EDIBLE ALCHEMY: THE INCREDIBLE POWER OF FEARLESS FERMENTATION
"You have to be careful not to push your perspectives on other people that just don’t know... Sustainability shouldn't be a guilt trip. It should be a lifestyle and a decison" -- Alexis Goertz, co-founder Edible Alchemy
For this final episode in 2017, Claudi visited the wonderful Alexis Goertz, co-founder of the Edible Alchemy CoLaboratory (@ediblealchemy.co), co-founder of Mother Kombucha and quite a lot more. She is Berlin’s queen of fermentation, a self-proclaimed probiotic warrior and without a doubt one of the most energetic, positive, bubbly an charismatic women I know. If she’s not in Berlin she’s traveling through the lands with the Microbial Circus, she’s an avid adventurer, a culture dealer, bacteria barista and, and, and...
Apart from having the nicest participants on our green Berlin tours, it also warms our hearts when we think about how amazing our partners are. They’re so welcoming and giving - and also incredibly spontaneous when I sometimes call a few hours before, “hey can we come by at your atelier with 15 people”? And they’re like “yeah sure, come by”.
One these amazing partners - and meanwhile also good friends - is Alexis from Edible Alchemy. I had THE BEST time recording this interview with her. I could have chatted for hours and hours because what she does - and especially how she does it - is purely fascinating.
SOME QUICK FACTS ABOUT EDIBLE ALCHEMY
Through her platform Edible Alchemy, Alexis and her co-founder Natalie share tons of value-packed content about healthy lifestyles, food skills and creative experimentation through fermentation.
And fermentation has so many superpowers. But we’re not just talking about our health, it can also play a huge role in preventing food waste and even has the potential to eliminate hunger and disease.
Unfortunately, like with so many truly incredible healing forces of mother nature, our Western culture has become largely out of touch with our microbial world. Instead we tend towards processed, packaged, pasteurized and fast food.
So thank god Alexis is here to guide us back to the sustainable secrets of fermentation, through colorful events, free webinars, lots of great content on the website - and, most importantly, super fun, interactive, hands-on fermentation workshops.
Really guys, the whole story is absolutely capturing me. It’s a tale of adventure, braveness, travels, immersing with different cultures, empowerment through teaching - and, of course, eating the most delicious foods.
IN THIS PODCAST EPISODE, YOU'LL LEARN ABOUT:
- The secret forces of our brain-gut-connection
- Why fermentation can be a cutting edge tool for chefs and restaurant owners
- The beauty of creating a passion business that’s kicked off by demand
- The strong ties between our human cultures and fermented foods
- A life changing year in Mozambique
- Why teaching always empowers both the student and the teacher
- Why times have never been better to start with fermentation
- The importance of understanding other peoples’ position (put everything into perspective)
- Why fermentation can be a hugely beneficial technique for developing countries
- What are Maheo, Shambuku, Zobkis and Scobys
- The secrets behind the pickled mangos in Kathmandu
- The potential of survival in remote places through preservation of nutrients
- Why it’s so important to have a good microbiome (and how to get to this stage)
- The moment when Alexis knew that Berlin was ready for Edible Alchemy
- What makes Berlin’s food culture so intriguing for fermenters
- Why it’s so useful to meet and exchange with your competitors
- The mystics behind food expiry dates
- The biggest struggles in finding a kombucha brewery
- The power we have to prevent food waste within our own neighborhoods
- What makes the Edible Alchemy events & workshops so unique
- What’s Alexis’ longterm plan
And much, much more! Okay, you see there’s so much to take out of this interview, so let's not waste time and dive right in, shall we?
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST RIGHT HERE:
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EDIBLE ALCHEMY - INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:
CLICK HERE TO READ THE TRANSCRIPT:
C: Hi Alexis, welcome to the show! How are you doing? Very, very glad to be sitting here with you today! I’ve been super looking forward to this to happen, cause you’re always spreading a lot of good energy and are doing so many interesting and unusual things.
I think we first met in betahaus, that big coworking space in Kreuzberg, then I saw you with your “bacteria bar” at a bunch of events e.g. in Prinzessinnengärten… AND participated in your workshops on how to make delicious Kimchi, Kombucha ….
Since then I keep telling everyone about you.
Then we recently teamed up for our Circular Economy Tour & Dinner series in Kreuzkölln.
And the reason we knew it’d be such a great fit for that, was the connection between fermentation and food waste… But there is SO much more to it and I can’t wait to extract all those bubbly secrets and stories from you.
You know, I came across a few people now who are doing stuff with fermentation - but no one is by far as passionate about it as you are. You just got such an amazing way of catching people and getting them excited about all those bubbles and fizz and bacteria in your jars 🙂
Which is surely one of the reasons why your workshops are nearly always sold out! So even better that you found your very own studio space which is where we’re at now - but we gonna talk about all of that later. First, let’s put people into the scene what we’re actually talking about here.
