Probiotic-rich Fermented Foods

Excerpted from A Cheese Lovers Guide to Making Nut Cheese, Yogurt and Kefir, by Cherie Soria

People have been eating fermented and cultured foods for millennia — many of the longest-living groups in the world today continue to eat probiotic rich foods as a staple in their daily diets. Probiotics have been credited with everything from improving digestion to protection from cancer and heart disease. What started as a way to preserve foods has proven to be beneficial in many other ways.

Fermentation creates probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that support natural immunity, improved digestion and proper assimilation of nutrients. Popular fermented foods that contain probiotics include yogurt, kefir, cheese (dairy and dairy-free), sauerkraut, pickled and sour vegetables, and miso.

If you prefer a whole food source instead of probiotics in pill form, fermenting foods at home will be an exciting, economical, and delicious option, and an activity you’ll enjoy.

Cultured nut cheeses, coconut yogurt, and kefir drinks are a terrific way to eat nuts and seeds, since fermentation makes them tastier and far more digestible. Nut and seed cheeses are great in raw dishes like pizza, enchiladas, burritos, burgers, sandwiches, dips, dressings, and desserts. In fact, many avowed cheese-aholics (like me), find it easy to go vegan once they learn how to make plant-based cheeses!

What you need to know:

Flavor: Macadamias, peeled almonds, pistachios and pine nuts are especially good for making raw vegan cheese because they produce a visually attractive product similar to dairy cheeses. Pumpkin seeds make a green cheese with a delicious cheddar-like flavor, and walnut, hazelnut, and coconut cheeses and yogurts are amazing in desserts.

Partially dehydrating nut cheese after fermenting produces a concentrated flavor and thick texture similar to sliced cheese. Dehydrating cheese completely, produces a light, flaky nut cheese that resembles shaved Parmesan.

Texture: The amount of water used when blending will determine how thick or thin the product will be. For a very thick cheese, use as little water as possible. For yogurt, add a little more water, and for kefir, use even more water when blending. Adding a weight on top of the cheese while it is fermenting, even after refrigerating, will help press out more liquid and make a denser cheese. Adding gelling agents such as agar-agar and Irish Moss also alter texture and create a “sliceable” cheese like Velveeta®. Adding psyllium husk powder or tapioca starch creates a gooey “cream cheese” texture.

Timing: The amount of time it takes to ferment nut cheese depends on taste preferences and the warmth in the room where the cheese is fermenting. The warmer the air, the faster your cheese will ferment. Stronger flavored cheeses require longer fermentation time.

Tips: For most recipes, a white cheese is most desirable and can be altered in flavor and color most easily. Almond and macadamia are versatile favorites.

Adding a little red or yellow bell pepper or turmeric to almond cheese will mimic the color of cheddar cheese; minced herbs will give nut cheese a Boursin-like appearance, and adding minced red or green jalapeño creates “jalapeño pepper cheese.” Swirls of spirulina will create a blue cheese-like effect. Always peel almonds prior to making cheese for a smooth texture and mouthfeel.

The Basics

Whether you are making kefir, cheese, or yogurt, the basic procedure applies:

Soak your nuts (for almonds, hot soak and peel first) to germinate them and make them easier to blend into a creamy cheese. The amount of soaking time is determined by the hardness of the nut: harder nuts like almonds require 8 hours of soaking and pine nuts only 4 hours. Young coconut needs no soaking at all.

Nuts with brown skins, including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and pecans must be well rinsed after soaking to remove bitterness.

Blend nuts, seeds or young coconut meat until creamy, using as little liquid as possible to achieve desired texture.

Add a probiotic starter ( 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon per 2 cups of nuts).

Put the mixture in an appropriate container (as directed in the recipe) and allow it to sit quietly in a warm place until the desired amount of fermentation is accomplished.

Almond Cheese

Yield: 2 cups (6 to 8 servings)

2 cups almonds, hot soaked, peeled, and cold soaked

1 cup non-chlorinated water, plus additional to thin, if necessary

1/4 teaspoon probiotic powder

  1. Put the peeled and soaked almonds, water, and probiotic powder in a high-performance blender and blend until smooth, adding more water if necessary to achieve a smooth, creamy consistency.
  2. Line a small colander or plastic berry basket with damp cheesecloth, allowing several inches of the cloth to drape down the sides.
  3. Set the colander or basket on top of a shallow dish and pour the mixture into the cheesecloth. The dish will catch the liquid as it drains from the cheese.
  4. Fold the excess cheesecloth over the top of the cheese, and place it in a warm (not hot) location to ferment. After about 2 hours, place a weight on top of the cheese to help press out the excess liquid. (An ideal weight is a cup of grains or seeds in a glass jar.)
  5. Check the cheese every 2 to 3 hours, and drain the excess liquid so it doesn’t sit in liquid. Continue fermenting for a total of 8 to 12 hours or until the cheese reaches a cheesy flavor that suits your tastes.

Storage Suggestion: After the cheese has fermented to suit your taste, store in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator for 1 week.

How to Peel Almonds

Plunge almonds into a bowl of nearly boiling water and leave them immersed for 3 – 5 minutes. Add a little cool water to the bowl, making the water cool enough to handle. The almond skins will pop off easily when pressed between your fingers. Next, soak the almonds in fresh, cold water for 8 to 12 hours. Rinse and drain. Your peeled almonds are now germinated and ready to use to make kefir, yogurt, or cheese.

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