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Ayurvedic views on yoghurt and a lighter non-dairy alternative to make at home

January 13, 2015

231When people come to see me for a consultation, I give them some dietary advice according to their doshas and health issues. It comes as a great surprise to many that Ayurveda does not think raw food is very digestible for most people, even in the summer months. The second big surprise is that Ayurveda is not hugely keen on shop-bought dairy yoghurt being consumed on a regular basis. This post looks at:

  • The Ayurvedic view of yoghurt
  • Ayurvedic thoughts on how dairy yoghurt should be eaten
  • How to make your own coconut yoghurt at home

The Ayurvedic view of yoghurt

In the classical Ayurvedic texts, yoghurt (or curd) is described as being sour in taste.  As with milk, cows yoghurt is seen as the best. Overall, yoghurt decreases Vata dosha, and increases Pitta and Kaphaa, so its best for Vata types. It has a binding quality (grahi) which makes it helpful as a supporting medicine in diarrhoea and dysentery. Other health benefits from fresh yogurt include decreased bloating, as well as relief of both constipation and diarrhea and other stomach disorders. Yogurt is the only “fermented” food recognized as sattvic by Ayurveda.

However, with digestive issues, yoghurt may be too heavy to digest. It may also contribute to weight gain due to its heavy quality. This is especially true of shop bought yoghurts. Freshly-made yogurt is filled with countless numbers of beneficial bacteria that help digestion and kill harmful viruses.  A batch of yoghurt would have been freshly made every day in the traditional Indian home. In contrast shop-bought yoghurt tends to be heavy and difficult to digest and can cause the finer channels of the body (srotas) to become clogged.  Also, once yogurt has been refrigerated, the quantity of friendly bacteria decreases.  It’s similar to the issue of cow’s milk, which Ayurveda deems highly. But that kind of milk, fresh from the cow, after the calf has drunk is rather hard to get hold off these days. Please see here for an earlier article on milk and why its worth sourcing unhomogenised, unpasteurised milk if you take it. 

Ayurvedic thoughts on how dairy yoghurt should be eaten

A survey of various Ayurvedic cookbooks reveals the following recommendations:

  1. Not to eat excess yoghurt in spring and winter, and never  to eat yoghurt at night or for dinner (these are ‘Kapha’ times of the day and year, when its adverse effects are increased).
  2. Not to eat yogurt everyday, because that may cause blockage of circulatory channels (srotas).
  3. Not to mix dairy yoghurt with fresh fruits, milk, cheese, eggs, hot drinks, nightshades, lemons, meat or fish as these are incompatible food combinations.

So out go most of the  dairy yoghurts eaten with sugar and fruit., as well as yoghurt and fruit smoothies I’m afraid! And all Ottolenghi’s recipes with yoghurt and aubergine! For an excellent summary of incompatible food combinations, according to Ayurveda, please see Dr Vasant Lad’s summery here. But don’t lose hope, as there are lots of tasty ways to enjoy yoghurt a couple of times a week and still be eating according to Ayurvedic principles. For example, a little yoghurt be taken with savoury dishes such as vegetarian soups, rice and stews. You can also try making a non-dairy version from coconut milk (below), which is lighter to digest and less likely to cause digestive issues. It is still very much Winter in the UK, so even lighter coconut milk yoghurt should be taken in moderation. And best at lunchtime when digestion is at its peak.