And I could probably roughly explain what fermentation is, but actually you are just so much better at that 🙂
So, for the people out there who are not yet familiar with the ancient art of fermentation… could you just quickly explain what’s behind it? And maybe also mention some of the major benefits?
A: So fermentation is actually just a natural phenomenon. It's basically if we look at it in a scientific way it's used eating sugar creating bubbles. And we can see that everywhere. We can see that in beer, we can see that in our own ginger beer. When you're making your own Sauerkraut or kimchi, over the next days after you put it in a jar, you can see it bubbling and juicing out over and over.
Fermentation can sometimes be messy, but the end result is often very tasty. And the reason why we chose this name, Edible Alchemy, in this whole fermentation business - it could also be called “drinkable alchemy” - because we have a lot of drinkable things like wine and beer and very exotic other things that we might not know the names of now… Sake is fermented - pretty much everything that has alcohol in it is fermented.
And the whole Edible Alchemy: alchemists try to change the wind and the air and Saturn and Mars and the Earth into gold. Even though they weren’t successful, the idea of the name is that we’re changing normal, simple things that are around us, like grapes, to have more value for our bodies, into wine… Or kimchi: taking a whole cabbage and changing it into something with more flavor and also more nutritional benefit.
So a lot of the times, this whole probiotic fad that’s going right now is about this living bacteria and that’s sort of repopulating our gut microbiome. And this is a really big topic right now - which is why Edible Alchemy is also working really well right now - is because people are interested. They wanna know how things are working inside their body. They’re realizing that it’s connected also to the outside, like our skin. Or the way we feel, the way we are thinking things because there’s a gut-brain-connection. The way that we’re digesting things and our overall attitude.
“You are what you eat”, this expression… In German they say “Du bist was du isst” - sounds even better. And it’s really really true. And in many many languages there’s even these other idioms or expressions like “follow your gut feeling”. Again, in German they have one “Bauchgefühl” (=gut feeling). And this has never been more true than now I would say.
C: Yeah! You already touched on so many different benefits here. One of course being the health aspect. I totally agree that this is becoming more and more important. Now people wanna know what’s going on in their bodies, but also what’s in their food and not just eat all this processed and packaged and unnatural sh*** that’s been out there. For that I think fermentation has a big role to play.
And then, the zero waste aspect is also a really big one, because it’s about preserving food, making them durable and not throwing so much away if you have a bit leftover...
A: For me, this has always been an issue, because of say, growing my own crops and small garden things. And it’s always such a shame when there’s parts of a plant that you can’t use raw, for example the core of cabbages. You cannot really eat them so often, because it’s very hard and people often throw them out.
But say, you have a bunch of cabbage cores, you can put them all together in a glass with salt. And overtime you get an amazing crunchy pickled cabbage core, with whatever seeds or seasonings that you want. Or broccoli stems are a great example. Or pineapple skins to make vinegar. I always do this fruit scrap vinegar - so all the fruit scraps and onion peels that people are putting in the compost or in the garbage unfortunately, you can throw in a big jar with some sugar and over weeks create your own custom living vinegar.
There’s SO many techniques to reduce food waste. And often at my workshops - especially the vinegar workshops - there should be pretty much zero bio waste at the end, cause this should all be in your jar. And teaching people new techniques how to transform food that is just about to go bad, to suddenly spike up in nutrition and also flavor. And also use the full capabilities of fruits and vegetables or grains and seeds…
Because, there is just too much food waste!
And part of the project “Edible Alchemy” started with reducing food waste in stores. You know the stores that are throwing ugly vegetables away. Or organizations that can’t sell them. So we would go to these places where they say “hey we don’t sell these three-legged carrots, so why don’t you use them to make whatever you want”.
We also worked with people that were professional dumpster divers. And meeting people that say “hey I saved all these vegetables there’s more than enough - could you use them?” Then of course, we claimed at the workshops “these are saved vegetables, use them as you want, but you can see what quality they’re in” - often, quite good. Maybe a bruise here or there, but usable.
C: Totally! This is really cool that you basically started… That was back in Canada with the dumpster divers…
A: And here in Germany as well.
C: That’s definitely… I mean just this idea to work with dumpster divers, or to save food, is just such a good way - are you still actually doing it here? Working with saved foods?
A: From saved foods usually from grocery stores that we have a connection with and then they give you extra. Or working with bigger organizations that save it from… they maybe have Turkish market connections where they say “get the rest”, I mean, there’s just SO much food that isn’t being sold.
Or there’s a lot of CSA’s, these garden cooperatives that say “hey, we grew so much cabbage, but you know, everyone took three cabbages home but now we still have 100 left - what can we do with them?” I mean, this is in our history that we say: Let’s make Sauerkraut, or Let’s have it over the winter, so that we preserve the quality and even double the nutrition level, or quadruple or even ten-times as many nutrients as there was before, but also have really tasty treats the whole winter.
