As I’ve mentioned before, you won’t find a corn-free commercial probiotic supplement. If you do, I would LOVE to hear about it, but so far I have not.
Now, that does not mean that you can’t have probiotics. You can make your own. People always look at me funny when I say that. I think it’s because they don’t understand what probiotics are. They are microorganisms that live in your gut. Yes, they are little bugs, but the good kind. I know people think that because the usual probiotic supplement comes in a pill format it must be dead and sterile, but actually they’re just hella lab-processed versions of something you can *totally* do yourself, and control the ingredients on.
Lots of people are concerned about the safety of home ferments, and you do need to exercise basic caution. You need to use clean equipment and follow instructions until you really understand what you are doing. If you have a mold problem in your home, meaning lots of pesky aspergillus spores floating around, you probably want to reconsider wild fermentation. Definitely do your own research on safety in home ferments, but my reading tells me that that home ferments are pretty safe.
Here’s the round-up of probiotic foods and beverages you can make yourself at home. This is *not* a how-to post- you can find all kinds of videos and blog posts about how to actually make these ferments all over the internet. This is just a rundown of the options out there to give you an idea of what might work for you and what you are interested in researching.
- What is it? Sauerkraut is pretty much lactofermented or “soured” cabbage. You can lactoferment many vegetables, though. The process can go all kinds of ways but generally speaking, you add salt to a vegetable, which then releases its liquids to make a brine that covers the veggies. Anaerobic beneficial bacteria grow in this environment and culture the cabbage into something delicious.
- Safe ingredients needed: Vegetable (usually cabbage) and salt.
- Process Considerations: Takes 4-6 weeks to ferment a batch, so you need to stagger your batches if you want to be eating it every day.
Sauerkraut is my #1 recommendation for home ferments if you can do them. I don’t know what it is, but something about sauerkraut is just supremely healing. I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to convince you of that- you can read up on it on your own. But when I started doing my own home ferments, I put off doing kraut because it seemed like “too much trouble.” Don’t ask me why that is- you chop some veggies and put some salt on them and let them sit in a crock, mason jar, fido jar, Pickl-It, or Perfect Pickler. This is NOT hard. But I thought it sounded hard, so I didn’t do it.
I massively regret that, because once I finally started eating real lactofermented sauerkraut I felt *miles* better within hours of eating it. Of course then I started reacting to all of the vegetables one would typically ferment, so I didn’t really get to keep doing this.
If you are looking for a way to heal a damaged gut/highly reactive body, don’t do like me and skip over this option because it seems hard or you think you won’t like it. A lot of people say they don’t really like sauerkraut. But if you’ve only ever had the fake vinegar-sauerkraut from the canned section of the grocery store, you don’t actually know what real sauerkraut tastes like. That doesn’t mean you’ll definitely find it tasty, but you just might. If you don’t? At least drink the juice and then find a dish to “hide” the actual veggies in.
It is important to note that canned sauerkraut from the grocery store shelf does not have these probiotic benefits. That stuff is pasteurized and dead and also does not at all taste like what real sauerkraut should taste like. are a few brands you can buy off the shelf that are lactofermented and still alive, however they are expensive as heck and probably corn-lite, not corn free. Some of them, like Bubbies, are semi-pasteurized so have a little bit of the good stuff. (Bubbies is definitely corn lite- reactions reported.)
Corn allergy considerations: Obviously, make darn sure that both the vegetable and the salt you are using are safe for you. If you kickstart your ferment with some whey, you will also need to make sure that the whey is safe.
- What is it? A fermented milk product cultured by addition of lactic acid bacteria to a milk. Nondairy milks can be used, but different bacteria are present. The lactic acid bacteria eat lactose in the milk and produce more of themselves, as well as several B vitamins.
- Safe Ingredients needed:Dairy or non-dairy milk and some kid of safe yogurt starter culture.
- Microorganisms: A variety of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria.
- Process Considerations: Yogurt takes a bit of care and feeding, especially if you try to keep a perpetual or “heirloom” starter going. You’ll need to feed it regularly to keep it going. There are all kinds of expensive accessories you can buy for yogurt-making, but honestly a small cooler to keep the heat in and a mason jar will do just fine.
Yogurt is neck and neck with kraut for my top choice for homemade probiotics. The particular profile of bacteria available in it really are the best for you digestively. Paired with kraut you will have your probiotic bases covered. Unfortunately it takes a bit of TLC and also requires a safe dairy milk. You can do nondairy yogurt if you have a safe nondairy milk but my understanding is that the nondairy versions aren’t as hearty and I can’t find any evidence of an heirloom nondairy yogurt starter.
Nutritional content: Not a lot of corroborating evidence for this, but apparently there is about 1.3mcg of vitamin B12 in dairy yogurt. That’s about half of what you need in a day.
