Dairy Allergies and Homemade Greek Yogurt

This post is dedicated to Rochel Miriam bas Tzipporah who generously supports Recovery Shabbos, which should be a source of blessing for her.

In the past several decades, a lot children and adults are believed to have lactose intolerance, and/or a host of negative symptoms from dairy. Of course, people will argue that we have no way to gauge how people responded to dairy products 100 years ago, but we can look to those living on farms, especially non-intensive factory farms, for clues.

Science is catching up with something that both Jewish and non-Jewish farming communities, have known for centuries: The further you (and the food you eat) are removed from the source, the more the chances are that the food you eat might be making you less healthy than you could be.∞

A new study shows Amish children are far less likely to have allergies. Oh, and there’s a throw-away line in the article: “Drinking raw cow’s milk also seems to be involved,” said the researcher.

I’d guess that raw milk is actually an important part of the picture, as is the outdoor exercise and games, the lack of television, the exclusively homemade diet (although many Amish use way too much sugar for optimum health).

Today in the U.S. and many other countries, dairy products are usually so over-processed and denatured that health benefits are limited, at best. It’s probably better not to partake of dairy at all, or at least only in a limited way. How can you tell if typical supermarket dairy products are a problem for you?

If you do a simple elimination diet and re-introduced dairy causes discomfort or pain. Symptoms may include: migraines, headaches, congestion and mucus (phlegm), hives, bloating and all types of digestive upsets, intestinal discomfort or pain, foggy thinking, etc.

(Just like physical discomfort or pain is the body’s way of warning us we’re most likely in physical danger, emotional discomfort, emotional pain or shame, is the mind’s way of warning we could be in spiritual danger. To read more on this subject, see my latest post in the Breslov Repair Kit, The Honor Habit, at Breslov.org.)

But it’s the quality of the dairy we consume rather than dairy itself that causes problems for many. Those who can’t seem to tolerate cow milk, can drink goat or ewe’s milk easily, and this isn’t just because the milk comes from a different animal and has different beneficial properties—it’s also because the way in which milk from cows is produced.

What Are Cows Eating?

I remember many years ago hiking in the Swiss and Italian alps. Sweet-looking, brown Swiss cows (and goats), grazed on the Alpen grass and flowers. The fresh, raw milk and goat cheese were outstanding.

In the U.S., dairy cows, for the most part, rarely if ever graze on grass (neither do beef cattle). This means their milk is devoid of many of the important nutrients found in grass that make their way into milk, such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) for starters. Also, the feed given to dairy cows can include substances that aren’t even food or are highly-processed foods. (Kosher milk at least can’t contain growth hormones or antibiotics).

Corn gluten is a frequently used protein food for dairy cattle. Are people who can’t tolerate dairy really responding to gluten traces in the milk? In addition to bizarre vegetarian ingredients that are highly allergenic (soy meal for example), feathers (don’t worry, they’re “hydrolyzed” and ground into meal), blood meal, bone meal, poultry, fish meal are given to these animals who’ve been vegetarian grazers for thousands of years.

Also, strange by-products from a variety of industries are used: bakery, candy factory, distillery, and so on. Even animal waste by-products have been found to be used illicitly by penny-pinching dairy farmers.

The New Cow

We used to get milk from Guernsey and other cow breeds. In some places in Europe they still do. Now, most commercial dairy farms use Holsteins which produce vastly more milk. The quality of the milk is lower and the protein and fat contents are radically different. That’s why many feel goat milk and ewe’s milk is more appropriate for human consumption.

Pasteurization and Homogenization

The vast majority of cow’s milk is pasteurized and homogenized. Thought many raw milk advocates disagree, I believe that pasteurization, especially with “factory farming” styles where the cows themselves are often not healthy, is necessary today to prevent TB and other diseases.  The exception is if you know a lot about where you’re getting your milk from or have your own cow. Pasteurization flash-heats the milk and this kills germs such as Listeria and Salmonella. But homogenization is totally unnecessary.

According to the Guelph U. siteHomogenization is a mechanical treatment of the fat globules in milk brought about by passing milk under high pressure through a tiny orifice, which results in a decrease in the average diameter and an increase in number and surface area, of the fat globules. The net result, from a practical view, is a much reduced tendency for creaming of fat globules. 

The pressure used is actually immense and there is evidence that homogenization causes allergic reactions due to the changes in the milk.  The original fat globules skin is destroyed in the process. The new membrane that forms contains far more casein and whey proteins. Also, homogenized milk tastes flat or off. As does yogurt, kefir, and leben made from it.

