Recently, I’ve been reading a great book by Sandor Ellix Katz called ‘The Art of Fermentation’. Having made a few batches of sauerkraut and kimchi in my time off in New Zealand, I was gifted this book at Christmas by my Mum. I’m slowly discovering the beauty of fermented foods, from raw apple cider vinegar, kombucha, krauts, sourdough bread to yogurt and fermented porridge.
Unfortunately, these days the word ‘fermented’ conjures up images of rotting apples or bananas that are so ripe that they’ve gone alcoholic. It tends to immediately put someone off if you offer them food if you so much as whisper that it’s fermented.
Fermentation, however, plays a huge part in creating some of our favourite food and drinks and has done for millennia. It was once the main process of preserving food before the advent of refrigeration and a way of enhancing the flavour of normally bland tasting foods. Beer, of course, is made from fermented grains, wine from fermented grapes, sourdough bread from grain cultures, yogurt from milk, kombucha from tea and kimchi from cabbage and spices.
The good bacteria in these ferments are extremely beneficial for gut health and can make the nutrients in these foods much more available by the predigestion of these nutrients during fermentation. Since increasing my intake of fermented foods I haven’t had a single cold in two years. I’m not claiming that this is a cure for the common cold, but it’s a pretty great finding!
In my search for a vegan, plastic-free alternative to dairy greek yogurt in New Zealand I really struggled to find any yogs that weren’t in a plastic pot. Whilst plastic is mostly recyclable, we are increasingly finding that only a very small percentage of plastic is actually recycled and that much of it is shipped abroad where it is either incinerated or ends up in the ocean. The making of plastic itself is also made from polymers found in fossil fuels, further increasing global warming.
Luckily, in New Zealand I found an amazing local company that made cultured coconut yogurt in a local seaside village called Raglan. Not only was it totally vegan, it was also sold in glass jars. I couldn’t believe my luck! How many places have you seen that sell yogurt in glass jars? They made a whole host of flavours including classic greek, lemon, mango and turmeric, raspberry and lime, vanilla and boysenberry.
Sadly, I haven’t found anyone in the UK that does the same. However, having read about making your own yogurt at home, I’ve been inspired to try creating my own. The process is very easy and requires minimal time.
You only need two ingredients: two tablespoons of coconut yogurt from a shop (containing live cultures – check the original packaging) and a tin of coconut milk (full fat – BPA free and not containing any additives, if you can find it). Then all you need to do is blend the two together, leave in a jar at room temperature covered by a clean tea towel or cloth secured with an elastic band or string for 24-48 hours. Keep out of direct sunlight and any extreme temperatures that might disrupt the bacteria in your yogurt-milk mixture. The cultures already in the shop bought yogurt will culture and ferment the coconut milk, creating a whole new jar of coconut yogurt. Boom!
Taste your mixture after 24 hours and 48 hours. What you’re waiting for is the yogurt to start to taste slightly sour and ever so slightly fizzy, rather than the normal coconut milk taste. Once it’s ready pop it into the fridge to halt the fermentation process. Covering the jar with just a towel allows the yogurt to be exposed to oxygen, crucial to fermenting the milk, but stops dust, flies and mold spores from entering the mixture.
To make more yogurt, simply save a couple of tablespoons of this yogurt for mixing with another tin of coconut milk. This process is self-perpetuating and is called back-slopping, admittedly not an attractive name. In theory, with this method you can have a constant supply of plastic-free coconut yogurt.
You can add this yogurt to your curries, chilli con carnes, in dressings, on top of granola with some fruit and in smoothies. Feel free to go wild and flavour your yogurt with natural sweeteners or fruits. Just be sure to save some unflavoured yogurt aside for culturing your next batch.
To culture the original tin of coconut milk you can either use some shop-bought coconut yogurt or some pro-biotic powder found in tablet form. The bacteria in the powder you’re looking for is Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus, Bifidobacterium lactus or Lactobacillus acidophilus.
This process could not be any easier and saves a huge amount of plastic from having to be produced and potentially ending up in landfill and the oceans. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below. If you want to know more about fermentation, give ‘The Art of Fermentation’ a read, or visit websites of fermentation gurus such as the Zero Waste Chef (zerowastechef.com).