Last update: May 14, 2009. Another way to cool your milk quickly has been added. This post will also become better organized soon. Also, if anyone has recipes to share, leave a comment! :D I do respond to comments on my old posts by the way.
September 14, 2008. Notes added in the preparation and a link to Tzaziki sauce.
Yogurt is a healthy way to replace many fattening spreads, keep the good bacteria in your digestive tract, or just to have a healthy snack. This post will explain a method on how to make yogurt, yogurt cheese, and Greek-style yogurt. I have limited experience doing this and there may be better ways but here is how it has worked so far for me.
I first heard of making yogurt several years ago by a friend of mine who is from India. She makes many dishes with yogurt. At that time it seemed very strange to me since I grew up in an area where that was unheard of. You buy yogurt and eat it as it. If you really wanted to get crazy, you ate it frozen. But the idea stayed with me after seeing her do this.
My husband and I now eat quite a bit of yogurt so I wanted to find a way to have it without all of the additives that you get in the store. I am not usually freaky about such things because it gets expensive to eat healthy. But the more you eat one thing, the more the bad stuff can add up. My husband especially likes to have yogurt at least once a day. Another reason I decided to start making it is that the cost of yogurt has risen. My final reason is that you can go a few steps more and get cheese or simply a better quality of yogurt than in the store without paying so much more.
Generally it really is not hard to do. You just need to be willing to experiment a bit at first. Eventually you can get yogurt exactly the way you like it with very little fuss (I hate cooking and I do not mind this). Even better, if you use some of your yogurt to start the next batch, the bacteria will “evolve” to your way of making it and get even better. Just do not expect to make and eat your yogurt in one day.
Keep in mind I am still learning about this at the time of this post.
**If you just want to know how to turn yogurt into cheese or Greek-style (thick) yogurt, skip to the end.
The minimum supplies you need to prepare yogurt:
- 1 pot. Best if it has a thick bottom. A double boiler is even better to prevent scalding the milk. I have had fine luck with the pot though.
- 1 Candy thermometer or some way to watch the temperature of your milk closely. Must have!
- Yogurt Starter*
- You may also want a thickener***
- Cooling wrack (optional)
(The yogurt in this picture looks scary but that is just the whey pooling where I had spooned out a sample earlier. It is actually very tasty. There is arokund 1 liter or 4 cups here.)
*Starters: Starters are needed to inoculate or add the needed yogurt (good) bacteria to the milk. You can buy packets of freeze
-dried cultures that keep for a long time in the fridge, freezer, or shelf. So far in my limited experience I have found two types of starters. “Regular” and pro-biotic. What is pro-biotic? I do not know. Leave a comment if you do! :) But the regular starter allows for a shorter incubation time of about 4 hours. I have not tried this one yet. Pro-biotic, the kind I am trying now has to be added at a lower milk temperature and it has to incubate much longer. So far I have left mine on 11-13 hours. I am still experimenting.
You can also simply use yogurt on hand. If you do not have yogurt you have already made, you can pick up some plain yogurt to use from the store. The only draw backs to this versus the freeze-dried is that you cannot store it long to keep on hand, and you risk contamination by non-yogurt bacteria. Freshly opened yogurt is less of a concern. But if you are using yogurt from an already opened container that has been sitting or from a previous batch, your risk unwanted bacteria getting in at some point and then growing in your new batch. This is also why plain yogurt is suggested. Fruit in yogurt increases the chances of unwanted bacteria being present. It is recommended that if you are transferring yogurt from previous batches, to start new after a handful of times because the chances of other bacteria being present increases after each reused batch.
Or you can freeze a batch. It does survive the cold. I have taken snack sized zip-lock baggies and filled them with yogurt so I can thaw out just the amount I need. It works! Other people use ice cube trays. Just remember to keep things clean! (See notes at the end of the log on the frozen starters. Not working as well for me lately.)
**Milk: The more fat in your milk, the creamier the yogurt. Many people are trying to cut out fat but there are ways to make up for the loss of a creamy texture from low-fat milk by adding thickeners.
