Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sour Cream

For over a month now, sour cream has been created in our household with heavy cream, half and half, and vinegar. This was mainly due to me not being able to locate cultured buttermilk. But ah-ha! it was found late today at Cash and Carry tucked in with the rest of the buttermilk. Those sneaky stockers have been hiding it from me all along!

What is the significance of cultured buttermilk you might ask? Oh, let me tell you! Cultured buttermilk is currently something I'm very excited about! Most buttermilk purchased here in the States has been pasteurized or even ultra pasteurized. Though I am in great debt to old Pastuer there are just somethings that work, and culturing enzymes are one of those. The culture which is spoken of in buttermilk are pro-biotic bacteria which feed off the lactose (milk sugar) turning it into lactic acid. This ferments the milk and causes the milk proteins to thicken. This lactic acid gives buttermilk the incredible added quality of naturally fending off and inhibiting pathogenic bacteria. Yay good bacteria (probiotic); Boo bad bacteria (pathogenic).

This is all well and good, you might be thinking, but why is it important to your life? Using cultured buttermilk, you can add this bacteria into milk or cream and produce a "soured" product. (Don't confuse "soured" with spoiled because it is actually better for your body this way due to the lactose being broken down.) Thus sour cream! Way back when, this is how sour cream was created.

Enter the relevance to your current life: sour cream is no longer created this way. In 1973 the FDA repealed a law which wouldn't allow for imitation products to be placed into our food without appropriate labeling. This meant that anything could be substituted as long as the supposed nutritional content was not altered. Honestly, this was an attempt to reduce fat and lower costs. But, the result has become additives that are now added to milk in order to thicken it instead of probiotic bacteria. Things like hydrogenated oils, carageenan, guar gum, etc are now supplimented giving the sour cream a longer preservative time and a thicker texture for far, far cheaper than cultured product. Also, cultured product can wear out. The bacteria die. This doesn't taint the milk, but it means that the thickening characteristics of the culture are no longer present. That is highly costly on a commercial scale. Guar gum can hold up for quite some time along with carageenan and hydrogenated oil.

Information acquired from In Defense of Food:
An Eaters Manifestoby Micheal Pollen

The problem here is that these additives chemically alter our bodies ability to digest food. Though all are natural products, so is arsenic. Just because something comes from a plant does not mean it is a helpful component to add to your body. Secondly, I'm sure that very, very small does of these products (just like the aspertain which is in NutraSweet) aren't harmful. The problem has become that they are now in EVERYTHING! We are eating far more than we even realize.

So what exactly is the problem? Well hydrogenated oils are transfats. They have been linked to excessive free radicals, which are believed to be cancer causing agents. Carageenan is derived from red algea via alkali and has been shown to coat the inside of the stomach. This dramatically inhibits digestion causing the foods which venture to your intestine to not be properly broken down. Since most of the nutrient absorption from your body occurs in the intestine, when food isn't broken down, you cannot digest the nutrients. Carageenan is such a powerful coating agent it is what airlines use to de-ice the plane's wings. Guar Gum comes from the Guar plant and is basically a ground up grain, much like wheat. Do not be fooled however, Guar Gum is such an effective thickener that when combined with water it can swell in size 20 fold. This swelling is produced by a chemical action in reaction to the water and has been shown to dramatically reduce the ability of the intestines to process cholesterol and triglycerides. Not only that, but it slows glucose absorption as well. In laymans terms, your body consumes more cholesterol, more sugar (glucose), and more fat (triglycerides) because the intestines are processing it so much slower our body can't register that we have had enough. It doesn't block the absorption, it just slows it way, way down. This means the "full" reflex in our body can't kick in when it should because our intestines are still working so hard to break down the nutrients.

I don't know about you, but I would much rather have foods which help aide the digestion and absorption of nutrients into my body, rather than disrupt them. So, sour cream is being created now on top of our refrigerator. The hardest part of this process is leaving it alone. In fact, it doesn't require any work from you what so ever after combining the ingredients together.

1/4 cup of cultured buttermilk
1 cups of heavy cream

Pour the heavy cream into a mason jar, bowl, eating receptical. Add the cultured buttermilk (regular buttermilk will not work, only cultured). Stir to combine. Now cover it and leave it alone. Don't stir it any more or it will kill the culturing and you will have runny sour cream. Leave it out at room temperature 12-24 hours (basically overnight) or until it gets desirablly thick. Once it is thick enough, you can stir it all you want. Just put it in the fridge (this stops the culturing and thickening) and it will keep for about a week and a half.

If you can't find cultured buttermilk, you can always add plain white vinegar. The only difference in the final product is a slightly vinegary taste and no probiotic bacteria. You can also use Half and Half, Whole milk, 2 percent milk, or any combination there of. Just remember that it is the fat in the milk which makes it thicken. No fat, runny sour cream. Jules like his sour cream to stick to the spoon and make a Shloop sound when it is removed from the container. The only thing more important than the shloop is the loud Pluh sound it makes when it is splatted onto your plate. For this reason, the first couple of batches of sour cream I made were too runny for approval. They tasted great, but no shloop.

When I started reading In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Micheal Pollen points out that our brain is about 60 percent fat; every neuron is protectively sheathed in it; our cell membranes are constructed of fat and require the correct ratio for everything from hormones and glucose to toxins to permeate the walls; vitamins A and E require fat to be absorbed by our intestines; and essentially fat is a necessary part of our bodies ability to function. Somewhere in the obesity epidemic and scientifically modifying food we have forgotten this little fact. When I remembered it, I promptly could careless about how much fat was in our sour cream and the shloop was achieved.
Update: When you put the sour cream in the fridge, it will firm up a bit for those out there who are concerned with their final product. If you don't stir it up, and just eat it off the top, it will stay fairly thick as well. Secondly, the next time you need to make sour cream, use a 1/4 cup of your previous batch and it will turn out even better! This only works if the previous batch still has live culture in it. All that means is you need to use it within about 10 days. However, the awesomeness here is that you can keep creating miraculously FABULOUS sour cream without having to re-purchase the cultured buttermilk! Personally, I find this rather cool. I know....I'm a nerd.


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Guar Gum

GuarNT Product Information, Tic Gums web-site (, April 13, 2005.

Okazaki H et al, Increased incidence rate of colorectal tumors due to the intake of a soluble dietary
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