I've been experimenting with homemade yogurt over the last few months. This is a rather strange post for me because although I do like yogurt and I eat it. I don't think I can say that I LOVE it. I go through periods where I feel like I should eat yogurt because it's good for me. I mainly purchased Yogplait because I preferred it over Dannon and then I started eating Activia because of the digestive health claims and the non-traditional prune flavor. I tried other brands like Brown Cow cream top and I gagged. I hated the taste of Horizon and Mountain High had a strange grainy texture.
I knew I should be eating a different brand that wasn't loaded with high fructose corn syrup and various thickeners but they were all pretty expensive. It wasn't really the price that deterred me from purchasing the other yogurts. It was the fact that I only had a like relationship with yogurt so it wasn't really worth it.
On a whim, I tried making my own yogurt. I remember trying this a long long time ago with milk and an acidophilus pill. I think the milk was either too hot or not hot enough. I know I didn't use a thermometer. It never turned into yogurt so I tossed it.
I went out and bought a half gallon of Horizon whole milk and a four pack of Stonyfield YoBaby yogurt. I used a quart mason jar and an Igloo insulated water jug and four hours later, I had the yummiest yogurt I had ever tasted. It was a bit whey-y and a bit separated but I drained off the whey and mixed in a spoonful of homemade jam and drizzled a bit of local Colorado honey and tasted pure heaven.
So over the last several months, I've been making yogurt at least once at week (sometime as much as 4 times week), trying out different milk and different yogurt starter cultures. So far, I think whole milk with Yogourmet or Activia yogurt make the best texture yogurt. The Stonyfield yogurt as starter is delicious but a bit grainy.
So what do you need to do before getting started? You need to decide on the method, milk, and starter to use.
First off, you will need to decide on whether or not to purchase a yogurt maker like one of these things.
or use something you have around the house like this insulated beverage jug.
I started off making yogurt using the jug and then I went out and bought a yogurt maker for the convenience. Some people report great results using a crock pot but I find that most crock pots run a little too hot even on the keep warm setting. There are also other methods using an electric blanket, an oven, a warm place abov the fridge...but all these methods require way too much brain damage for me.
Next you want to choose your milk. I tried various brands of milk and with various fat percentages. I find whole milk the most decadent but 2% also produced nicely thickened yogurt. I prefer using milk from a local dairy. It comes in reusable glass bottles. Some people use skim milk and add powdered milk. I tried a batch with powdered milk but the taste really bothers me so I make mine without.
Finally, it's time to experiment with yogurt starters. Using plain yogurt from the grocery store is the easiest way. I think Stonyfield Yobaby is a great starter with lots of strains of good bacteria. But for the best texture, I prefer either Activia or Yogourmet freeze dried starter. Amazon sells three boxes with 6 envelopes in each box for about $13.
The method described below makes the yummiest, thickest, and creamiest yogurt ever. It doesn’t need any thickeners such as pectin, gelatin, or starch. It doesn’t require any straining and is still as thick as Greek yogurt. This makes a half gallon of yogurt. Double or halve the recipe as necessary for your needs.
Double Boiler or large bowl and pot
2 quart mason jar (if using insulated cooler) or 2.5 to 3 quart glass or stoneware bowl (if using yogurt maker)
insulated water jug or cooler
yogurt maker (incubator)
2 quarts milk (whole or 2%)
2 packets (10 grams) Yogourmet yogurt starter or 8 ounces plain yogurt
- Heat milk in a double boiler to 185 degrees and keep the temp between 185 and 190 degrees for 30 minutes. This denatures and unravels the whey protein, resulting in a thicker and less whey-y yogurt.
- Cool milk to 110 degrees. Pour yogurt starter into a small clean bowl and thoroughly mix with a small amount of milk. (I find that if using yogurt as starter, it's easier to mix the yogurt directly into the milk and use an immersion blender to thoroughly mix. This helps create a smoother yogurt.) Add mixture to milk.
- Incubate at 100 to 120 degrees for 4 to 12 hours. Once yogurt is thicken, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours.
