Lacto-fermentation and Probiotics 1: Making Yoghurt

One of the Four Pillars mentioned in Deep Nutrition is fermented foods. These ancient recipes are the original supplements and superfoods, We have been losing these gems of nutrition at a surprisingly rapid rate, thanks to industrial standardisation, centralisation and sterilisation. As we have moved towards this post industrial revolution diet, we have become more susceptible to the ravages of diseases that were almost non-existent only a few years ago. (How many young people do you know with food intolerances or allergies?)

In our not-to-distant past, every region would have their specialities. From sauerkraut, to kvass, to ginger beer, to pickles, to ketchup, seasonal fruits and vegetables were preserved using natural means for later consumption. Rather than negating their nutritional value, as most modern preservation methods do, these ancient methods enhance and enrich the foods. Essential nutrients were sometimes made more bio-available by the simple action of a few bugs and digestibility of some foodstuffs was enhanced.

Keeping the crew happy

It is estimated that only 10% of the cells which make up your body are human, the rest are micro-organisms (mostly bacteria and fungi) that form a symbiotic relationship with your body. This is known as the human biome. As such it may be more accurate to imagine your body as a ship and the micro-organisms as the crew. The crew carry out specific functions, such as aiding digestion, creating vitamins and many other duties. Most importantly, they help to fight off invaders. It is estimated that 70% of the immune system is based in the gut. Without the crew, the ship would begin to fall apart. If the crew are not well looked after they may become inefficient at their jobs, or they even start to mutiny and turn on the body causing auto-immune disorders. We can keep the crew happy by keeping them well fed and looked after and in turn, the happy crew carry out their duties. An unhappy, underfed crew create a tension within. This could be seen as a release of chemical signals within our bodies which can trigger cravings or allergies, although there is another possibility. If we consider that every living organism has a bio-energetic field that interacts with the bio-energetic fields of it’s neighbours, we may start to get another idea about cravings. What we have observed with candida albicans overgrowth is cravings for those things that feed the bugs, i.e. sugars and carbohydrates. We say that the bugs are doing the thinking. I don’t doubt that they are causing some biochemical imbalance which also leads to cravings, but when you realise that your crew makes up 90% of you, it must be impossible for the captain (your mind) not to hear them!

Prepare for real taste sensations

Introducing fermented foods and beverages into your diet can be one of the easiest steps towards feeling good, both physically and mentally. It doesn’t take up much time and it doesn’t cost much. You probably have most of the equipment and ingredients around already, although I have to warn you that you may become a jar hoarder once you develop a taste for fermentation! You get to play, you get to create taste sensations and you start to realise that what you always thought was the premium product is actually a pale shadow of the real thing.

This happened to me with mayonnaise. I had a fierce loyalty towards Hellmann’s Mayonnaise (especially on turkey sandwiches!) I had tried other mayonnaise, but it just didn’t measure up to Hellmann’s. Then I moved to Guatemala. It was different here, the premium products were from the US. Things tasted weird, and not in a good way, even the Hellmann’s mayonnaise. The ketchup was made using high fructose corn syrup rather than sugar and was way too sweet. My first reaction was to just stop buying those products, which was probably a pretty good thing. Then nostalgia set in, I started to want things I could not find in the stores. I wanted Heinz baked beans and Marmite, so I turned to the internet and found that I was not alone. Other people had already been experimenting, making their own versions of their favourites. The baked beans were pretty easy, and proved rather popular amongst the British ex-pats here, the Marmite is to date one of my most complicated and unusual projects.

Getting back to the mayonnaise, when I received my copy of Nourishing Traditions, I started to understand what condiments really were, what their original purpose was. We use modern, store bought condiments as flavour enhancers, to brighten up foods, and often to get a sugar hit to feed our sugar addictions. These sauces and pickles have been redesigned from their origins. Mass produced condiments use sugar and vinegar to extend shelf life and create conformity. Naturally fermented, probiotic condiments help you to digest your food and bolster your own biome. It is like taking a shot of tasty medicine with your meal. When I learnt how easy it is to make REAL mayonnaise, that is every bit as thick and creamy as the store bought version, but is laced with probiotic bacteria, I never looked at a store bought version again. I’ll share the recipe with you shortly.

