Probiotics are expensive and the freshness cannot always be guaranteed. A fun solution is to use your do-it-yourself mentality and prepare fermented foods that are great sources of beneficial bacteria. Examples of these DIY probiotic foods are yogurt, cheese, kefir, and sauerkraut. But, it’s important to remember that cooking will always kill bacteria in foods, and heat will damage many of the helpful, secreted proteins produced by beneficial bacteria.
Yogurt is one of the simplest ways that you can provide beneficial bacteria to your diet. Yogurt is easy to make and one advantage is that you can choose your starter culture, so you have some control over the bacteria that you grow. Visit my post about probiotic yogurt brands to learn a little more about the bacterial strains used in commercial yogurt.
- 1 quart milk
- ¼ cup starter yogurt
- Cooking thermometer
- Clean glass jars (optional)
- An oven or other container that can be kept at 38°C/100°F (approximately body temperature).
Bring the milk to almost boiling. Keep the burner temperature low and stir to prevent it from sticking to the pan. Take the milk off the heat and allow it to cool to 40°C/105°F. To speed cooling time; immerse the pan with milk in cold water. Add the starter yoghurt and mix it in the milk with a whisk. Pour the milk into clean glass jars if desired (put the lids on loosely!). Otherwise, just put a cover on the milk pan. Put the container(s) with milk in an oven pre-warmed to 38°C/100°F. Let the milk incubate for 8-24 hours and then transfer to your refrigerator.
- The starter yogurt can be anything that you can find at the store, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Some will work better than others. The volume of starter yogurt may also have to be adjusted depending on the brand.
- It is sometimes difficult to get your oven to stay at the proper temperature. If the temperature is too high at even the lowest setting, try propping the oven door open or using just the oven light.
- If the oven option doesn’t work, consider a yourt maker or something else that can keep a constant low temperature. I’ve even had success using an old crockpot.
If you are looking to culture a variety of probiotic species in one go, look no further than kefir. Kefir is traditionally a fermented milk beverage made from culturing kefir starter grains with milk at room temperature. The starter grains are not cereal grains, but a fine ecosystem of lactic acid producing bacteria, vinegar-producing bacteria and yeasts. They look much like cottage cheese and can be purchased from Amazon. Some kefir grains can also be adapted to culture in fruit juice producing what is known as a water kefir. One of the most comprehensive sites on kefir is a somewhat older site called, Dom’s Kefir Site. Another more modern site is Cultures for Health, which has a page that specifically lists the bacteria and yeasts that are found in kefir.
Familiar cheese is another source of beneficial bacteria. Most cheeses are made by the curdling of milk, which separates the protein-rich curd from the fluid whey. The curds are strained, packed and ripened before consumption. The main difference between different types of cheeses is due to how the milk is curdled and the ripening process. Curdling requires exposure to stomach enzymes (usually collected from the stomachs’ of young cows) and acid conditions, which are caused through the addition of vinegar or lemon juice along with exposure to lactic acid producing bacteria. During the ripening period, cheeses are left to sit under controlled environmental conditions. This period allows the individual character of each cheese to arise as unique mixtures of bacterial and fungi are allowed to grow and further break down the milk fats and proteins.
If you are interested in making cheese, you might want to first look at some simple recipes created by famous homesteaders and the back-to-earth set: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage fame and Mother Earth News. Otherwise, purchase either young cheese made from raw milk or aged cheeses.
Sourdough bread is different from other breads in that it uses bacterial cultures as a leavening agent (rising agent) instead of yeast or baking powder. The bacterial cultures are called a Sourdough starter. Starters can be bought and cultured, or you can create your own starter using water and flour just like the old pioneers. Nourished Kitchen has good information about creating your own starter and making sourdough bread. The less adventurous can buy starters. Naturally, lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in sourdough bread cannot withstand the temperatures in the oven. However, heat-killed beneficial bacterial also are known to have a positive influence on the body.
Good old German sauerkraut is an excellent source of live probiotics before it’s cooked. The preparation of sauerkraut is very simple, chopped cabbage, water and salt are placed in a crock and allowed to sit at room temperature for many days. A good simple recipe is found here from the Nourished Kitchen. It is known that during sauerkraut productions, at first anaerobic bacteria are grown, which contribute to the initial acid environment. At the moment, that it’s too acid for these bacteria, lactic acid producing bacteria (which prefer acid environments) take over.
Many other fermented vegetables offer the same probiotic benefits as sauerkraut. They include good old pickles, Korean kimchi, Japanese tsukemono, Chinese suan cai, Filipino atchara and Salvadoran curtido.
Miso is a Japanese staple that is used to season soups and is widely consumed in Japan. It looks like a brown paste and it is formed through the fermentation of grains and beans (usually soybeans) with salt and a fungus and it is allowed to age from several weeks to many years. Miso is probably easier to buy than to make. It is usually added to hot dishes before serving to preserve the bacterial content. I’ve personally only used it a few times as I’m not so fond of the flavor.
Tempeh is a product of Indonesia and it is produced by the fermentation of soybeans. Instead of forming a brown paste like miso, tempeh ends up looking like a dense veggie burger. Again, this is likely something that is easier to buy than to make on your own. I have never used tempeh, but while researching it, I realized that many assume that textured vegetable protein (TVP) is the same as tempeh. It’s not. TVP has not undergone any fermentation prior to production and is a by-product of the the soy oil industry. TVP, while being an excellent vegetable protein source, is not a source of beneficial bacteria.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.