- You can go ahead and strain the yogurt and use the whey for something else but I find it unnecessary. My yogurt comes out as thick as Greek yogurt without any straining.
You can use any incubation method that works for you. I started with an igloo water jug. I filled a quart mason jar with the yogurt mixture and filled the water jug with 120 degree tap water. I monitored the temp the entire time and after 4 hours, the water temp was at 104 degrees. You will have to add more hot water if you plan on incubating for longer than 4 hours. I find that with the water bath method, my yogurt thickens up faster. Maybe there's just better heat circulation. I bought a yogurt maker to make life easier. The yogurt maker kept the heat constant for the entire duration of the process.
Method in pictures:
Heat milk in a double boiler to 185 degrees.
Keep milk between 185 to 190 degrees for 30 minutes.
Incubate yogurt for 4 to 12 hours between 100 and 120 degrees. This shows temp of water after 4 hours using an insulated water jug.
Yogurt Toppings and Mix Ins:
I applaud those who are able to eat plain yogurt without any sweeteners or flavorings. I mix in a spoonful of homemade jam and drizzle some local Colorado honey on top. This is how I eat yogurt and it’s yummy. The bf likes to eat his topped with fruity granola.
I read reviews on the Waring Pro yogurt maker, a Yogurt maker that retails for approx. $90 but read that many people bought it at Tuesday Morning for $29. I decided to drive over to Tuesday Morning and check it out. They had three in stock. I bought it and made a batch of yogurt to test it out. The nice thing about this yogurt maker is that it comes with six 8-ounce containers and two 16-ounce containers. Not all the containers will fit in the machine at once but it's nice to have options. You can even use your own mason jars, bowls or whatever will fit in the machine. I like the flexibility of not being stuck using only the provided containers. It is basically just a device that keeps the temp between 110 to 120 degrees. (I took the temp by sticking the probe of my thermometer in the machine and it registered exactly 120 degrees..)
It is convenient but totally unnecessary. The $8 igloo water jug worked great. I think the water bath did a great job of circulating the heat.
If you’re looking at purchasing a yogurt maker, I really like the large canister type machines that make 1 or 2 quarts in a removable bucket. The Yogourmet maker uses a water bath system. I think water does a great job of incubating yogurt. If you want the flexibility of incubating one large batch of yogurt or small individual containers of yogurt, find a machine with a flexible jar configuration like the Waring Pro or the Yolife machines. Both machines come with individual containers with the option of using your own container. Some people use 4 quart mason jars in the machine but I prefer using one large glass or stoneware bowl.
Yogurt Starter Cultures:
I started with Stonyfield YoBaby whole milk yogurt as my starter. I was very happy with the results. Stonyfield yogurt contains the most bacteria strains I’ve been able to find in any commercial yogurt. 365 brand plain yogurt was also good. The smoothest and most custardy yogurts were made using Activia yogurt and Yogourmet freeze-dried starter. I use Yogourmet mostly now because I like the flavor and texture. The only downside is that the regular Yogourmet that I’m able to get doesn’t include l. casei bacteria. Yogourmet does make a starter with l. casei but I haven’t tried it yet.
Some people save a little bit of yogurt from a previous batch to culture the next batch. I don’t like to take chances of introducing the wrong bacteria. Good milk is not cheap and the number of hours involved to incubate a batch of yogurt is too numerous to take chances. Plus yogurt starter is not all that expensive. Yogourmet is a bit expensive but not by much. It works out to $.83 per one-quart batch for me. Stonyfield Yobaby is about $.67 and Activia is about $.50 when I buy the four packs. It could be less if I bought the larger container and froze the yogurt in an ice cube tray. I don’t do this because the savings are not worth the headache. If I bought the 32 ounce tub of Stonyfield plain, I would get approximately 8 starters and at $3.99 per tub, the starter would cost $.50 per batch. I haven’t priced out Activia large tubs but I would guess that a price per batch is probably slightly less. And of course I could use Dannon plain as the starter.
