Saturday, March 14, 2009

Yogurt: A Super Food

Perhaps it a lack of good-quality fresh produce in our winter diet, or maybe it’s a sign of aging. Whatever the reason, my stomach frequently rebels at this time of year. That’s when I’m reminded to haul out the yogurt maker.

Whether a result of stomach flu, medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), alcohol or an improper diet, the delicate digestive flora called Helicobacter Pylori (h. pylori) can become compromised. These helpful bacteria live in the protective mucous layers of the stomach’s lining and, when compromised, can cause the stomach and bowel to retaliate in many discomforting ways. One of the simplest – and, for me, the most effective – ways to restore this digestive flora is to regularly eat yogurt, a natural probiotic (Wikipedia: Probiotic). Low in calories but high in calcium, yogurt is truly a wonder food. Although its lactic bacteria (L.Bulgaricus, S.Themophilus, L.Acidophilus) can be found in commercial brands, I experience greatest relief when eating home-made yogurt. It takes time to prepare – about an hour for the initial processing, and then 10-12 hours fermentation time – but the results and flavours are incomparable.

To make your own, you’ll need a dairy thermometer and, likely, a Yogurt maker. A regular oven can be used for making yogurt, but its temperature must be kept low (100-115°F). Most ovens won’t sustain that low a temperature. Yogurt makers can be found in many kitchen-supply stores, and are priced in a range of $20-$50. Mine, one in the mid-priced range, has lasted over twenty years, so its cost-per-use has reduced its “long-term” price to negligible. The little jars it came with have all lost their lids and are now disguised as posy vases, but the base still heats to the correct temperature and is used as an improvised oven: a sealable 1-litre bowl (to ferment the yogurt in,) is placed on the heater-base,
under a larger, inverted bowl which is then sealed when placed on top the rolled towel wrapped about the base.

Plain yogurt can be used as a dietary – and yummy – substitute for sour cream in many dishes like stroganoff or dips. It can also be drained of excess whey using a fine-mesh strainer and used as a soft-curd cheese substitute – Tzatziki comes to mind. Most often, we enjoy it as part of a healthy breakfast, adding some compote (see recipe below) to flavour and sweeten it.

Out of curiosity, I decided to figure our cost per serving. To do this, I took into account our preference for organic ingredients and the fact that we buy a bulk-size, frozen berry blend at a wholesale food supplier. So, I’ve calculated cost-per-serving with products we use most frequently. At its most expensive our home-made yogurt, including the compote, costs 55-63¢ per 1/2-cup serving. At its least expensive, it costs 45-50¢ per serving. The average cost (using “usual” ingredients at regular prices) runs between 50-55¢ per serving. Not bad, considering we’re eating “light” yogurt (one serving of dairy, made with 2% organic milk,) and 1/2-serving of fruit from the low-sugar compote. There are possible savings to be made with a change of some ingredients, but the marginal savings produced just don’t make up for the loss of flavour, texture and, ultimately, food value. I had thought to include some store-brand prices for comparison but realized there aren’t any commercial products which use organic milk, nor sweeten with organic sugar, nor flavour with whole fruit and fresh lemon. As the yogurt is quantitatively different, and each person values their time in various ways, price comparison becomes difficult, if not impossible to measure.

Making yogurt may or may not provide cost-saving, but if your stomach’s health has been compromised, and you enjoy heightened flavours along with healthy food choices, then – bottom-line – your tummy will thank you for the effort!

Here’s my “Simple Compote” recipe:

4 cups / 1 litre frozen berry blend

1/3 cup (organic) sugar

1 lemon (organic, when available), zest and juice

1-2 Tablespoons Tapioca flour (depending on consistency preferred and the amount of juice extracted from frozen fruits.)

Combine first three ingredients in saucepan and stir while heating through at medium-high. When it develops, strain off approximately 1/4 cup of berry juice. Mix this juice with the tapioca flour, blend well and add back slowly to the saucepan, stirring constantly until mixture boils and thickens. Pour compote into a clean (sealer) jar (minimum 3-cup capacity) and let cool before refrigerating. Compote will last a couple weeks, refrigerated.

This can be prepared using fresh fruit or a combination of fresh and frozen, but adjustments to sugar and tapioca flour will need to be made according to desired sweetness and thickness. It’s also makes a calorie-wise and fruity substitute for jam.

Nutritional values per 1 Tbsp. serving: 45.1 Calories; 0.3 g Fat (0 mg Cholesterol); 1.9 mg Sodium; 19.6 mg Potassium; 11.2 g Total Carbohydrates (0.1 g Dietary Fibre; 0.1 g Sugars); 0.3 g Protein.