Getting Started with Cultured Foods

Ten years ago my idea of including cultured foods in my diet was to eat a container of fruit yogurt for lunch, or to have sauerkraut on my hamburger. I’ve come a long way since then! My kitchen is now full of culturing projects and my refrigerator is full of delicious, homemade, tasty cultured treats!

You might think that it takes a huge investment of time and energy to work cultured foods into your diet, but it is really easier than you imagine. In fact, you are probably eating a lot of cultured foods already without even thinking about it! Culturing is basically the process of introducing certain bacteria into foods (or encouraging the naturally occurring bacteria) so that the food will become more digestible and last longer. Some very common cultured foods include cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, beer and wine – even a lot of breads!

One of the fun things about culturing your own food is that you can control the process, from choosing the ingredients to monitoring the fermentation. You know exactly what’s going into it and how it develops. Another great joy for me and many of my friends is the idea of being able to create cultured foods for a fraction of the cost of buying them at the store. A really good organic, additive-free yogurt can cost $6 per quart or more in the supermarket. When I make my own yogurt using organic pasteurized milk and a re-usable starter culture, I spending about $2 per quart, and the yogurt is unbeatable for flavor and quality.

Foods you make yourself taste better somehow. My little granddaughter says that it’s because they are made with love! There is nothing quite like the feeling you get from serving up some creamy sour cream, a piping hot loaf of sourdough bread or a savory serving of zesty sauerkraut, knowing that you’ve saved money, created something delicious and given your family something that will help them thrive.

People often ask me where to start introducing homemade cultured foods into their diets and meal planning. I usually suggest starting with something you are making or eating already: bread, if you are a baker, or yogurt are good choices. If your family likes soft drinks or juices, water kefir or kombucha are incredibly easy to make, and will give you quarts and quarts of cheap and delicious probiotic drinks. These are good to get kids involved with, too! They can help make the drinks, and watch as they grow and ferment. And they can help choose the flavors for their own “sodas”!

Start with one project that can be made pretty quickly. Yogurt is a classic. All you need to do is put some culture into some milk and in a few hours, you have yogurt! With some yogurts, you need to heat the milk and keep it warm while it sets, but there are even yogurt cultures that work on the countertop without heat! There are a lot of different varieties of yogurt that you can make, with different flavors and consistencies. And yogurt can be used in recipes or eaten as a meal, snack or dessert. Buttermilk, kefir, sour cream – even some quick soft cheeses are as easy as yogurt.

Another popular choice for the beginner is cultured vegetables. There are a few ways to make these, but basically you are going to chop up some vegetables and put them in a brine that will help them ferment. The brine can include salt, whey from cultured milk or special starter cultures to help get things going. With the right ingredients, you can have some tasty sauerkraut or fermented carrots or dilly beans in less than a week!

If you don’t have the time or space to do a lot of culturing, you can even get started by adding some live bacteria to condiments. You can use a powdered vegetable starter culture or some whey from yogurt with live cultures and stir a little into a jar of ketchup or mayonnaise. Cover it and let it sit out at room temperature for a few hours, then refrigerate. The condiment will taste fantastic, and you’ll know there are probiotics in it!

With just a little bit of thought and a few extra minutes in the kitchen, you can be on your way to making delicious and inexpensive cultured foods that will have your friends and family wanting more. It’s easy and inexpensive, and a great conversation starter, as well!

Here are some quick and easy recipes to get you started:

Rosalyn is the Customer Service Manager at Cultures for Health. With her background as a Nutritional Consultant, she enjoys helping others learn about the value of eating real food. Rosalyn is a homeschooling mom who loves being in the kitchen and shopping at the farmers market. She’s a lifetime baker and enjoys improvising recipes. She can regularly be found experimenting with new flavors and varieties of cultured foods.

Photo courtesy Wise Choice Market

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