Add-On Product: Off Type Sauce & Spice

Add-On Product: Off Type Sauce & Spice

by Zachary Charles

At Off Type Sauce & Spice, we're not just in the business of creating hot sauce – we're cultivating a culinary narrative that celebrates flavor and the resilience of our food systems. As a veteran-owned venture, I bring a deep appreciation for quality and sourcing, understanding firsthand the impact that nourishing, wholesome food can have on mental well-being.

This business began as a dream to create a value-added product line that benefited local organic food systems as well as our gut microbiome. "Off type" is a farming term that refers to a seedling or plant that differs in one or more traits from the cultivar it was derived from. In the farming world, off-type plants may present ancestral traits from previous cultivars that are not considered desirable or expected by consumers but may still be delicious and productive plants. I find this to be an opportunity for exploration. The peppers that I have used in my sauces for the last five years are continuously selected for their flavors through the saving of my own seeds. Some of the varieties are from seeds that have important origins and stories of sharing and preservation, and I find these stories invaluable to the product that I create. 

What sets Off Type Sauce & Spice apart is our commitment to quality at every step of the process. We work closely with local organic farmers, championing sustainable practices that not only support our environment but also ensure the freshest, most flavorful ingredients go into every bottle. By prioritizing small-scale producers and heritage varieties, we're not just creating condiments – we're preserving tradition and promoting biodiversity.

But our mission goes beyond just crafting exceptional products. As a veteran, I understand the profound connection between food and mental health. That's why Off Type Sauce & Spice isn't just about what's in the bottle – it's about fostering a community around food that nourishes both body and soul. Through our commitment to equitable participation and opportunities, we're not only building a business but also a movement towards a more inclusive and sustainable food industry.

The only secret to my ferments is the salt ratio, the fermentation time and temperature, and the varieties of cabbage I prefer, which I learned while experimenting with the produce from farms that I worked at. Working on organic vegetable farms also allowed me to begin saving my own seeds and developing the pepper varieties that make my sauce recipes like nothing else on the market right now. 

While it’s true that it took me a lot of time to dial in my recipes, there is nothing new about what I am doing. Our ancestors have been breeding plants and using salt and dehydration to preserve foods for millennia. The health benefits of fermented, probiotic foods have been known even before we had the language of science to explain how the gut microbiome works or why seasonal food production is good for the environment. All parts of the world have ancestral traditions that involve fermented foods, both foraged and farmed, so focusing on fermentation keeps food production connected to traditional/ancestral foodways, as well keeps us as food consumers connected to the land.

So why has fermentation become somewhat of a lost art? I think that has a lot to do with recent developments, as in the last 100 years or so within industrial agriculture and industrial-scale food manufacturing and retailing - which have made lots of money for giant corporations, while simultaneously creating detrimental consequences for our bodies and our soil. Global supply chains have no accountability to seasonal agricultural systems, and they have no accountability to local communities or small farmers and small food producers.

So today, I see fermentation, and the skills that make it possible, as critically important to our food system, our health, and climate change resilience, and for preserving (and reviving) culinary traditions that are integral to indigenous and regional cultures everywhere. Rather than waiting for some new technological, chemical, or genetically manipulated and copyrighted industry-scale solution to a problem, I think we need to go back to the old ways that kept us connected to the land and connected to each other.

The truth is, I didn’t give a sh*t about fermentation until I was 29 years old, working on an organic vegetable farm and someone shared with me kimchi made with Napa cabbage, which was grown at a farm 5 miles from where I grew up. Another truth is, I didn’t give a sh*t about farming or vegetables at all for that matter until I was 28 years old and had a doctor tell me that I was prediabetic. Before that, I was focused on studying education, specifically, popular education, as in Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire. And before that, I was just a wandering veteran of the Iraq war, working too many jobs and smoking too much weed and mostly unaware of what I had to deal with. Before that, I was a kid who grew up in a trailer park in a small town, and also in the next town sometimes since my parents divorced.

The reason that I’m telling you my life story backwards is that I want you to understand that I did not grow up on a farm. I learned many things from my family, growing up without access to many resources, but I wasn’t exposed to or taught about the traditional ways of fermentation and food preservation. I wish I could say that my ancestors taught me how to make sauerkraut or the best ways to dehydrate peppers for paprika. The truth is, I’ve learned about most of what inspired me to get into fermentation by working on farms and in restaurants, and by having the chance to taste and be inspired by amazing flavors from traditions connected to all parts of the planet.

We need more access to education around healthy foods and methods of working with regional food systems. We also need to make it easier for local producers and farms to process their produce into value-added products that are good for people and also affordable. There’s lots of work happening thanks to the dedication of many individuals and organizations fighting for food justice in all of its dimensions, but there’s still a long way to go and we need everybody to do their part. 

On my end, I’m going to keep trying to build within a network of farmers and producers rooted in place and community. That’s why I’m excited to plant the idea of a fermented foods festival in 2025 here in Minnesota. They can bring together farmers, food makers - especially fermenters - and educators to support and learn from each other.

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