I’ve been on a journey for a while now, and it’s really not over yet. Ever since I got married (32 years ago today!) and we decided to become vegetarian for our health’s sake, I’ve been reading books and learning everything I can about health. With the internet, things got easier to find. I love learning new things and I marvel at how well the Creator made us, giving us just the right food to help us live well.
Recently, I’ve been learning about how probiotics and cultured foods benefit us. I won’t bore you with the details here. Instead, I’d encourage you to dig into the research for yourself! There are a lot of kinds of cultured foods out there, from sauerkraut to pickles (not the vinegar ones on the grocery shelves) to kimchee! It’s easy to choose a favorite one to eat often.
I bought and tried cultured pickles. They are STRONG. I can eat them occasionally, but they aren’t something that I’m going to enjoy eating every day. (And your best bet for getting a healthier flora in your gut is to partake of cultured foods at least daily.)
If you don’t make your own cultured foods at home, then they are pretty pricey in the markets. I looked into making sauerkraut with wonderful jars that keep the smell from permeating your kitchen. It looked like a really good way to make fermented foods myself, however, my favorite way of eating sauerkraut involves heating it…and that destroys the good bacteria. Rats. I still might make some of my own, but it won’t be my source of the healthy “bugs.”
If the sauerkraut was out, and the pickles weren’t favorites enough to eat daily (and my family wouldn’t even touch them, btw), then I needed to figure something else out. As I googled “cultured foods” I found the answer. Yogurt. I love the stuff…at least most of the non-dairy ones I’ve had. Unfortunately, it, too, is fairly expensive to buy ready made ~ and full of all kinds of stuff. Carageenan (which I’ve recently learned isn’t that good for us), tons of sugar, and other tidbits that our bodies really don’t need. So, back to the computer I went to see about making it myself.
I found tons of recipes, but most of them called for yogurt making machines, which I didn’t want to sink money into until I knew if this process was even going to work! Then I found the best site yet ~ that I can’t find now to share with you, sorry! ~ one that told many different ways to ferment yogurt without the expensive investment. This is the second best site that gave different ways to try, but doesn’t actually include the one I’m going to share with you here.
One of the challenges of making your own yogurt is beginning one with the proper culture. Some recipes call for using probiotic capsules opened into it, but that didn’t feel very authentic to me. Others said you needed specific starter kits from a health food store, but that they don’t work to re-use your own yogurt to make your next batch. Instead, you’d need to buy a starter kit again! What? Not sustainable? Next! I chose the option of buying a non-dairy yogurt at the store and using it to culture my soy milk. I chose a coconut yogurt that had 6 different bacteria listed on the label. I figure if I’m going to repopulate my insides, I want the best amount I can get. My first attempts were actually pretty poor, because I hadn’t found the best way to incubate it ~ I either didn’t keep it warm enough, or killed it with too warm of a spot, so I had to buy more packaged yogurt. I again started with the 6-bacteria coconut version. This time it worked! Yay! The next time, I used half of a tablespoon of my successful yogurt (with the 6 bacteria) AND half of a tablespoon from Almond Dream yogurt that contains 7 bacteria ~ a couple of which were different from the ones in my coconut yogurt! I get the best bunch of probiotics going with so many different kinds. And the more batches that I’ve made, the thicker the yogurt has gotten.
When you make yogurt like this, you must be patient. (Not my strong suit.) There are things that you must do to make it work correctly. Believe me, because I tried the shortcuts that I thought would work. Nope. Stick to the “rules.” For instance, the milk must be heated to 180° even though you have to cool it back down to 110°. Why? Because it changes the way the proteins line up with each other so that the bacteria can thicken it. Otherwise, you get cultured milk….sorta. (It was very disappointing, but I didn’t waste it. We had it in our smoothies.)
Okay, here is the recipe. If you have any questions about “why” something needs to be done, ask me. I won’t bore everyone else with the details here. :)
- a thermos that will hold at least 4 1/2 cups. (I wish mine was large-mouthed to make clean up easier. If yours is small-mouthed, get a bottle brush with which to wash it out.)
- an instant-read digital thermometer, or one that can latch onto a small saucepan so that you get a constant reading.
- a small 1-qt. saucepan (mine has a cute little spout on each side to make pouring into the thermos a snap!)
- 4 c. unsweetened soy milk with nothing other than soybeans and water (the other kinds sort of work, but this type thickens much better. Trader Joe’s has it in an aseptic package, as does Eden, I believe.)
- 1 T. evaporated cane juice crystals or sugar (I’ve read that maple syrup doesn’t work, but haven’t personally tried it, and honey is antibacterial, so it will kill off the bacteria you are trying to feed. I don’t know about agave.)
- 1 T. room temperature packaged non-dairy yogurt, or some from your last batch. Even if you forget to save a little before you eat it all, you can scrape out the dregs from the serving/storage bowl and use those. It doesn’t take too much, actually!
Take your yogurt culture out of the frig to allow it to come to room temperature while you continue with the recipe. Heat the milk in the small saucepan to 180°. If you have used unsweetened milk with no thickeners, you won’t need to stir it, even on high heat. (I have a ceramic stove top that doesn’t get as hot as gas or some electric stoves, though.) If you bought a soy milk with other things in it, you’ll need to keep the heat on medium so that it doesn’t stick, and you’ll need to stir it. At first, you can walk away for a while and just check on the milk occasionally, but once it reaches about 145-150°, you’ll want to stay right there, because it rapidly gets to the target temp. Remove from heat once it has reached 180°, stir in the sugar, and cool in the pan until it is between 105-110°. (If you are in a hurry, you can set the pan on a wet towel, or in a sink with cold water in it.) Once it’s cooled, stir a little of the milk into your yogurt starter until smooth, and then stir a little more to it. Pour the starter culture mixture into the pan of milk and stir it well. Pour it into the thermos and screw the lid on tight. Set it aside for several hours.
When you think of it as you walk through the kitchen, uncap the thermos to allow any built-up pressure from the bacteria growing to escape. (Sometimes I forget, though. Then it does whoosh a bit when I open it at the end!) Just don’t jiggle it around a lot as it’s fermenting, as it seems to dislike that. After about 6 hours, check to see if it is thickening by opening it and gently tilting the thermos. If it is thick, you are ready! The longer you leave it, the stronger the flavor becomes ~ and to a certain extent, the thicker it gets.
Pour it into a glass storage container and cover. If it isn’t as thick as you’d like, leave it to cool on the counter for an hour or two before refrigerating. Once it is cold, it will thicken a little more. Now you can stir in extra sweetener, mashed fruit, jam, or whatever you’d like to flavor it. It works great as is in smoothies!