You see whey frequently in lacto-fermentation recipes on this blog or in the class, so it is important to cover exactly what whey is, which forms will work for fermentation, and how to get it. This week's free video is an excerpt from my fermenting class — enjoy!
Below are some of the notes eCourse members received — check out Lesson 3 inside the class for a more in-depth video as well as more in-depth notes.
What Is Whey?
Whey is what spills out of dairy when it is fermented (soured or cultured). Beneficial organisms proliferate throughout dairy, consuming the milk sugar (lactose) and producing acids which curdle the milk. This souring can progress so that the milk separates into distinct curds and whey, or you can press or hang the curds so that the whey spills out. You can get whey from buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, kefir, chevre, and other cultured dairy, including all kinds of cheeses.
Why Use Whey In Fermentation?
Quite often, we inoculate a fermentation in the beginning with a starter culture (a colony of beneficial organisms). This kick-starts the fermentation and prevents spoiling organisms from getting a foothold. Whey is quite often chosen as a starter culture (but there are others; see below), so it is important that it contains beneficial organisms. Some whey does, and some does not.
Which Whey To Use?
The highly processed whey protein powder that is sold as a nutritional supplement is not the kind of whey we would use in fermentation (nor is a real, whole food). Additionally, sometimes people make cheese at high temperatures or heat dairy after it is fermented. Whey from this dairy is no good, because the beneficial organisms have perished.
Anytime you're wondering if a certain whey will work, ask yourself this question: from the time the milk was cultured, was it heated much beyond 100 degrees (or so) Fahrenheit? If yes, you can't use it for fermentation starter culture. If no, you can use it as a starter culture because it retains beneficial organisms.
Most of my cultured dairy and cheese recipes don't go over 102 degrees Fahrenheit — and most of these stay around room temperature — making their whey suitable for fermentation.
How To Get Whey
When making low temperature cheeses, whey will spill out from pressing or hanging curds. However, it is probably easiest for most people use the whey from making kefir or yogurt cheese, or the soft cheese of the Fundamentals eCourse. You can also use store-bought plain kefir or yogurt, as long as they contain active cultures. Here's how:
- Line a colander with two pieces of 90-count cheesecloth or a pillow-case weight piece of cotton cloth.
- Put the colander inside a pot or bowl that holds it.
- Pour the cultured dairy into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Tie up the ends and tuck them inside the colander. Let the whey drip out for about a day, or hang up the bag so gravity can speed up the process.
- Scrape the cheese out of the cheesecloth and use as you would cream cheese.
- Pour the whey into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator for many weeks. Or freeze for many months.
The whey will last a long time. It is normal for a few milk solids to slip through the cheesecloth with the whey. Over time, they can get moldy floating at the top of the whey. Strain them off as necessary, and usually the whey is fine. It should smell fresh; let your nose be your guide.
Non-Dairy Substitutes For Whey
You can kick-start your lacto-fermentations with non-dairy starter cultures, too. Here are your options and how much to use.
Leftover Fermenting Juice. The juice of previously fermented pickles, sauerkraut or other ferments is rich with beneficial organisms. Use at the same rate as whey. However, keep in mind flavor matching; a pickle juice is probably not going to taste very good inside a fruit ferment.
Finished Water Kefir. Use at the same rate as whey: about 1/4 cup per quart of ferment.
Water Kefir Grains. This is an idea shared by Christine, eCourse member. She uses 1 tablespoon extra water kefir grains per quart of ferment, and scales up from there. Similarly (although not dairy-free), you can use 1-1/2 teaspoons of extra dairy kefir grains per quart of ferment.
Body Ecology Veggie Starter. This is an option in the class supply kit from Cultures for Health. Mix one packet into 1/4 cup of water; use in place of whey for one quart of ferment.
Abiasa Aromatic B Starter. This is included in the class supply kit from Homesteader Supply. Though a cheese starter, the organisms in it are the same as the Body Ecology starter, and it seems to be an economical option. Mix 1/16th teaspoon of the culture with 1/4 cup of water; use in place of whey for one quart of ferment.
What if a recipe doesn't specify a starter culture and you want to use one? Generally, 1/4 cup of liquid starter works for one quart of ferment. Scale up accordingly. If a recipe calls for another amount, by all means follow the wisdom of the recipe author. However, like many aspects of traditional cooking, starter culture usage is not an exact science and a range of amounts will probably work.
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