Have you heard of fermentino? It is the term coined by Italian raw food and vegan chef Daniela Cicioni to label distinct 100 percent plant-based cheese alternatives. Daniela is known for exploring different non-cooking methods which have come back into vogue, such as sprouting and fermentation.
Fermented foods are considered "alive," made with a few whole food ingredients and are beneficial for the gut and the immune system. Many cultures value fermented foods, and they come in all forms such as sourdough bread, yogurt, kefir, vinegar, sauerkraut, wine, beer, kombucha, kimchi, and miso.
Fermentino [ fer-men-tì-no] n (pl.-ni) is a “designation reserved for the food products obtained from the fermentation of nuts and oilseeds, with only water and (a pinch of) salt added. The preparation of fermentino involves three main processes: rehydration of the nuts, fermentation, and aging. Depending on ripening time, it can be fresh or aged; based on texture, hard or soft. Fermentino is strictly a plant-based product prepared with no aromas or preservatives, adding only fresh and dried spices. The use of natural enzymes, probiotic microorganisms, bacteria, and molds during fermentation opens the possibility of inoculation and creation of blue-veined or bloomy rind fermentino.”
More consumers are switching to a plant-based diet for health reasons, concern for animal welfare and to avoid the adverse environmental effects of animal protein sources. According to Mintel, "vegan products accounted for 5 percent of all food and drink products launched between July 2017 and June 2018, while vegan food launches more than doubled in the past five years, growing by 175 percent from July 2013 to June 2018." Leading retail data company Nielsen revealed in July last year that plant-based alternatives to cheese products were growing 43 percent, at $124 million in the United States.
Vegans are reported to have a lower intake of vitamins and minerals, however, which can lead to health issues. There is also the concern that brands may offer vegan products that contain ingredients that are not necessarily healthy.
Fermentino is a food category where good bacteria digesting almonds and cashews through fermentation give life to new whole foods with great taste and appeal and provide the additional benefit of being digestible and making nutrients more available.
Fermentino also offers transparency, and a guideline to read food labels. This new food category avoids the need for creative spellings of the word cheese to describe a similar vegan product. It also provides an alternative to terms such as “vegan cheese,” or “dairy-free cheese”, that are illegal to place on food labels for marketing in the European Union and Canada.
CICIONI was the first product under the fermentino category brought to market as result of Daniela’s two-year collaboration with Italian nuts expert Euro Company S.r.l. Società Benefit Nuts for Healthy Living, and the University of Bologna, the oldest University in Europe.
Based on the positive feedback received in Italy, Euro Company embarked on the process of opening new opportunities beyond the border.
At the Natural & Organic Products Europe- NOPE 2017, CICIONI won the Best New Organic Food Product Award. During Natexpo 2018, the leading French organic retail chain Biocoop placed the first order, and this past November fermentino won the ‘Best Natural Ingredient of the Year 2018’ award at Food Matters Live in London.
CICIONI is a strong, fermented product with a taste that appeals to those that enjoy a robust, ripe cheese. In the future, CICIONI may become a reference point in the plant-based segment, similar to what people have today for Parmesan (Parmigiano- Reggiano).
For those that prefer a mild taste, this year Euro Company is launching FERMÈ in Hall 4/4-304 at BIOFACH in Nuremberg, February 13-16. FERMÈ is a range of moderate fermented delicacies in more mainstream flavors and variations: spreadable, aged, grated and blooming rind. A chef will be cooking all day with FERMÈ and CICIONI offering visitors a taste of the versatility and convenience appeal of these delicacies.
“We are ready for distributors in Europe and elsewhere,” said Gert-Jan de Groot, Business Development Manager at Euro Company. This season de Groot and his marketing team will also be attending the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim and will exhibit again at NOPE in London.
“Our fully certified state-of-the-art facility is ready to supply large retail chains, and also plant-based food processors,” said de Groot. The fermentino spread is a perfect plant-based alternative to cream cheese. Pasta manufacturers have already found fermentino a wonderful dairy-free ingredient to add to their vegan recipes.
Euro Company: 40 years in the world of nuts
Mario Zani CEO at Euro Company S.r.l. Società Benefit Nuts for Healthy Living, made a decision to pay closer attention to the link between food and health, as he became concerned about the increased rate of obesity and chronic diseases affecting all levels of society in Italy and elsewhere.
What Zani learned motivated him to change his diet. In 2013 he became a vegetarian. A new mindset triggered Zani’s decision to embark on a journey to gradually turn the over 100 million Euro, the family-owned, successful business now celebrating its 40th anniversary, into a more sustainable operation.
Euro Company has reduced the amount of salt by 80% in its product line of dried fruits and nuts. “Salt covers off taste. By reducing the salt content, you need to procure better quality raw materials,” said Business Development Manager Gert-Jan de Groot. In Italy, the average annual consumption of sugar per capita is 27 kilograms. “We also eliminated additional sugar and any other additives and chose not to use palm oil.” This commitment to improving the nutritional value in its line of products is what led Euro Company to join raw chef Daniela Cicioni in developing the fermentino food category and the brands CICIONI and FERMÈ.
Clear package labels that indicate contents precisely is a step that Euro Company has taken to set an example for other firms. “Currently there is a paradox that needs to be addressed: products like iced desserts, which contain visible added-sugars, must make this explicit on the labeling. However, products with sugars that are hidden and therefore not visible, are not required to make this explicit,” said de Groot. Euro Company aims to persuade the food industry to operate under more ethical and transparent criteria. “There is a need for a better EU legislation on food labeling that obliges everybody to use transparent and honest communication on food packaging.”
Regarding plastic waste, Euro Company has reduced about 24 tons in the last two years. The goal is to reach 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by 2020. “We are currently conducting a Life Cycle Analysis of packaging materials,” said de Groot. “The issue of compostable packaging is quite complicated and also depends on national and local regulations for compostability. Bear in mind that for toasted nuts a barrier is needed to secure the shelf life.” Euro Company is now also using 100 percent certified electricity from renewable sources.
Mario Zani and his team believe in the power of print to increase awareness and positive change. The company produces Ossigeno and Fermentino, two exquisite publications that promote the “Culture of Conscious Nutrition” and contribute to “a dialog about Nutrition as Beauty and Cuisine as a combination of Art and Science.” They also launched a board game called Capitan Bananas aimed to teach children how to make good choices concerning food. “We will invest ten percent of profits in other community activities,” said de Groot. For instance, they plan to contribute around 200 thousand Euro in a food education program in primary schools in their region, Emilia- Romagna.
Euro Company is also committed to offering its employees a place where they can be creative and fulfilled, supports new research and science at institutions such as the University of Bologna, and shares everything that will contribute to tangible benefits for people and the planet. The firm’s commitment to become sustainable has been formalised in a change of its legal entity to a benefit corporation (Srl Societa Benefit) “a company which combines the goal of profit with the purpose of creating a positive impact for society and the environment and which operates in a transparent, responsible and sustainable way.” In December 2015, Italy became the first European state and the second country in the world creating the new “Società Benefit” legal status for companies. The Euro Company team is also working to achieve certification as a B Corporation during the first half of 2019. Not a bad start for a 40-year-old company embarking on a new vision for nuts and health!