“Little Miss Muffet, sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey…” Whey? Wait a minute! What was she eating?
Whey is the liquid that remains after milk is curdled and strained. The thin layer of liquid that forms on fresh yogurt is whey. If you’ve ever tried making your own cheese or yogurt, you may be amazed at how much whey is leftover. Full of protein and nutrients, whey is a versatile ingredient in its own right. Miss Muffet’s mom knew what was good for her, but somewhere along the way, we forgot the many wonderful uses for whey.
Soaking grains and beans: whole grains, beans, and legumes are an essential part of a balanced diet, but they can be difficult to digest. Soaking the grains in a solution of whey and water helps neutralize phytic acid, which can block the absorption of important minerals. It also reduces gastric distress and increases the body’s ability to absorb calcium, copper, magnesium, and zinc. For each cup of whole grain, bean or legume, mix 2 tbsp whey with 1 cup warm water. Soak at room temperature for at least 7 hours prior to cooking. For maximum benefit, soak the ingredients in a covered, non-reactive container for 24 hours prior to cooking. Renew the soaking solution by draining and mixing a new batch of whey water every 12 hours. Drain and rinse the grains or beans before cooking.
Substitute whey in baking: For savory dishes, whey can be used as a substitute for water, lemon juice, or skim milk. It can also be added to smoothies.
Lacto-ferment raw vegetables using whey: Fermentation allows beneficial microorganisms to naturally develop, as carbohydrates in vegetables are broken down. The ancient art of “pickling” cabbage to make sauerkraut is perhaps the best- known example of fermentation. In this informative video, Mother Earth News Managing Editor Jennifer Kongs demonstrates how to make traditional German sauerkraut.
Though sauerkraut may be the most well-known fermented dish, most vegetables are easily fermented using a combination of whey and salt. Fermented carrots are a sweet introduction to the healthy world of microbes waiting to boost your health. For a pungent twist, add kohlrabi, ginger and garlic to the mix.
• 6 carrots
• 2 kohlrabi bulbs
• 1 tsp grated ginger
• 1 small garlic clove
• 1 tbsp salt
• 1/4 c. whey
1. Shred the carrots, kohlrabi bulbs, ginger, and garlic together, and add the salt.
2. Pound the ingredients in a bowl until they release some juices.
3. Pack the shredded vegetables into a quart size canning jar or crock.
4. Add 1/4 cup whey.
5. Now you’ll need to weight the ingredients, typically with a heavy plate or plastic baggie filled with water.
6. Place the container on a countertop for 3-7 days. The warmer the temperature, the more quickly the vegetables will ferment. In a 50 degree room, it may take up to a week; whereas in a 75 degree room, the ingredients will ferment in about 3 days.
7. Once the vegetables are fermented, place a lid loosely on the jar, or cover with a crock lid. You may notice a foamy, whitish liquid at the top of the mixture. Before eating, remove any foam, as well as the top layer of vegetables that were in contact with it.
8. Refrigerate fermented vegetables for up to three months.
Where can you find whey? Straining yogurt is the easiest method. Store-bought yogurt works fine, though even the plain yogurt is often loaded with sugar. For the best results, try your hand at making your own yogurt. It’s surprisingly easy and cost-effective, and it tastes divine. Here is a link to my simple recipe for homemade yogurt and strained whey. Thick, luscious, strained “Greek-style” yogurt is delicious when mixed with jam, honey, or granola, and the leftover whey will store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
In her book, Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon discusses the health benefits of fermentation and provides many easy recipes for getting started.
Sandor Ellix Katz delves into the history, health benefits, and various techniques for fermentation on his website, Wild Fermentation. He has also written numerous books on the subject, including Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods. Read more about healthy, fermented foods in Mr. Katz’s article.
Brenda Lynn is an outdoor educator, garden coach, and master gardener living in northern Virginia. She is also the author of Bee Happy Garden, a blog devoted to backyard native habitats and raised bed vegetable gardening.
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