A Brief Intro to Probiotics
Probiotics? Fermentation? Kimchi? Have I lost you? No worries – we’ll take this step by step.
Probiotics have been making headlines in all sorts of health and “clean” eating groups lately, and for good reason! If you are interested in keeping things “regular”, promoting good gut health, or just keeping your immune system working at 100% you should definitely be interested in making sure probiotics have a front seat in your diet. In addition to good overall gut health, studies have also shown that probiotics may also aid in reducing depression and promoting heart health.
The definition of probiotic is: (adjective) denoting a substance that stimulates the growth of microogranisms, especially those with beneficial properties (such as those of the intestinal flora). So, what does this mean? They’re “bugs”. Microorganisms. Bacteria. The GOOD kind that live in your gut and help battle the BAD kind of bacteria. Everyone needs them and they’re nothing of which to be afraid or by which to be intimidated. In fact, some even believe that regularly exposing your gut to these good bugs could even help prolong your lifespan. “Pro-biotic” literally means “promoting-life”.
The precursor to probiotics is the “prebiotic”. This is, in layman’s terms, a carbohydrate that cannot be digested and is used by the bacteria (read: probiotics) in your gut as food. Probiotics + Prebiotics = synbiotics. The health benefits of reaching a synbiotic balance in your gut are seriously impressive and range from suggested ties to prevention/treatment of cancer and aiding to alleviate GI complications (think IBD/IBS, and constipation) to help with calcium uptake and reversing type 2 diabetes.
I hope by now that I have convinced you that eating your probiotics is a good idea. There are two main ways to introduce probiotics into your system. You can either eat fermented foods or you can take a supplement. Although I strongly support you making your own informed decisions with plenty of research in combination with open communication with your doctor, it is my opinion that eating fermented foods is a far superior option (unless you have specific medical ailments that require a probiotic supplement). The primary reason I say this is that probiotic supplements fall into that grey area that all supplements fall into, and are not regulated, investigated, tested, or approved by the FDA. Thankfully, we have come a long way from sour milk (the original source of discovering the benefits of probiotics. Yick.). So, enter stage right: Fermented foods!
Fermentation is amazing. The process encourages essential bacteria (probiotics!) to flourish, it extends the shelf life of perishable foods, and – In my opinion – results in a wonderfully transformed (and often tangy) flavor from the original “fresh” food. The process can be simplified to: natural bacteria feed on sugar converting it (without oxygen) to organic acids and those acids then are food for the GOOD bacteria in your gut. Also, eating fermented goods helps balance the good and bad bacteria in your body by delivering more of the good stuff! The fermentation of veggies before ingesting not only prolongs the shelf life but also helps your body to absorb nutrients from your food.
So, what foods can be fermented?
ALL KINDS! Some examples: Fermented milk = yogurt, kefir, cheese. Fermented cabbage = kimchi (SPICY) and sauerkraut. Fermented soybeans = tempeh, miso, tofu, natto. Fermented tea = Kombucha. Fermented veggies = pickles! The sky is the limit. You can ferment guacamole and salsa too! For a nice summary of fermented foods and their specific benefits, please refer to this article published by Healthline.
The potential downside to fermented foods is that the taste and smell can be a bit… potent. The first time I made sauerkraut we left the bucket (yes, we used a clean 5-gallon bucket!) in our pantry. The container is not sealed (to prevent any build up of pressure) and after two days it smelled like our Labrador had the worst case of the toots in the world. And the smell permeated the whole house. However, I have firsthand experience to tell you that the smell does mild out and that the taste was definitely worth “the pain” – just like the Labrador is definitely worth the toots that come with him… Additionally, some foods such as yogurt, have a great texture and a very mild smell. The variety of fermentable foods allows for a high chance of finding something fermented that will suit your fancy.
And fermenting foods is not that difficult! Today I’ll share with you a simple yogurt recipe (using an instant pot).
Have you made homemade yogurt in an Instant Pot? Tell us below in the comments!
Using An Instant Pot
Basic Yogurt Recipe
- 1 Gallon of Milk
- 2T Yogurt Culture – When I start fresh, I use plain Chobani yogurt. You can use any kind of PLAIN yogurt you want AS LONG as it “contains live & active cultures”.
- Cheese cloth
- Strainer & Bowl (larger than your strainer)
2 quarts of whey (left) and 2 quarts of yogurt. The most left jar as a bit of extra yogurt in it (making it more opaque) as I rung out the cheese cloth at the end of the transferring process.
Step by Step Instructions
Add milk to the Instant pot, close and lock the lid, no need to close the pressure seal. Select the yogurt setting and press until “boil” is seen on display. (This may take some time, for an entire gallon of milk maybe close to 1 hour).
Once milk is “boiling” (you can check temperature with a thermometer looking for ~180°F) allow milk to cool. I usually speed this process up by sticking the inner liner of my instant pot outside in the snow (covered with a cloth) or in the fridge.
Once milk has cooled to 100-110°F, observe the top layer of your milk. If there is a film, carefully skim and discard. This layer will not hurt you but is not desirable.
Add live culture. I never measure here as my yogurt is a living recipe (I always scoop from the last batch into the new and keep the same batch “reproducing”.) If you are using a Chobani cup, you can add the whole amount; however, as little as one heaping tablespoon will work.
Mix, carefully, to combine. You do not want to create bubbles here (do not whisk) but a good stir with a metal spoon will do the trick.
Return insert to the Instant Pot, and select Yogurt Setting for desired length of time. Once the yogurt is done “cooking” it is normal to have a “separation” as showing in the photo below. The yellow-ish layer is whey and can be stirred in (thinner yogurt) and consumed or strained (see Step 7).
Note: Only 6-8 hours is required to make yogurt; however, I prefer that wonderful tang that you get with Greek yogurt and usually let my yogurt cook (ferment) for closer to 16 hours. You’ll have to find out what level of “doneness” you prefer but err on the long side for a tangier product.
Optional. As Noted above, I prefer Greek yogurt – and to convert what you’ve made to “Greek” yogurt, the last step is to strain your product. I place a strainer in a bowl and line the strainer with a cheesecloth, then pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth. I fold the cloth over to cover the yogurt and let things drain for 4-6 hours (this length is variable depending on your desired consistency. More draining = thicker/creamier product). I often must empty the bowl of the whey and return the strainer for more draining during this period.
Step 8) Transfer to a container with a lid, chill, & enjoy! You can add flavors to your yogurt (diced fruit, lime zest/juice mixed with powdered sugar for that “key lime” flavor, granola, etc…). I also use this yogurt as a substitute for sour cream in nearly all dishes including stroganoff, spicy curries, and even on nachos!
Note: You can keep the whey and add it to dressings and smoothies… OR you can soak your livestock food with it. Our chickens and pigs love it! For a whole batch (1 gallon of milk) of yogurt I have collected nearly 2Q of whey.
Harvard Heath Publishing – Harvard Medical School. Trusted advice for a healthier life. (https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-get-more-probiotics)
Ritchie, Romanuk. A meta-analysis of probiotic efficacy for gastrointestinal diseases. PLoS One, 2012, Apr 18; 7(4): e34938.
Luna, Foster. Gut brain axis: diet microbiota interactions and implications for modulation of anxiety and depression. Curr Opin Biotechnol, 2015, Apr; 32:35-41.
Dirienzo. Effect of probiotics on biomarkers of cardiovascular disease: implications for heart-healthy diets. Nutr Rev, 2014, Jan; 72(1):18-29.
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