Local Kimchi: A Fermentation Celebration


Image courtesy of Sinto Gourmet

Every product you see on a store shelf has a story behind it, but most of us never learn 99 percent of those stories.

Feast Bay recently met Hyunjoo Albrecht, who has cooked at San Francisco fine-dining hub Aqua and now helms the Sinto Gourmet kimchi company. Its name honors an old Korean saying, sinto buri, which means "body and soil cannot be separated," e.g. our bodies and souls are at their best when we eat natural foods. 

Sold in many East Bay stores, vegan and MSG- and preservative-free Sinto kimchis are handcrafted using almost entirely local products and packed in sustainable glass jars in San Francisco, then distributed via a Richmond company. Korean-born Albrecht, who learned kimchi-making from her grandmother and who is depicted above, also participates in Oakland's Eat Real Festival every year. 

She told me the heart-wrenching story behind her newest kind of kimchi, which she calls Plenty Roots:

"Last year," she said, "my friend got diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I cooked for him during the cancer treatment -- chemo and radiation -- and learned so much about root vegetables packed with anti-oxidants and vitamins C, B, and A, and how they help to clean the system."

Her friend survived.

"This personal experience inspired me to come up with Plenty Roots. Since California's Bay Area is full of farms growing all sorts of root vegetables, I just took those organic roots and fermented them in the style of a traditional Korean kimchi, called ‘Dongchimi,' which boasts a clean, earthy, and floral flavor."

Crunchy and as vividly colorful as a jar of jewels, "Plenty Roots creates this flavor [too] by incorporating ginger, orange peel, apple juice -- no sugar! -- and fine sea salt."

It also includes carrots, red beets, daikon radishes, turnips, rutabagas and onions.

Asked how she (and Sinto) might gently dismantle the average person's preconceived notions about kimchi, Albrecht helpfully noted the following:

"Kimchi is not just Napa cabbage spiced up and fermented with red-pepper powder. 

"Kimchi is made in hundreds of different ways using hundreds of different vegetables. 

"There is spicy kimchi and there is not-spicy kimchi.

"Kimchi is good not only for lunch and dinner; it can be eaten for breakfast as well. 

"Kimchi can be eaten raw but kimchi is also an ingredient to cook with rice, broth, meat, etc. 

"Kimchi can be stinky with fish sauce and actual seafoods in it, but there is vegan kimchi as well."

And given that 2015 might be The Year Kimchi Crossed Over & Became Totally Mainstream, since we're talking about locally made, vegan, East Bay-distributed kimchi, also consider Genuine Grub, a new Marin County-based company whose distributor is in Alameda. Its brine-free pickled cucumbers, spicky pickled radishes, spicy pickled cabbage and other products are probiotic powerhouses. 

Try them all! Your digestive tract will almost certainly thank you.

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