I'm sure that any one who has watched as little as one show on television in the past week or two has seen an ad for either probiotic laden yogurt or supplements (maybe even both!). These ads are in magazines, too. There is a lot that isn't being said.
Basically, the gut is a "biome" an environment of it's own. There are good bacteria and bad. If you're eating well, the good bacteria are likely outnumbering the bad. However, if you've had antibiotics in the last couple years, your gut may be lacking. The gut biome is currently the subject of much research and discussion. It's looking as though the good health of the gut reflects in the good health of the body and vice versa. See for yourself, do a search on "gut biome".
I'm not going to shoot down anyone's efforts to better their health through taking probiotic preparations and eating commercially available yogurts. However, I will say this: ONE serving of fermented vegetables contains more probiotics than an ENTIRE bottle of probiotic supplement. Yes, one serving of home cultured or fermented vegetables has more probiotics than an entire bottle. And, for what one bottle of probiotics cost, about 10 QUARTS of fermented organic cabbage (sauerkraut) can be made (in some instances, even the purchase of an entire dozen jars, 12 organic heads of cabbage and a full pound of sea salt all together wouldn't cover the cost of one bottle of probiotics seriously)! That's a LOT of food and money in my book.
But probiotics aren't limited to fermented vegetables. For about $15 (after shipping), a good, perpetual, heirloom culture can be obtained for making buttermilk, yogurt or kefir. I have four cultures: vegetable, buttermilk, yogurt and kefir. Now, I am not going to suggest that you run out and buy them all right away. Each one has many benefits. Choose one and learn it well. Then consider another. Learn that one as well as the first, then consider another. For instance, I like the taste of the buttermilk culture just as well as the kefir culture, so the kefir culture really wasn't a MUST have in my household. A culture is not absolutely necessary for sauerkraut, but it does get the fermentation going quicker.
There are several types of cultures. Direct set, perpetual, mesophilic, thermophilic. I'm going to explain these real quickly, then we'll move on. Direct set = a culture that you use each time you want to make your buttermilk, yogurt or cheese. You have to buy more when you run out. Perpetual = a culture that you use to make a 'mother'
, then use a little of the mother each time you want to make buttermilk, yogurt or cheese. Before you run out, you use some of the mother culture to make another batch of mother. OR, as in the case of my buttermilk culture, it simply gets cultured every 7 days and a mother culture isn't€™t necessary (although I keep cubes in the freezer as a backup and to share). Mesophilic basically needs room temperature while thermophilic needs a constantly maintained warmth. There's a little more to these definitions sometimes, especially if you're making hard cheeses, but for where we're going in this post, my definitions above are enough. I prefer perpetual cultures that I don't have to purchase over and over.
The vegetable culture I chose is Caldwell's Vegetable Starter - because it can be used to culture many, many vegetables, not just cabbage for sauerkraut. Sometimes, I let us run out of kraut and then I get so very hungry for it that I just can't wait 3 weeks. I'm trying very hard to break this habit. However for the probiotic count to really be up there, I try to take the time and culture my sauerkraut for a minimum of 3 weeks instead of the 1 week a culture requires. At the 3 week mark, you can use the sauerkraut like a condiment instead of in big servings and still get a LOT more probiotics than you think! Just don't microwave it. Ever.
When I run out of that vegetable culture, I intend to try Body Ecology's culture. Not because the other one has let me down in any way whatsoever - it's great - I just want to learn them both. Then I will decide which I prefer. When I make my sauerkraut, I use a couple of cabbages, a few onions and a couple of carrots. This makes for a very, very tasty sauerkraut. I like it made with just cabbage, too, but I prefer the flavors that are added with the onion and carrot. I very much like kimchi, too, but my family isn't crazy about it. When I do make kimchi, I make small, 1 quart batches and I usually end up eating the whole thing by myself. That's OK, but sometimes, space is at a premium in our fridge.
I ferment vegetables in canning jars, I weight the vegetables down using a big ziplock or plastic bag filled with water. Airlocks like The Perfect Pickler make it very easy and I may try one some day. So far, however, I haven't had a problem with the method I use whether it's summer or winter, spring or fall.
I've got a simple recipe for a small batch of sauerkraut available on my site at intrinsicalchemist.com/2
(It is a PDF and is printable). Try to use organic vegetables when you can. They don't have the pesticide residues in them.
The buttermilk culture I chose is an heirloom culture from Cultures for Health - because it needs to be cultured every 7 days, I use the buttermilk in our gluten free/grain free bread and biscuit recipes as well as other cooking. Sometimes, I strain it through butter cloth, add some sea salt and we eat that like cream cheese. It's very tasty. I like the buttermilk with a little honey mixed in â€“ I drink it as one would kefir.
This culture can also be used to culture other milks such as coconut or almond, but the thing to do with that is make a quart of the culture in milk, freeze that into ice cubes and then use part of a cube each time the coconut milk is cultured. When the cubes get low, culture more milk. I've tried to perpetuate the culture in alternative milks and it can be done for a time, but it's VERY time consuming and one extra hour is death to the culture. Only about 1 teaspoon of buttermilk is required to culture a full quart of milk, coconut milk or almond milk.
The yogurt culture I chose is Viili from Cultures for Health. I chose it because itâ€™s perpetual and because it's mesophilic. I do not need to buy an appliance to culture this yogurt. It's also got a very mild flavor, which my family prefers, and it cultures well in whole milk with extra cream in it. The kids like to eat it with a little maple syrup in it. But I also add a cup or two (depending on the size of the batch) to my home made ice cream. They can't taste it and they're getting probiotics with every bite of what they think is pure decadence. It hides especially well in organic strawberry ice cream.
The kefir culture I have is from a friend who has cultured kefir for many years. However, if I were to have to buy one right now, I would probably get one from Cultures for Health.
I've also made fermented ketchup, mayonnaise and salsa, so far, and I have a few more recipes I'd like to try. Homemade fermented condiments are SO yummy and frankly, the commercially available versions pale in comparison.
Most of the fermented condiment recipes call for whey. The whey can come from either buttermilk or yogurt, simply strain either one through butter cloth in a cool spot for 8+ hours. The liquid that drains out of the yogurt or buttermilk is the whey. I save it and freeze it in ice cube trays. Believe it or not, the whey is still viable after freezing.
My most recent investments have been for fermented tea. Since quitting coffee completely in April 2013, I've become a tea lover and fermented tea is a perfect fit.
There are two, kombucha and Jun. I'll cover these more in a later post. (See www.sparkpeople.com/mypa
In my opinion, one of the most important investments in this is the canning jars. While I don't have the collection I'd like to have, I obtain more here & there. The bare bones investment if one were very committed to trying fermenting and culturing would be quart canning jars. They're very affordable at places such as WalMart. A gallon jar and one or two half-gallon jars are also handy if you decide that it's more efficient to make large batches at a time. For fermented condiments, small jars, such as pint canning jars, are very handy. I try to get only wide mouth jars, then I buy the wide mouth plastic lids. I don't really like to have a metal lid on a jar when fermentation is in progress. However, if there is a layer of plastic (such as my water-weighted bag) between the ferment and the lid, it doesn't bother me a lot. Once the ferment is done and the bag comes out, if I don't have a plastic lid for my gallon jar, I move the ferment into quart jars with plastic lids, then into the refrigerator.
OK, now that is a pretty good bit of information for you to get started with if you are interested! Have a great day!