Question about Caldwell's Starter Culture


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Sorry about the long post guys, but I've been having this internal debate for days now and I figure here is the only place where I can get a clear answer to my questioning. 


Here's the thing. I just made a HUGE batch of sauerkraut at home, and to be on the safe side since this was my first experience, I decided to go ahead and add some of Caldwell's Starter Culture to the mix. 


I did notice when looking at the ingredients that it contains sugar as a carrier, as well as milk powder, but I figured that it didn't matter all that much since, by the time my kraut would be ready, my Whole30 would be over and I don't really have a problem with consuming such little quantities of milk products or sugar while not doing a Whole30.


However, I later decided to extend said Whole30 through August and am now itching to consume this beautiful and nutritionally beneficial kraut that I just made... 


Also too, I am planning on posting this recipe on my blog and need to know for sure whether it can be considered Whole30 compliant or not before I share it with my readers. 


Moreover, I am also considering making my own Fish Sauce soon, since getting our hands on compliant fish sauce in Canada seems to be absolutely impossible. Again, to be on the safe side, especially since we're dealing with fish here, I would like to use the culture starter. BUT, if I'm gonna go through such great lengths to finally get my hands on some acceptable fish sauce, I would really like for it to be officially Whole30 compliant, too.


If I can't get an OK on this, guess I'm gonna have to try it without...  


I know what you're all gonna say. Technically, if I use the starter, sugar and milk powder become a part of the ingredients, therefore, the kraut or fish sauce should be ruled out for a Whole30.




The way I see it, by the time the fermentation process is over, all of the sugar and milk will have been consumed by the bacteria, so technically, there's none left in the final product, right?


Kind of like Kombucha... we all know that sugar goes into the making of it, but technically, it's no longer present in the final product. 

For the record, I fermented my cabbage for an entire month at room temperature; from what I understand, this is the time that is required for all stages of the fermentation process to complete. 




Here's a bit of information that I copied from Caldwell's Website and I thought might help my "case"...


Caldwell's Starter Culture for Fresh Vegetables makes it easy to culture raw vegetables at home.  The active lactic bacteria contained in the starter culture are specific to vegetable fermentation.

Caldwell Bio Fermentations has spent the last 15 years producing and researching raw cultured vegetables.  Out of this research comes extensive knowledge concerning the bacterial strains required for an efficient starter culture for vegetables. 

Ingredients: Sugar (as a carrier), skim milk powder, ascorbic acid, active lactic bacteria (lactobacillus plantarum, leuconostoc mesenteroides and pediococcus acidilactici)

Please note: There is an element of dairy in this product as a carrier, but the proportion in the final cultured veggies is absolutely minute, around 17 parts per million, which is below trace level.

  • Question from reader: 

  • What is the source of the sugar in the starter? Is it corn, beet, cane, etc.

  • From Caldwell's:

    The sugar in our vegetable starter is sucrose. Its role is to provide energy for the bacteria to proliferate. It's all metabolized during the fermentation process.

    Even before it's used up during the fermentation, the amount of sucrose in the final product (fermented vegetables) is tiny. Consider that each pouch contains 2 grams of powder in total, including bacteria, milk powder, and sucrose. That is enough to ferment 4.5lbs (2 kg) of vegetables, so less than 0.1% in total, and actually even less than that when the added water is taken into account.

    By comparison, fresh cabbage itself contains about 3% sugars...

    Not really sure of the exact origin, but most likely sugar cane or sugar beet.

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The skim milk powder in the starter culture prevents foods made with the product from being Whole30-approved. The sugar is consumed, but the milk proteins remain. It doesn't matter that the parts per million is low.


Your kraut and your fish sauce might be excellent. if you don't have sensitivities to milk proteins or very minor ones, you may do very well eating these foods. I would eat them. But you can't use the starter culture if you want to eat the foods during a Whole30. 

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I hear what you're saying, Tom, and I'm not trying to be a pest here, but I feel I really need to get to the bottom of this... So please allow me to state my case using the following two arguments: ghee and kombucha


Ghee is made from butter, which is made from milk and therefore contains milk protein. Even if most of it is removed during the clarification process, there is no way it can can be completely, totally eliminated. Therefore ghee does contain traces of milk protein, and I guess that holds especially true in the case of homemade!  I haven't found any references as to exactly how much is left behind, but I would suspect that this number is probably very similar to the 17ppm put forth by Caldwell (referenced in my previous post).


From the Pure Indian Foods website 

Ghee- Ghee is the least likely dairy product to cause unpleasant intolerance symptoms. During the clarification process of making ghee, the milk solids are almost entirely removed, leaving the healthy butter fats behind. Different ghees do vary, not only in flavor, but in quality. Very pure ghee (99 -99.5% pure butter oil) may have trace amounts of casein and lactose remaining, but unless a person is extremely sensitive, it will normally not cause problems, even if other dairy does.



The main proteins found in milk are called casein and whey, which are found in all dairy products. However, the higher the fat content of a dairy product, the lower its protein content. For example, 1 cup of whole milk has close to 8 g of protein, while 1 tbsp. of butter has 0.1 g of protein and ghee has no detectable amount of protein. However, ghee may still contain traces of the milk protein casein.