Lactose-free milk is not recommended. The bacteria need the lactose. I have had poor luck trying this. But those of you who are intolerant (like myself) you can rest easy. Most of the lactose is converted. To get rid of the rest, make cheese. From what I have been reading, the whey carries most of what remains. I have not had any of the fun problems lactose intolerance creates so far.
***Thickeners: If you are not planning on straining the yogurt to remove the whey (for cheese and Greek style) you can add plain gelatin to the milk while heating it. Your yogurt will be less runny this way and thicker.
Another thickener would be to add powdered milk. Non-fat works just fine. It adds the solids back into low/non-fat milk without adding the fat. You also add this while the milk is warming. I have found this to work very well though the whey will pool when the yogurt is disturbed (scooping some out or moving into a new container).
Or you can use both gelatin and powdered milk.
– Pour the desired amount of milk into your pot. Have the thermometer clipped to the side but not touching the pot. You want the temperature of the yogurt, not the pot. I heat the milk at medium or medium high to avoid it heating so fast that it scalds. I stir frequently to keep the heating even and to get a more accurate temperature.
– Heat* to 180 degrees F (82 degrees C). Do not let it get much hotter than this or the protein in the milk start to denature or break down. This is useless to the good bacteria you will be adding later.
*Sep. 14: Note: After many batches I have found that setting the stove just below medium heat (electric stove) reduces burnt milk. You still have to stir frequently and this will increase the time it takes for it to heat, but the milk is much nicer for it. This is if you are using a normal pot to heat the milk.
— While it is heating, stir in your thickeners if you wish to use any. I use about to 3/4 cup (200ml) of powdered milk to about 1 liter or quart of non-fat milk for fairly firm yogurt. This has been working out very well (sep. 14).
– Once it has reached the target temperature, remove from heat and allow to cool to ~110 degrees** F (~43 degrees C) or a bit cooler if you are unsure. Read the box directions of pro-biotic starters for the correct temperature (74 degrees F works well for me). I set the pot on a cooling wrack for cookies to get air circulation below the pot.
**Note: I have been cooling the milk to about 74 F for my freeze dried starter. It also works well for other starters and may be worth cooling it that much if you are having problems. Be sure to stir the milk once in awhile while it cools so you do not get skin forming on top. If you get it, just scoop it out and get rid of it. No biggy.
I also plop in a clean zip-lock bag of ice when it gets cool enough not to melt the bag. This speeds things up a bit. So far it has worked fine (Sep 14) but you may wish to double bag the ice to be safe.
***Update: May 14, 2009. Another way to cool the yogurt faster without dropping things into it is to fill a larger pot with water and some ice. Hold the pot with your hot milk in the water, being careful not to get the water into the milk. Stir the milk to keep is circulating against the cooling walls of your pot. You will need to replace the ice and water several times. This works great and has dropped my prep time considerably.
– When the target temperature is reached you may add whatever starter you plan to use. Follow freeze-dried starter instructions on the box for the amount to add. If you are simply adding plain yogurt, the amount is less specific. I use about 4 tablespoons to around 1 to 1.5 liters of milk. That may be more than needed but I have good luck with it. If you are not sure, add more. I often do.
– Stir the milk very well! You need to get the starter worked into all of the milk.
Tip: If you use freeze dried starter (my favorite now), you may want to spoon some of the milk into a glass and mix the powder well into that. This helps get rid of lumps before pouring into the milk.
Idea: I have just started spooning the milk into a clean, empty herb container, adding the starter, screwing on the cap, and then shaking. This mixes it very well and the powder does not stick to the glass like stirring does. I recommend using a glass herb container or similar. You can clean milk off of glass better than plastic. A word of caution, shake over a sink in case the lid leaks.😉 (Oct. 18, 2008)
You are now ready to incubate.
