Sunday, February 9, 2014

My First Adventure into Fermentation....Homemade Yogurt!

Hey everyone! Well the snow and cold have certainly not been relenting here or anywhere else. Yesterday we just got nailed with over a foot of snow! And while it certainly makes life a bit more difficult, it is oh so beautiful and gave me my first ever "adult" snow day since graduating college! With all this time on my hands, I thought I'd make a recipe I'd been wanting to try for a while, but that takes a good amount of time and watching to complete: homemade yogurt. Now don't get me wrong, this recipe couldn't be easier, it just requires you to be there to complete simple steps every few hours-- kind of like making homemade bread. Very hands-off, but takes a little while.

So I of course can't take credit for this recipe, you can find it here, but I did want to go over the host of health benefits that yogurt has to offer. So one of my professors up at school always used to say "you are more bacteria than you are you," and while this is a strange notion, it is very true. There are millions and millions and milllllions of microorganisms all over us and inside of us (don't get too grossed out yet!) but a lot of them are actually there just to help us function as the beings that we are. Many of the microorganisms that are beneficial to us are found in our gut, and aid in the digestion and absorption processes. Recent studies have been showing that these gut microorganisms actually have a lot more to do with our overall health than previously thought (even though in most traditional herbal medicine ideologies, general health truly begins with healthy digestion).

Enter probiotics. I know this is kind of one of those mysterious buzz words in the health community that might seem somewhat vague to a lot of people, but probiotics are truly incredibly beneficial to our health. The word "probiotic" alone essentially translates to "supporting life"...crazy, huh? So, what exactly are probiotics? They are indeed live cultures of bacteria that live in our food, and (ideally) in our gut. Two of the most common are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. These organisms not only help us digest food and absorb nutrients, but they have also been strongly linked to the maintenance of immunity (having a good colony of intestinal flora is very important for getting the nutrients and keeping out the toxins we need for our bodies to be super healthy), feminine health (yes ladies, you have a lot of bacteria in other parts of you besides your gut) and a host of other areas of the body as well. There have even been studies that have shown different types of bacteria in the guts of obese people versus normal weight people-- the guts of normal weight individuals tend to have many more beneficial probiotics. I should also add that probiotics might be beneficial for those who eat a lot of meats and processed foods, but want to start eating healthy without having digestive disturbances such as gasiness. Probiotics increase the number of intestinal flora, (which those who eat primarily meat, super processed foods, and carbs do not have many of), which makes it easier to break down the tougher plant matter of vegetables without side effects many experience. Lets just say that with probiotics, beans really don't have to be "the musical fruit".

So lets talk about food, fermentation, and how this all fits together. Basically, there are a host of foods that we deem to be "fermented"-- yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, chutneys, tempeh, miso, kombucha--the list goes on. But what do these all have in common? The fermentation process--essentially ridding the raw food of any and all bad bacteria, usually through heat sterilization, then adding a small quantity of good bacteria (the probiotics) letting it sit out in room temperature, which is the ideal environment for probiotic growth, and letting those little babies grow and colonize inside your food. What the bacteria does while it is growing is start breaking down the food prior to your ingestion, this makes many of the nutrients much more bioavailable to you, as our little bacteria friends have already begun the digestion process for you! So really, these little bacterias are incredibly helpful to our all around health! You know what they say: Healthy gut, Happy life! maybe "they" don't say that, but that doesn't make it any less true!

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