direct-to-consumer product testing. While consumers were receptive to the kraut juice, they wanted a functional and practical to incorporate it into their meal preparation.
In a recent interview with Food Navigator USA, Anderson says that “we did a deep dive into the (refrigerated dressing and marinades) category, and it turns out that people want something that´s functional, that´s delicious, new, and exciting. And they´re willing to pay more for it—that´s our customer all day long.”
Instead of dumping tons of kraut juice or paying someone to dispose of it, Anderson and the team at Cleveland Kitchens were able to come up with a unique value-added product that resonated with customers and helped them drastically expand their market. The plant-based, dairy-free line of dressings and marinades sell for $5.99 per 12-ounce bottle and have quickly become a favorite of consumers looking for a practical way to incorporate the benefits of fermentation into their everyday diet.
The Cleveland Kitchen team also incorporates other sustainable practices into their business operations. They are proud of their Cleveland heritage and make an effort to only source their ingredients from farmers in the Midwestern states. Not only does this reduce the carbon footprint associated with transporting foods long distances, but it also is fundamental in strengthening the local economy. “It is an honor to support and uplift farms that we can personally collaborate within our local Ohio community,” the company says.
Lastly, the brand also relies on innovative shipping and packaging materials to reduce waste and energy usage. All of the e-commerce orders of their kraut are now shipped in insulated coolers that are made from recycled plastic drink bottles and are 100 percent recyclable.
The combination of a unique focus on sustainability, the use of “waste products” in developing new lines of products, and delicious, functional products has allowed Cleveland Kitchen to re-introduce North American consumers to the health benefits (and delectable flavors) of fermented foods.