At Cheetah we love staying at the forefront of kitchen and cooking trends. The Bay Area is home to cutting edge cooks from around the world testing out and perfecting their craft. Hyunjoo Albrecht of Sinto Gourmet, a local producer of Kimchi, Gochujang and other Korean specialties, is one such food entrepreneur.
A History of Sinto Kimchi
Hyunjoo creates kimchi and other fermented delicacies in a large kitchen in South San Francisco. As we walk through the kitchen we see ten or more people cutting huge heads of Napa cabbage and packing sauces into large containers. She explains that her first memories with kimchi are a far cry from where she is today.
Hyunjoo began making kimchi with her grandmother, who lived very close to the North/South Korea DMZ, when she was about five. She started by peeling the ginger. After a few years she was allowed to chop the cabbage. A few years later she stood proudly at her grandmother’s side, able to concoct a perfect version of their hometown recipes. Kimchi is such a part of Korean identity that when South Korea launched their first astronaut into space, they sent her with a good helping of kimchi to make it through the journey!
Hyunjoo eventually found her way working for tech companies in the Bay Area “just selling router switches, firewalls, VPN and all that.” In 2003 she realized she never wanted to work for a corporation again. Around this time she went to culinary school, experimented with her kimchi recipes, and started her business right from her own living room when friends, and friends-of-friends couldn’t get enough! To the right, you can check out our latest Spotlight Reel featuring Hyunjoo and her team!
Today, Hyunjoo’s ties to the Korean peninsula persist. Not only does she offer authentic food from her childhood to all those interested, but is also active in the Long Beach nonprofit “Liberty in North Korea.” She shares with me one of Sinto’s core missions: “We raise funds to support North Korean refugees and encourage families and friends to join the movement.” LNK has a secret 3,000 mile rescue route that helps North Korean refugees make their way out of the country, through China, and resettled in South Korea or the USA.
Fermented Foods 101
The history of Kimchi, and of fermentation for that matter, is ancient and complex – ingrained in the very nature of civilization and exploration. Here’s a quick overview:
Fermentation is a process by which molecules (like glucose) are broken down in an air tight (anaerobic) environment. Yeast are a type of fungi that perform this process, called Glycolysis. They metabolize starches or sugars, break them down, and produce CO2 (expressed as the carbonated or frothy aspect in beer or raised bread) and alcohol. This process has been leveraged by humans for at least 10,000 years, while fermentation has been naturally occurring for much longer.
You may be wondering: is there a difference between North and South Korean kimchi? Well, homemade kimchi can be found almost everywhere in its native land. While each family has unique spices, ingredients, and procedures held dear to their hearts, the general consensus is – North Korean kimchi tends to have less chilies added, making it a lighter shade of red. This also means North Korean kimchi tends to be less spicy and generally more sour. Which one is better? That is purely a matter of preference.
The Health Benefits of Kimchi and Gochujang
Kimchi is both tasty and good for you! The fermentation process produces unique and complex flavors and textures, while the health benefits are numerous. Kimchi contains probiotics, which help with the prevention and treatment of cancer, colds, constipation, gastrointestinal health, heart health, mental health, and skin conditions.
It is low in calories and nutrient dense, containing vitamins B6, C and K, alongside Iron, Niacin, Riboflavin, and Fiber. It is even reported to slow aging and help with weight loss, though further study is needed to confirm these hypotheses. San Francisco eaters are very health conscious and appreciate the probiotic effects.
Gochujang, a Korean hot chili paste, is another fermented treat whipped up every day in Hyunjoo’s kitchen. Gochujang is used in a multitude of dishes to give them heat and authentic Korean flavor. Gochujang has a history hundreds of years old and is found in more and more commercial kitchens by the day. It contains the digestive enzyme amylase which helps you digest other foods, especially meat, when eaten at the same time – talk about a functional addition to your plate!
Capsaicin, a naturally occurring compound responsible for the spicy taste of red chili peppers, is also a component of Gochujang, and has antibacterial properties. Research suggests that Capsaicin can aid in reducing body fat, and that this effect increases as Gochujang is matured for longer periods of time. Because of these immense benefits, diners are more and more frequently hunting for something fermented on the menu.
Fermented Foods are In Demand
San Francisco is already on the fermentation bandwagon! Walk through any grocery store and you’re bound to find an array of kimchis, sauerkrauts, local kombuchas, pickled veggies and fruits – with new varieties and experiments popping up every day. Restaurateurs are also catching on and have, in large numbers, already started their own pickling processes. Fermentation is good for your body, good for your menu, and good for business.
The global fermented foods & beverages market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6.35% during the forecast period (2022-2027). So, how can you get in on the game? Starting by pickling some of your extra veggies is a great option. Denser vegetables like cucumbers, radishes, okra, green beans, or beets are a great starting point.
Kimchi-creation and fermentation are great practices for restaurants for several reasons. Kimchi and all fermented goods can live in your kitchen for quite some time. Furthermore, you can take veggie or fruit that would otherwise be discarded, and preserve them. These two aspects make it a great way to cut down on restaurant waste and increase your profit. For more info on how to run a sustainable restaurant, check out our past interview with local Cheetah hero, La Med.
Making your own fermented goods can give you an edge on other restaurants, offering your unique ‘homemade’ twist. Fermented foods (and their brine) can also be used to enhance and alter flavors in your existing dishes. Fermentation requires very little from you and is an easy trend to give a try. It requires little energy, storage, and upkeep. Simply make your pickled treats and let ’em sit!
Cheetah is proud to carry Sinto Gourmet’s products, rich in flavor and history as they are. Check out the prices and availability of Hyunjoo’s Kimchi and Gochujang on the Cheetah App. And Hyunjoo is proud to partner with us as well!
Recipe: How to Make Kimchi and Other Fermented Vegetables
- Cut your veggies (in the case of kimchi, Napa cabbage) and soak them in salty water, covered, for 24 hours.
- Change the water a couple of times and keep at room temp. Then, rinse the cabbage with cold water.
- Add any other flavoring agents or spices, a little sugar and pack the contents tightly into a glass jar. Seal and leave in a dark place for 24 hours. Yeast floating around in the air and on the surfaces of your hands and ingredients will naturally start the fermentation process!
- Dump the contents into a large bowl, sprinkle with salt, and mix. Add enough cold water to submerge the cabbage and leave for 24 hours.
- Squeeze all the juice out and transfer to a sanitized glass jar. Seal the jar and let the gas escape (we recommend buying jars and lids with airlocks especially designed for fermentation if you plan on experimenting yourself.)
- After another 48 hours, you can eat the kimchi, but we suggest waiting a week or so.
For an in depth look at how to make your own kimchi at home or in your restaurant, check out this recipe. If you’re wondering what to do with all your leftover kimchi (if you have any), make kimchi pancakes! Also known as “kimchi-jeon” and “kimchi-buchimgae,” these delicious treats can be served alongside most every dish.
Fermentation can be fun and profitable, but there are risks involved. Be sure to consult experts and conduct your own research before experimenting.