by Sarica Cernohous, L.Ac.
Health Benefits of Cultured Dairy
Consuming cultured dairy was one of the first changes our family made when we started our journey of bringing whole-food nutrition into our lives–specifically, store-bought goat yogurt. The reasons were many, but here are a few:
- The culturing of dairy reduces the lactose (milk sugar) in the milk, transforming milk into a rich source of immune-building probiotics that is lower in naturally-occurring sugars and higher in Vitamins B and C
- Culturing dairy generally makes it much more digestible by breaking down the casein (milk protein) that can be very troublesome for many
- It also increases the enzymes in the milk (even pasteurized milk that is then cultured has a boost to its enzyme capacity), which helps to digest the components of the milk
How to Culture Dairy
Once I understood WHY it was important to consume cultured dairy, I quickly became interested in all the different HOWS—how to make my own, what types of culturing could be done, what types of milk could be used. I became culturally consumed!
After our family became used to the tangier flavor of commercially-prepared goat yogurt, I became keen on making my own—after all, I knew that making homemade yogurt was a skill still widely practiced in Europe, so the tools had to be out there.
Thankfully, there were a few online resources regarding the different types of culturing, and places to buy what was needed to get my own home chemistry happening—this was definitely the start of my seeing our kitchen as a place of production, experimentation and lab work! My paradigm shifted from seeing our home as a place of consumption to rather being one of creation. Profoundly satisfying!
History of Cultured Dairy
My study of cultured dairy brought me to understanding how traditional cultures have used the culturing process for centuries as a means of food preservation (in the tradition of sauerkraut, kim chee, and the like.) Before the advent of refrigeration, and when food came at a much greater effort (milking the animal, rather than stopping by Safeway on your round of errands), it was imperative that there be a means of preserving what was produced.
This ancient way of preservation helped to create some of the incredibly nutritious foods our forefathers consumed. I’m not sure if there was an understanding of the healing byproducts of their preserved foods, but regardless, they were an integral part of keeping them well. (One can only imagine where we would be, physically, had the refrigerator never come to pass.)
Soon I located a yogurt maker—basically, a warming container, that holds the temperature even so that thermophilic (heat-loving) cultures could flourish in the milk being cultured. In turn, I also learned that if there are some cultures that are heat-loving, then there are others that will culture at room temperature (mesophilic.)
Around this time, I also found the thermophilic cultures necessary to make yogurt with my yogurt container from Cultures for Health –they have many varieties of yogurt from which to choose.
Given that the milk is heated (albeit rather low, in the 110 degree Fahrenheit range), and the culture is rather acidic, I never felt right about using the plastic containers usually sold for homemade yogurt. Pretty early on, I started using glass Ball jars, which I cover with a paper towel that is held in place with the metal ring that is used for canning. This removes any concerns over plastics leaching, the paper towel keeps out anything I don’t want in there, and the glass jars make for a very clean washing and reuse (no greasy residue, as happens with plastics.)
Around this time, I also started reading about something like yogurt, only more of a drinkable cultured dairy—and it was a type of culturing that called on not just healthy bacteria, but also on yeasts, and in doing so made a rather fizzy, fermented drink. What a concept! Taking still, sweet milk, and creating a bubbly drink? In kefir , it happens!
So, between the 2 means of culturing, I soon had 4 jars of cultured dairy products on the counters—yogurt and kefir made with cow’s milk, and yogurt and kefir made with goat’s milk—and there was great variance in all of them! The goat products tend to be thinner and more tart—better as a base for a smoothie rather than spooning. The cow products do thicken up more—adding just a bit of stevia with vanilla extract, or fresh fruit, makes for a refreshing snack, definitely spoonable!
The Fun of Cultured Dairy
And once the Pandora’s box of culturing was open, I found myself trying out all kinds of cultures and methods—crème fraiche, buttermilk and various soft cheeses have all been part of my endeavors. Not once have I been disappointed—making freshly cultured foods is very satisfying, and it seems everyone is interested to try them. (It is a joy to bring along freshly-made chevre to a dinner party!)
These days, I tend to stick with kefir made from raw goat’s milk, and yogurt made from raw cow’s milk. It’s easy enough to switch this up if I choose—simply add a bit of kefir grains to either type of milk, allow to sit, covered, at room temperature for a day, and we have kefir. The same is true for the yogurt—add the cultures to our milk selection, and we’ll have fresh yogurt made from that milk chosen, in about 6 to 8 hours.
Yogurt and kefir tend to be the base for sweeter foods at our house—adding a little stevia and sweet spices creates a great foundation for some fresh fruit. But each is also wonderful when taken in the savory direction—add some to a homemade dressing, or use as a dip or sauce for vegetables—just add garlic, onion, sea salt and any herbs you like.
When I make yogurt, I just add fresh milk to what yogurt was left over from that day (I like to reserve at least 1/3 of the original for this—otherwise, there is nothing from which to culture the milk.) Then I put the mixture into a clean jar and leave it overnight in the yogurt maker, during which time it makes itself. How easy is that?
And in the morning, we have a wonderful, freshly-cultured food, ready to go. I remove the yogurt from the maker and leave it in its jar for the day, stored in the refrigerator to halt the culturing process.
Likewise, after milk has been transformed to kefir, I strain the kefir from the kefir grains, and place the kefir in the refrigerator to hasten the culturing.
