Jessica Herridge, UK-based founder of Bodkin’s, has watched her brand evolve very organically after first creating fermented cabbage condiments last year after her son suffered the effects of long-term antibiotic use.
“Last year my son was poorly and he ended up being put on a lot of antibiotics and after that he got a lot of stomach upsets which isn’t uncommon after being on antibiotics so I started to research what to do to improve gut health and I started to read a lot about probiotics.”
This was by no means the first time the mother of two had been made aware of this issue. She has worked in consumer research for food brands for many years and currently works for a consumer research firm so has witnessed the growing interest in gut health as it's happened.
“I started to look for natural sources of probiotics and live bacteria and saw fermented foods and vegetables were one option.
“Fermentation not only produces lots of good bacteria it also increases the amount of vitamins C, B and digestive enzymes .
“Also, fermented vegetables contain less sugar than the original vegetables because the process converts sugar into lactic acid and CO2.
“I knew that was the kind of thing I could put with my son’s meals and he would happily eat them as condiments.”
But after making them for her son, her daughter started wanting them, then friends joined the fan club, until she eventually started selling at food markets and set up a website where people could buy the products.
The company was officially founded at the beginning of this year and the keen cook has received interest from a number of distributors and retailers. Now she is in the process of buying a manufacturing unit and working towards getting funding of £50-100,000 to upscale production.
To make the products, a small amount of coarse sea salt is massaged into the raw vegetables, these are then placed in an airtight container and left for a minimum of three weeks to ferment. This is called lacto-fermentation and it encourages the good bacteria to thrive which has the dual benefit of naturally preserving the vegetables and making them a probiotic food.
Bodkin’s fermented vegetables are not pasteurised and are made from the raw vegetable. This is because the heating involved in pasteurisation can kill off some of the natural goodness in raw vegetables, whereas fermentation enhances their health benefits.
The six-strong range includes: Kimchi cabbage, carrot and ginger root; cabbage, peppercorns and carrots; red cabbage with chilli flakes and oregano; cabbage, sultanas and salt; cabbage with peppercorns and fennel seeds; and cabbage with peppercorns and cumin seeds.
Herridge says her clean labels appeal to a wide audience of health conscious consumers.
“People are often quite surprised and impressed to know the products contain just vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices.
“I was at a vegan festival and there people were quite into the idea of the product simply because they like that they are clean label.”
Reigning in regulations
Herridge admits she’s irritated by the health claim regulations enforced upon food and drink manufacturers in the gut health space but she is hopeful that the massive interest in these products could lead to change in the near future.
“We have to be extra careful about the way we talk about our health benefits. You can’t say it’s probiotic rich if you’re a food. You can only say that if you’re a supplement which strikes me as really annoying.
“I think there will be a big change in the next five years around the way we can talk about gut bacteria. You can see there’s a lot of medical interest in this area ad much more research into gut health so I can see the laws changing around what we’re allowed to claim.”
The businesswoman points out that while these products are becoming more popular in the UK as people become more interested in gut health, fermented veg is a part of daily diet in several other European countries. Although she does concede, that Europe-wide expansion may be a pipe dream right now.