This is now also going into the culinary scene, the gastronomy scene. They say I want the newest flavor out there. I want something that nobody else has. And that’s where fermentation comes into play. Because there are very complex flavors, with this whole yeast eating sugar action, creating a more acidic environment. You never know what you gonna get. Even if you’re doing the same recipe twice, thrice, four-times, the result will always be a little bit different - also according to your environment.
That's where restaurant owners take advantage of this natural phenomenon, saying: "We’ve got the craziest sauce in town, come try it out, it’s gonna make your tongue sing." And who knows, this goes into so many directions: cultural, taste, food waste - for me, fermentation reaches really a lot of different fields.
C: Definitely! The nutritional facts, we’re diving into in a tiny little bit. I just wanted to talk about your background first, or how you’re actually got into this whole thing in the first place. Because, the funny thing is, looking at your background, you didn’t actually study biology or chemistry or any other science, nope - it was International Development!
Take us on that journey how, from there, you got first in touch with fermentation? And then ultimately launched Edible Alchemy?
I studied international development, so culture has always been important. I wanted to be with people, in different corners on the earth. Then, when I was 18, I went to Mozambique for a year and stayed in a very remote village - and the first things you learn is to survive. You know, I was a freak of nature there.
Food and water is your basic thing and there is no refrigeration! Soon they gave me a drink called Maheo. It's a fermented corn meal drink and on the 3rd day it started sparkling. Westerners probably wouldn‘t want it, cause it’s too slicky and has too many carbohydrate. But in Mozambique, these are essential. The next level of fermented drinks I tried there: Shambuku: and it's basically a 1 month fermented maheo, so really high alcohol. Looking back it was probably a bit dangerous - but definitely very intriguing...
I travelled to 39 countries and I noticed everywhere is something fermented. You cannot find one place, one country, one village, that doesn’t ferment something. And people are doing it purposefully, it’s part of their culture. They’re culturing culture within their culture. This is us wrapping our minds around what this word “culture” means.
Like the cheeses in France, they have their special caves and they’re microbiomes in themselves. Milk in one cave, the same milk in another cave and you will get just two different cheeses, that’s because of that different environment in there.
So I started exploring this whole idea, after I came home from Mozambique, with another friend from my International Development class, Natalie. She was also in Nepal for some time, and we both started exploring this bacterial culture thing with food. We were both already into food and how it nurtures the body. That’s how we started experimenting together. We got hold of different bacteria cultures.
And as a natural entrepreneur, I put it online on, kind of like craigslist - in Canada it’s called kijiji. And I said “milk kefir grains: $10 - and I just grew these things. Someone gifted me a tablespoon and now I have 10 tablespoons. Maybe I can sell them, cause I don’t need so many. And sure enough I had people crowding for this until I didn’t have enough to sell anymore. And I thought maybe I should see why people want this. So I started asking people: what’s the problem, why do you need this? And it was often because of issues with their gut health or they, or a friend had cancer.
Then I started meeting more foodie freaks like me and we started trading bacteria, so my inventory grew. I had water kefir, milk kefir, different yoghurt cultures in the Scandinavian region, kombucha, of course. And picking up the skills I thought: there are enough people to teach this to! So Natalie and I opened up a workshop and we had more interest than we thought. That’s how Edible Alchemy was born basically.
C: Amazing! It’s just crazy, you put something out there and you think maybe a few people are interested in that - but no, there’s actually so many more! I mean, this is the most beautiful way of starting a business.
A: And the time is right! I mean, we have to admit that if this was 10 years ago, it may not have run, because peoples’ anxiety over bacteria, yeast and mold was so high. You were having this anti-bacterial spray and were actually afraid of it. And finally, now, we‘re kind of riding this wave, already of our own interest, but there is this scientific research wave of information coming in how important bacteria is. So we’re just being supported by this research.
[22:10] C: Right, that’s super interesting! Just jumping back to Mozambique, because it interests me: how did you actually get this internship? Cause you were saying that it is so remote. Was it through the university
A: No, it was just on my own accord. There is an organization called Mennonite Central Committee. That’s worldwide and I think their base is in the States somewhere. And I applied for their youth mobility program where they send young people off to different places in the world to help out. I was too young at that time, usually people were around 28 and I was 18, but I was like: whatever, I’m going to apply anyway, because....
"I feel like I have skills to offer and I feel like I have energy to give and I just need to get out and see the world"
When I applied they said that I was too young to go to Africa, but because I speak Spanish, they wanted to send me to Latin America. But I was so insisting, I had a passion since I was 4 to go to Africa and I said “please, please, I want to go to Africa, I have to go to Africa, I need to go there”. And they said “well there’s this new position that nobody’s ever done before and some Mozambiquan partner brought it up to the headquarter and said it would be really cool to have someone in our village. But we’ve never written a job description for it and we’ve never sent anyone out there, only Mozambiquans have been there, so we’re not quite sure. But maybe we can talk about it.
