MONDAY BASICS: make your own greek yogurt

 

Good Monday morning! This week's Monday Health Basics post is a quick and dirty one – and one close to my heart. It talks about two of my favourite things: dairy and fermentation. This blog post is for you if you like dairy. This blog post may also be for you if you are saying to yourself right now “Well Luka, I can't do dairy because I'm lactose intolerant”. It may also be something you want to check out if you find yourself reaching for that greek yogurt at the grocery store.

Yep, I'm a DIY kinda gal. Yep, I'm a good food kinda kid. Today's post is about how to maximize that probiotic hit, lowering the lactose and making sure that greek yogurt in your breakfast bowl is best able to support you through the day ahead.

First things first.

For people who have a hard time with dairy, it is usually due to one of two things. Either you have an issue with the protein found in yogurt (casein), or the lactose (sugars) is causing you ills. And discomforts. And just not usually worth it. If your issue is with casein, this is not a blog post for you. Sorry friend. Return next Monday for something entirely different.

But you say lactose may be the culprit of your turning away from dairy? I may just have a wee trick up my sleeve for you.

Store-bought yogurt is fermented anywhere from a short stint of thirty minutes to six hours. The timeline depends on the company's manufacturing process, and also on the strains of probiotics they are using to do the fermentation. Depending on the manufacturer and their methods, at this point they add their extras (sugar, agave, fruit, honey, artificial or real flavours, sometimes colouring, in some cases a thickener, sugar disguised as something else) and then packageit up and off to the stores they go. (If you want a more well-rounded version of this process, you may want to check this article out.)

If you are not yet aware of the magic of fermentation, might I send you here for a primer.  The beauty of fermentation when it comes to dairy products is that the process itself takes care of the lactose, conjugating it out of the mix. What this means: the probiotics that are introduced to the milk get in there and cleave apart the double sugars or disaccharides called lactose, leaving behind two simple sugars or two monosaccharides, namely glucose and galactose. Poof, like magic, no more lactose! Well, sort of. It all depends on the amount of time the milk and probiotics have together in a warmed environment in order to do that work. And in that short time of a half hour or even six hours, that is just not enough time to get all the lactose converted into the simpler sugars glucose and galactose. So what can we do to make that yogurt we purchased a lactose free delicacy? Read on, yogurt loving friend.

First off, get yourself some delicious yogurt. Make sure it is plain, with no additives thrown in to alter the chemical make up of your yogurt. Vanilla yogurt does not count here. Vanilla is a flavour. PLAIN JANE. You want to choose a yogurt that has no fruit, no sugar, no colours, and a yogurt that still has the bacteria alive in there; in other words, you want your yogurt to be probiotic.

How to make sure it's a probiotic yogurt: somewhere on the label, you will read the word 'live' or 'probiotic' or 'with probiotic cultures'. It may also list the strains of bacteria that were used in the fermentation process. Even better. (The discussion on whether or not to purchase yogurt made from milk that has been homogenized or not is a question for another day. But I would caution you to reach for organic yogurt whenever possible. Curious as to good brands to find in Alberta? Point your browser here to Organic Alberta.)

Now that you've taken home your plain jane probiotic yogurt, you are going to leave it on the counter.

Yes, on the counter in the kitchen. Pop your lid a smidge, just to let it breathe should the container expand during the extra fermentation process. You are going to allow this container of yogurt to remain on the counter for a full 24 hour period. If you purchased a still-live yogurt product, this is a perfectly fine thing to do. As the product is fermented and still contains those live cultures, your yogurt is a very stable product, and will not be prone to developing funky things or harbour bad bacterial cultures.  After that full 24 hour period, you are going to seal up the yogurt container and put it in the refrigerator.

What you have allowed in that 24 hour period is an opportunity for the probiotics found within the product to further ferment, thereby increasing the numbers of probiotics. (That means more bugs. More probiotics.) And not only that; those good bugs went through and cleaved even more of the lactose molecules, freeing them up into those simple sugars that are easily recognizable and good fuel sources for the body and your brain. GOOD WORK. And thank you probiotics.

Incidentally, if you are a DIY yogurt maker at home, after that initial incubation period, allow your yogurt to remain on the counter to finish up a twenty four hour cycle in order to allow those lactose molecules to be broken in two.

Voila, just-about-lactose-free yogurt!

IF YOU ARE A GREEK YOGURT LOVER, READ ON.

So now that you have the lactose free bit, you're ready to add another tool to your arsenal of tricks.

Greek yogurt seems to be just about everywhere these days. The main reason people reach for this thicker yogurt is for the higher protein content. Folks also like the thicker consistency; it makes for a pretty yummy and substantial smoothie first thing in the morning. I challenge you to read your labels though: take a gander to see what is included in the list of ingredients on that greek yogurt container. I bet you the list will include things like skim milk powder, or corn starch, or carrageenan, or some other kind of stabilizer, emulsifier or thickener thrown in to keep it just-so. I am not a big fan of additives, as they aren't things that have been traditionally found in our diets. I just don't think we're able to evolve fast enough in order to assimilate and utilize the additives we ingest. And I don't want to leave it to chance, in the hopes that I can evolve fast enough.

Here are my issues: skim milk powder is a by-product of food manufacturing. It is a processed food. And not lightly so: the whole process of making skim milk powder involves quite the protocol, and the end result is that the cholesterol naturally found in milk ends up becoming oxidized cholesterol. Oxidized cholesterol has been shown to contribute to the production of plaques in the arteries, or atherosclerosis.  Carrageenan is derived from seaweed (which I love) but it is in such quantities that it has been shown to contribute to increased inflammation in the body, creating havoc in the digestive system. 

I like my food as it was meant to be: food. And so my dear thick-yogurt-loving-friend, I have an easy DIY way for you to make it at home.

 
 

MAKING YOUR OWN GREEK YOGURT

  • Line a sieve with a clean doubled-over tea towel. (*make sure the tea towel hasn't been thrown in the dryer with any dryer sheets – the chemical residue is not something you want to ingest!)
  • Dump the container of yogurt into the strainer, allowing it to separate at room temperature. (This can be a part of your 24 hours on the counter timing if you are aiming for a lactose-free final product.)
  • What will drip through to the bottom of the bowl will be a yellowish-clear liquid: this is your WHEY. Don't throw this goodness out! I will speak to this in a moment.
  • The milk solids remain in the strainer; when the yogurt/milk solids are a consistency to your liking, this is when your DIY greek yogurt is ready. Scoop it out with a spatula, and tuck it into a container of sorts in to your fridge, it is ready to consume. And nary an additive to be found!
  • As for the remaining whey that dripped through the tea towel, this is liquid gold.  It is protein-rich, and a fabulous addition to your morning smoothies; you can use it to help sprout, soak or 'activate' nuts / seeds / grains / beans / legumes. You can add it to soup stock in order to increase the protein and add probiotic benefits (but only do so after you have taken the soup off the heat). Whey is full of probiotics that help improve and support optimal digestion, and provide your body with the precursors to glutathione, helping your liver to do the detoxification work in the body.

Put that greek yogurt on everything.

It's yummy mixed in with berries and maple syrup. Try a big dollop on top of protein pancakes. Mix it in to your butter chicken instead of using cream, and now your lactose-intolerant friend can partake in dinner! Blitz it with a bit of honey and some lemon juice, and you have yourself the perfect salad dressing. Slap it together with some chopped strawberries and some granola, and breakfast will now render you a champion. I mean you can't go wrong, amiright?