Interestingly, only in the west do we regularly drink milk in its natural, or uncultured, form. Around the world, lacto-fermentation was used to culture milk to preserve it and make it more digestible.
DNA evidence extracted from Neolithic skeletons indicates that in 5500 BC, people in Northern Europe – as all other peoples of that time – were still lactose intolerant (2). Earthenware vessels found in England dated to 4500 BC contained milk byproducts – indicating that some form of milk was used, although perhaps people did not drink the milk directly (3).
As it turns out, some incredible things happen to milk when you lacto-ferment it. This process happens automatically if the milk is not pasteurized, so it was surely an early discovery.
The Magic of Lacto-Fermentation
During the culturing process of milk, lactobacilli proliferate as the milk sours. Lactic-acid-producing bacteria proliferate from the souring milk, which preserves the milk while also inhibiting putrefying bacteria (1).
These bacteria help to break down the milk sugars, which feed the lactobacilli strains, but it also helps break down the casein in milk. Casein, a very hard to digest protein, while abundant in cows milk, is not found in high quantities in mothers’ milk. The culturing process actually breaks the casein down into its easy-to-digest amino acid components. One report says that the proteins in yogurt are digested twice as fast as proteins in unfermented milk (1).
Cheese, kefir, yogurt, and cultured buttermilk are all natural probiotics that support healthy and diverse strains of microbes in the gut.
To deal with the epidemic of lactose intolerance, culturing milk increased the production of lactase even after pasteurization may have destroyed much of the lactase naturally occurring in milk. Lactase is the enzyme needed to break down lactose, which is the milk sugar that many folks can’t digest (1).
Culturing also converts most of the lactose into beneficial lactic acid, which is easily digested by anyone.
Consider small amounts of cultured, organic, preferable vat-pasteurized dairy products daily.
1. Fallon Sally. Nourishing Traditions Cookbook. New Trends Publishing. Washington DC. 2001.
2. Early Man Couldn’t Stomach Milk, 27 February 2007, news.bbc.co.uk.
3. Stone Age Man Drank Milk. London: Independent.co.uk. 2003-01-28. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/stone-age-man-drank-milk-scientists-find-605237.html