As for Kombucha, it can't even be made without the addition of sugar, so sugar should definitely be part of the official ingredients, even though most of it will have been consumed by bacteria by the time the fermentation process is over. However, the final product still contains measurable amounts of sugar and it is said that it would even contain a certain amount of alcohol (as do nearly all fermented foods, including sauerkraut, apparently)… 


Yet, both ghee and kombucha got the official Whole30 seal of approval.


So I guess that what I'm looking for is a solid, valid argument as to why starter culture should be left out while ghee and kombucha are in.


I know that a line needs to be drawn, but in reality, certain foods stand very, very far from that line while others are extremely close, if not plain sitting on it. It is up to you guys to decide what side of the line these need to fall…


All in all, I believe that the health benefits of adding fermented foods to my diet, even if they contains minute traces of milk protein, far exceed the potential disruption that they *might* possibly bring.


And while starter culture is not absolutely necessary to start the fermentation process, I certainly feel safer using it, especially if I'm gonna start dealing with delicate ingredients such as fish, as it contains a bunch of live bacteria that really help things get going right away.


In the end, what I'm aiming to do here is come up with an alternative to store-bought products that usually tend to contain all sorts of nasty chemicals and other unapproved ingredients. Plus, certain products are just plain impossible to find here in Canada (such as compliant Fish Sauce, for instance) and when you do find them, they simply cost you an arm and a leg.


I just think that it would be nice to have a way to safely make them at home while remaining compliant with the program… 

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I don't mean to sound arrogant or pushy or anything, but I spent a great deal of time writing the above posts and honestly think that I made a very good point, too, so I would really appreciate if someone could please take the time to answer me. 


I strongly believe that fermented foods are extremely beneficial to one's health and are better off being included than excluded, even if they contain the starter culture.


With that in mind and in light of the information stated in the above posts, could someone please provide a logical and solid argument as to why culture starter should be banned during a Whole30 while ghee and kombucha are okay to consume? 


'Cuz I really can't think of one... 


Thanks in advance! 

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Sorry for the delay in response, guys - we were slammed all last week with our seminar in Atlanta, and the AHS. I'm goingt to consult with Dallas real quick on this one and give you an "official" response. Thanks for the polite discussion - we love these kinds of questions and interactions, and that you are thinking critically about the program.


I'll get back to you later today, promise. (Dallas is at a massage right now - can't interrupt his bliss with a question about starter cultures.)



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Okay, here's the reason why a milk-based starter culture is off-limits for the Whole30. With a sugar starter culture for kombucha, the vast majority of sugar is "used up" in the fermentation process. In addition, the minuscule amounts of sugar that may be left over is not at all problematic from a gut or inflammatory potential - two things we base our food choices on for this program. (Foods that affect the gut or immune system are 100% out.)


With ghee, the vast, VAST majority of milk proteins are removed in the clarification process, leaving virtually none left over. Even for those with a dairy allergy or intolerance, ghee is usually a "safe" food.


With a milk-based starter culture, though, the lactose may be completely broken down by the fermentation process, but NONE of the milk PROTEINS are broken down or "clarified" out. Which means those are making their way through the product into your gut... which may, in fact, cause problems on the Whole30. I know the company says they are teeny tiny, but because there is no "clarification" process for starter culture, and because we can't know for sure how many milk proteins are actually in the final product, we've got to err on the side of caution and officially rule it out. 


So there's the official answer - no to dairy-based starter cultures on the program. Of course, you are all free to make your own decisions about what you do and do not eat on the program - our "rules" are just the best recommendations we can make to ensure the best success on the program, but no one is going to come to your house to check your sauerkraut ingredient list.


Does that answer your question?




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Sorry to have taken so long to get back to you, Melissa, life is keeping me fairly busy (I'm sure you can very well understand that!) and while this subject if very important to me, unfortunately,  I can't keep it as high as I'd like on my list of priorities.


I have read your answer with much interest; however, I'm sorry to say that I'm still not convinced.


With all due respect, how do we know that clarification does a better job at destroying all traces of milk protein that fermentation does?


Many sources confirm that ghee still contains traces of the milk protein, as do vegetables that have been fermented using starter culture.


Those milk proteins that are being left behind in both cases; they are one and the same… and they both have the same potential for disrupting the gut or immune system. Plus, I don't think that there is any way of saying how much of the milk proteins are left behind in ghee (again, especially in the case of home made ghee) any more than in fermented foods that contain the starter culture... 


So that's what still doesn't make sense to me. What's the difference between the former trace and the latter trace?


I mean, a trace is a trace is a trace, is it not?


It's not like I'm talking about using pure whey as a starter here, that would be an entirely different story and I would completely understand your ruling it out.


But starter culture?


I still don't get it.


In all modesty, I sincerely believe that this calls for a little bit more research still… 


Oh, and thank you very much for taking the time to look into this. I can only imagine how precious that resource is to you (time, that is!) 

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