Greg Arnold is the fermentation funkmaster behind Dark Horse Organic, a high-vibe, high-end, and high-flavor line of artfully packaged condiments that have taken over our feed — and our food. The Los Angeles-based company is on a mission to make what's old new again. "People have been using fermentation to preserve foods for thousands of years, really," Greg explains. "[Food that's been fermented] is the healthiest and most natural to eat."
Greg is taking on the classics (like ketchup and mustard) and giving them delicious twists, thanks to the power of ferments. His condiments are making their way into some of our favorite stores (including CAP Beauty).
We caught up with Greg to learn all the new ways he's using these ancient ferments in the kitchen.
Most of the condiments we're used to in grocery stores aren't fermented. Why is that?
Everything that's in [grocery store condiments] as preservatives were really just put in there to make food cheaper and last longer. And to not have to spend as much on the labor of creating it. Almost every sauce that we would have had in previous centuries is fermented. The older sauces like hot sauce, soy sauce, those kinds of things are all still fermented. I want to bring more of these older techniques to my condiments.
So the past is modern again?
Yeah, that's kind of the whole thing behind [our] ancient modern concept. It's like ancient foods are what I envision for the future of foods, kind of skipping over this industrial revolution experiment that failed, in my eyes.
How did you learn how to ferment?
All the restaurants that I've opened in Los Angeles were plant-based restaurants. I've always had a certain affinity and gravity towards plants and experimenting with them. And then through the restaurants we begun to ferment foods, really for more flavor. We started fermenting things and then dehydrating them and then powdering them — just experimenting. Because we would change the menu depending on what was at the markets, we were always researching. Through years of doing that, I felt like we had come across some great ways of doing things.
I'm a full-time working mom and I've got two teenage girls. When I come home to cook dinner I try to keep everything as healthy, plant-based, and as delicious as possible. I've been experimenting with your Umami Powder for easy flavor (I love it!), but I'm not sure I'm using it correctly. What's the best way to incorporate it into everyday home cooking?
I see it as a great building block to build dishes on and it can also go on at the last minute as a garnish. It's also great on sliced avocado as a snack. The thing with our Umami Powder was that we originally [wanted it to be] more like a base for sauces, broths, stocks, and soups. We had made different versions of it and we made versions that tasted insane. It was so over the top with so many flavors. And then we just pulled it back a little because it was actually staying true to the sense of the umami.
I've come to grow to love your Fermented Ketchup, but I'll admit that it took me a while because it doesn't taste like the ketchup we all grew up on — at all. Of all your products, to me, your ketchup is the most radical departure. You must hear that a lot.
Totally. [That's the reason] why we made it. When I started working on making ketchup, it was just crazy the amount of sugar and salt that I was pouring into it until I got it to where I was like, that tastes exactly like Heinz. It was like cups and cups of stuff. It got to that point and we were like, okay, I guess that's what it is.
Then almost accidentally we had smoked vegetables, like smoked carrots and smoked beets and smoked onions and stuff, to use them to flavor other things in broths and making sauces. Then we would wrap them in cheese cloth and then pull them out later, after they had stewed. One day I took all of those things and I just blended them. And it had this really smoky, salty thing going on. [We started to] pull the [idea for] the ketchup off of that, along with the brine from leftover sauerkraut. You don't know how crazy-traditional American sauces are — ranch dressing, ketchup, and barbecue sauce — until you are making them.
I've gotten into this habit with your Pickled Mustard Seeds — I eat them with a spoon straight out of the jar because I like popping the mustard seeds between my tongue and the roof of my mouth! What's your favorite way to cook with your mustard seeds?
When we make salads at home we use them and we make a tahini tamari mustard dressing. It's so good. Here's how to make it at home..
Mustard Tahini Sauce
Makes 1 serving
1 tablespoon Dark Horse Fermented Dijon
1 tablespoon Dark Horse Pickled Mustard Seed
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon tamari
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, plus more as needed
Whisk all the ingredients together. Add more apple cider vinegar if the dressing needs to be looser. Taste and season with salt as needed.
Where are Dark Horse concoctions made?
We have an industrial kitchen space that's above Chinatown in Los Angeles. It's a cool vibe in there. It's really just me and my one sous-chef. We make and jar everything. It's mellow. At this point we don't want to hire anyone that we don't know that's not in the family of people that we pull from. And I guess that is one benefit of having had restaurants for a long time is I have a good list of people who I like to work with.
What's the significance behind the name Dark Horse?
I've always loved the album All Things Must Pass by George Harrison, and am a fan of his music. [Harrison founded the label Dark Horse Records in 1974 and has a solo record by the same name.] I didn't want to have your typical health food brand. I wanted everything to feel more like a skateboard company and the art to look more like '70s, German electronic music album covers. I just wanted it to be something different, and then I just thought that it kind of makes us the Dark Horse.
Your mod label art attracted me to your products — they beg to live out in the open and on a prominent shelf, not hiding in the pantry.
I spend a lot of time making the art and doing the branding. I love it when people say that because [the art] is part of the business.
I just got the Rose Gold Wildflower Honey. It's 'grammable and delicious, but why is rose gold good for us to eat?
It's just about getting more minerals into your diet and into your body. People have been using gold internally and externally forever. It goes back to Egypt. Rose gold is an interesting mineral to be ingesting. I think minerals are super important and probably one of the most overlooked things in healthful cuisine. So much of your body's chemistry really revolves off of the minerals [that work to] create stronger chemical compounds that run your body.
What's your go-to healthy, midweek dinner?
Classic potato tacos are so good. You can just roast the potatoes and spice them up with taco seasoning or chili powder and olive oil. And I like to sauté some kale and mash that all in with the potatoes along with some onions. Just add some avocado, hot sauce, and something pickled or bright and fermented — and it's great! I use Mi Rancho organic corn tortillas.
My husband now insists that we travel with your Fermented Jalapeno Hot Sauce — he will not leave home without it. What Dark Horse products make it into your luggage?
The Umami Powder. The powder is probably the most distinct thing and it literally, like you were saying, can just be sprinkled it on anything as a flavor booster. And the hot sauce. Always the hot sauce.
Interview has been edited for clarity.