14 March 2012

Zuké Pickled Veggies : Boulder, Colorado

The town of Boulder seems to have a constant buzz of creativity. Maybe its the 300+ days of sunshine per year…or the subtle toll of oxygen depravation… but this is why I wasn’t too surprised to find yet another exciting Boulder-based product on a friend’s dinner table recently – Zuké.*  Zuké products, as in tsukemono or zukemono, Japanese for “pickled things”, are organic, raw, probiotic and handcrafted by the Esoteric Food Company.

Fermented foods came back into vogue with the popularity of kombucha, a fermented fungal tea, but have been used for years by our grandparents in the South-  I still get a fresh jar of pickled beets each time I visit my grandmother. Probiotic foods have been popular in Europe and Asia for decades (and centuries) but have been a fairly recent trend in most parts of the United States. Probiotics are basically good bacteria (as opposed to antibiotics which kill bacteria). And fermented foods, like yogurt, cheese, and pickles, provide these good bacteria for our GI system. In addition to preventing food from spoiling, fermentation (and its good bacteria) breaks down food for ease of digestion, helps make nutrients like B vitamins, and stimulates our immune systems (ironically to protect us from bacterial infection). While the FDA assumes a neutral position about the benefits of both probiotics (and fermentation), it is believed by some (most) that fermenting food is not only a way to preserve food, but also a way to preserve you.

According to Zuké:

Probiotics enhance the immune system by favorably altering the gut micro-ecology and preventing unfriendly organisms from gaining a foothold in the body. They prevent the overgrowth of yeast and fungus and produce substances that can lower cholesterol. Poor eating habits, chlorinated drinking water, stress and the use of antibiotics can wreak havoc in the gastrointestinal tract by destroying good bacteria and allowing undesirable bacteria to multiply. When the ratio of good bacteria to bad is lowered, problems begin to arise, such as excessive gas, bloating, constipation, intestinal toxicity and poor absorption of nutrients. So why not add something good back into the equation?

And if your kids like pickles, they may just love Zuké’s treats. Especially if you refer to them as pickles instead of fermented cabbage (beet, hijiki & kale consumption shown below):

At the time I placed my recent order with Mara at Esoteric Foods, there were four varieties available:

Citrus, ginger & green cabbage
Napa cabbage & garlic kimchi
Beets, hijiki & kale
Dill, caraway & green cabbage

While they are all fantastic to eat straight from the jar or even as dessert (seriously, I just did this), they are equally great on a salad, with grilled salmon or chicken, atop a tofu or barbecue sandwich, and in a bowl of bibimbap.  Each pickled concoction retails for $8.99 and is available locally in Boulder at Whole Foods, Alfalfa’s, Cured and Lucky’s Market, and at wholesale prices for orders of a case or more. They will ship to all 50 states.

If you are interested in learning more about probiotics and health, read “Bacteria and Behavior” from my favorite integrative health blog First Do No pHarm (and my favorite person in general…). Or if you need convincing that you are indeed what you eat, try “The Connection Between Good Nutrition and Good Cognition”. Another great resource for creating your own Zuké concoction is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.

*Not to be confused with Zuke’s, another stellar Colorado original (although Zuké’s pickled vegetables make me just about as happy as Zuke’s peanut butter treats make my German shepherd).