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Feeling anxious, moody, and worried about immunity? Probiotics can help. The connection between the healthy gut microbiome and immune function is well-established, and studies also show a direct link between a healthy microbiome, reduced stress, and improved mood. Gut bacteria communicate with the central nervous system and are involved in regulating the stress response, and research suggests probiotics reduce anxiety, improve mood, and enhance sleep.
And now that you’re home more—and at the grocery store less—it’s the perfect time to try making your own probiotic-rich foods. Homemade yogurt, kimchi and other fermented foods are cheaper than store-bought—plus they’re higher in active cultures and free of sugar and added ingredients. And it’s easy and fun!
First, a few important rules (because there’s a fine line between fermented and funky):
- Be sure containers and utensils are super-clean. Run everything through the dishwasher on the hottest setting, or wash by hand in hot water and let them air dry.
- Use glass containers, especially for longer ferments; as the acid level increases, the metal can corrode and leach into your ferment.
- Start with filtered or bottled water; chlorine in tap water can interfere with the fermentation process.
- If you’re fermenting vegetables, sturdier options—root vegetables, winter squash, cabbage, green beans, onions—work best. Cut them into chunks or slices (smaller vegetables like green beans can be left whole), pack into glass jars and cover with a brine made of 1 teaspoon Kosher salt per cup of filtered water, making sure vegetables are completely submerged.
- If you’re making yogurt, vegan cheese or fermented lemonade or fruit juice, use a probiotic starter; you can buy powdered starters, or just use a vegan probiotic supplement (capsules, not tablets).
- Temperature is key: between 66 and 74 degrees is about right for most fermented vegetables. If your house is cooler, the process will take a little longer. Temperatures above 75 degrees may lead to spoilage.
- Yogurt requires warmer temperatures, ideally between 110 and 115 degrees. Stash yogurt in the oven with the light on, or use a slower-cooker filled halfway with water; adjust the temperature down to 110 degrees, or use the warming setting.
- If you’re fermenting vegetables, check them regularly—at least once a day, or every couple of days for longer ferments—and be sure vegetables are completely submerged, to prevent oxygen exposure and mold.
- If you see mold, discoloration, or pinkish or gray spots on the surface, or if your food smells funky, it’s gone bad; pitch it and start over.
Experiment with a variety of ferments. Some ideas to get you started: spicy kimchi, red cabbage sauerkraut, fermented ginger and carrots, beet kvass, cashew cheese, even fermented raspberry lemonade. For more details, check out Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation. And start with this super-simple vegan yogurt.
This simple recipe makes a creamy vegan yogurt, without the added sugar and other ingredients in store-bought versions. Start with full-fat (not “light’) coconut milk; brands that contain guar gum are less prone to separation. Or, if you use a brand without guar gum, just stir yogurt if it does separate. For an even thicker, Greek-style yogurt: before adding blueberries and vanilla, line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth, set it over a large bowl, pour in the finished yogurt, and let stand for several hours to drain excess liquid.
1. Sterilize a glass pint jar, lid and other equipment.
2. Shake coconut milk can to mix well, then pour into a sterilized jar. Empty probiotic capsules into coconut milk and mix thoroughly with a sterilized wooden or plastic (not metal) spoon.
3. Cover the lid of the jar with a layer of cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band (you can use a thin, lint-free dish towel or napkin instead of cheesecloth). Let stand for 24 to 48 hours; the longer it sits, the thicker and tangier it will get.
4. Remove cheesecloth and stir in vanilla extract, blueberries and sweetener if desired. Refrigerate, covered, for 5 to 7 days.