We did a skype interview and they asked if I could handle harsh conditions, if I’d gone camping before. And I was like “oh yeah, yeah, I’m Canadian - bugs, camping, not a problem”. Seemed like it went well and I accepted the position. So I was the first one - and because of the hard conditions I think also the last one - that accepted the role in the girl’s center.
But it’s been the best year of my life, I would still say one of the most growing times where I also recognized that I wanted to be a teacher. Because I had a lot of open ears, eyes, that were willing to hear, listen and also teach me back and forth. It was a really good relationship and I discovered that teaching is so empowering. I feel empowered, they feel empowered. And whatever skills are out there, just keeping an open mind can do so much.
Amazing. What was an experience there that changed you most? Was it the teaching bit? Or was it something else?
A: I would definitely say so, yes. Just learning that I can be a teacher and I can be someone who empowers other people, but also having the openness to be empowered myself.
It’s about that exchange and also being there and being reflected and being reflective about yourself - because, nobody spoke English. And it’s an entire year that you’re living without electricity. You don’t have any connection except for a very poor Nokia mini cellphone, to talk with the rest of the world once in a while. So you’re really, really there.
[25.50] And your world of cars and cities and industrial places is so foreign to these people that you are an alien. Just opening yourself up and saying: I’m an alien, but I’m willing to be with you. And I’m willing to learn and open to give my perspectives, but also not push anything on anyone. I mean if there’s something that they can change…
"It’s not my responsibility to go in there and say: hey, you should all be going to the theatre on Friday night and doing all these things and having salaries… that’s putting unnecessary pressure on people that just don’t understand"
So, just opening myself up - and also, when I went back to Canada, to not put pressure on people that didn’t know my world in Mozambique. I didn’t say: hey, you’re throwing this away, there’s children in Africa starving… I could have! I saw that, you know, I was there! You know the World Vision commercials, where there’s kids starving in Africa. That is not all of Africa. I would definitely say you go to South Africa, there’s people richer there than you’ve ever met. But there are places like that still that DO exist - and that’s where I was.
And to not say to my mom: the water is running! Do you know that I had to carry my water by hand and carry it a kilometer to take a shower from a bucket ?! I mean, I could have been that person, but
"you have to be careful not to push your perspectives on other people that just don’t know"
...and address the issues in a better way. And I think that’s what GreenMe Berlin is also doing. It’s just opening people’s minds and saying: this is just a smarter way to be and look at what we can do. Rather than “this is what you shouldn’t be doing”. I mean, don’t do the “don’t, don’t, don’t” but rather say: look and see, something new!
C: Totally! Thanks for drawing that connection! I was already thinking “yeah, yeah, yeah, I SO agree with this. It’s absolutely what I so strongly believe in and it’s what we’re trying to do is just showing how much fun it can be. And that sustainability is not all about ‘you shouldn’t do’ and ‘you have to stop this’...
A: "It shouldn’t be a guilt trip, but it should be a lifestyle and a decision!"
C: EXACTLY! Woah, must have been such a life-changing experience there. I always say that travel is just so important to open your eyes. Of course, you fly, the CO2… But I also think it’s wrong just to lock yourself up wherever you are, just to be more environmental. I think it’s important to understand the bigger picture. That everything is connected out there.
When I travel to developing countries - and I mean, that wasn’t even half as intense as your experience, because my maximum was three months India. But these experiences, they make me so humble and they make me also very grateful… Like when you’re back in your Western world and you suddenly have everything there. At the same time, you learn so much from those people there, that are far away from luxury and all those amenaties and consumption - you learn what life is actually really about.
[29:40] And what’s also really incredible about the story with Mozambique is that fermentation is also a hugely important technique for developing countries! It’s making food more nutritious AND durable! Do you think that fermentation could play an important role in solving issues in the developing world, like hunger, disease etc. ?
A: Definitely! You’re looking at places… Even in Nepal where I was climbing in the Himalayas for one month, also no cars, no motorbikes, no cellphones… The things they have in the Himalayas - and we’re thinking Everest here, that was the view when I woke up every morning…
You do not have fresh vegetables there. Everything is carried up on the back of a person, or on the back of a Zopki, which is a breed between a Yak and a cow… There’s just rice and daal, and even the daal is dull 🙂 which means there’s often no salt, or very little spices. But when you’re eating in those little huts in the mountains, then suddenly they bring out this pickled mango that someone made in Katmandu - and this is the one thing that brightens up the plate. It has spice, it has salt, it has flavor and tang and it just makes the whole plate alive. And everything you eat is bio-available. So suddenly all these nutrients from the fermentation process are unlocked and even preserved over time. So that far, far away places that don’t get vegetables for a long time can survive harsh conditions.
