Karen Diggs, the San Francisco–based founder of Kraut Source, is an entrepreneur, chef, nutritionist, and author of Happy Foods: Over 100 Mood-Boosting Recipes.
The Hawaiian native began her career as a classically trained chef; she can make pâtés, soufflés—the whole shebang. She got her start in Hong Kong, where she spent seven years as a chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel before starting two restaurants. In all her culinary training, fermentation really never came up, even among the old-style European chefs she studied under.
When she returned to the Bay Area burnt out on the traditional restaurant world but still committed to working with food, Karen started studying nutrition—and everything changed. She enrolled in a two-year holistic health program at Bauman College, which she completed in 2005, and fermentation was one of the stars of the show. She found the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (the grandfather of the revival of fermentation in America) and got busy educating herself, experimenting, creating, and eventually doing workshops and one-on-one health consultations.
Then something even more exciting happened: Karen became enamored of the design of the traditional fermentation crock (the vessel that food was traditionally fermented in), and she began to consider how she might take that design and shrink it down to make “small-batch fermenting” easy, accessible, and quick. This is when Karen crossed the line from chef and nutritionist to inventor.
What, you may ask, is small-batch fermenting and why should I care? It’s a scaled-down process that makes it easy to create fermented goodies in mason jars at home. With Kraut Source, it’s much harder to screw up the fermenting process—for three reasons: 1) The smaller vessel keeps the ingredients submerged in the brine (the fermenting liquid), 2) it prevents oxygen from getting into the jar, and 3) it prevents CO2 from escaping from the jar. These three important functions create the anaerobic environment needed for fermentation to occur.
One more thing you need to know about Karen is that she hates plastic. She’s nostalgic for the days when things were done more slowly and products were made to last for decades. She feels as if “plastic gives you the idea that it’s something you throw away, that it’s disposable.” So, she was committed to manufacturing a product made form stainless steel that wouldn’t break the bank.
Her packaging also reflects her values: It’s made in San Diego from recycled material, it’s compostable, and parts of it even have dill seeds pressed into it so you can plant the packaging when you’re done.
Why does Karen work so hard to make fermenting easy? She explains, “I definitely want as many people fermenting as possible. The nutritionist-scientific-geeky part of me is so fascinated by the microbiome and the gut bacteria that’s inside all of us and affects the way we behave, the way we feel, and whether we are going to be healthy or not.”
Karen loves the global nature of fermentation and the fact that so many people have fermented dishes that remind them of their parents or grandparents or of their childhood. She’s also passionate about the simplicity and health benefits of fermented foods. She says, “The simple fact that adding some salt to some cabbage and letting it ferment turns it into a superfood is mind-boggling!”
We’re thrilled to offer Karen’s carefully crafted Kraut Source Fermentation Kit in the Hatch Lab shop. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Keep in mind that it’s also a great gift for those who want to start fermenting on their own but are terrified to dive in.
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