My goal here is not to make the cheapest yogurt because with just the two of us, cooking is usually not about quantity. If we wanted to make economically friendly yogurt, we could use powdered milk and any plain yogurt. Many people swear that yogurt made with powdered milk tastes pretty good but I cannot stand the flavor.
Yogurt bacteria do survive freezing but I’m not sure if every strain survives and how much of it survives. I used previously frozen Stonyfield YoBaby and it took longer to set than the batch made with fresh yogurt. The finished yogurt was also slightly slimy. It wasn’t very slimy but I could definitely tell a difference as I spooned the yogurt into individual containers. The sliminess went away after about a day.
Whole milk make the thickest and creamiest yogurt. I tried cream top milk but the texture of the separated milk fat bothered me. The first time I made yogurt, I used Horizon brand whole milk. Be careful when you buy organic milk because a lot of brands ultra-pasteurize their milk. I hear ultra-pasteurized milk does not work very well for yogurt milking. Horizon sells both regularly pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized organic milk. I know a lot of people who will not buy organic milk because of this. Raw milk would be ideal but it seems like you have to be part of an underground cult in order to purchase raw milk. So the next best thing for me is to buy milk from the local dairies. Grocery store milk is perfectly acceptable.
I heat my milk to 185 degrees and keep it between 185 and 190 degrees for 30 minutes. This helps to denature and unravel the whey proteins. I know some yogurt makers only heat to 110 or heat to 185 and immediately cool. I find that keeping it at 185 degrees for 30 minutes, helps with the whey separation issue. When I didn’t heat my milk, I ended up pouring off or straining the whey from the yogurt so one quart of milk only made about 3 cups of yogurt.
The easiest way to heat milk is in a double boiler (or big bowl over a pot of simmering water). I've tried microwaving in a quart-sized glass measuring cup and heating in a thick bottom enamel pot with mixed results. It's hard to sustain the 185 degrees for 20 minutes using a microwave and I've managed to scorch milk in the Le Creuset.
I dislike most single serve yogurt containers that come with most yogurt machines.
So most of the time I culture the yogurt in a large bowl stoneware or pyrex dish and then spoon into single serve containers when the yogurt is cool. I could just leave it in the bowl but there is a convenience factor with single serve portions. I spoon them into cute glass containers. The containers are by Gurallar Artcraft, a glass company based in Turkey. I bought 16 of them from Ross. They hold 9.25 ounces each but I usually leave room for jam and other mix-ins.
Since the bf’s prefers his batch of yogurt with gelatin added, I make his batch separately and I culture it directly in Ball freezer jelly containers. Many folks like using the Ball and Kerr 8 ounce glass jelly jars (and I have about 5 dozen of these jars at any given time) but they are a bit too bulky and unless you purchase the one-piece plastic lids, the two piece lids are annoying to use
If you're too lazy to make your own yogurt, I think Stonyfield is a great brand if you are looking for what us Americans think of as yogurt. I highly recommend another brand called Noosa. I think Noosa is slightly better than Fage. The only problem I have with Noosa is the powdered milk.
Noosa yoghurt is a local yoghurt made using Morning Fresh Dairy milk and an Australian culture. I liked it but I didn't care for the powdered milk. It was thick but not nearly as creamy as the yogurt that I make. They add cream, which makes it really decadent. Below is the ingredient list. I thought that in order to be labeled yoghurt or yogurt, it must contain both Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus salivarius ssp. thermophilus
Noosa Yoghurt: Milk, sugar, cream, skim milk powder, honey, pectin, milk proteins live cultures: acidophilus, bifidus, l. casei
Batch of yogurt cultured in a wide mouth quart size canning jar:
A batch of chilled yogurt. You can see the whey leak out as I spooned the yogurt. You can strained your yogurt to remove the whey but I just stir it back in. The yogurt is still thick enough for me even with the whey stirred back in.
Yogurt spooned into individual serving containers.
One the left is the bf's yogurt made with Activia as the starter and 1 package of gelatin to set the yogurt. On the right are my containers of yogurt.