A few months ago I was lucky enough to attend an international conference in Austin, Texas that focused on critical care nutrition. Now this may not be exciting to the general public, but for me as a Dietitian working with critically ill patients, this is my one opportunity a year to network and hear about leading research in this field. Despite early starts and a packed schedule, I still managed to attend all of the lectures that focused on probiotics. Working with very sick individuals, probiotics come up a lot as a potential treatment for all kinds of acute and chronic diseases. Unfortunately the conclusion to most of these studies suggests that probiotics are potentially beneficial at best. Despite the disappointing lack of conclusions for the critically ill population, it did spur me to dig deeper into the world of gut bacteria for healthy individuals. This in turn led to my post last week, The Bugs in Our Bellies: An Analysis of Prebiotics and Probiotics!
On my quest to finding delicious fermented foods to add to our diet at home, I stumbled upon the world of homemade yogurt. Yes, I can already guess what you are thinking. WHY would you make your own yogurt when you can buy perfectly good yogurt at the grocery store? Do you not have anything else to do with your time? These were exactly my thoughts as I scanned the recipes on other blogs. However, I happen to really enjoy science experiments, particularly those that have the potential of a delicious ending. Plus, I honestly thought that it would be super simple. So imagine my surprise when my yogurt didn’t work out as I expected. It wasn’t that it was a complete bust, but it was certainly thin and unusually lumpy… But still, for unexplainable reasons, I persevered and finally I made yogurt! Turns out that the precise measuring and temperature taking that I loathe but committed to doing in order to make homemade yogurt, was likely what kept me from successfully making it in the first place! You don’t need such exact measurements after all when making yogurt. This was not only surprising, but also very pleasing as it was another recipe where I could avoid using measuring cups.
I admit that the only way I was able to come up with a simplified version of homemade yogurt was by consulting my friends’ parents and grandparents. As I mentioned last week, fermented foods have been around for centuries. I knew I couldn’t go back to the source of yogurt discovery, but I figured I’d chat with some people that had been making yogurt in their families for generations. These folks have their own “recipes” committed to memory that they brought to Canada and continued to make for their families in their new home. Let’s just say that their method of translating mental recipes into concrete instructions was far from easy. After many probing questions and subsequent vague answers, I felt surprisingly confident that I could improve my watery, lumpy yogurt. It’s likely that I was actually more confused than I was originally, but I mistakenly took this for confidence and was encouraged to try again! So here is what I learned:
Heat time: 8 minutes Cooling time: 30 minutes Incubation time: 12 hours Yields approximately 4 cups
1 L milk (whole, 2%, 1% or skim)
You can use any type of milk, however the higher the fat content, the thicker and creamier your yogurt will be. I tend to use 2% milk for my yogurt.
2 tbsp of plain yogurt OR one package of yogurt starter
Make sure that your plain yogurt has active bacterial cultures in the ingredients list. For example, you may see Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophiles, Bifidobacterium lactus or Bifidus regularis. If you want to use a yogurt starter, you can find a variety of strains at your local specialty foods store or health store. I used the brand “Yogourmet” to test this recipe.
1. Heat the milk in a large pot on medium-high heat without stirring until it is simmering (~8 minutes). You should see the milk forming small bubbles but not rapidly boiling. This is equivalent to 180-190°F (but like I said before, scrap the thermometer!). A heavy bottom pot will work best because the milk is less likely to burn, but I used a regular nonstick pot and it just makes a thin skin of milk on the bottom of the pot that comes off easily afterwards.
2. Turn off the heat and immediately pour the milk into the jar that you would like to store your yogurt in. Set it aside to cool for about 30 minutes. You know it’s cool enough when you can comfortably keep your pinky finger in the warm milk for 10 seconds. This is equivalent to 115°F (if you must know!). Don’t worry about the skin that forms on top of your milk – you won’t notice it in the final product.
NOTE: You can speed up this process by placing your pot in a sink full of cold water, but you will have to stir the milk frequently to get an even cooling.
3. Once your milk has cooled, pour out approximately 1 cup into a measuring cup and add the yogurt OR yogurt starter. Stir gently until it has dissolved and then add the milk back into the pot. (I should mention that at this point I was told by one grandma to be silent and pray if I wanted the bacteria to work successfully – please use your own discretion with this one)
4. Put the lid on the jar. You want to keep your yogurt at 115°F for 12 hours (I like to make it in the evening and leave it to incubate overnight). Incubate the mixture by placing the jar into a large pot or a cooler and filling the pot or cooler with the hottest tap water possible, up to the level of the milk in the jar. Place the lid on the pot or cooler and wrap the entire thing in a large towel to keep the heat in. You DO NOT need to replace the water during this process.
5. After 12 hours, you will have yogurt! Please refrain from checking on your yogurt during the incubation process. Opening the lid, stirring the yogurt, or shaking the container may disturb the bacterial process.
Final comments: I recommend saving 2 tbsp of your fresh yogurt in a container to use as your plain yogurt for the next batch. You can keep it in the fridge or in the freezer. Homemade yogurt is a guaranteed hit in any household and you’ll be licking the jar clean before you’ve had a chance to save some aside. Homemade yogurt can stay in the fridge for about 2-3 weeks, but I assure you that it’ll be long gone before that!
Nearly all of the yogurt found in grocery stores today is so highly processed to taste like “lemon pie” or “mochaccino”, that you can easily lose sight of why you’ve chosen to eat yogurt in the first place. Yogurt is an extremely nutritious food that contains quality protein, essential vitamins such as calcium and vitamin D, as well as friendly bacteria. Plain yogurt, purchased or homemade, provides you with a tasty and health-wise food choice. Store-bought flavoured yogurts are heavy in added sugar and are really not necessary to buy when simply adding your own fruits to plain yogurt at home can easily mimic them. If you choose to buy yogurt, as most of you likely do, also watch out for “no added sugar” yogurts because they are typically high in artificial sweeteners that can cause stomach upset and potentially negatively impact your gut bacteria.
Homemade yogurt gives me the ability to provide my little family with a smooth, thick, and deeply flavourful yogurt that I think is superior to its store-bought counterpart. As an added bonus, we save quite a bit of money by making our own yogurt, as it is a staple in our daily diets. I can’t urge you enough to have some fun in the kitchen and experiment with making your own yogurt. It’s eye-opening to discover where your food comes from and how it’s made, and there is no better example than watching milk become yogurt before your eyes (not literally – resist the urge to peak during the incubation!).