In terms of Mozambique, people were eating these things and feeling good, you know, pumping up their immune systems against common sicknesses. It’s SO important to have a good microbiome and if you’re just eating very basic things, you’re gut microbiome is also very basic and thus vulnerable to other, more complex things. Say if an outsider comes in and brings something.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been eating fermented foods for all of my travels and I NEVER got sick. And I also was in India for two months and I was super happy that I could eat all of the streetfood. I put it all on eating good living foods already, so that the extra living foods in India didn’t bother me as much 🙂
Me too, me too! I had similar… I didn’t have that knowledge about fermented foods back then, but now that you actually say it, it’s true! There was also all those pickled mangos…
I actually put it on that this was the time where I started to eat vegetarian (or much less meat back then), because I decided that I want to eat from the streets, so I just won’t eat meat, just to be safe. But also, of course, there were all those pickles.
On top, I was never, but never ever in my life so obsessed with… I mean some people travel with all their sprays and desinfect everything. I was just never really brought up like that and always thought that people who are over-obsessing with these kind of things, they are actually getting sick because their guts cannot handle anything else. It’s really funny this connection...
[33:25] Just to make a little shift now: What brought you actually to Berlin?
A: Aaah, another interesting story. I was doing Edible Alchemy for a year in Canada, but I already knew I was gonna be moving to Europe. I come from Winnipeg, which is a very amazing little city, but I seemed to already know at a young age that I was not gonna stay there. I don’t know it it’s their -50 °C weather or what it was exactly - but I definitely had a craving to go somewhere else.
So I’ve been traveling the world and also exploring some more bacterial things on the way and ended up hitch-hiking from Brussels to Berlin, with the idea that I would be living in Berlin for 1 year. The visa was easy to get, this youth mobility visa as well.
I ended up opening up my first bacteria bar at Trial & Error Recycled Creativity Festvial. So there’s another organisation called Trial & Error, they’re an NGO, doing all sorts of artistic upcycling things. They got a space in Neukölln. I was a part of the group and I proposed my idea of having probiotic drinks and calling my bar the “bacteria bar”.
Because "I already knew Berlin seemed a bit edgy and this name was going to freak people out a little bit and they’re gonna be intrigued 🙂 "
At the festival, I opened up the bar and from the moment I stood there, everything was sold out within a few hours and the bar was never empty until I had nothing left and packing up to go. And that was proof for me that Edible Alchemy is ready to be brought to Berlin.
Luckily, I brought all my bacteria with me - I dehydrated them for the long travel, so I rehydrated them and started to get everything going again…
So you always travel with your whole little kit of bacteria? Did you never have problems at the airport sometimes??
A: I did not take them to New Zealand and Australia because of quarantine, but in other places... a couple got confiscated but otherwise I often say it’s some kind of facial cream like my yoghurt cultures… So, a lot of them made it of course and I’ve collected a lot more since then.
The community in Berlin has very much open arms to this idea and has really thrived here and around Europe, I’m super happy. Also, the food culture here is SO much greater. The cheese for example. In Winnipeg, I was finding Cheddar, Mozzarella and Marble - and Marble is a combination of Cheddar and Mozzarella 🙂 You cannot find so many varieties like here, on the street you find a cheese monger and he has something like 100 varieties of cheese and 20 of those could be different blue cheeses.
I just get super intrigued by the whole food culture. Cheese, wine and how available it is. It’s actually like paradise for this whole fermentation thing. And also peoples’ previous understanding from their forefathers.
Definitely. Food-wise, there’s been so much happening here in the last years. I moved to Berlin 11 years ago - and it was very different back then. I guess it would have been more difficult. Still, Berliners, or people living in Berlin, they LOVE to try new things. If it sounds a bit weird and a bit unusual, they’re in. That’s what I think makes it a great place for having Edible Alchemy here.
[37:00] You were just talking about the Trial & Error project. Apart from that, is there a good scene? A good fermentation scene in Berlin, who you can exchange with or share ideas?
A: I think it’s growing. I started up another project called Mother Kombucha and brewing kombucha here in Berlin and from that, meeting a lot of restaurant owners who are doing projects and the whole gastronomy scene - and meeting also my competitors, which is actually really useful, really good, to almost build a community that way and say: hey, what are you guys doing and how is it going for you in the kombucha world?
Besides, talking internationally with different people. It’s been really good and I just think that people are getting more and more excited about it.
Absolutely, I agree. And I think this is a really good point, I love that you say that - of course, it’s competitors, but it’s so valuable for everyone to just exchange ideas and kind of work together in a way…
A: Sure, spread the knowledge! Here in Germany, compared to America where Kombucha is very known already and the market is flooded and saturated. Whereas here nobody knows about it. It’d be really hard to sell a drink that nobody knows. And very few people do know it. However,
" the more competitors there are in the market who sell Kombucha, the more power we have to make this drink understandable and get people excited about the drink"
Means I’m actually happy for more competitors to spread the knowledge - and also, make the city almost a healthier city with all the knowledge and the good bacteria.
"My longterm plan is to get more living foods on the market"
That would also contribute to less food waste! The whole knowledge of how long food should stay on the shelves. How to get it at a quicker rate and not just put it on the shelves and let it sit there for too long.
