Manage Microbes for Health and Flavor

Before planting onions yesterday, I mixed some compost into the potting soil. The onions will likely be in the pots for 3 months before going into the garden and the microbes in the compost are beneficial. There is a danger that the bacteria that causes damping off is also in the compost. But by not over watering and providing adequate ventilation, I’ll likely be able to prevent damping off. If not, and my little seedlings die, I can still grow onions by using onion sets. They just won’t be the Italian hierloom variety.

Today when I made kefir, I took more care to control microbes. Kefir is similar to yogurt; both are fermented milk. Kefir has yeast in addition to bacteria in the culture which gives it a slightly different character. When fermenting food its good practice to ensure that you are growing only the culture you want to grow. Funky flavors may result from uncontrolled fermentations. I started by heating a quart of milk to 180 F to kill any microbes that could be present. Then I let it cool to lukewarm and stirred in 2 tablespoons of kefir from the last batch I made. Next, I poured it into a mason jar and covered with a coffee filter bound by a rubber band. It sets on a shelf at room temperature for 24 hours and then goes into the fridge. Since I got my starter from a foodie friend, I’ve been making kefir which is a big savings over buying it.

We use it many ways: smoothies with avocado, berries, or banana – sprinkled with hemp seeds and raisins – a dollop in soup – substituted for buttermilk in pancakes and biscuits or any baking.

When consumed raw kefir is a great source of probiotics. In fact, the person who first used the word probiotic came up with it after observing the health of Bulgarian peasants who consumed kefir regularly. That was Elie Metchnikoff, who won a Nobel prize over a century ago. Recent studies have confirmed benefits of probiotics. Our digestive health and immune system depends on beneficial microbes living in our guts. Consuming kefir and other active culture foods can ensure that the microbes are there working for us.

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