Header photo credit: Brook Lark Unsplash
Beer, wine, bread, kimchi, sauerkraut, doubanjiang, yoghurt, cheese, miso, kombucha, soy sauce and vinegar are some of the most important fermented products in our lives, but the list of fermented foods is actually much longer than this.
The world’s top chefs are fermenting and creating unique and proprietary flavours but are having to DIY their own fermentation spaces, using plate heaters, heating lamps, combi ovens and dehydrators as fermentation chambers. The temperatures required for fermentation come in a very broad range, between as cold as a fridge to as hot as an oven.
Tommy Leung started HakkoBako to fill this rather large gap. Fermentation may be a practice older than recorded history, but there is no reason not to let technology help.
A visit to Cyberport
The HakkoBako office in Cyberport feels a bit like a kitchen crossed with a workshop.
Tommy Leung and PRS Bharath in the workshop/kitchen
We were immediately drawn to the contents of one of the HakkoBako chambers. This one is currently acting purely as cold storage for finished fermented foods. Inside, we found vegan feta cheese – koji-fermented tofu in herb-infused olive oil (“Such a cheesy flavour,” said Leung), another vegan cheese in Sichuan oil, several fermented chilli and bean sauces and coffee kombucha.
Coffee kombucha! Why haven’t we had this before? This is the sort of experimentation you can do when you’re not tied up figuring out which of your fermentation factors went wrong.
Fermentation is a bit like magic. A chemical process takes place, and this can change the colour, texture, flavour, shelf life and nutrition of a food. The role of the fermenter is to ensure the conditions are just right for the magic to happen, and it’s not always easy. Except it is with HakkoBako.
Koji (Aspergillus oryzae) fermenting tofu in the HakkoBako
For those serious about developing fermentation recipes, here’s what the commercial HakkoBako can do:
- Set the temperature for a period of time for fermentation (warm) or refrigeration (cold)
- Modify the temperature either by touchscreen, voice recognition or as a pre-programmed condition
- Take notes on a recipe via voice recognition for hands-free documentation
- Use an internal camera for remote monitoring and recording, time lapse and integrating with computer vision and machine learning to recognise optimal states
- Provide a platform to save and share recipes and recipe programmes
The HakkoBako backstory
HakkoBako founder Tommy Leung has been in the food business in Hong Kong since founding Foodie favourite GAFELL in 2015, where he incorporated fermentation into his recipe development. However, he found the variability of factors frustrating. And so HakkoBako was developed, initially for personal use, but subsequent market research revealed that chefs in high-end restaurants and hotels need a reliable chamber built for fermentation.
Then at the Food’s Future Summit the following year, HakkoBako announced that Rickard Öste of Oatly would become an investor. Late last year, Cyberport began their investment in the company, providing funding and support.
HakkoBako in 2020
Restaurants and hotels have had a particularly rough year. Whilst Hong Kongers are still able to go out and enjoy limited (and responsible) dining, the industry is not thriving, and we have seen too many favourite restaurants close. HakkoBako is feeling the effects of this and has seen many cancelled orders owing to reduced budgets, but even so, it has enough commitment to move forward.
“We had a lot of restaurants and companies lined up, but now a lot of them don’t have budgets to purchase this year or even next year. We’re still seeing a lot of interest, but it’s not been the best timing for us.”
– Tommy Leung, HakkoBako founder and CEO
The commercial HakkoBako is ready for production, but travel restrictions are making it difficult to visit the manufacturer in Zhongshan, China, putting them six months behind schedule. Leung says that the slowdown has given them time to perfect the software and some additional IoT features, as well as work on a consumer version that will be smaller and operated by an app.
The HakkoBako consumer version prototype
The commercial HakkoBako is a tool for chefs and even bartenders to create and share brand-new flavours at scale. The more compact and economical consumer version will be for home users to consistently ferment time after time, regardless of the season.
We hope they get cracking on that consumer version soon. Whilst space here in Hong Kong is tight, we could certainly make room for a device to make our own yoghurt overnight, then cool it so it’s ready for breakfast in the morning. Or put some koji to work (you can buy koji at Foodcraft) on tofu or make miso or even sake!
Bonus coffee kombucha instructions from The Noma Guide to Fermentation
- 240g sugar
- 1.7L water
- 730g leftover coffee grounds (or 200g freshly ground coffee)
- 200g unpasteurised kombucha (or the liquid that comes with a packaged SCOBY)
- 1 SCOBY
- Dissolve the sugar in boiling water and mix with the spent coffee grinds.
- Let stand for a day, then strain through a cheesecloth and backslop with the finished kombucha.
- Add the SCOBY and leave to ferment as you would ordinary kombucha, at 31°C for 7–10 days.
- If you want it carbonated, add it to bottles and let stand for another 1–2 days. Otherwise, consume immediately or refrigerate.
And a bonus new word: backslop
A method of inserting a small portion of a previous batch of fermented food into the start of a new batch of food to be fermented.
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