How to make your own coconut yoghurt at home

Ayurveda recommends making a batch of fresh dairy yogurt to be consumed each day but this is not practical for most!  Due to the above cautions, I have been wary of including yoghurt in my diet since studying Ayurveda. I was very pleased when coconut yoghurt became available in the UK. Soya yoghurt is also available but I am not personally a fan of soya products, finding them to be cold in nature and also heavy to digest. The only problem with brands of coconut yoghurt, such as “Coyo” is that they are rather pricey. So when Tibetan herbalist Lucy Jones posted posted a recipe for how to make your own coconut yoghurt at home, I started experimenting that day. A nice bit of synchronicity was that I found a thermos type yoghurt maker in my local charity shop that day too, for £2.50! The original Tasty Yummies post on how to make your own non-dairy yoghurt at home is here. I used coconut milk, agar flakes, a dash of maple syrup and a couple of tablespoons on natural yoghurt as a starter. Next time I will source some sachets of yoghurt starter culture. You don’t even need a yoghurt maker, though this makes it very easy. Just a way to keep the yoghurt warm enough whilst the cultures multiply (think hot water bottles, airing cupboards or even the oven preheated with the door closed.) My first batch was delicious though, with quite a set consistency. I will try adding less Agar flakes next time to get a creamier, less set yoghurt.

Some other yoghurt recipes:

Lassi (buttermilk)

Lassi is dairy  yoghurt diluted in water and is often served in Indian restaurants. It aids digestion for everyone at end of meal as it increases Pitta. It is also very beneficial in cases of IBS, Crohn’s disease, haemorrhoids and obesity.

Blend 1 part organic, natural, live yoghurt with 4 parts room temperature water. Skim off the fat that rises to the surface and then add 2 pinches of ginger and cumin powder, according to taste and how much yo have made. For Vata types, add a little rock salt; for Pitta types a little jaggery; for Kapha types a little dried ginger powder and black pepper.  Drink at room temperature, after breakfast or lunch only. Or try:

  • Pachak Lassi: Add 1 inch of fresh ginger, ½ teaspoon cumin seeds/powder, pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon chopped coriander to garnish. Balances all doshas.
  • Spicy Lassi:2 tablespoons sugar, (or less) 1/2 teaspoon fresh, grated ginger or ¼ tsp. Dry ginger, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom. Good for all doshas.
  • Sweet lassi: 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 drop of rosewater.

 

Spinach with  Yogurt

1 lb spinach; 1/3 cup water; 2 tablespoons ghee; 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger; 1/2 teaspoon cumin seed; 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1 cup plain dairy yogurt

Wash spinach, tear off stems and chop fine. Set aside. In a frying pan, heat ghee and sauté spices gently for about one minute. Add spinach and stir for one minute. Add water and cook for about 5 minutes until spinach is well cooked. Fold in yogurt and serve warm as a side dish.

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Beetroot raita (pictured right):

1 cup of raw, grated, beetroot, 1 tbsp ghee, ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds/ cumin seeds, 1 pinch hing, 1 tablespoon chopped coriander, ½ green chilli/ large pinch of cayenne, 5 curry leaves; 1 cup plain yoghurt,  pinch of salt. Add beets to yoghurt. Heat ghee, add mustards seeds, cumin, hing till seeds pop. Add coriander, curry leaves and chilli.  Mix and remove from heat, adding to yoghurt once cooler. Spices make the yoghurt lighter. Beets are a blood tonic but can aggravate Pitta in excess, coriander helps cool.  You can also try substituting cucumber for the beetroot in this recipe to make Cucumber raita. Best eaten at lunchtime as yoghurt is quite heavy for the evening though the spices make it more digestible.

 

Borscht:

A native dish from Eastern Europe, can be served all year round, with rice for a satisfying supper. Beetroots are an excellent blood tonic, good with anaemia. 1 tblsp. ghee; 1 stick  celery, chopped; 1 bay leaf; 4 raw beetroots (bite-size pieces); 1 carrot, grated; 1 potato (bite-sized pieces); 2 litres (3 ½ pints) water; 100g (4 oz) beet tops, spinach or kale, chopped (optional); juice of ½ a lemon; 1 teaspoon salt; pinch of pepper; pinch of paprika; 1 teaspoon fresh dill or ¼ teaspoon dried dill weed, yoghurt to serve; finely chopped fresh parsley to garnish. Heat the oil in a large pan and sauté the chopped celery until soft. Add the bay leaf, beetroot, carrot, potato and water. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the beetroot is cooked. Add the greens and cook for a further 10 minutes, then add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, paprika and dill. Serve hot, topped with a spoonful of yoghurt and garnished with chopped parsley.