JOHOR BARU, March 26 – Sauerkraut isn’t for everyone.

When I was studying in Munich years ago, this fermented food was a popular dish. A staple side, often served with sausages, potatoes and even added to stews.

But sauerkraut – made by fermenting shredded raw cabbage with lactic acid bacteria – is not something that the average Malaysian consumer is familiar with. Perhaps it’s too sour. Perhaps the flavour of caraway seeds, often added to sauerkraut in Germany and Austria, is too pungent and anise-like.

So consider me pleasantly surprised when I found out Brew By Root, a fermented food company based in Johor Baru is making artisanal sauerkraut.


The founder of Brew by Root, Tan Junhao, studied food science in Australia.
The founder of Brew by Root, Tan Junhao, studied food science in Australia.

Its founder, Tan Junhao, studied food science at the University of Queensland, so the intricacies of recipe development are something right up his alley.

But how does one market sauerkraut, a decidedly more Germanic fermented food to an Asian audience?


Tan says, "I agree that sauerkraut is not a common product in Malaysia. However, we noticed similarities between sauerkraut and salted vegetables commonly used in local households. It can be stir-fried with vegetables, used as a soup base, or garnished on top of steamed dishes.”

Another interesting fermented food that Brew By Root produces is kimchi. Now this Korean food is ubiquitous in our supermarkets, fuelled in part by K-dramas and K-pop. But Tan’s version adds an interesting dimension by making it 100 per cent vegan.

Brew By Root’s kimchi is vegan as only plant-based ingredients are used during fermentation.
Brew By Root’s kimchi is vegan as only plant-based ingredients are used during fermentation.

He explains, "Our kimchi is considered vegan as we use plant-based ingredients during the kimchi fermentation. We also add our own brewed kombucha to make it more nutritious and enhance its taste.”

This was a case of passion meeting market demand. Tan shares, "We choose to make it vegan to encourage people to consume more plant-based products. Furthermore, we also address the problem faced by some of our customers who couldn’t find proper vegan kimchi.”

Born and raised in Johor Baru, Tan’s journey into fermentation began during his studies in Brisbane. He recalls, "The booming kombucha trend in Australia sparked my interest, and upon returning to Malaysia, I noticed a gap in the local market for this healthy beverage.”

This led Tan to start brewing kombucha at home and experimenting with flavours before launching his own brand.

He shares, "I’ve spent the past five years dedicated to Brew By Root. Turning 30 in January was a reminder that adulthood is upon me, but my passion for kombucha and entrepreneurship keeps me feeling young at heart.”

There are several types of kombucha available in the market, Tan says, that run the gamut from pure fermented kombucha to soda-like kombucha that is mostly pasteurised and carbonated, resembling a soft drink with a certain percentage of kombucha, and even powdered kombucha.

"Our brand's kombucha is pure kombucha, delicately fermented from tea. The entire fermentation process takes at least three weeks, during which we run numerous trials to ensure the best quality and flavour for our clients.”

Jars of kombucha in various stages of fermentation.
Jars of kombucha in various stages of fermentation.

So imagine rows upon rows of glass jars; kombucha in various stages of fermentation.

Enjoy kombucha made from dragon fruit.
Enjoy kombucha made from dragon fruit.

Brew By Root’s standard kombucha flavours include Dragon Fruit, Bentong Ginger and Original Black Tea. Other unique flavours sampled from various tea cultures: Chrysanthemum (Chinese), Earl Grey Cinnamon (British), Rooibos (Australian) and Jun Tea (made with green tea and honey instead of black tea and sugar).

Other flavours of kombucha include Bentong Ginger, Chrysanthemum and Earl Grey Cinnamon.
Other flavours of kombucha include Bentong Ginger, Chrysanthemum and Earl Grey Cinnamon.

Upon hearing of my love for coffee, Tan adds, "We have actually developed a pure coffee kombucha!” so look out for that to be launched soon.

Just like any other entrepreneur, Tan has faced his fair share of challenges along the way, from educating the public about fermented foods to navigating the Covid-19 pandemic.

He says, "While I wouldn’t say I’m always positive-minded – in fact, I often teeter on the edge of burnout and breakdown – I consistently analyse mistakes and root causes when issues arise. I’ve faced setbacks but have always managed to get back up, learn, and move forward.”

Spoken like a true entrepreneur, but also a fermentation enthusiast who is always seeking to return to the root of ancestral foods. Which harkens to how Tan decided on the name for his business.

He explains, "I was inspired by the idea of a real food diet that is widely encouraged across Australian culture. It also signifies the place where things began in Chinese. This concept aligns with the tradition of fermented foods, which have been around for thousands of years and are predominantly made from real ingredients.”

Real food, real nutrition. Eating habits that have stood the test of time, something Brew By Root is aiming for too, as a business. Now, who’s game to try some sauerkraut?

Brew By Root

6, Jalan Undan 18, Taman Perling, Johor Baru

Open Mon-Fri 9am-6pm; Sat & Sun closed

Phone: 011-3663 1265




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