Next you need to keep the yogurt at a constant (or fairly constant) 108-112 degrees F (42-44 degrees C). This is where you let the yogurt sit undisturbed as much as possible, to allow the yogurt to grow/thicken. Normally it takes around 10-12 hours (usually 10 for my incubator). This is where you experiment to see how long you need to do it. The longer it sits, the firmer it will be. But it will become more tart. Once you find how long you like yours to sit to get the right combination of firmness and flavor, you can put it into the incubator and fuss over it less. (Note: you can remove the liquid later if you want to try how it tastes with less incubation time and initially more runny.)
Now that I have my timing down well, my yogurt tends to be a nice somewhat buttery flavor and not as tart. I think it helps that I increased the amount of powdered milk into my non-fat milk.
The easiest method to incubate is to buy a yogurt maker. There are a variety on the market, it just depends what you want out of it. The one I chose has the yogurt tub sitting in a water bath to keep the temperature constant all over. I will write a personal review on this particular maker in another blog; I want to use it for awhile first. When choosing, some things to consider are whether you want all glass containers (some worry that plastic leaches into the yogurt), see through containers to determine the firmness without disturbing the yogurt (neat but not all that important), automatic shut off or not, or a timer with a shut off. Some allow you to make the yogurt in multiple small containers. This is nice if you do not plan to sieve the yogurt since disturbing the yogurt to move it to another container causes a lot of fluid to pool on top. Others just make the yogurt in one big batch. Some have extra containers available so you can make new yogurt while your other container is being used to store an older batch. It all depends on what you want. I had no idea so I read user reviews on places like Amazon.com. I cannot say what brands or types work better than others. Please feel free to leave an opinion on this.
You can also make your own incubators. I will list a few examples though there are many ways to do it. The only problem I have found is that the temperature often does not stay constant. This means you may have to come back and adjust periodically. Not so great if you plan to let it run while you sleep. It is OK if it gets a little cooler but that increases the incubation time.
But making your own is a good way to start making yogurt without investing much at first. This is what I did and I finally bought one later when I decided I would do this often enough. It is all personal preference in the end.
Home-made incubators: One method that worked well for me was to use a large insulated travel mug or wide mouthed thermos as the container for the prepared milk. Be sure it is sealed. I then wrapped the mug with towels and placed it on a heating pad set on medium inside of a cooler (be careful of fluids around electricity). I had a towel folded between the pad and the mug to buffer the heat. I placed a thermometer between the towels and the mug. The cooler was not sealed but cracked to control the inside temperature. But the temperature inside of a house fluctuates (or at least mine does) causing the incubator to fluctuate as well. You need to go back and adjust periodically. It worked around 3 out of 4 times for me. It is too clunky to leave on a kitchen counter if you actually use your counters (Did I mention I hate cooking?). So it has to be set off to the side somewhere where it will not get bumped too often. The more yogurt gets bumped while it incubates, the more you may get liquid pooling.
Another method people swear by is to put your prepared milk in an oven (not on) while leaving the oven light on. The temperature from the bulb is supposed to be enough. This sounds reasonable and if that is true, that would be nice and constant. I am not sure why I never tried this.
Another way is to put the milk into jars with lids. Put warm water in a cooler and place the jars in the water. But do not submerge the jars. Leave about an inch of jar above the water. Close the cooler. But you once again have to come back and adjust the temperature.
There are many ways. You can probably come up with your own way. It just needs to maintain that temperature for many hours without disturbing or contaminating the yogurt. People have made yogurt a long time before electricity, so go for it. I have sampled failed batches and have not had any bad reaction to it. I think it is safe to experiment.
I am not going to go into recipes for flavoring yogurt or anything else here. I have not had a chance to do much at this point. I am actually developing a taste for tart yogurt by itself. Or with chopped fruit and/or cereal sprinkled in. Other than that, I do not yet know. Leave comments on what you do!! I will save my own experiences for another blog. (this one is getting long!)
Yogurt makes a wonderful cheese (not true cheese but close enough). It is hardly any work after yogurt is made. You just need a way to strain out the whey (liquid part) and leave the solids. I am currently using a linen or cheesecloth bag suspended over a bowl. You can also use a strainer lined with either cheesecloth or coffee filters (its true!). Some people use the reusable gold mesh coffee filters (have not tried-too small). Or you can buy a drainer.
