True yogurt: is it the missing link to optimal health?

When discussing yogurt, we must first realize that virtually everything that is sold as yogurt in retail stores is far from the real thing. Commercial yogurts are loaded with sugar, dyes, and other additives to enhance taste and consistency, and are never fully fermented in order to avoid a taste people might think is too sour.

True yogurt is the result of a fermentation process whereby different strains of bacteria collectively known as lactic acid bacteria (LAB) convert the lactose in milk to lactic acid. A review article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Am J Clin Nutr 2000; 71: 861-72) discusses the health benefits of yogurt and the research supporting them.

During the fermentation process, LAB also put out enzymes that break down the protein and fat in milk. Therefore, fully fermented yogurt does not contain lactose and the proteins and fats it does contain are partly to fully digested. This makes them much easier to assimilate than those in milk and less likely to cause allergic reactions, even in very sensitive individuals.

The proteins in fully fermented yogurt are rich in sulfur-containing amino acids that help support detoxification. In addition, the lactic acid itself helps promote intestinal health because the bacteria in yogurt have been shown to support normal digestion and immunity.

I have often recommended the yogurt from White Egret Farm near Austin in Texas (see The benefits I perceive are that the farm produces yogurt the right way, allowing it to ferment for thirty hours at the correct temperature, using a broad variety of beneficial LAB strains and their own goat’s milk. The benefits of goat’s milk are that it is even easier to digest and less likely to cause reactions than cow’s milk. Unfortunately, since it is a small family-run operation they are sometimes out of yogurt for extended periods.

So I recently started using and recommending a type of yogurt starter produced by Klaire Laboratories, a top-quality supplement company with great expertise in the area of probiotic bacteria. This product is called Culturaid.

To make great yogurt at home, you don’t need to buy a yogurt maker because over time you’ll find it to be mostly a hindrance. All you need is a good ceramic pot and a kitchen thermometer. If your oven has a warming light, that could provide all the heat required.

First, fill the pot with water and see if your oven will keep it at a steady temperature ranging between 90 and 110 F. If your oven won’t do this, another option is to buy a warming tray. In my experience most warming trays generate too much heat, even at the lowest setting. To achieve the right temperature I put a couple of trivets over the warming tray and the pot on top of the trivets. This separates the pot slightly from the heat source. Remember that achieving the right temperature is important because too much heat will kill the bacteria and too little will prevent it from growing properly.

It might take you a while to determine how to maintain the right temperature, but once you figure it out, all you have to do is to repeat the same procedure every time. I recommend that you use whole goat’s milk from Whole Foods because it is not homogenized and will make better yogurt than any milk that has been homogenized. If you don’t like the taste of goat’s milk, you can use cow’s milk and still get acceptable results. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a source for non-homogenized cow’s milk in Houston. If you know of one, please let me know.

Next, slowly bring the milk to a boil and allow it to simmer for a couple of minutes. Then let it cool to about 100 F, stir in the Culturaid as directed on the label, cover and keep at the desired temperature for a minimum of 24 hours or, for even better results, up to 36 hours. Then stir, transfer to glass jars you can close tightly and refrigerate. Homemade yogurt stays fresh in the fridge for at least a month.

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