Why It's Time for Restaurants to Embrace Fermented Foods

By: Alessandra Kopp

5 Minute Read

Jan 30, 2018

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fermented foods

Long before probiotics took center stage in modern wellness trends, ancient cultures were experimenting with and celebrating fermented foods.

Now, these fermented foods are making a big splash in the restaurant industry.

Originally a preservation method, the earliest record of fermentation dates back as far as 6000 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent — and nearly every civilization since has included at least one fermented food in its culinary heritage. From ethnic staples such as Korean kimchi and Indian chutneys to the ubiquitous yogurt, global cultures have crafted novel flavors, textures, and traditions around fermentation.

Since fermentation is not new to the culinary scene you might ask yourself, "Why does this matter to my restaurant right now?" As it turns out, it might be more relevant than ever.

If you're ready to introduce fermented food to your restaurant, test the new menu item's efficiency with our Menu Engineering Bootcamp and learn how sales can increase by 27%.

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A Renewed Fascination with Food Fermentation

Bold, sometimes spicy, and with a touch of umami (funky in a good way), fermented foods have been appearing on restaurant menus for a few years now, mainly because they have earned mainstream food status. In fact, the very specific category of fermented foods is appealing to a wide array of diners.

From health food enthusiasts to old school cooks, fermentation continues to gain popularity. But the buy-in of one particular sect has cemented fermentations’ place as a top food trend in 2018.

Adventurous, Millennial Eaters

Have you or someone you love pickled a vegetable, drank sour beer, or touted the benefits homemade kombucha during the last 6-12 months?

If the answer is yes, chances are this person is between the ages of 18-34 and identifies as a millennial.

All joking aside, millennials play a huge role in influencing the progression of the American dining scene. They represent the largest demographic in the U.S. with over 80 million people and their purchasing power - now $247 billion in dollars spent dining out - is soon to surpass that of the Baby Boomers.

The average millennial palate demands more adventure than previous generations and fermented foods serve as a natural stepping stone down the path of exotic eating.

Served as a stand-alone side dish or as a unique ingredient to classic menu items, funky fermented foods can increase the value perception for millennial customers. After all, there’s something experimental (and even a little bit dangerous) about eating food that has been fermented that it should come as no surprise that it has stolen the hearts of so many thrill-seeking, young diners.

Taking Your Restaurant Menu to New, Fermented Heights

A menu selection that consists solely of fermented foods would probably be overkill, but incorporating some fermented elements might be the boost restaurant owners need to elevate their menus above the rest.

Creating Unique Flavor Profiles

Fermentation offers a unique and transformative flavor profile that you just can’t get anywhere else.

Take Baroo in Los Angeles for example – a Korean fusion quick service restaurant in a no-frills, strip mall nook. Their seasonal menu changes frequently and incorporates fermented foods as much as possible.

The house speciality, Noorook, is the holy grail of their fermented offerings: a lumpy gruel of fermented grains, died a pinky brown with beets, that's slightly tart and comically savory.

baroo los angelesNarook, Baroo Los Angeles

If that’s a little too jarring of a main course, look to Mission Chinese Food in New York City for inspiration.

Mission Chinese Food embodies an openness of mind and exploration of ingredients that keeps its menu constantly in flux and lines always long. From black vinegar and kefir cream to miso-cured salmon roe, MCF’s inclusion of fermented food elements give their dishes cravable complexity and depth of flavor.

While those ingredients probably sound a bit untraditional, you’d be surprised to see how many recognizable items populate the menu at Mission Chinese. Take a look at their signature Koji Fried Chicken entree – an American classic with a nouveau twist.

chicken MCF.jpeg

Koji Fried Chicken, Mission Chinese Food

At Mission, the fried chicken is dressed with koji (a.k.a. fermented rice), air-dried and fried per usual. The result is a perfectly crispy and caramelized rendition of an old-school favorite that has earned the acclaim of New York Magazine as the best fried chicken in New York City.

New Spins at Low Costs

For restaurants, fermented foods offer another important benefit: affordability. Many are cheap, with low food cost, offering a nice way to upsell classic menu items like hot dogs, soups, and other pub fare.

Blue Dragon in Boston, Massachusetts is a perfect example of fermented upselling. The restaurant is helmed by legendary chef/owner Ming Tsai (who recently appeared as a guest on Toast's podcast, The Garnish). From soy-pickled deviled eggs to a variety of pickled vegetables adorning sandwiches, Blue Dragon offers a unique twist of classic dishes.

blue dragon
Eggplant Sandwich topped with pickled vegetables, Blue Dragon

And why stop at food? There are plenty of other restaurants taking it to the next level by bringing fermented vegetables into their cocktail menus. The Gallows in Boston keeps things interesting during Sunday brunch by offering a specialty mezcal-based Bloody Marys garnished with pickled green beans.

the gallowsThe Gallows in Boston via Eater

The Future is Fermented

In recent years, fermentation has gone from an old-school process probably only witnessed in Grandma’s kitchen to a trendy, cutting-edge technique. There are so many factors contributing to the resurgence of fermented foods: it’s healthy and allows us the opportunity to repurpose food we would otherwise discard, but most importantly it’s accessible to restaurants of all concepts and cuisines.

Restaurants all over the country are experimenting with live cultures to bring new and unusual flavors to their menus, making fermentation a big trend still growing.

Making big changes to your menu? Download Toast's Menu Engineering Guide below!

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