Do you mean that there would be living foods in the supermarket?
A: Yes! Real kimchi. Not pasteurized Sauerkraut - how it used to be in a way. We’re getting of course more exotic flavors on the market here that people can appreciate. But just to help peoples’ understanding of expiry dates. That, only because it has a short expiry date doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s alive and our food shouldn’t last for 40 years on our shelves. We have unrealistic expectations how long food should be there. We’re not living in war times anymore and we don’t have to prepare for the apocalypse right now.
[40:30] Exactly. Tell me about the Mother Kombucha. Of course, I know it, I found it in lots of cafés, starting in betahaus. You decided at some point to make your own Kombucha brand. You started that here in Berlin, right? How did that happen?
A: I was doing a bacteria bar again and some people were trying out my homebrewed kombucha, different flavors, and one guy approached me and said: ah, kombucha, I know a guy that’s also brewing it, you are the only two people I’ve ever seen doing this. I gotta call him and you have to meet right now.
Clemens, my business partner, came over and proposed us doing something together and make an actual product. And it’s been such an adventure! Trying to find breweries who would let us in and brew - because, it’s a living product and a lot of beer breweries are afraid of these living yeasts. Finding the right place and then marketing the drink - it’s a living drink so the expiry date is shorter than your Fritz Cola… and so many differnt development hurdles, and hurdling over and over. However, so much to learn and it’s really a fun thing to do.
We’re hoping that in the next year, in 2018, we have the next launch of new flavors and more products to offer.
Awesome! Awesome, awesome. Since you started Edible Alchemy, it’s really come a long way.
Now, you are ‘culture dealers’ in the sense of delivering small jars of those fizzing substances to others. You are ‘bacteria baristas’ meaning you serve up herbal, cultured tinctures at art shows, festivals, events. You are also workshop facilitators AND you created an amazing online platform to share your knowledge & skills and I’m definitely of course putting all the links to your projects in the show notes.
A: Yeah, bacteria is proliferating. I mean that’s the idea of the project 🙂 To share the knowledge with other people… Again, knowledge is SO empowering.
"To know more about our food is also to know more about our culture and about ourselves"
Within our economies, within our own neighborhoods to know: what can we do with this extra food and what can we do with food from the grocery store when they’re throwing that away. Just to become aware in all senses.
[43:30] C: And you are doing an awesome part in that. And also a big part of that are your workshops, so let’s talk about those a little a bit: What happens in the workshops? And what makes you most excited about giving the workshops?
A: I give fermentation workshops of all sorts. Now it’s expanded to cultured butter & yoghurt, bread, kimchi, Sauerkraut, water kefir, kombucha, tempeh, miso, all of these things. And I love to give them because of this whole empowerment thing, to give people all this knowledge and understanding.
I mean, this would also help me in the future, say I launched a new kimchi product on the market and people say: I know kimchi, I even know how to make it, but I still wanna buy it - either because they don’t have enough time, or because they really love the flavor.
In the workshops, basically what happens is that everyone is welcome to try the probiotic snack bar. There’s always a lot of food and drinks and snacks. Everything on the table should be alive, it’s living. It’s to get over that concept, that fear that people have: “ugh, living food” - I mean, it doesn’t meant that there’s maggots in it or anything. But it might be sparkling. The water kefir might pop when I open it. The ginger beer might have some kind of volcano if I open it too quickly. These are the foods that are so rich in nutrients, you might feel it in your gut. It’s to educate people about that. And every workshop you go home with something.
“You go home with your own creation, you learn the process of how to do it and take that skill home for life.”
It’s really one of the best investments. And I’m not just saying that people come to the workshop, but I really think it’s an investment for life. You have that skill and you can build on it and it’s your springboard to many more things.
I can confirm that. I joined the kimchi workshop and it’s just heaps of fun, first of all, and it’s just something different - lots of us are sitting behind the laptops all the time, or in the office, and this just brings people together from all kind of different backgrounds, having a really fun time, creating something with your own hands… And maybe you don’t do the kimchi on your own all the time then, but you just have such a better understanding. I always tell people to go to your workshops 🙂
Now it’s actually really cool, because you have your own studio space, which probably opens up many new opportunities for you. I know your workshops are always quickly sold out and for you it must have been kind of a hassle to always find a location. Even though it’s also connecting of course. Is that kind of the next chapter in the Edible Alchemy story?
A: Yeah, I mean, there’s always many steps. At this stage, having my own space is going to free up a lot more time that I don’t have to spend going to many different spaces on my bicycle - because I’m a very avid cyclist - I always have to bring a lot of things there.
Now it’s very convenient that I can set it up in my own time and open up as many workshops as I possibly can for the people who want them. And also to be a host for people who need a workshop space. It’s a community space, I invite people to come here anytime, when I’m here push open the door, meet me, check out the cultures - it’s a place where people can come and discuss and also try. So I’m excited for this.