Corn allergy considerations: Yogurt is hard for a sensitive corn allergy. Obviously make sure the milk you feed it is safe for you. Then there’s the culture. I have strong doubts about the corn safety of any commercially available “direct set” yogurt cultures, that is the packets that you add to milk and use once. You need to find out what type of medium they were cultured on and whether any corn sugars were ever used, as well as whether any preserving agents were added. I’ve read of LOTS of reactions to supposedly corn-free commercial yogurt starters, but never had the conversation myself so I don’t know where the particular pitfalls are in questioning.
Heirloom starters are a better idea, though depending on the source of the heirloom you might need to discard several batches before any corny leftovers are gone. If you can find someone with the same allergy who has a corn-safe starter that would be optimal, though I’m not sure on the details of how you ship a live yogurt culture. There are actually quite a few shops on Etsy selling yogurt starters, and one of them might be doing something that will work for you. There are also a number of bulletin boards and Facebook groups for home ferments that could be very helpful both for providing the cultures and for technical support.
Note that not all colonies are suited to reuse, so do your research- either get a starter that has already been going for a while or buy from a provider like Cultures For Health that make statements about whether their cultures are suited to perpetual fermentation.
And that’s just for dairy yogurt. I can’t find *any* evidence of a colony that will procreate in nondairy milks indefinitely. The best I can find for nondairy is a second-generation ferment cultured from another nondairy yogurt. Diane explains how to do this on her blog, but keep in mind that this will probably not work for the most sensitive out there.
- What is it? Similar to yogurt- Kefir “grains”, which are a symbiotic colony of beneficial bacteria and yeast, are put into milk (cow, sheep, goat, or even other) and left at room temperature. The microorganisms eat the lactose in the milk and produce more of themselves, as well as vitamin A, B-complex, vitamin D, folic acid, carbon dioxide and yes, ethanol.
- Safe Ingredients needed: dairy milk (goat, cow, sheep, or other, as long as it has lactose) and kefir grains.
- Microorganisms: 30+ strains of lactic acid bacteria and beneficial yeasts
- Process Considerations: Needs to be fed a new batch of milk every 24-36 hours or the cultures will starve and die. You can put it in the fridge to put t hem to sleep if you want to take a break, but not for very long.
If you can do dairy/have access to non-corntaminated dairy products, milk kefir is my third choice for homemade probiotics. It has such a huge variety of probiotic bacteria and beneficial yeasts, like 3x what kombucha or water kefir have. And it is SO freaking easy to make. Seriously, you get some kefir grains (not literal grains, that just describes their appearance) from either another person, or order some from a business online, and put the grains in some milk and let the milk culture.
Nutritional content: I don’t know how reliable this source is, but here is a nutritional breakdown of dairy kefir. .005mg is 5 mcg of b12 in 100 grams of dairy kefir, which is twice the RDA! What I don’t know is how much 100 grams of kefir is, since that is weight not volume.
Corn allergy considerations: Obviously make sure the milk *you* feed it is safe for you. If you can’t find grains from a person that you are 110% positive was using safe-for-you milk, throw out the first few batches and rinse the grains in between feedings, and after a couple of weeks you should have “clean” grains. As always, try carefully, especially if your reactions are severe.
- What is it? Similar to dairy kefir, water kefir “grains” or tibicos are a symbiotic colony of beneficial bacteria and yeast, are put into sugar-water and left at room temperature. The microorganisms eat the sugar and produce more of themselves, as well as vitamin A, B-complex, vitamin D, folic acid, carbon dioxide and yes, ethanol.
- Safe Ingredients Needed: water, sugar (sucrose, fructose, or glucose), occasional mineral supplement
- Process Considerations: Needs to be fed a new batch of sugarwater every 24-36 hours or the cultures will starve and die. You can put it in the fridge to put t hem to sleep if you want to take a break, but not for very long.
Water kefir is your next best probiotic bet after milk kefir. Check out this probiotic strain profile. And it requires so few ingredients and is so easy. Like milk kefir, you just feed the “grains” (which are not literal grains, they are a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast that have a grain-like shape) a liquid, and they eat the sugar in the liquid and produce ethanol, lactic acid, glucaronic acid, b vitamins, and of course, more of themselves. Then you drink the liquid and get all the benefits.
So that’s something to talk about with yeast-containing ferments- yeasts do produce alcohol as a byproduct. It’s really small amounts as far as I can tell, but some people are sensitive to it, so that is definitely something to be aware of, and especially if you are feeding it to children. But most of the reading I’ve done tells me there really isn’t that much booze in it. Though I will say that when I took the kefir and added juice, then capped it for a second ferment to make a carbonated soda, the yeasts in my particular kefir variety really took over and I totally made hooch. I drank some at work and actually got a little buzzed. Oops!
