Jakob from Austria, Bex from England, living in Ibiza. A serious accident made the couple realise that life could be over tomorrow... and that food plays a very important role in a long and happy life. We spoke to Jakob, co-founder of Los Fermentistas - handmade products with millions of probiotics, to restore your inner garden.
Serious motorbike accident
Jakob and Bex met in 1990 in our own Amsterdam. "We were friends for 10 years, she was in Mexico a lot and I was in Australia a lot. In 2009, a friend invited us both and suddenly we were like, oh it would be really nice to be together. We both did our own thing, Bex did massages and still has her own business in Amsterdam. I was a graphic designer".
Sounds good, yet you guys ended up in Ibiza.... "Amsterdam was a golden cage, good work, both independent. We could both travel a lot. There was no more challenge. We went travelling, first to New Zealand and then to Bali. In Bali, I had a serious motorbike accident. That's why I have such a weird voice sometimes, I have one paralysed vocal cord". This was a big turning point for Jakob!
"I realised that life could be over tomorrow. We decided to make a change. We had wanted to leave for some time but we didn't know where to go. We went to visit a friend in Ibiza. I actually preferred to go very far away, to the tropics. In the end, we really liked it here in terms of Europe. Very international, very creative. After 10 days we decided to try it here, a month later we found a house and flew here and within 3 days we bought the house."
No more alcohol for Jacob
And how did you start Los Fermentistas? Did the idea originate in Ibiza? "I couldn't drink alcohol for 2 years in the time after the accident. I had to be completely pure. I started playing with what I could eat and drink. In terms of drinking, without alcohol, there is actually very little special. A water, or juice. Bex made kombucha the first time. I was always in the kitchen a lot so I then started playing around with kombucha recipes".
"For my mother's birthday, we were in the Netherlands at a top 10 restaurant in the world, Librije. There we tried shrimp ceviche for the first time. She used kombucha. Every beginning culture, the sour dough, for our kombucha that we use now comes from this top restaurant."
Can you tell us a bit more about the process? "They are cultures that make loisen, it stands for symbiotic culture of bacterial and yeast. Bacteria and yeast working together. One turns sugar into alcohol, and the other turns alcohol into acids. If you seal the jar, it becomes alcoholic but if you let it air out, it becomes a healthy probiotic drink. It's not like probiotic pills, because it's natural we have 60 different bacteria and yeasts. So it's a natural product with a very large diversity of cultures".
After the accident yourself, when you started eating and drinking probiotic products, what did you notice for improvement? "Better digestion. You start with 3 small glasses a day and slowly the body starts getting used to it. Digestion became better, more consistent".
Ketchup is dead
And was Bex also immediately sold? "Yes. I started playing in the kitchen and I realised that I was much more in the kitchen than at work with graphics. I found it much more fun! We jokingly said than we are going to ferment in Ibiza". The joke became reality!
So you started right away in Ibiza? "We started small. It takes around six months to get a recipe perfect. Because the produce is live, the flavour is constantly changing so it is very difficult to give a recipe the same flavour all the time. Because we make everything ourselves, the quality is always very good but the taste can change slightly. Ketchup always tastes the same, but that's dead - this is alive!"
'Fuck me I’m fermented'
"We started in a local market, we informed a lot of people. Spain is a bit behind. It's really starting to do well now, 5 years later. We decided to make the branding a bit revolutionary, less hippy. Change. We created some slogans like 'Fuck me I'm fermented'. It's not only healthy but also a message of hey, make a change in your life".
Still, there is a bit of an image of Kombucha and other fermented products that it is not very tasty "We use cava with sauerkraut to make the taste more elegant. Kombucha with rose, very refreshing. We look for the best flavours and not the biggest quantity. Our goal is to make health food that also tastes really good".
A-haa so that's fermentation
Now if someone wants to improve their gut health, what do you recommend starting with? "The best thing is not too much at once. Just kimchi daily with every meal, one scoop added. In the beginning, if you take a lot of the probiotics, then the body may say. hey this is too much and then you shit it all out. That's the worst thing that can happen. So it's best to let the body get used to it slowly".
But why is it that we don't get enough bacteria in our daily lives? Was this different in the past? "Especially in the northern part of the world, produce was always fermented because this was one of the ways to preserve food for the winter. This is one of the easiest ways to preserve food. Create the right environment and then you have food for 6 months to a year. Actually, all cultures in the world have fermented products. Often we don't know what is fermented but, for example, cheese, soy sauce, tofu, fish sauce, all alcohol, most bread.... Fermentation is not obvious to many people but it is the change of microbes that change something. So yeast, mould or bacteria doing a metabolism, that's fermentation".
Our body is an ecosystem
And does everyone need this? "We have all taken antibiotics at some point in our lives. This reduces the bacteria in our body. I am not saying antibiotics are completely bad but, it has saved my life once or twice too. But it is true that we come from a culture where we use a lot of antibiotics for everything. We have to try to get the bacteria through the stomach on a daily basis so that it replenishes our intestines."
"More and more we understand this. We come from a time when we mainly looked at genes. But that's really mainly the size and colour of hair for example. But microbes is proof that we are not an individual but an ecosystem. Actually, we are the planet of bacteria. It was long thought that the colon did nothing. The bacteria cut the complex molecules small so that we can absorb the minerals and vitamins."
Artisanal & sustainable
And do you still make everything yourselves? "Yes, we make everything ourselves by hand. Everything is cut by hand and mixed by hand. Making tea, making water hot, putting sugar in, cooling it, mixing it in the vat. After 10 days, it is tapped, replenished, date stuck and sealed. There is a lot of work involved when you make something artisanal".
What is the difference between you and other similar products? "We use local products as much as possible. We have 2 farmers who plant cabbages for us. It's twice season here, so that's handy. And what we have changed is the deposit. In the Netherlands it's quite normal, but not here. We have bottles with €0.50 and bottles with bracket for €2.00.... all jars have €1.00 deposit. We buy them back from the shop and use them again. We are on an island, glass recycling would go to Barcelona! More than 50% of the products come back". See, this is what we love! Small passionate businesses that besides helping many people with a healthier lifestyle also think about the environment and preserving our beloved Ibiza.
That's what we do it for
What makes Ibiza so special? "It's very international. It's very different, the monaco of Spain. It's from a creative hippy living in a cave to a millionaire. It's very diverse, a lot of good music. This is because of the Ibiza/Goa connection, from the 60s.
In addition, the island is very intense, it is small and intimate. But still difficult to get business running. There are lots of people in summer but no one in winter. It's up & down. Jakob tells us it wasn't easy during the pandemic. But what has been your motivation to keep going? "So many people have come back with feedback on how much it helped them, or how much it helped their children, that's what we do it for."
Any Ibiza tips? "My tip would be, don't just go to a beach, just drive around and walk. In Ibiza, you always come across beautiful things. For example, there are fresh water springs or you can also visit farmers and see how things are made... there is more than just partying.
So you're not up for a party? "Yep! Parties we organise ourselves. As a group, we have sound systems, decoration and lights... it's a co-creation. Everyone brings their glass, brings what they have and together we build a party".
Los Fermentistas products are available in eco stores and supermarkets in Ibiza. But we can also organise something really fun for you, Jakob and Bex also provide high-end catering for private events! Culinary delights, with products from their own garden and good for your rumen too! To quench your thirst, there is the alchemy bar with cocktails, with or without alcohol... but always with kombucha.
And if you are looking for something really special for your event... the icing on the fermented cake... Jakob and Bex have their own show, "Light Catcher". Here, Bex dances in a homemade costume and Jakob projects animations on her. Trippy!