And then the other whole door opening will be online. At the moment I’m working on online courses so that people can access this knowledge anywhere they want. Good reading material, good video material, make it with me online. I’m at your fingertips as a resource, I’m very much part of this community. You can email and I’m responding, because
"I wanna be amongst the people, even though it’s an online platform"
Cool, I’m really excited to follow that! I think it’s definitely a good mix to have, a face-to-face offer for people who are here, but then also spread it further for those who can’t be here.
I just quickly wanna talk about something else. I don’t know if you give away a secret, but what advice do you normally give to people who want to get started with fermentation? (obviously come to your workshops). What’s the best food or drink to start with? Is there any book or other resource you recommend ?
A: I mean, I don’t say people have to come to my workshops, if they want to experiment on their own that’s great. It’s always about your personal taste. Say you don’t like kimchi, Sauerkraut or pickles, maybe you like something more sweet like water kefir or kombucha, I would say start in that direction. Or if you do like the whole vegetable thing, you know, it’s easier because you don’t need any of these cultures.
There’s a difference between cultured and wild fermentation. If you’re doing vegetables, all you need is salt, water and its environment, which is often a glass jar. It’s quite easy, even on the website there’s recipes for kimchi and Sauerkraut that people can get for free and even a webinar with me that you can watch and make it with me, or make it alongside.
Fermentation sounds scary - yeast, bacteria, mold sound intimidating, but are actually really great to work with, super tasty and help us a lot in our daily lives, being functioning people. This is always a point I’m trying to get across with what I do.
True. I also think lot of people struggle with being confused what foods are good and what aren’t - overwhelmed by all the new (and often contradicting) information flooding over them. What can I actually still eat...
Maybe you can share your approach to eating the “right things”: Are you super strict with your diet in a certain way? Do you only eat fermented foods 🙂 ? What’s most important to you?
A: Yeah, I had the question quite often: What is your diet? Do you eat only strange things? And I’m like: no, no, no, no, no - yes, yes, yes, yes, yes 🙂
Of course I do. If you look at my fridge you’ll see lots of jars with strange things that you do not know. Inside there should be really explosive flavors. But I encourage people to just have a diverse diet. For me that’s my key. I do not restrict myself to not have candy, or cake, I love cake.
I am not a vegetarian although I do not buy meat, just because of the sustainable aspect. But let’s say somebody prepares me something and says: you should try this, and it’s coming from a good source, and I feel that there’s value in what they made for me, I’m gonna try it. I’m a flexitarian.
“I think to be more flexible in your diet and to bring in more diverse things keeps your gut guessing.”
Which is a really good thing. It’s also a muscle, like our brain. To learn new things, to expand that knowledge and our body as well needs to have a diverse diet. Not having the same thing every day, because as soon as you put something new in there, it’s gonna freak out. So if you’re constantly putting new things in there, it’s just gonna be prepared for whatever comes next.
YES! I think that’s such an important point, not to freak out about your diet. If people ask me - I’m mainly vegan, but am also actually flexible and I share that approach: when someone prepares all this for me… or when I travel, I wanna try the local food, or when I really wanna have a piece of cheese, I’m just gonna have a piece of cheese. I think the most important thing is just to be aware and to mainly do good choices, but not limiting yourself to that. Because otherwise, we have this freedom bug in us that just wants to break out. So I’m totally on your line with that.
After chatting about all these things, it becomes even more clear to me, that you have a ton of different things going on! We already mentioned it, apart from your own workshops, you’re involved in heaps of cool events, you have your Mother Kombucha, you’re building your online course…
Yet you always seem super energetic and relaxed at the same time 🙂 How do you manage to keep up the energy and always be super positive and bubbly?
A: I definitely contribute it to the probiotics. You are what you eat is definitely a part of the game. I think having a healthy diet and just feeling good frees up time to think about other things. You know, if you’re feeling ill - I mean I’m not totally invincible, I have been sick here once in a while and it definitely limits me from thinking straight and getting things done. So as I’m feeling good, I’m motivated to do the next thing.
As a freelancer, you pick and choose your times to work. Which can be a gift or a curse at the same time. I mean you can work as little or as much as you want. However, working on something that I personally feel is worthwhile is so much fun. I feel like I could just never sleep and continue exploring and inventing and making in my little chemistry lab or sharing with people. But of course, sleep is also important, it’s part of the game.
Oh man, that’s so nice. I can really relate to that, just do what you love and get people excited about it.
Before we move on to the final bit, I just wanna throw this question into the room - thinking about all those things you’re passionate about, or the things that you built up, or maybe also just general in your life - What are you most grateful for right now?
A: This building. I’m now in the Boppstraße in Kreuzberg, Graefekiez and I’m biased when I say it’s the most beautiful Kiez in the whole of Berlin, where I have my space. And on the very top of this building, I have my rooftop garden, and underneath the top is my apartment. Everything seems quite centred here, which means I can spread that energy around the rest of Berlin. This is kind of like the great meeting point for me.
