This article originally appeared in the July 2016 “Foodie 40” issue of Buffalo Spree Magazine. For more of that issue, go here.
Many Buffalonians may remember ceramic crocks full of shredded cabbage or garlicky green cucumbers parked in dark corners of their Oma or Babcia’s kitchens. What our grandmothers knew—and a new generation of health and food fanatics is quickly rediscovering—is that those vessels of fermented foods are exceptionally good for the body and offer deliciously complex flavors without an abundance of preservatives, cost, or preparation.
Scientifically speaking, fermentation is the process by which an organism (such as wild or culinary yeast, bacteria like those in yogurt, a kombucha SCOBY, or a vinegar mother) converts starches or sugars into acid or alcohol.
On the tongue, it’s the tingly bite of a barrel-cured dill pickle, the bubbles and funky undertone in kombucha and beer, the active tang of sauerkraut and kimchi, the sour of sourdough. In the belly, fermentation introduces scores of probiotics, healthy organisms that boost the digestive system’s ability to regulate itself and bolster the immune system. It’s this distinctive duo of flavor and health that have spurred three fledgling fermentation operations to open downtown.
Buffalo Barrel + Brine peddles naturally fermented pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, vinegar, and miso from a Carolina Street corner shop on the West Side. Co-owner RJ Marvin, formerly of Elm Street Bakery, uses a combination of centuries-old recipes and new spins on old classics to satisfy a clientele that ranges from a woman who swears by fermented pickle brine as a health tonic to people looking to stock an epic Bloody Mary garnish station. Barrel + Brine’s handmade jars of goodness can also be found at Feel-Rite, Premier Gourmet, Guercio’s, and a handful of local breweries and restaurants.
Not far away on Connecticut Street, Bootleg Bucha brews up an ancient fermented tea called kombucha. The Bootleg crew uses natural herbs, spices, fruits, and roots to concoct refreshing flavor combinations like citra hops, blueberry-lavender, pomegranate, piña colada, and best-selling tart cherry-mint. Co-owner Jeff Empric says that not only can kombucha help with a host of ills (like reducing reliance on heartburn medication), it also makes a killer cocktail mixer—think ginger kombucha in a Moscow Mule. Bootleg Bucha is open five days a week for samplings, pints, and growler fills in the basement of Horsefeathers Market.
If you’d rather fiddle with ferments yourself, Buffalo-based online retailer Raw Rutes sells all the homesteading tools (many manufactured locally) you’ll need to pursue more active culinary adventures. Their collection includes several sizes of stoneware fermenting crocks, ’kraut kits, seasonings and starters, and how-to books. Bonus: shipping within Buffalo is free.