Heating Raw Milk: Breaking the GAPS Law?

Yummy Yogurt With Blueberries & Crispy Walnuts

Yummy Yogurt With Blueberries & Crispy Walnuts

A little controversy erupted over our homemade yogurt post on the blog and on our Facebook page, insisting that heating raw milk beyond room temperature (70F) violates the principles of the GAPS diet and completely negates the benefits of using raw milk. We disagree! And here’s why.

First off, a little disclaimer. We agree that pasteurization kills off beneficial bacteria and changes enzymes. In fact, the whole point of pasteurization is to kill off the dangerous bacteria that live in contaminated milk. High heat gets them all.

There are good reasons to pasteurize milk. Drinking raw milk that has been tainted can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to kidney failure and even death. Pathogens enter the milk when the production is unsanitary or the animal has an infection. No one can ever be 100% sure that their raw milk is safe to drink. Children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are more likely to develop serious problems. We weigh the risks against the benefits and choose our sources carefully and hope for the best based on our individual situations. It’s worth noting that the same is true of any food we eat. For more on different perceptions of the risks and benefits of drinking raw milk, check out this video from a recent debate held at Harvard:

Why We Heat Our Milk

Our family has chosen to use raw milk for our cultured dairy products, in accordance with the GAPS protocol. When we make our yogurt, we heat it to between 100 and 110F. This is the temperature at which the cultures we are using incubate. Since we do not have a yogurt maker, we need to heat the milk to this temperature on our own and then insulate it and provide low heat to keep it at a good temperature. Some yogurt makers would do that part of the process on their own, so adding cold milk to them would still work.

Making yogurt is really all about making your friendly little bacteria happy so that they will eat and multiply. There are two things that make the friendlies happy: food and proper temperature. There are two types of yogurt cultures: mesophilic and thermophilic. Mesophilic (middle loving) thrive at room temperature (68-80F). Thermophilic (warmth loving) thrive between 100 and 110 F. We use store-bought Nancy’s yogurt for our starter; Nancy’s uses a thermophilic starter. Thus, we incubate our yogurt between 100 and 110 F. Cultures for Health sells mesophilic starters, if you’re interested.

We firmly held that one must incubate yogurt at a warmer than room temperature temperature or the yogurt culture we use will not eat and multiply. BUT, we here at The Liberated Kitchen are scientists and, as such, we need evidence to support our claims! So we performed a little experiment. We took the same milk and the same starter, but heated one batch and didn’t heat the other.


As you can see, the room temperature yogurt didn’t thicken properly and most likely had lactose remaining, while the yogurt I made with our regular method turned thick and sour. If you want to culture milk at room temperature, use an appropriate starter! Viili yogurt, Matsoni yogurt, Filmjölk, and Piima yogurt work at 70 – 78 F. In our kitchen, that would still require some heating most of the year. Dairy kefir works fine at room temperature.

Even if we acknowledge that many yogurt starters require a higher temperature in order to incubate, and my starter won’t work at low temperatures, the question remains: Is it “GAPS legal” to heat the milk to 110 F in order to make yogurt?

Reading the GAPS book, you will see the answer is an easy “yes.” Here are excerpts:
From page 216:

The best milk to use is raw organic milk, which has not been pasteurised or processed in any other way. All milk sold in shops has been pasteurised, which changes the structure of the mik and destroys many useful nutrients in it […] [Homogenization] breaks down the fat globules and changes the structure of milk even further, making it harmful for the body. Try to buy organic milk which has not been processed at all. If it is not possible to buy unpasteurised milk, try to buy milk which, apart from pasteurisation, has not been subjected to any other processing. If that is not possible then do your best to buy any organic milk labelled “fresh”. Despite the fact that it has been pasteurised and homogenised, the fermentation process will do a lot to restore its nutritional value.

To make yoghurt you need to introduce bacteria into the milk. You can buy commercially available yoghurt starters from many health food shops or small-holding suppliers. Alternatively you can use commercially available live yoghurt as a starter.

From page 217:

You need to bring the milk close to the boiling point in order to destroy any bacteria, which may linger in the milk and interfere with the fermentation. […] Cool down by placing the pan in cold water until the temperature of the milk is around 40-45 C (105-113 F). […] If you are using raw organic milk, which has not been pasteurised or processed in any other way, you don’t need to heat it, so you can just skip this step. Keep in mind though that raw milk has got its own bacterial population, so the fermentation is not going to be as controlled as with using heated milk. That means that your yoghurt may turn out to be more liquid or lumpy or sour, than you expect. If you are dealing with a fussy patient who would only accept a certain consistency of yoghurt, then heat the raw milk close to the boiling point to make the fermentation more predictable. Gentle heating at home is not as destructive for the milk as commercial pasteurisation it will kill the bacteria and change some things in the milk, but not as badly as commercial treatment.

From page 218:

[Add your starter] Stir well, cover with the lid and put in a warm place at 40-45 C (105-113 F).

From page 219, discussing creme fraiche (sour cream):

Test the temperature – it should be 40-45 C (105-113 F).

And finally, a cow’s body temperature is 101.5F. Pretty sure heating the milk just a few degrees beyond the temperature at which it was made and consumed by a baby cow can’t damage it too badly.

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride has made it clear that it is fine with her if we heat milk to the temperatures necessary to incubate yogurt.

This post is part of Monday Mania, Traditional Tuesdays, Allergy-Free Wednesdays.

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2 comments to Heating Raw Milk: Breaking the GAPS Law?

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    My family is from Eastern Europe, we were happy to discover that GAPS has some aspects of our traditional food, but this part, about the heating of milk is confusing. My mother often bought milk straight from the farmer in the morning in our previous country, and she brought it home, and heated it to about 190″F, then let it cool before using it. It was of course, illegal for the farmer to sell us his milk because it was Communism, but it happened anyway. We could not always wait for rations. I know it was 190″F because when I cooked here in the USA, I used a thermometer. I was taught since I was a girl how to heat milk to below boiling. My mom would’ve done the exact opposite of what GAPS recommends. She would’ve heated the raw milk, and used the commercial milk normally without extra heating. This part of the GAPS diet makes no sense to me. Except maybe it is trying to sell more raw milk. I think that’s good, having raw milk available can only be good for health. But I still don’t agree with not heating it. If you heat anything, then the enzymes change, and the proteins “denature” so duh. Then if you heat nothing you are a raw foodist. It is illogical to worry about enzymes and denaturation if you are heating food. If you will not eat eggs raw, then don’t worry about hot milk.

    • Thanks for the insight about your mom’s traditions 🙂 The reason your mother would heat the milk is the same reason anyone else does… to kill the pathogens that may be present. There are dangers that come with raw milk, especially if the farm does not have sanitary practices.

      Milk from the store has already been pasteurized (heated), but they heat it more thoroughly and they also often homogenize it, changing the molecular structure more dramatically than simple heating at home. You don’t heat it at home because it’s already been heated.

      Some people find that raw milk is more easily digested because of the enzymes that are present. You don’t have to be into raw food in every form in order to do better with raw milk, or to tolerate raw milk but not pasteurized, homogenized milk. Yes, all food gets changed by cooking – some become more digestible and others become less digestible, and part of that has to do with the individual in question. btw, we will eat raw eggs, too 🙂

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