Food & dining

Catching the fermentation bug

Hosta Hill’s line of lacto-fermented vegetables at a farmers’ market.
Jay Elling
Hosta Hill’s line of lacto-fermented vegetables at a farmers’ market.

When Maddie Elling, of Hosta Hill in West Stockbridge, says that she and partner Abe Hunrichs “caught the fermentation bug,” she doesn’t mean to make a pun. But Elling and Hunrichs have created an award-winning line of products made by lacto-fermentation, a form of preservation in which vegetables ferment through the activity of lactic acid bacteria, or “bugs.” Lacto-fermented products, says Elling, are raw foods “full of probiotics — a truly healing food. They’re known for helping the gut and populating microbiomes, making things easier to digest.”

All of which might not matter if the stuff didn’t taste great, too. Hosta Hill’s sauerkraut is tart and crisp; the kimchi has a bright freshness that sets it apart from other jarred versions. The product line ($7-$8) also includes a curry kraut, a lacto-fermented hot sauce, and a few variants on “krautonic,” the briny juice created during the fermentation process. (Some of these might not quite work as beverages, but they can add a shot of fermented flavor to soups, salad dressings, sauces, and more.) No vinegar is involved; the tang is because of the lactic acid.

Elling and Hunrichs started lacto-fermenting under the Hosta Hill label a couple of years ago. Living on Elling’s parents’ Berkshires property, they’d been casting about for a venture of their own and hit upon lacto-fermented vegetables as an underserved niche. Now, they’re putting up about 30,000 pounds of vegetables a year, growing much of the produce on a rented 3-acre plot and preparing the products in a home commercial kitchen they built with money raised through Kickstarter. Not everyone might relish living with a sauerkraut factory in the basement, but Elling says she doesn’t even notice the aroma anymore. Outsiders, she adds, are luckier: “People who visit say, ‘Oh, it smells so good in here.’ ” Hosta Hill products are available in the Boston area at Cambridge Naturals, 23 White St., Cambridge; Pemberton Farms, 2225 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; Debra’s Natural Gourmet, 98 Commonwealth Ave., Concord; Lexington Community Farm; and Waltham Fields Community Farm. For more information, go to www.hostahill.com. JANE DORNBUSCH

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Jane Dornbusch can be reached at jdornbusch@verizon.net.