“When I was 19, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. And I started researching anti-inflammatory diets, then my daughter got diagnosed as well. Arthritis is an inflammation. That’s when I came across fermentation and I started learning so much more about it,” she explains.
At home, she has been brewing kombucha for about a decade. Kombucha is made by fermenting tea sweetened with sugar. Tart, sweet and carbonated, it can be a refreshing beverage, but there are many health benefits as well. Fermentation converts the sugar into various acids and enzymes, and the drink contains vitamin C and B-vitamins.
In 2018 she started Narrow Gate Foods to offer her kombucha to Thunder Bay. In addition to kombucha and water kefir (which is made by fermenting water with sugar,) the company makes and sells sauerkraut and kimchi, both of which have been staples in Kukkee’s home for many years.
Many sourdough baking enthusiasts name their starter cultures, and Kukkee thinks kombucha is no different - she has named her SCOBYs (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) Matthew, Mark, Luke and John after the Four Evangelists.
Narrow Gate Foods’ products are available at 10 retailers in town, as well as on tap at the Body Mind Centre. Kukkee recently acquired Kumbaya Kombucha, another fermentation business in town, and is in the process of moving to a larger facility on 4497 Oliver Road. The new location will have a small retail space for walk-ins.
Once production is up and going at the new location, Kukkee intends to bring back many of Kumbaya’s popular products. “There will be SCOBY fruit leathers,” she says. “I found there was always space in the market for both of us. And there are people who prefer his flavourings. They are two different profiles. I really do enjoy them both.”
Kukkee employs five people at the company. “I’m very happy with how the business is going. I would like to expand into the region, but I have to look into refrigerated shipping, so that’s a bit more difficult.”
In the future, Kukkee hopes to expand Narrow Gate Foods’ fermented offerings. “I want to start doing more, like cheese, miso and tempeh.”