Under Pressure

In general, fermented (soured) milk products are far more digestible and have more health benefits than non-fermented. But the quality available, especially in the kosher aisle, isn’t so great. The answer? Make your own with non-homogenized but pasteurized cows’ milk or raw goat or cow’s milk, if you have access to it. I have access to Bethel Creamery Kosher Organic Milk. Though I rarely if ever buy dairy most of the year, I always start experimenting with homemade yogurt, and cheese and other dairy products as I prepare for Shavuos (The Feast of Weeks).

Non-homogenized milk is delicious, and forms a creamy skin on top when you heat it or make yogurt or leben out of it. Oh, and only use whole milk. Lowfat and skim milk are not a whole food. God made milk with fat in it. The fat in properly produced milk (grass-grazed cows, clean milking conditions, no homogenization) contains nutrients such as the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) I mentioned above, though there are other fatty acid in cow, goat and ewe milk that we may not know the benefits of.

CLA has been proven to inhibit the growth of some types of human cancer cells. It also actually cuts body fat-cut out the milk fat, and gain weight! It sounds counter-intuitive, but for normally active people who choose to consume dairy products, whole milk products are best.

And since dairy gets the imprimatur of the Torah (Bible), we know that at least in it’s most natural form, it can’t be bad.  Our forefathers and mothers were shepherds and if course we know that there are many Biblical references to milk. Torah itself is compared to milk and honey.

And right after the Jewish people received the Torah (when Moses brought down the tablets and the Jews vividly heard and experienced the entire Torah through the experience of synthesia ) there wasn’t time to prepare a typical meat feast, so they served a dairy feast instead, which we commemorate with our upcoming holiday of Shavuos (also known in Hebrew as the Holy Festival of Weeks, the Holy Festival of the First Fruits, and the Holy Festival of the Giving of our Torah). See upcoming posts and last year’s on this beautiful holy day.

The Sweet News About Sour

Fermented (soured) dairy is like eating (or drinking) pre-digested milk, so you can digest it far more easily, especially if you are lactose intolerant. Note that many American brands, including kosher ones, have such a low percentage of the healthy bacillus and so much sugar, people with lactose intolerance might find they cannot tolerate them.

Yogurt contains beneficial gut bacteria, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and  Streptococcus salivarius subsp.thermophilus. Different soured dairy products contain different cultures.

Making fermented or soured milk products are super-easy. You do not need special equipment. An expensive yogurt maker, small clean crock pot, or even a good pilot light can do the job. I don’t fuss with thermometers and stuff like that since I’ve been making homemade yogurt since I’ve been a kid, and I have a feel for how hot the milk should be (but don’t worry, I’ll link you to detailed directions). I’d probably get a more consistent product if I followed the directions, too.

I haul out my dairy pot (which has had a good long rest of several months since I seem to naturally gravitate towards yogurt in warmer rather than cooler weather), heat it up until the temp reaches 185 if using pasteurized milk (you can keep it cooler if using raw milk) or the surface is shimmery, then mix in your starter. You’ll need relatively good quality yogurt, leben or soured eshel. If you can find Kosher kefir grains you could make kefir but it cannot be made from packaged kefir.

You’ll have to buy some kind of product to start, but then just set aside a bit of yours as a starter and keep it in the coldest part of the fridge for a week or so. You can also freeze it for up to one month and the starter will remain active (yes, I’ve frozen it for a bit longer, but it can develop an “off” taste).

Once the starter is mixed into the heated milk, pour into the yogurt maker or crock pot on the lowest setting with a dish towel lining the space between the heating element and the insert. Alternatively, place in a stainless steel or oven-proof glass/ceramic bowl on a strong pilot light or wrapped in a heating pad, cover tightly, and double-wrap with dish towels. It takes anywhere from 8 to 24 hours turn milk into a healthy food high in probiotics. (For dairy-free home-grown probiotics, see my posts (1 and 2) on the topic).

If you use whole, un-homogenized milk, you’ll get a creamy layer on top of your yogurt.

Before Shavuos I plan, G-d willing, to post some unique traditional Greek, Bulgarian and Italian Jewish recipes which will be great topped with homemade yogurt, kefir, leben, labneh or Greek yogurt, your choice. They each have slightly different tastes and textures.

