Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to make homemade yogurt – even if you’ve been afraid to do it in the past!
Making homemade yogurt has long been a foundational Kitchen Stewardship habit, because it is something you can do that fulfills all four pillars of KS:
- Yogurt is very good for you – so your nutrition benefits.
- Making homemade can save you a lot of money – your budget benefits.
- You save resources when you don’t buy plastic tubs every week – the earth benefits.
- Since you’ll only have to devote 15-20 minutes of active work time to the whole project – your family time doesn’t suffer.
My painless method generates zero dishes except the jars you use to store the yogurt in plus one spoon. You can’t get any better than that!
I’ve been making homemade yogurt for about five years now and have said almost everything I know about it already here at KS, including the comprehensive how-to post which was published in my second month of blogging. Here’s where you can find the posts:
- The definitive post: How to Make Homemade Yogurt (really, be sure to read this one, as the rest of this post won’t make much sense until you familiarize yourself with the cooler method and the terms incubation and starter culture.)
- UPDATE 2012: Here’s more of a Cliff’s notes version with lots of photos and new updates: Making Homemade Yogurt Photo Tutorial
- The Definitive Homemade Yogurt Troubleshooting Guide
- Adjusting for Raw Milk Yogurt(see below for new ponderings)
- UPDATE 2012: I figured it out! How to Make Creamy Raw Milk Yogurt
- Homemade Yogurt Updates: Other steps you can take if you’re not ready for homemade (wimps!), New ways to cool the milk, Skim Milk + Cream for homemade yogurt, What Milk SHOULD I Use?, and Greek Yogurt.
- 4 Tricks to Help you Reduce the Amount of Sweetener you need to eat plain, homemade yogurt.
- Yogurt Recipes and Substitutions (so none of your yogurt ever goes to waste)
- Bonus: How to Make Yogurt Cheese and Whey (If you’re already making homemade yogurt, this can be your Monday Mission!)
I really, truly believe that everyone can and should make their own homemade yogurt. Even if I was really rich and didn’t care a whit about my food budget, I’d probably still make this item homemade, because I can do it better than the factories (nutrition-wise, at the least).
Lots of people are afraid of this one. Here are some common excuses and my straight-up responses:
- I work all day, and even though yogurt doesn’t take that long to make, the steps are all spread out. I can’t fit it in!
My response: You have two options to make homemade yogurt fit with your schedule. First, there’s always the weekend. I realize that’s not always possible, because sometimes weekends get awfully full, too. Second, if you start the process when you get home from work – let’s consider you a workaholic and it’s already 7 p.m. – you can put your jars into the cooler by 8:30 if you use the speedy cooling method and 10 p.m. at the latest if you let the milk cool on the counter. Incubate overnight, or even until you get home from work the next day (I prefer 16-20 hours, myself), and stick the jars in the fridge. Ta da! You’re done. Full-time work is no excuse.
- I’m single/a student/no one in my house eats yogurt except me. I can’t make huge batches and just let it go to waste!
My response: This method is adaptable to any amount of yogurt that you can fit in a pot. I happen to make 4 jars (just less than a gallon) at a time, but my mom has just started making homemade yogurt using my method (way to go, Mom!) and makes just one jar at a time. You could make two cups if you wanted to. You decide the size and number of your jars. Anyone can make homemade yogurt!
- I don’t have a picnic cooler, so I can’t use your nifty method to incubate.
My response: Lots of people also think they need a yogurt maker to make yogurt, but I think that investment is not worth your money or space in your house. You can incubate yogurt in any place that will stay at about 100 degrees F for 6-24 hours. Many people can use an oven with the light on (check your temperature – mine is probably not warm enough, but others say theirs gets up to 140-150F!). You could also try wrapping the jars in towels with a hot water bottle(s) or even an electric heating pad. Some have had great luck with a slow cooker filled with water and kept on low with the lid off, and a friend of mine simply leaves the jars in her pot of water on the stove. You’ll have to check the temp the first few times you make yogurt, but once you understand the science of growing bacteria from this post, you can handle about any situation. Once I incubated yogurt all day in the sun on my back porch, then overnight in a warm car. It made the creamiest raw milk yogurt ever! You do not need fancy equipment to make homemade yogurt.
- I don’t know where to buy yogurt starter/cultures.
My response: Trust me, any grocery store has some sort of plain yogurt for sale. Any plain yogurt will do, as long as it lists “live and active cultures” on the side (and I have yet to find one that didn’t). I’ve used Meijer brand, Dannon, and Fage Greek yogurt. If you can only find vanilla, give it a shot! Only fat free? You’re using whole milk anyway (right???), so the fat free portion of the finished yogurt is so small it’s insignificant. You do not need fancy starters to make homemade yogurt.
- I use coupons, so I don’t need to make homemade yogurt to save money.
