Troubleshooting L. reuteri yogurt-making

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Making yogurt to amplify counts of the bacteria Lactobacillus reuteri is really very simple. We do this because the ATCC PTA 6475 and DSM 17938 strains of L. reuteri provide a ton of health benefits that includes increased skin/dermal thickness and reduction of skin wrinkles, increased or preserved bone density, reduced appetite, increased muscle, massively accelerated healing, increased libido, and and may even prevent recurrences of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), given the organism’s potential to colonize the upper gastrointestinal tract.

But some people struggle to obtain the thick, delicious yogurt that most of us create and thereby are unable to enjoy all the spectacular health benefits of this targeted probiotic strategy. (It’s NOT about the yogurt; it’s about increasing counts of this bacterial strain—the yogurt is just the vehicle we use to accomplish this.)

If you are encountering difficulties in making the L. reuteri yogurt, consider these troubleshooting items:

  • Temperature—Unlike most other lactate-fermenting species used to make yogurt, L. reuteri grows best at a lower temperature of around 100 degrees F. Microbial die-off begins at 115 degrees, with virtual wipe-out of the organism at 120 degrees. Unfortunately, many heating devices, such as yogurt makers or Instant Pots, either do not specify the temperature and/or are set inaccurately and generate temperatures of 120 degrees F or higher, killing your bacteria. If you fail to see any fermentation, i .e., no thickening occurs after 12-16 hours, check the temperature with a thermometer. You may have to use another device or do as I do: Use the oven by turning onto any temperature, e.g., 300 degrees, for 60 seconds, then turn off; repeat every 4 hours or so. As imprecise as this seems, it works great and you do not need to purchase any devices. (At night, heat before bedtime, then again when you awake—no need to get up in the middle of the night.)
  • Not enough prebiotic fiber—We use 2 tablespoons prebiotic fiber, such as Bob’s Red Mill Raw Potato Starch or powdered inulin, per quart of liquid. Omitting this step will yield a thinner end-product with markedly lower bacterial counts and thereby not yield the benefits we are looking to obtain.
  • Ferment longer—Although you may have yogurt after 12 hours, this is not long enough to generate the magnitude of bacterial counts we desire in the trillions. (See the Arithmetic of Yogurt blog post.) We therefore aim to ferment for 30 to 36 hours, then refrigerate.
  • Use a thicker starting liquid–I like starting with (organic) half-and-half, as the 18% fat yields a cream cheese-like end-product, thick and rich. Cream also works, but yields something close to the consistency of butter, too thick for my taste. Full-fat milk (cow, A2 milk, goat, sheep) is okay, but expect a thinner end-product, similar in consistency to store-bought yogurt. Avoid use of skim, low-fat, 2%, or non-dairy almond, hemp, soy milks, as they are too thin and, of course, we never limit fat on the Wheat Belly lifestyle. Coconut milk (canned, never carton) can be used, but be sure to emulsify the milk (e.g., stick/immersion blender) prior to adding starting culture and prebiotic fiber; this prevents separation of the fat.

Recall that strain specificity is important: while there are other strains of L. reuteri available, we have no evidence to suggest they yield similar benefits. So, for assurance of full benefit, stick to the strains that we know yield these effects, the L. reuteri ATCC PTA 6475 and DSM 17938 available from BioGaia.

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