Our sterile, pre-packaged, convenient foods, coupled with a diet high in antibiotic-filled, factory-farmed meats, have resulted in an increased need for probiotic-rich foods and supplements if we are to maintain a healthy gut flora. An ideal balance of good and bad bacteria in the digestive system means improved digestion and better body function in general.
Probiotic supplements, such as the high-quality brands BioImmersion and Klaire Labs, are good options to attain and maintain good gut health, but may not be affordable for everyone. Many people also turn to common food products such as yogurts and kefirs for their high probiotic content. Unfortunately, many of the ready-made products sold in stores are also packed with sugar, neurotoxic artificial sweeteners, thickeners, chemical additives, and/or GMOs.
Nevertheless, yogurt and kefir are delicious, versatile and very child-friendly, making them two of the most commonly consumed probiotic products. Here are two ways you can turn ordinary cow’s milk into a much healthier (and more economical) probiotic rich snack than any pre-packaged yogurt or kefir that you’d find in a store.
1. Home-Made Yogurt
Yogurt is typically made out of cow’s milk, which has been fermented by bacteria known as yogurt cultures. Making your own yogurt is not very difficult, although it does require precision in regard to timing and temperature; therefore many homemade yogurts are made using a yogurt maker device. If you want to make yogurt the old-fashioned way, here is the process.
Tools – 8-10 quart stock pot with a lid, and a smaller 4-5 quart pot that will fit inside; large plastic spoon for mixing; a dial thermometer that can be attached to the small pot; and an electric heating pad.
Ingredients – Milk is the main true ingredient. Which type of animal milk you use is up to you. You will also need a couple of tablespoons of plain sugarless yogurt with live cultures (either store bought, or the remainder of your last homemade batch).
Process – The process is essentially allowing the milk to ferment while keeping it at an ideal temperature. Allow the milk and yogurt culture to reach room temperature. Prepare the pots by placing the smaller pot in the larger one and filling the larger pot with water until it reaches about half way up the smaller pot. Remove the smaller pot and bring water to boil. Once the water is boiling, place the smaller pot back into the water, and then fill the small pot with milk up to the same level as the water outside of it. The thermometer should be placed on the edge of the small pot with the end in the milk. Heat the milk to a temperature between 170-185 degrees Fahrenheit, and keep it there until the milk reaches your desired thickness (longer time will result in thicker yogurt). Take the small pot out of the water and cool until it reaches 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the ideal temperature for adding the yogurt cultures. Once you add the culture, stir so the bacteria are evenly distributed. Next, cover the small pot with a tight lid, and place on a heating pad set to medium. Cover with a towel to help keep the temperature even and let sit for about 7 hours. When the yogurt is ready, it is best to transfer it to smaller containers with tight lids and store in the refrigerator.
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2. Home-Made Kefir
Kefir can be one of the easiest probiotic foods to make at home. It is most popularly milk based, but can also be made out of water. You will need to get your hands on some kefir grains, which look like small cauliflower florets. These can be purchased online or possibly at a local health foods store. Once you’ve gotten started making kefir, you can grow more grains, which you can save for a future batch or share with your friends. Kefir can be eaten straight, added to smoothies, blended with fruit and made into popsicles, etc.
It is important to remember that using metal while using kefir for any extended amount of time can cause an off flavor in the finished product. So use glass and plastic.
Tools – Quart size glass jar; a jar lid, or a clean cloth and rubber band to hold it into place; plastic spoon; fine mesh colander (preferably not metal); additional bowl to strain the kefir into.
Ingredients – About 1 tablespoon of kefir grains; and 2 cups of milk.
Process – To make your kefir, place your kefir grains and milk into a clean jar and stir lightly. Cover the jar with the lid, but do not tighten, or cover with a cloth secured with a string or rubber band. Allow the jar to sit at room temperature for 24 hours. For a more sour taste, let the kefir ferment longer. If your kefir grains were dormant (not used for a long time), you may need to throw out your first batch or two, allowing the grains some time to “wake up”. When the kefir is made, strain over the colander into an empty bowl or storage container. If you are lactose sensitive, it is recommended that you leave your finished kefir at room temperature for additional 24 hours, without the grains. Then it can be stored in the refrigerator. The grains can be returned into another clean jar with more milk to start your next batch. If you have too many kefir grains, you can store them in milk in the refrigerator, periodically switching out the milk every few weeks. You can also dehydrate extra kefir grains and store in a jar in a cool place.
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Considerations When Using Raw Milk
When using raw milk to make your yogurt of kefir, a few factors should be considered. First, raw milk is unpasteurized, therefore it has its own set of beneficial bacteria. If your raw milk supplier did not chill and store the milk properly, your yogurt may not culture properly or have an “off” flavor.
During the yogurt making process outlined above, you will need to heat up the milk to up to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Some people, when using raw milk, only raise the temperature of the milk to 120 degrees Fahrenheit so they do not pasteurize the milk. You must consider, though, that even if you pasteurize the milk when heating it up – killing both good and bad bacteria – you will add more healthy bacteria with your culture.
When using raw milk, you are likely to have a thinner end product then when using pasteurized milk. Raw milk is also not homogenized, therefore as your yogurt or kefir sets, the cream will rise to the top. This layer is thicker in consistency and can be mixed back into the rest of the product or eaten separately.
Read more articles by Anna Hunt.
About the Author
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.
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