Getting Cultured

Cultured foods have been the rage for about as long as humans have been around. Among my favorites are pickles, kimchi, and kombucha (that invigorating drink made from fermenting black tea and sugar). But today I write about yogurt, a staple in my refrigerator, my cooking, and my personal chef business that deserves high praise for its overall usefulness, deliciousness, and nutritiousness. I know, that’s not a word but I couldn’t resist.

I’m not the only one who loves yogurt-it’s one of the best selling products in the supermarket. Although you can make it at home, there are so many wonderful choices readily available, I tend to cut corners and buy it. Depending on what I’m going to use it for, I often choose plain low fat (for chicken and lamb marinades and savory sauces), some low fat Greek-style (for eating on pancakes and parfait style with fruit and assorted toppings as dessert), and some whole milk blueberry for my kids who prefer it sweet and rich. Of course when I need a food hug, i buy the full-fat Greek style with honey. Ooh la la.

Yogurt has been around for at least 5,000 years, with the word itself being derived from Turkish, whose origins may have meant “to thicken”. It was probably originally made by accident from the rogue bacteria found in the goatskin bags that people used to transport milk. Yogurt has been made and eaten all over the world for eons, as well as used for cleaning animal fur, and human bodies and hair.

If you’re a slow food chef and you want to make it yourself, take milk and heat it to 110 degrees to kill unwanted bacteria and denature the proteins so they don’t curdle. Then you cool it and add desirable bacteria cultures like lactobacillus delbruedkii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus salivarius subsp. thermophilus and let the milk ferment for up to seven hours. You can buy these in a health food store.

I find that though homemade yogurt tastes great especially when you use good quality milk, it comes out thin and lumpy, rather than pleasantly thick and creamy like the commercial yogurts (because they use vegetable gums). I’ve tried several thickening techniques including add gelatin, straining it to remove whey, heating the milk to 180 degrees, and adding powdered milk. Gelatin was the easiest. You just whisk 2 teaspoons of unflavored powdered gelatin into 8 cups of milk when it’s being heated to 110 degrees and it thickens as it cools.

Besides being rich in protein, calcium, vitamin B6 and B12, and riboflavin, the beneficial bacteria are supposed to flourish in your intestines, aiding digestion. The less fat in your yogurt by the way, the more protein.

Here’s a simple, yummy pie recipe you can eat for breakfast, if you like that sort of thing.

Yogurt Pie

  • 1 premade or homemade graham cracker crust recipe in an 8-inch pie plate
  • 2 cups whole milk or low fat plain yogurt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup grade B maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 apples or pears, peeled and sliced

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk yogurt, eggs, maple syrup, and spices in a bowl. Pour mixture into pie plate and cover with fruit slices in a circle. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until set.

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