A Viable Culture

Brian Moe is a verified fermented food fanatic. Moe, in fact, is so smitten with zymology that he started a company devoted entirely to fermented products: Viable Cultures. Moe, who became interested in the practice after he learned to make yogurt in college, was especially inspired by a simple yet complex-tasting sauerkraut that a friend shared with him. "She made this kraut with just red cabbage and salt, and it worked. It was just so good — the flavors were so exotic — I'd never had anything like it. It really blew me away, and I kind of quickly noticed that it did really help my digestion."

The finished product: Brian Moe roasts some of his tempeh to make sandwiches for market. Photos by Jonathan Welch

Now, Moe makes Kombucha and ferments local cabbage to make several varieties of kraut, which he sells at farmers markets, grocery stores and some local restaurants. This isn't your average kraut, says Moe. "It's all handmade, artisan-made. It's packed in glass jars, which is kind of uncommon in the industry, according to someone who knows a lot about fermentation." Moe says that many people choose to ferment sauerkraut in food-grade plastic, which he has an aversion to. "I'll soak beans in plastic, but I don't really want to put something that's going to be fermenting for three weeks in there," he says.

Moe also cooks organic soybeans, sourced from Old Fort, in giant vats at Blue Ridge Food Ventures, the food production facility on the Enka-Candler branch of A-B Tech. Once these beans are cooked, Moe cultures them with a beneficial organism to make his nutty-tasting, firm cakes of tempeh.

The tempeh organism, he says, actually transforms the soy beans, making them more digestible. He only cooks the soybeans for 30 minutes or so — a short time for any bean, let alone soy, which some people already have a difficult time digesting. "If you normally cooked soybeans for 30 minutes, and then you ate them, I think you'd probably be in bad shape," says Moe. "At least a little gassy."

Fermented foods in general aid the digestive system, says Moe. "They are enhanced with enzymes through the fermentation process," he says. "You get all these live, active enzymes and also healthful bacteria for the gut … it's got lactobacillus and numerous other bacteria that are good for our digestive tract."

A hill of beans: Brian Moe scoops hulls from a simmering vat of soybeans that will be made in tempeh.

Combining cooked foods with live, raw kraut, for example, adds enzymes to the body that typically break down in the cooking process — somewhere in the vicinity of 112 degrees. "When you add in this highly enhanced, enzyme-rich food, that's going to help you digest other foods. Digestion takes a lot of energy, and when you don't use that energy for digestion, you have that energy for other things, like thinking and moving your body."

Viable Culture fermented foods are available every other Wednesday at the French Broad Co-op market, starting Wednesday, June 9. Brian also sells "The Sandwich," at the Co-op markets, which he describes as "kind of like a tempeh Rueben, using the Viable Cultures local organic tempeh, the German/Austrian-style mild, raw sauerkraut and Lusty Monk mustard on sprouted rye. It's really good."

Viable Cultures products are also available at the Greenlife Sunday Market and the North Asheville tailgate market on Saturdays. Visit viablecultures.com for more information.

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