A few years ago, kombucha, kefir and kimchi were unheard of in Europe and the suggestion that sauerkraut would be the next on-trend food probably would have raised a few sceptical eyebrows.
But the rise in interest in fermented foods and the probiotic benefits they bring has put these traditional foods on the map.
“I really like the idea of bringing less well-known pickles from different parts of the world to our shelves,” the founder of London-based Tickles’ Pickles, Chetanya Alexander, said. “We are adventurous eaters in the British Isles, and in my experience very open to new flavours - I think that's great, and I think food is a wonderful cultural exchange medium.”
“I chose to make kimchi first because at the time it was pretty undiscovered in the UK, and it's a favourite of mine. I chose torshi next, because I think turnips are under-appreciated and under-used, and they make a delicious pickle."
The products also have very different flavours and textures.
“Kimchi is a young pickle [so] it still has the fizz of fermentation, and it has a strong flavour - lots of umami, garlic, onion, ginger – and ours is nice and crunchy, as it should be,” she said.
“Torshi has a cleaner flavour profile [with] the pepperiness of turnip and the complex sourness of fermentation. It's not as crisp but does have some crunch. The colour comes from beetroot, which adds a slightly earthy flavour."
A 100 g serving of torshi contains 1.27 g of salt and 0.5 g sugar while the kimchi contains 1 g salt and 1.2 g sugar.
They also contain naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria. These live cultures preserve the vegetables, eliminating the need for added preservatives and providing beneficial bacteria for the gut microbiome.
The company is currently collaborating with Coventry University’s microbiology department to sequence the DNA of the lactic acid bacteria in its pickles.
Kimchi ingredients: Chinese leaf, spring onions, Korean chilli flakes, garlic, ginger and sea salt.
Atchaar, soleniya, gardiniera…
The company’s range currently consists of just torshi and kimchi, but its premise is “pickles from around the world, handmade in London”, and Alexander has plans to expand.
The only problem (or pickle) is which pickle to pick.
“There is such a wealth of tradition to draw from and I have so many recipes that are almost fully developed; I'm struggling to choose. Among the contenders [are] an Indian carrot and lime atchaar, a Russian carrot and dill soleniya, an Italian gardiniera, a British ploughman's and a British piccalilli.”
Consumers frequently ask Alexander how they should eat the products.
“The simplest advice for everyday eating is wherever you'd use a more familiar pickle [such as] a gherkin or onion, you can use other pickles.”
This means sandwiches, burgers and salads but also as a side dish or as part of tapas or mezze-style sharing platters.
“I'd like to see naturally fermented pickles become more of an everyday accompaniment - they add a punch of ready-made flavour, they're bio-live and full of good bacteria. Of course, they're vegetables […], they're great snacking food and kids love pickles.”
After years of making pickles for friends and family, Alexander founded Tickles’ Pickles in 2015, financing the venture thanks to a small government loan of £2000 (€2,255), used for product development and kitting up the kitchen.
Tickles’ Pickles products are stocked in Whole Foods Market, Planet Organic, As Nature Intended, Amazon, Ocado and other independent retailers, and the products are no longer made in Alexander’s London flat but in its own factory.
The company currently makes around about 1000 each week and this is increasing, although for the moment Alexander is not eying up any export markets.
“I'm not saying 'never', but I like the idea of locally produced food.”
Tickles’ Pickles sells wholesale quantities of its products in retail packs of 200 g and in catering quantities of 2 kg. Its packaging is recyclable and, where possible, made from recycled materials.