Where to start?

Many of the recipes in Nourishing Traditions call for whey. This was something I had seen as an ingredient on packets, but never seen in real life. I use it in my recipes too, usually, although some changes in the milk here have caused me to try whey free versions, which also worked. I do recognise that some people who read this may want to work with dairy free versions. But whey, where does it come from, how do get hold of some? The answer is far easier than you may expect. Whey is that liquid that you find floating on the top of good quality yoghurt. It is yellowy green and slightly viscous, it often reminds me of diesel! One litre of yoghurt will usually yield about half a litre of whey. If you are in a rush to get started you could buy a litre of good quality live yoghurt, otherwise you can make your yoghurt, which can work out a lot cheaper.

Making yoghurt

It is so easy, once you start you will wonder why you ever bought yoghurt. Of course the best quality of ingredients you can get will give you the most nutritions product, but do the best you can. If you live somewhere that you can get hold of organic,  raw milk from pasture fed cows, you have hit the jackpot. However, most of us have to make do with store bought, pasteurised milk. For your first experiment at least try to find organic whole milk, if possible not homogenised. The yoghurt starter should also be the best quality you can find, such as Rachel’s or Yeo Valley in the UK. Make sure that the only ingredients are milk and yoghurt cultures. If there is anything else on the label, choose another brand.

You will need:

Ingredients: 1 litre of milk, 2 tablespoons of plain live yoghurt

Materials: Saucepan, 1 litre clean glass jar, thermometer (optional), cooler/ice chest/ cardboard box with a blanket or towel.

Take the original yoghurt culture out of the fridge and put two tablespoons into a 1 litre glass jar, this will allow the bugs to come up to room temperature and get active.

For store milk: Heat the milk in a saucepan to about 90C (180F) if you have  a thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer, this is the point where the skin just starts to form on the milk with a few bubbles under it. Turn off the heat and allow the milk to cool to 45C (110F). This should be about the temperature of a pleasantly warm bath.

For raw milk: Heat the milk to about 45C (110F) taking care not to scorch it

Pour the milk into the jar with the yoghurt starter and stir well with a wooden spoon. Put the lid on the jar and put the jar in a warm place. I am fortunate in that I live in a place warm enough that I can make yoghurt without too much difficulty. If you have an airing cupboard, this might be a great option for keeping your yoghurt warm. I have also used an oven which has been turned off and allowed to cool down. Another option is to put a couple of bottles of warm water in an ice box or cardboard box. Wrap a blanket or towel around your yoghurt jar to keep it away from extremes of temperature, then leave it alone. For some reason, yoghurt bugs don’t seem to respond well to being moved around. After 8 – 12 hours you will have your first batch of yoghurt. It should look thick, almost solid and you may see the whey floating on top. You can now store it in the fridge. The yoghurt will continue to slowly ferment in the fridge, and should not really go bad, although it will get increasingly sour as more lactose is turned to lactic acid. Always remember to keep a couple of tablespoons of your yoghurt as a starter for the next batch.

Whey and Cream Cheese

So now you can get to making your whey. This is a very easy process that has a rather tasty by product – cream cheese!

You will need: A batch of yoghurt, a large strainer or sieve,  cheesecloth or paper kitchen towel, a large bowl

Line the strainer with cheesecloth or paper towel and place over the bowl, then pour your yoghurt into the cheesecloth. I put a plate on top of the strainer and then a tea towel over the plate to stop flies getting in. The whey will collect in the bowl. Once it has stopped dripping (12-24 hours), the cream cheese is ready. Put the whey in a glass bottle and store in the fridge. the cream cheese should separate out of the cheesecloth / paper towel quite easily. I like to add chopped walnuts, herbs, garlic and salt to the cream cheese, then store it in the refrigerator.

In the next post we will be using the whey as a starter in lacto-fermented foods.

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