Culinary folklorist preserves old fermenting tradition

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — After visiting seven separate doctors in less than six months, undergoing major digestive surgery and multiple misdiagnoses, Rosanna Czarnecki found the answer to her debilitating health problems in a glass of fermented green coconut water.

Lacto-fermentation, a process of preserving food through its natural bacteria, answered the question that had plagued her: "What is going on with my body?"

She calls it the solution that changed her life.

"I remember drinking fermented coconut water for the first time," she said. "My throat burned, but it started to work."

Czarnecki began researching ways to ferment her own coconut water, soon making the connection the beverage had with kombucha, kefir and sauerkraut.

"I was so angry with what happened to me," Czarnecki said about a chiropractic injury that led to nerve damage and extensive digestive surgery. "When I truly jumped into this I was like: How did we live all these years without it?

"I soon came to see how I was helping others and I realized that this is now my passion, one that gives me purpose."

That purpose is in R2 Positive Culture food lab, where Czarnecki is keeping authentic lacto-fermentation alive.

Whereas alcohols utilize yeast to ferment beer and wine, lacto-fermentation relies on lactic-acid bacteria, a wild-bacterium found on all fruits and vegetables, to ferment sugars into alcohol and vinegar.

Glass jars of fermenting foods of all kinds sit in rows on metal shelves inside the squeaky clean lab. Czarnecki strains a SCOBY — Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast — from her raspberry kombucha as the smell of floral vinegar fills the air. SCOBY is what creates kombucha's notable fizz and looks like an unattractive mushroom top.

Kombucha is the most popular natural soda at her shop alongside water kefir. The kefir soda is fermented with kefir grains, a crystal that develops on certain types of cactus in Mexico.

Czarnecki is a "wildcrafter" at heart and she said she loves to include wild-foraged herbs from different areas around Acadiana into all of her drinks.

Kombucha and water kefir are considered "drinkable probiotic supplements" that may help clear the skin, promote digestion, clear mucus and protect the body against disease.

Czarnecki makes sauerkraut and fermented veggies in her lab with locally grown produce from Blazing Star Farms, St. Joseph Homestead and Acadian Prairie Farms Inglewood.

Her top sellers include Turmeric Kraut made with turmeric from her garden and Wild Veggie Kraut made with locally foraged wild oyster mushrooms and vegetables.

"Sauerkraut is rich in vitamin C and enzymes. I personally love all of the umami flavors they take on," she said.

Kombucha, water kefir, and sauerkraut are Czarnecki's most popular items, but she is always testing the waters with new, eccentric options. Off-the-radar finds include: fermented black garlic, fermented honey, fermented dairy-free cashew cream, beet kvass, and even fermented oatmeal.

Her most unique item to date is black garlic, which is white garlic fermented under certain conditions until its meat turns jet black. The result is a product packed with umami flavor. Black garlic tastes like figs, believe it or not.

Anyone looking to prep for the winter season should consider adding an R2 Positive Culture tonic to their pantry.

Currently in stock is "Wild Fire Cider," a tonic that utilizes local, wild-growing herbs and vegetables; wild turkey tail mushroom tonic; and Reishi tonic. The "Reishi Kick Kombucha" is also a knock-out for combating colds and a sore throat.

With research and lots of trial and error in creating the perfect product, her home hobby turned into a pop-up at the Hub City Farmers Market selling small-batch, nutrient-dense products. Ten years later, R2 Positive Culture can be found all across Acadiana.

R2 Positive Culture is currently sold at Johnson's Boucaniere, Great Harvest Bread Co., Old Tyme Grocery, Spoonbill Watering Hole & Restaurant, Sandra's Cafe and Health Food Store, Reve Coffee Roasters, The Reve Lab, REVE Stick at White Market, Saint Street Inn, Bread & Circus Provisions, Scratch Kitchen, Caffe' Cottage, Sozo Complete Fitness, Drug Emporium, Karma Collective, Wurst Biergarten, Graton Eatery, Roly Poly, Champagne's Market.

Its extensive selection of goods is available at the Lafayette Farmers and Artisans Market on Saturdays or at R2 Positive Culture's mid-week market held from 3 to 6 p.m. in its gravel parking lot or indoors during bad weather.

R2 Positive Culture will be hosting true tea classes, fermentation courses, authentic sourdough bread making classes, and movie nights featuring food documentaries.

Stay up to date on the latest events at facebook.com/r2artfood. If you would like to visit the lab, please call 337-296-9321.

___

Information from: The Advertiser, http://www.theadvertiser.com