Prepared Foods talks pickling, fermentation trends with Charlie Baggs, chief executive chef and founder of Charlie Baggs Culinary Innovations, a Chicago consulting firm. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Baggs worked at Ambria, Spiaggia, Marriott Hotels and Walt Disney before forming his own business in 1999.

Prepared Foods: When did you first notice pickling and fermentation as growing trends? Why?

Charlie Baggs: I noticed this movement when global cuisine hit the market. There are so many examples of pickled layers of flavor. You see it in the bahn mi sandwich, ginger on sushi, or the wide assortment of Japanese pickles. There’s also the South Carolina pickled slaw that tops a pulled pork sandwich, an Italian style giardinara used on an Italian beef sandwich and pickled ramps used every spring on menus across the world to brighten up a dish.

Pickled and fermented products add a depth of flavor that drives craveablity. We balance the taste salt, acid, sweet and bitter to drive craveablity. The pickling of a product lowers the pH—which, when consumed—makes the mouth water. This is the first step in driving craveablity. Fermentation adds an umami characteristic of flavor. It can add salt and bitterness to the taste profile too. Each option has to be carefully managed to dial in the craveable notes for any given target market.

PF: What’s most interesting to you in terms of finished taste, flavors or ingredients?

Baggs: Gochujang, the Korean staple flavor system, is a perfect balance of taste and adds a distinctive flavor. It is derived from fermented soy beans and salt.

I like the addition of a pickled product on sandwiches to drive craveablity. Pickled product—whether a red onion, cucumber, daikon radish, or varietal chili—adds mouthwatering effect and cleanses the palate. It works.

Sour—when balanced with sweet and salt—can really make a product exciting and pop with taste. The taste can complement the flavor of a dish and make you want to keep on eating the bold taste that sourness can produce.

PF: What’s something new you’ve learned or realized about fermented foods?

Baggs: The use of fermented fish sauces is a delicate balancing act. The American palate is not ready for a strong fish taste. When used as a flavor building block fish sauce adds a blast of umami that enhances the taste and flavors of a dish. So mastering the use of fish sauce is an art and is very effective when done right.

PF: Does pickling, fermentation remain a top trend for 2017? How else might it evolve? 

Baggs: Yes, as Asian cuisine is still being unraveled and discovered in so many markets I think this pickled and fermented movement is a trend that will be here to stay. It is a critical part of so many cuisines. We cannot develop without using these tools as flavor building blocks and enhancers.  In turn, we now are adapting these bold flavors into classical and regional American cuisines to add boldness, crispness and craveablity.

I also see more chefs preserving their local seasonal fruits and vegetables to use in the winter months. This gives a chef a secret weapon and drives the local and sustainable trend.

I also think we are going to see much more yogurt fermented products on the market—showing up in condiments, sauces, marinades and beverages.    


Originally appeared in the September, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as FIRST PERSON.