It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Creamy, pure white, smooth and rich. Add fresh fruit and a little drizzle of honey, you get a small piece of heaven. Jim and I have been making our own yogurt for the last month or so.
Why not just buy it? Several reasons, actually. My main reason is that purchased yogurt comes in plastic tubs, and the way we’ve usually bought it for years is in individual servings. I cringe to think of all the plastic waste we’ve dumped into the world, just from our yogurt cups. (And yes, we recycle!) Making our own yogurt reduces our plastic footprint.
Another reason is because I’ve been trying to take better control of the food I eat.
We’ve moved a long way on that over the years, reducing use of over-processed foods and those with long lists of ingredients. This is one more step on that path. Yes, I can buy plain yogurt with no added sugars, but if you read the ingredients list closely, you may see there are things in there you never suspected. Here is a list from Dannon of things that may be in your yogurt, in addition to the fruit and other flavors:
Besides milk, fruit and live and active cultures, some DANNON yogurt varieties may contain other ingredients that enhance the flavor, texture and appearance of the finished product:
Cornstarch: A natural starch extracted from corn, cornstarch helps give body and texture to yogurt. The Food and Drug Administration has deemed modified cornstarch as a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) ingredient, meaning that it can be safely added to foods under current good manufacturing practices.
Gluten: This protein is found in wheat, oats, rye and barley. DANNON yogurt products are not formulated to contain gluten, but they can’t be considered gluten free. The natural system for stabilizing flavor might contain ingredients derived from gluten sources. Since there is a current lack of consensus on individual sensitivity levels to gluten, and there are no accurate tests to detect the presence and amount of gluten, DANNON yogurt cannot be classified as “gluten free.”
Aspartame: A low-calorie sweetener, aspartame is made of two naturally occurring amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981, aspartame has been determined safe for the general population, as well as for people with diabetes.
Fructose: A simple sugar derived from fruit, fructose is added to several DANNON products for a natural-tasting sweetness.
Pectin: A fiber derived naturally from fruit, pectin helps thicken the yogurt and create the desired consistency and texture. Some DANNON yogurt varieties may contain a small amount of a pectin blend made from citrus fruits including lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit.
Gelatin: Some of our products contain gelatin to give them the desired consistency and texture. These varieties bear a “K” on the label indicating kosher certification by Rabbi Dr. David I. Sheinkopf.
Mineral Compounds: Calcium, potassium and sodium phosphate are mineral compounds that are present naturally in milk. These minerals can be added to our products for specific functions that improve quality. For example, calcium phosphate can be added to enhance the texture and consistency of fruit preparation. Potassium and sodium phosphate may be added, most commonly to Fruit on the Bottom, to prevent the naturally derived fruit color from mixing in with the white yogurt.
And though this is a small motivator, homemade yogurt is less expensive than store-bought.
What do you need?
Plain yogurt with active cultures
Cheesecloth or clean muslin
1. Empty a half gallon of milk in a large pan. We have used 2% (reduced fat) milk in the past, but likely will use 1% milk from now on. Over medium-low heat, bring the milk to 180° F. This temperature will kill any bacteria you don’t want to culture, allowing those you do want to take over. The milk will “scald” at this temperature, or begin to bubble around the edges and on the surface of the milk.
2. Remove the milk from heat. Allow it to cool in the pan until the thermometer reads 120°.
3. Whisk in 3-4 tablespoons of the plain yogurt.
4. Pour the mixture into another container (we use a clean plastic ice cream tub) and keep it at 108° for the next 4-6 hours. Okay, granted, this is the only part that is tricky. I used this recipe the first time we made it.
Turn on the oven light, and turn the oven on to warm. After about 2-4 minutes turn off the oven and then place the measuring cup in the oven. The oven light will produce enough heat to keep your oven pleasantly warm and allow you to peer in at the whole ecosystem you’ve just created.
Walk away for 4-12 hours. During this time you can use a wireless thermometer that will alert you when the temperature is getting too high or low.
When you wake up from the delightful nap you’ve just taken, remove the yogurt from the oven, and turn off the oven light. You can test if the yogurt is done when you tilt the measuring cup and the yogurt moves away from the side in one mass.
But keeping the oven temperature right required a fair amount of fussing with it, though it may work better for some ovens than others. We experimented with another idea suggested by a friend, to use a styrofoam cooler with a lightbulb on. A CFL with 13 watts (replaces a 60-watt incandescent) keeps it just right.
You can see how well the temp hits the target.
Leave the yogurt brewing for 4-6 hours. This is enough to create yogurt. Longer will not make it thicker, only more tart as the culture continues to grow.
5. If you want thicker yogurt, you can strain the whey from it. We use a plastic colander and a clean piece of muslin. A smooth tea towel or layers of cheesecloth would work, also. Straining for about a half hour leaves it the consistency we usually want. Straining longer will continue to thicken the yogurt to your desired consistency.
6. Store in the refrigerator, reserving the last 4 tablespoons for your next batch of yogurt.
Have you ever made yogurt? Do you still? How do our experiences compare with yours?