A ferment factory in Falcon Heights

By Bill Lindeke

After years of being slighted, sauerkraut is on the rebound.

Galen Kanazawa, co-owner of Fierce Ferments. Photo by Bill Lindeke

More and more, today’s groceries carry local freshly pickled vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi on their shelves. Chances are good that if you check out your local refrigerated aisle, you might even find some sauerkraut made in Falcon Heights. That’s thanks to the hard work and rapid growth of Fierce Ferments, a local pickling startup located on Larpenteur Avenue.

“We do vegetable ferments,” said Galen Kanazawa, the co-owner of Fierce Ferments. “We’ve been at it for five years now. I started out at the Midtown Farmers Market in Minneapolis and was making products at home. I discovered I had a knack for it.”

Kanazawa, who started the business with two partners, now employs two part-time staff members to help with the pickling and canning of their diverse line of “small-batch” krauts, kimchi, kvass (a fermented beet juice) and pickles.

At Fierce Ferments, everything is done by hand in the collective kitchen space of the Good Acre, 1790 W. Larpenteur Ave., an agriculture incubator funded by the Pohlad Foundation. The small onestory building sits next to farm fields on the edge of the University of Minnesota campus. Two or three days a week you’ll find the fermenters preparing their fresh batches of kraut in Good Acre’s industrial kitchen.

The company got its name and reputation from its unique “fire tonic,” a liquid chockful of garlic, spicy pepper and vinegar that will knock the cold out of your throat. Though not all of their products are hot enough to stand your hair on end, the product line does earn its reputation for having lots of kick. Many of their products, including some of the sauerkraut, also have a bite.

“There’s really just a few tricks to making good kraut,” Kanazawa explained. “The first is making sure it’s well bruised, using the right amount of salt, plenty of brine, and then time and temperature.”

While the kimchi recipe comes from the Kanazawa family farm in Indiana, the rest of the products are Galen’s own concoctions.

The resulting jars of food represent a constant product of the adventure and experimentation that Galen exercises with his new products. Many of the raw vegetables are sourced from nearby farms in Northfield, Minn., or western Wisconsin. (At least, that’s true during the warmer weather; in the depths of winter, they rely on California produce.)

“One idea I have been playing around with is chili kraut,” Kanazawa said during a recent canning session. “We will work with a local hot sauce maker. He was putting on a little market of spicy foods and asked me to come up with a spicy kraut because fresh chili peppers were in season. I ended up going with jicama and onion, in addition to fresh chilis. It turned out really good, and I didn’t have to tweak it too much from the first time around.”

Fermented and raw foods like sauerkraut and kvass are seeing quite a comeback. Generations ago, many people used to make their own fermented foods, especially in rural areas. (My Aunt Ida’s sauerkraut is still legendary around the family dinner table, even years after she passed away.) But during recent decades, raw fermented food has faded from the menus of many households.

That is starting to change, thanks to the work of the Fierce Ferments team and other smallbatch fermentation producers. It doesn’t hurt that new research suggests probiotic fermented food comes with a list of health benefits.

“Kraut is definitely making a comeback,” said Kanazawa. “We’re getting a lot of good press, and people are rediscovering the value of probiotic foods. Coming out of the era of pasteurizing everything, and realizing that something was lost in the way that we have been preserving 20th century, with the studies that are coming out, they help us. Raw krauts and things like that are reentering people’s awareness more so than they were even 10 or 15 years ago.”

The company has a lot of room to grow at the Good Acre. According to Kanazawa, there is more than $100,000 worth of cooler space available, should demand for the lines of fermented foods continue to grow.

Next time you drive or stroll down Larpenteur Avenue, take a look at the Good Acre facility on the side of the road. Chances are good that somewhere in the coolers and kitchens of the building, vegetables will be fermenting, getting ready to deliver a tasty and spicy treat to your grocery shelves.

Bill Lindeke calls himself an “urban geographer” and shares his urban tales with the Park Bugle.

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