Next, I rinse the grains in clean water and place them in a glass jar, covering them with fresh milk and storing them in the refrigerator. When I’m ready to make more kefir, I simply add the grains to a quart of new milk, and set the new mix out at room temperature overnight. Simple and terrific!
So, if you’re not making your own yogurt or kefir at home, I encourage you to give it a try—it really does make itself. In fact, if your interest is piqued to learn more, I might suggest the Nourished Kitchen Get Cultured class on culturing foods at home.
When you culture at home, you make a product that is prepared with the healthy ingredients you choose, full of life-giving enzymes and probiotics. But if you plan to use a store-bought variety, just look for a full-fat, unsweetened, organic option. And do try the goat yogurt—you might just love it.
Purchase Cultured Dairy
If you do not want to make your own and still enjoy the benefits of cultured dairy, the best cultured dairy product available are Jordan Rubin’s Beyond Organic Amasai which is made from raw cow’s milk, that is low temperature pasteurized. It has over 31 probiotic cultures and does not contain the common allergy protein A1-beta casein.
Homemade, lacto-fermented, raw sauerkraut and other cultured vegetables is such a total delight! And, as I enjoy my new favorite book, The Art of Fermentation, gifted to me by my sister for Mother’s Day, my appreciation grows deeper.
There are a number of different ways to start a ferment–you can use starter granules, a little whey from fresh yogurt, SueroGold whey water by Beyond Organic, some of the liquid from a previous fresh ferment, or by use of salt, as this recipe does.
That being said, it also inhibits some of the beneficial bacteria that we are attempting to propagate in the culture. So, while this may be the simplest way to make a batch of fermented produce (most of us have plenty of salt on hand, while maybe not the other culturing media), it is not necessarily the most nutritious of the various options. We added the whey water option in the recipe below.
However, it is very nutritious, all the same. In addition to a large dose and variety of healthy living bacteria, cultured vegetables are high in vitamins A and C as well as other phytonutrients and anti-oxidants. Studies indicate that pytonutrients like glucosinolate contained in cruciferous vegetables enhance liver detoxification, digestion and have anti-inflammatory properties.
Cultured Vegetable Recipe
Don’t feel beholden to my ingredients–this is what I had on hand from my most recent CSA purchase.Just be sure to consume it within two weeks so that the balance of healthy flora doesn’t begin to lose ground against any airborne unhealthy flora, leading to mold and a degradation of the probiotics you’ve worked so hard to create!
Makes approximately 1/2 gallon
2 medium heads of Cabbage, one pureed or pulverized, the other shredded*
1 English Cucumber, shredded
3 Spring Onions, pureed or pulverized*
1 Red or Yellow Bell Pepper, pureed or pulverized*
8-9 small Carrots (approximately 1.5 cups), shredded
2 cups Spinach, pureed or pulverized
4-5 tablespoons Celtic Sea Salt
2 Quart-sized Mason Jars, or 1 half-gallon Mason Jar
“Whey Water Option” 1 – Cup Whey Water such as SueroGold for a more nutritious and living vegetables IMPORTANT reduce salt to only 2 – teaspoons if adding whey water. The salt promotes the lactic acid bacteria that “out compete” any bad bacteria.
Using the blade attachment on a food processor, pulverize chunks of cabbage (if you don’t have a food processor, you can shred the cabbage, then pound it with a meat cleaver in a sturdy, flat-yet-bowled-dish, allowing the juices within the cabbage to be released. You would then do the same with any of the other ingredients that call for pureeing or pulverizing.)
Once complete, pour out into a large, non-plastic bowl, then pulverize the onions, pepper and spinach, and scoop this mixture onto the pulverized cabbage.
Next, attach the shredding component to the processor. Shred the other head of cabbage, cucumber and carrots. Pour this mixture onto the pulverized mixture, sprinkle with Celtic sea salt and mix well.
Allow all ingredients to sit a few minutes, for the salt to release the juices from the vegetables. When you see pools of liquid in the mixture, carefully transfer everything into clean glass jars, compressing down the mixture, making sure all the vegetables are covered by their juices by at least an inch, and allowing at least another inch of space at the top for the mixture to rise a little during the fermentation process.
Place in a dark, cool cupboard and do not disturb for at least three days (a week if you’re putting everything into one, big, half-gallon jar), during which the lacto-fermentation process will be well underway. When complete, remove from the cupboard for storage in the refrigerator. Be careful when removing the lid–carbonation from the fermentation process may very likely give rise to juices spilling over the top.
Enjoy with grass-fed meats, as a dollop on fresh salads or soups, or as a pairing with raw cheeses. Plan to consume in its entirety within two weeks, so that the healthy bacteria remains strong.
*This recipe can also be made without a food processor. Instead, thinly shred all the ingredients, sprinkle with salt and pulverize with a meat tenderizer until juices begin to run from the vegetables.
Jordan Rubin will also be providing done for you cultured vegetables through Beyond Organic in the near future. Cultured vegetables and culture dairy provide a large dose and wide variety of beneficial lactic acid bacteria which not only assist in the digestive process but also create a variety of vitamins and other nutrients for the body. A serving of cultured vegetables or cultured dairy provides your body more beneficial bacteria and health benefits than any probiotic drink or supplement sold in stores. You can read more about this in this article the New Science of Probiotics.
You can Sarica via her website @ www.naturallylivingtoday.com