So whatever method you choose, you need some container to catch the fluid that will immediately start to come out and a way keep the yogurt out of that pool. Around 4-6 hours later the cheese was ready.
You can speed up the process by pressing the cheese. I would either go by and squeeze the bag (with clean hands) or put a zip-lock baggy full of water inside of the bag on top of the yogurt. The pressure sped up the release of the whey.
You will have a lot less product when the fluid is removed in the end. The cheese has a consistency of thick, cream cheese. Mine so far is tart but not quite as tart as good feta. Today I put it on my spaghetti for the heck of it. I liked it! Made things a little creamy. Most people use it for cheese cake, various dips, mayonnaise replacements, and so on. I find it to be really good with less guilt about fat.
Store the cheese in a container for up to 2-3 weeks. It helps to put a layer of plastic wrap right on top of the surface.
Note: September 3- This cheese lasts a long time! I still have some of the original cheese shown in the picture above. No signs of going bad. Tastes good. I do keep it in a tight container with a layer of plastic wrap laying directly on the surface of the cheese. Like a blanket. Works!
Greek Style Yogurt (my favorite):
So, the yogurt you made seems runny huh? Well I found what many call Greek Style yogurt. Those of you not in the US are probably already very familiar with this under some other name. Calling it Greek Style is probably the same as calling french fries (chips?), French.
This yogurt has part of the whey removed so it is creamy yet not as solid as cheese. I just made my first batch tonight. It is not as sharp as the cheese and it has a very nice texture. It is heavier than “regular” yogurt but less runny if you do not want to add gelatin. (The yogurt in this picture was made from 1% milk with non-fat powdered milk used as the thickener.)
To make it, just do what you would for cheese (see above) but take it off in about an hour when you have half of the original amount of yogurt. Gently stir it well after you transfer it to its container because what is on top of the pile will be more solid that what was on the bottom. You want to get it all the same consistency. It will have whey left but not pooling amounts like the untreated yogurt.
I have added sliced pineapple so far to this yogurt. The fluids from the fruit softened the yogurt nice and sweetened it. I have also added banana with some sugar mixed into the yogurt as well.
September 14: I made Tzaziki sauce! It is good stuff. I recommend the Greek style yogurt over regular for it.
Addition: I have since found that if you make the Greek-Style yogurt thicker than you like, spoon some of the whey back in and gently mix well until you get the desired consistency.
So I have rambled on enough about this for now. I hope to add recipes for it later in another blog. Do feel free to add comments, suggestions, corrections, questions, and so on. This is fairly new to me but it might not be to you.
Aug 12: Ack! I finally got a creepy batch. I tried to increase the amount of milk without increasing the amount of starter. I also rushed things a bit. It seems that people only call me for things when I am either in the shower or making yogurt.
So after the normal span of sitting there, the yogurt was still fluid. It smelled ok, it was just still milk. So I let it keep going, and going, and going. I finally got yellow soup with chunky bits. The chunky bits actually seemed like it would be ok yogurt but there was no way I was trying it. So back to the way I was doing it. I either did not let it cool enough before adding starter or I did not add enough starter. I am not sure. But this is the first problem. I have made many good batches. Yay! New batch is incubating now.
Be sure to read the comments on this post. Someone has a good idea to sweeten and flavor yogurt. If I get more comments on this, I will eventually post a summary with due credit. Thanks!
August 31: Another creepy batch using frozen yogurt for a starter. I am either not adding enough, there is something wrong with that batch I froze, or I am adding at the wrong temperature. I think I will stay away from frozen for a time. Oh well. I will either use fresh yogurt or the freeze dried powder (which works best so far but hard for me to find locally).
September 14: I stopped trying to mess around with the method of making it and my batches are turning out wonderful. I am staying with non-fat milk and adding non-fat dry milk for the thickener. I add extra of this since non-fat milk is more watery. I tend to let it sit 10-11 hours.
For more things to learn to do or read about go to my main site at https://virtuallyamy.wordpress.com. Be sure to note that there multiple pages of blogs. Always adding as time allows.