I like to grow microbes in food. Gross? No, delicious actually. I used to work in biotech and my job was to grow cells in vessels to make drugs used in clinical trials. Now I ferment stuff in my kitchen, different bugs, same concept. This blog is about fermented foods, probiotics and how to make one of my favorites: yogurt.
Fermented foods are good for you. Humans have been fermenting food for a long time. It was discovered that cheese making was happening in Northern Europe in 7000 BC! From the well known yogurt to kimchi, a fermented cabbage, and sauerkraut, its european counterpart, to the lesser known natto, a fermented soybean from Japan, you can basically ferment anything and everything. Most fermentations use bacteria but yeast can also be involved in the process such as in kefir, kombucha, and beer and wine of course. Fermented food does preserve longer and some of the fiber that could be an irritant to the gut becomes pre-digested thanks to all the little bugs feeding on them. These bacteria, which we also call probiotics, when in the form of a little pill, can colonize your gut and help with IBS and other intestinal issues. If you think about it, we have more bacteria in our body than our own cells and they control much more than we think, talk about alien abduction! Ingesting probiotics has been shown to relieve symptoms of colds and flu, they are being developed to cure C. Difficile, this hard to get rid bacterial infection, and guess what, the type of bacteria that lives in your body can actually predict if you are going to be obese…Check out this company from San Francisco: Ubiome. For a decent price you can analyze your microbiome and see how it compares with other people. This is on my to do list BTW. Some compare our gut microbiome to a second brain and these bacteria can actually help with depression and anxiety. They can modulate the expression of GABA receptors which helps to decrease anxiety, a little bit like a Valium aka mother’s little helper (but different mechanism)! And that is why I eat loooots of yogurt.
Probiotic quality can be variable, the content is not exactly what is shown on the label or it is not very active, so you need to look at the quality control behind it. The strain that you choose is also very important if you want help with a particular issue whether gut, skin or brain related, so be careful and look at the science or ask a good health practitioner. However, for health in general why not make your own probiotic-like food: yogurt.
Yogurt is really simple to make. First you need some really good quality milk. Full fat from grass-fed cows is the best in my view. Here is one study, although done in mice, to show how superior grass-fed milk is. The fact that the composition is higher in plant Omega-3s (alpha linoleic acid) is a good thing…Here is a review on how full fat milk reduces diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
What about homogenization? Some say that reducing the fat droplet size by homogenization can result in an increase in fat bound to casein and whey proteins resulting in increased allergies and risk of cardiovascular disease. It is not proven yet. But me, I’m always a fan of the less processed the better so if I have a choice between the two then I’ll go with the non-homogenized.
Here is my choice:
Where I live I get this milk from the Strauss Family creamery. (Top Secret: This milk can also be found at TJs in my neighborhood under Cream on top milk. Much cheaper) Let’s get back to our yogurt. First you want to heat up your milk to 160-180 F to kill any unwanted bacteria that could “contaminate” your culture. If your milk is fresh from the farm, you can bypass this. Even if it has been pasteurized to remove a lot of the bacteria, as soon as milk is processed and bottled the bacterial count starts going up again while still being very safe to consume. You need to let your yogurt cool down to 110F before putting your culture in.
To culture my yogurt, I like this yogurt maker. It is basically a heated container that keeps the temperature of your yogurt at around 110F. Before I put the milk in, I add my little packet of culture. I like this one which is very mild and soft. You need to reuse a new packet every time. Might not be the most economical way but it is still cheaper than most yogurt and the best quality you can have. That is your best option, if you are not making yogurt very often. If you are ready for the once a week regimen, you can try this Greek yogurt starter which is reusable. By that, I mean that you use 4Tbsp of your week old yogurt to reinoculate your next batch.
Don’t forget to stir and then let it sit for 4-8 hours. Yes it can be variable because this is not an exact science, we don’t know exactly how many bugs we started with, the temperature might be a little off, etc. You know it is ready when you swirl the container gently and the yogurt swirls with it, it is loosely set. You have to refrigerate it before eating. Here you see the yellowish cream on top.
It is always good to drain your greek yogurt so it gets thicker. I drain it in this container for 2-3 hours in the fridge and what you see at the bottom is whey. Whey consists of the water soluble milk proteins and goes down with the liquid with some of the lactose, while the casein the other major milk proteins coagulates during fermentation and stays with the fat. Are you concerned about the environmental impact of all that whey that gets dumped in the environment? Well there are a lot of things you can do with it. You can add it in soil to grow your tomatoes, you can substitute it in a recipe instead of buttermilk, you can use it to cook rice, soak nuts and grains, ferment vegetables, you get the idea.
Here it is. So basically your Greek yogurt is more concentrated in protein (mostly casein) and fat with less of the lactose. What is not to love. Note that casein is an excellent recovery protein for evening workouts as it digests more slowly and supplies some of the good amino acids for a long time while you sleep…
Good night! Here is to your health, gut health and what comes with it, performance.