Homemade yogurt is a favorite at our house. We often eat it for breakfast or lunch, and it’s a great addition to sauces and salad dressings for dinner. Organic, all natural yogurt is expensive, and the ingredients in traditional packaged yogurt usually include things like sugar, corn syrup, corn starch and preservatives. Did you know that it’s easy to make your own yogurt at home? Spend a few minutes preparing your milk in the evening, then let your homemade yogurt rest overnight and in the morning you can enjoy all the tasty benefits of probiotics, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals that yogurt is packed with knowing that there’s nothing unpronounceable added to it. It’s one of the easiest foods to make at home!
A Homemade Yogurt Primer
Yogurt is what happens when milk is cultured and left to ferment. Healthy bacteria, called probiotics, cause the milk to ferment and coagulate…which is how yogurt gets its tangy taste and thick texture. Probiotics are an important part of your body’s balance, and studies show that eating fermented foods can improve your not only your digestive health but also have a positive effect on your neurological well-being!
All yogurt is not created equal, however. You can buy processed, packaged yogurt at the store…but much of it contains sweeteners like corn syrup as well as unsafe additives and preservatives. Lowfat and low calorie yogurt is even worse, loaded with chemical artificial sweeteners and thickened with starches to make up for the absent milk fat that would naturally create a creamy texture. The less a strain of healthy probiotic bacteria is exposed to things like additives, preservatives and excessive heat/cold the better, so purchased yogurts may contain less healthy bacteria than you’d like by the time they reach your table.
Yogurt can be made at home from cow’s milk, sheep or goat’s milk, and even milk substitutes like rice, almond and coconut milk. When using a milk substitute the process is slightly different, but by and large the key to making yogurt is to use a healthy milk base, culture it with a strong line of probiotic bacteria, and let it ferment.
Choosing the Milk
For this article, I’ll be sticking to cow’s milk. Even so, there are still some choices to be made! Using organic, pasteurized/homogenized milk is the easiest way to make yogurt, and if you’re making yogurt for the first time this is a good place to start. While you won’t get the added benefits of raw milk, you will be getting a natural yogurt with no additives, and you’ll be able to use a bit of the first batch of homemade yogurt to start your next batch. Also, homogenized milk tends to make more consistent yogurt that will be thicker and won’t separate.
In general, the benefits of drinking raw organic milk make it a better way to go. When making yogurt, however, using raw milk can be a little tricky. You can still make great yogurt with raw milk, but you need to be aware of a few things. Raw milk is not pasteurized, which means that the vitamins, minerals, and healthy bacteria are not destroyed. This is a good thing. However, that can make it tricky when it comes to yogurt, since the point of culturing the yogurt is to grow the “right” bacteria to make yogurt that thickens and tastes right. To keep the milk raw, you won’t want to heat it to the usual 185 degrees. This will keep the milk protein whole and preserve the complete nutrients of the milk. But to keep the bacteria in check you will need to use a direct culture rather than one that is passed down from one batch of yogurt to the next. The bacteria in a direct culture will be strong enough to take over and make your milk into yogurt, rather than allowing other bacteria in the milk to possibly produce a less-than-tasty outcome. Not a huge change, but something to consider.
Raw milk is also not homogenized, which means that when you make yogurt with it you may notice that your yogurt does not set as firmly and may separate into layers as it ferments. You can simply stir the layers together, or if you’d like a thicker yogurt you can strain it through a clean cheese cloth before storing it.
At first, the idea of culturing and fermenting food at home can be a little unsettling. After all, most of us were brought up to put dairy products right back into the fridge after using them, or they’ll go bad! We tend to forget that yogurt, sour cream, and cheese…some of our favorite foods…are really pretty much just “bad” milk. The important thing is controlling the type of bacteria that multiply in the milk. This is why you culture, or “innoculate” the milk with the right sort of bacteria, before allowing it to ferment overnight. Left to its own devices, milk left out for 12 hours might make a nice yogurt…or might make a nasty mess of chunky, stinky slime. Heating the milk and culturing it with the proper yogurt starter are simply ways of insuring that the milk will do what you want it to do.
You want your homemade yogurt to rest in a warm place while fermentation takes place. There are many ideas out there, from using a crock pot to wrapping it in a towel and keeping it in a cooler. I have consistently had success with leaving my yogurt overnight in the oven, with the light turned on.
If you are using grass-fed, organic pasteurized/homogenized milk:
If you are using organic, grass-fed raw milk:
For pasteurized/homogenized milk:
For raw milk:
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Have you tried making homemade yogurt? What’s your favorite kind?
Photography by Jennifer Leung Johnson