Here are some excellent yogurt recipes and variations from Molly at the Fias Co goat farm. Her advice is right-on. She even gives a recipe for soy yogurt (you can try it with almond or coconut milk if you prefer.) For a crock pot variation by a blogger born in Soviet Azerbaijan (she has a terrific selection of posts on fermented foods, wild foods, and other healthy recipes. The site is very well designed. If you like the possibilities and would like to join me in upgrading Healthy Jewish Cooking, please email me at: healthyblog@optimum.net.

Greek Yogurt (and Labneh)

For those of us who eat Cholov Yisroel kosher dairy only, popular Greek yogurt is off the menu since there are no C.Y. kosher brands. Or is it?

Jews and Arabs from Arab countries (and yes, Greece) have been making it for years. Labneh is known in translation as “yogurt cheese” but really, it’s the same thing as Greek yogurt, sometimes with salt added. Yogurt itself is a traditional food for a variety of people, including Jews. The first big commercial yogurt in the United States, Danon, was developed by a Jewish family from Spain and France.

I like making my “yogurt” (it’s really, not, the bacteria are different), with leben or full-fat leben called eshel. Israeli dairy is way better than typical American-produced C.Y. yogurt or leben. Even though the Israeli leben is pasteurized, the culture, too seems stronger. Here in America, I generally use Norman’s, an Israeli brand which is also produced in the U.S., but has a more Israeli taste, though you can use any yogurt or leben (or kefir, which will make a soured drink).

If you buy: obviously, don’t buy flavored yogurt, leben, etc. It contains sugar, corn syrup, starch, color, and so on and defeats the purpose of eating soured dairy in the first place—the friendly bacteria and probiotics. Always buy unflavored and add your own so you can control the quality.

If you add non-fat milk powder to your initial preparation it will produce a thicker product. I never do as I a more-liquidy product tastes fine to me. Also, I allow my homemade “yogurt” to culture for 24 hours because I like it on the sour side. You don’t have to.

For authentic Greek yogurt, try unsweetened with just a bit of Cretan thyme honey or raw honey and a handful of almonds, pistachios, walnuts or pine-nuts.

HJC Recipe: Homemade Greek Yogurt aka Labneh—Yogurt Cheese

Start with 4 cups preferably homemade yogurt or leben (you can cut the recipe in half). You can use goat or even ewe’s yogurt if you’ve got it. Pour off and reserve any whey (watery liquid) that’s accumulated for protein shakes, plant food, or other recipes (it’s the watery liquid) that accumulates. Sometimes, if you culture a long time, you may end up with a lot of whey. Don’t be alarmed, this just makes your Greek yogurt recipe easier to do.

Cover and refrigerate yogurt/leben for a few hours or overnight. If you use bought yogurt/leben to start, obviously it will already be chilled.

Fit a metal strainer (not plastic) to a bowl, there should be several inches or so, between the bottom of the strainer and the bowl for the liquid to collect. Line strainer with a double or triple layer of cheesecloth for Greek yogurt.

If you are making labneh, line it with up to six layers of cheesecloth (I use four) and add one teaspoon unrefined sea salt to your yogurt and stir. If you like saltier labneh, add up to three teaspoons one tablespoon).

Pour or spoon yogurt into cheese-cloth cover bowl with plate (better to not use plastic wrap or aluminum foil) and leave for 2-6 hours for Greek Yogurt (two should be enough with most American-style thicker yogurts) and overnight for labneh. If a lot whey accumulates in the bottom of the bowl pour off and save or discard. (What a shame to waste it, if nothing else dump it in a houseplant or your garden.)

Spoon Greek yogurt into a glass or pottery jar and refrigerate for up to about a week. For traditional Greek yogurt, stir in raw (or other) honey and fresh fruit or use as salad dressing. For labneh, unmold and  place in glass or pottery jar or bowl, cover with a half-inch of extra virgin olive oil, and keep for up to two or three weeks.

HJC Recipe: Easy Mediterranean Salad

Homemade yogurt or leben, Greeked or not, makes a healthy salad topping. Choose a mixture of wild greens, mesclun, romaine lettuce, radicchio. Add sliced organic cucumbers and ripe tomatoes. Sprinkle with sprouted seeds (almonds are good, too). Add a handful of oil-cured black olives and good quality Israeli or Greek green olives. Top salad with a drizzle of yogurt. Sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar. Dust with zaatar or thyme (for a Middle-eastern taste) or thyme or oregano for a Greek or Cretan flavor.

∞Rambam (Maimonides) advises against drinking milk more than 24 hours old. Of course, one might argue that with refrigeration, this no longer holds true, but I’m pretty sure that Rambam’s recommendations have validity, especially since every few years, “science” proves him right in one particular or another.

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