My response: There are still two other reasons to make your own, and I bet in the long run it will still save you money. First, your famiy’s nutrition. Incubating your yogurt longer than 4 hours will decrease the milk sugars and increase the probiotics in the final product, which you can’t say about store yogurt. You also will avoid all sweeteners and other junk that might be added to the yogurt cups that are on sale with a coupon. Lastly, your family will eat more yogurt when you have it available in bulk, I guarantee it. More yogurt consumed = a healthier family. The second reason to make your own is to avoid wasting all those little (or big) plastic yogurt tubs. Making homemade achieves that in a big way. You save a lot more than money when you make your own.
- I’m still afraid of it. Your method has too many steps.
Okay, if you want something easier (but it makes more dishes!), you can always try the slow cooker yogurt method that Sarah shares.
- Nope, I’m still afraid. Will you come to my house and show me how? I think if I see if done just once, I will believe I can do it myself!
Sure, I can do that…sort of. If you’re a really visual person (or a really nervous one), I will be presenting my method and all my thoughts on and love for homemade yogurt as part of the GNOWFGLINS eCourse on cultured dairy and basic cheesemaking, starting in February. My guest lecture is in March (note to self: tape yogurt making!), and you can access it at any time with any level of membership once it’s posted. You can check out the cultured dairy schedule HERE by scrolling down to the course description and clicking through for more info. As a side note, the “thank you video” for this month features my kids and I making Farmer’s Cheese, an unbelievably simple recipe and very cool science experiment. My kids are hilarious, and Paul had a great time explaining some of the process (trust me, you’ll laugh at his antics).
One Yogurt Update: Dairy-Free Yogurt
I’ve made a lot of changes in the way I make homemade yogurt over the past 5 years, including lowering my incubation temperature, learning to make it with raw milk, and increasing my incubation time this past fall to a full 24 hours. Most of those changes are detailed in previous posts, but I did try one new experiment that I haven’t yet shared: dairy-free yogurt.
Possibly the most common question I get asked, which pains me because I never know the answer, is whether non-dairy alternatives can be cultured using this method. I finally tried coconut milk yogurt this fall, and it got mixed reviews.
- First, I used a box of coconut milk instead of a thick, creamy can. I would recommend using the can if you try this yourself! The box started me off with a deficit because it’s so thin.
- I did the jar of coconut milk yogurt right along with three other jars of cow’s milk, so the directions for my regular yogurt were followed exactly.
- The result? The coconut milk got a little bit thicker, but it was still very, very runny. It had a definite smell of something cultured, so I think something happened, but I can’t be sure how much.
- The taste? We’re also working with a handicap here because we don’t drink or use coconut milk, so I didn’t even really know what it tasted like before being made into yogurt. For my tastebuds, it was very tangy, and I’d classify the experience as “gross.” I tried mixing a bit of coconut milk yogurt into my regular yogurt, but I just ended up wanting more sweetener. I managed to not let the whole jar go to waste by using some in a smoothie (you can hide anything in a smoothie, I’m telling you! Except cod liver oil…) and cooking with the rest of it.
- If you’re dairy free, I think it would be worth trying a can of coconut milk and making it into yogurt. I did use my regular starter, but only because I wasn’t willing to buy expensive coconut milk yogurt to start with. If you buy the stuff anyway, as long as there are live cultures, please let me know how it goes!
A Few New Thoughts
On using raw milk for yogurt: A lot of people disagree with the fact that I just pasteurize my raw milk before I make yogurt with it. I do it because I simply couldn’t make yogurt my family would eat with raw milk any other way. I realize this knocks out the raw factor of the milk, but as I explained in my milk post, there are many other advantages to our raw milk. If yours is much more expensive, and you can get equally high-quality milk albeit pasteurized for less money, I would recommend buying that pasteurized stuff for yogurt, unless you want to buy a special culture for raw milk.
I have one hunch that I just thought of today when I was pondering raw milk and the fact that I now incubate at a lower temp. Since raw milk seems to incubate well at room temperature with the proper culture, I wonder if my raw milk would make better raw yogurt at a rather low incubation temp, like maybe just 90 degrees. Someday I’ll try it!
On incubating a full 24 hours: I was totally shocked to find that 24-hour yogurt wasn’t too sour or simply nasty, as I expected it might be. It’s really quite good! Incubating for 24 hours is supposed to get rid of all the lactose in the milk, so the yogurt is quite digestible for folks who are having intestinal ailments. It’s recommended on the SCD Diet (explained here) for those with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and other gut issues. To achieve a 24-hour incubation, simply add a few cups of boiling water at 8 hours and again at 16 hours.
Making homemade yogurt is part of the Back to Basics series this January to get you back on track to balanced nutrition, while not sacrificing your time or budget. Last week posed a simple challenge to reduce restaurant waste by bringing your own take-out containers, and next week we’ll review the beauty of cooking with dry beans.
Who’s ready to take the plunge? Are you going to give homemade yogurt a try yet?
See my full disclosure statement here.