Being in Berlin now for 3.5 years, I’ve reached that point where I feel that this is really home. And being an avid traveler and being to 39 countries, I finally found a place that I say, I could be for a long time. And that is super unusual.
For all those travelers out there who believe that can never happen to you: it’s pretty surreal. To feel that, woah, this is a place I’m gonna be for some time now.
Wow, that’s powerful. I’m not even sure if I found that just yet. I mean, of course, Berlin is the base and I know why….
A: Yeah, I mean, it’s always changing. And I’m not saying it’s the law and I’ll be here forever. But just at the moment, settling here… uch, I never thought I’d say the word “settle” 🙂
We’ll see what happens. I say, I’ll be in this space for the next 6 months for sure and perhaps keep doing the microbial circus, which is another line with Edible Alchemy. It’s the touring part. Sort of an edutainment - entertainment and education. That’s what the microbial circus is all about. I travel often with Natalie, the original co-founder, we go together, pick up new skills, teach other skills and collect bacteria and bring them to new corners of the world.
The next microbial circus will probably be next year February. You have to go when the weather is cold.
Definitely! Where is it gonna be, do you know?
A: Often we go to colder places actually 🙂 Last year we went to Iceland. Which was amazing. And definitely dark. But beautiful in its own way. We tried a lot of fermented things, like their famous “Hauka”, which is fermented shark. It’s very very strong and makes your eyes water before it even hits your mouth…
That sounds crazy! Now let’s get to the final bit. First of all, I could just go on forever sitting here with you and listening to all those amazing stories. I’d say let’s draw it slowly towards the finish.
As always, I’d like to know: Since starting out on that journey to fearless fermentation - what was your biggest learning so far?
A: There’s so many things. I would say it’s even delivering a workshop in a second language and letting myself really do that, having enough confidence.
“So here I am in Germany, teaching the Germans how to make Sauerkraut, auf Deutsch :)”
This is something I feel I’m proud of, but it’s always something to work on. And I think to teach someone in another language something that is another language - which is microbiology.
Wow, that’s a pretty big thing. But your German is awesome, by the way. Second thing, if you could change one thing in Berlin within the next 24 hours - what would it be?
A: The amount of sun that comes in November / December. Berlin has a lot of energy I wouldn’t change that. A lot of interesting people and I like that. I would just say the sunshine that affects people, or people working at the Bürgeramt to be more friendly 🙂
Oh yeah, sunshine, definitely a big part. But who knows what it would do to the energy of the Berliners! It would be totally exploding.
A: Yes! Or if we’re thinking in the sustainable way, perhaps installing more ashtrays around the place. It’s a heavy smoker city and there’s just a lot of cigarettes all over the place and it could be nice to have some artsy ‘Aschenbecher’.
That’s actually a good idea! Berlin senate, or whoever is responsible for that, you know what you got to do! Next, what question should I have asked you but didn’t?
A: Maybe you asked me everything. What question… Well, I could say, definitely check out ediblealchemy.co - “co” for collaboration, colaboratory - and check out what workshops are coming up. Please feel free, if there are avid fermenters out there, to share your recipes and I’d love to post them with the community and get inspiration out there. So check out the website and maybe what workshops come up that might be inspiring you to join if you’re in Berlin.
(Find all the links below the photo section)
Final question: If there was one thing you could pass on to the GreenMe Berlin community/ people out there - what would it be?
A: Let’s reduce the food waste and think about creating more interesting vinegars, for example. You can create vinegars out of onion peels, pommegranate skins, apple skins and cores and
"...let’s just see how little food waste we could possibly make by creating more unique, tasty, complex things with our, what we would call ‘waste products’"
YEAH! I’m so up for this and wanna really push this. It just leaves me to say thank you SO much, for your time, and for sharing all those amazing stories. And also in general, for being here with us in Berlin, to stay here, to spread this whole movement and really open peoples’ minds and their taste buds. I just deeply acknowledge you for the work that you do with Edible Alchemy. And for being so passionate about sharing and empowering people to live a healthier life and create a healthier planet.
A: And you!
Haha, awesome - thanks so much!
THIS IS EDIBLE ALCHEMY
credit: Mira Maria Wissmann
Guys, I think that might be the last time we hear each other before the change of years. I just wanna thank you for being on this incredible journey with us!
Thanks so much for listening to the podcast, for telling others about it, for coming on our tours - and simply, for helping us push the eco movement forward and showing the world how much fun it can be to live and act more sustainably. It’d be lovely to see you all sooner or later and explore the Berlin green scene together.
Have an amazing Christmas time, pay lots of gratitude and kindness and respect for this beautiful planet and all our fellow human beings AND then let’s kick start the new year with lots of positive energy AND change the world! Ohhhh yessss.....
EDIBLE ALCHEMY - SHOWNOTES & LINKS MENTIONED
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