So while I wouldn’t be particularly concerned about the alcohol content of a batch of water kefir after the first ferment, I might exercise a little caution if you do a second ferment.
Corn allergy considerations: I recommend you get your water kefir grains from someone who has fed them safe-for-you sugar. If you can’t find someone like that, then I recommend you get the “cleanest” kefir grains you can find (I got mine from Keysands on Amazon) and then throw out your first few active kefir batches and rinse the grains between feedings, and after a week or two you should have a safe beverage. I hope. Note that I said “active” kefir batches because water kefir grains don’t like being mailed and will go dormant, so you have to wait until they “wake up” and then start feeding them safe. As always, try carefully. This has worked for me but may not work for the most sensitive.
- What is it? Really cool, is what it is. Similar to water kefir, the kombucha “mushroom” is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast that forms a biofilm usually at the top of the liquid it’s culturing. You feed it sweetened tea, and the yeasts and bacteria (if there are any) eat the sugar and the nitrogen, caffeine and theanine in the tea and make b vitamins, ethanol, glucaronic acid, and sometimes lactic acid, if there are lactic acid bacteria in your mix. (There may not be.) Acetobacter eats the alcohol in and makes acetic acid. The whole thing makes a fermented tea that tastes somewhat sweet, somewhat vinegar-y. Sweetened with fruit juice it is a delightful beverage, in my opinion.
- Safe Ingredients needed: caffeinated tea (green or black), sugar (sucrose, fructose, or glucose), water
- Microorganisms: Acetobacter, sacchromyces yeasts, and sometimes lactobacillus and pediococcus bacteria but not always.
- Process Considerations: Very few. When you feed it, you do need to spend time brewing up large quantities of tea and letting them cool to near room-temperature, so feeding kombucha can take an hour of attended work, and half a day of unattended time, but you can do this sporadically if you like. Since I am only using my kombucha for vinegar, I feed it only every couple of months. Just whenever I want more vinegar.
I don’t really tout kombucha for its probiotic benefits. As you can see, the main microorganisms in it are NOT the lactobacillus bacteria that are thought to be so beneficial for human digestive systems. In fact, many kombucha cultures may not have any lactobacillius bacteria at all! There are many supposed health benefits to kombucha besides probiotics, though, and while I can’t really attest to them, I can tell you that *I* can’t live without kombucha.
Even though I react to live yeast and can’t drink it raw, I still brew two gallon size jars of kombucha perpetually. Kombucha is pretty forgiving, and if you decide to just not feed it for weeks or even months at a time, it will actually do just fine. It will just get more and more sour, and then you can just use the super-sour batch for anything you would use vinegar for (cleaning, salad dressing, etc) and start a new batch of tea, and the next batch will be drinkable if you don’t let it over-ferment.
When I harvest my over-soured kombucha, I pasteurize it (to keep it from growing a new mother in the bottle) and store it in old Bragg’s vinegar bottles and use it for cleaning or culinary. I got a PH tester and it has a similar PH to Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar after having been fermented for 2 weeks at about 68 degrees- readings came out between 4.25 and 4.6 every time, while Bragg’s stayed at a steady 4.5 even between batches. While it has a nice low PH, it has a much less pungent taste than ACV due to being a mix of acetic, glucaronic, and lactic acids instead of pure acetic acid like vinegar. I use it in salad dressings and homemade hot sauces when I want a “milder” taste, use it as a vegetable wash, an all purpose counter and glass cleaner, and I even use it as a rinse aid in my dishwasher. Basically it’s free vinegar.
I don’t really drink Kombucha raw anymore, because I now react to it that way. I thinkt this has to do with live yeasts, but am not sure. I can fortunately use it in small amounts if it’s been pasteurized. You don’t get a lot of the benefits that way but it’s still full of B vitamins including B12.
Nutritional Content: The bacteria in the kombucha SCOBY produce a full range of B vitamins including B12. Just check out the nutritional info on GT’s Kombucha.
Corn allergy considerations: As with water kefir, you want to make sure it’s been fed safe-for-you sugar and tea. I got some GT’s original kombucha, which I know is safe for me, and used *it* for a starter. Like this.
What do I do?
I can’t do most home ferments right now, at least not for probiotics, due to the previously mentioned live yeast issue. So I brew my Kombucha and then kill the yeasts with heat to use for salad dressing and cleaning products and use Gutpro powder for a probiotic. Right now I’m doing the child-size dose twice per week, and I hope to work up from there.
If you, like me, have issues with molds and yeasts, or are allergic to the actual ingredients needed for all of the ferments being discussed, you will also probably want to find the corn-litest commercial probiotic supplement you can. Maybe when our guts are healed enough, we’ll be able to tolerate the less-processed stuff again.