Anyone can make delicious homemade yogurt. You don’t need any fancy equipment and probably already have everything you need right in your kitchen: a pot (preferably stainless steel with a 3-ply/heavy bottom), a stainless steel spoon, a little plain yogurt for starter, a towel or blanket, and a warm spot. To fancy it up a little bit, you might want a jelly thermometer and an electric heating pad.
Why make your own when it is so easy to buy in the store?
You choose the milk you want.
You choose exactly the milk you want to use. I prefer goat milk or organic whole cow’s milk. Reduced fat milk has been processed to remove fat and then put the fat back in a defined percentage (i.e., 1%, 2%, etc). With fat removed, what remains is more concentrated (the same amount of proteins and carbohydrates in a smaller quantity of milk). The fat naturally present in milk helps the body to absorb the protein and carbohydrates in the milk. Also, contrary to popular belief, healthy natural saturated fat is good for you and does not make you fat; carbs, especially refined/processed carbs, do.
It costs less.
For instance, I always use goat yogurt. At Trader Joes, a quart of goat yogurt today costs about $5.50, while a quart of goat milk costs $3.50. It’s simple math. You will save 36% of the cost of ready-made yogurt by making your own yogurt. In my house we use at least two quarts a week, which adds up to a few hundred dollars a year in savings.
Homemade yogurt is a sattvic food.
According to yogic principles all foods fall into three broad qualitative categories: Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva, essentially meaning least desirable/most detrimental, neutral/not necessarily harmful or beneficial, and most desirable/most beneficial. These qualities have little to do with nutrition and more to do with what foods most promote physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. I may go into more depth on these three qualities (called gunas) on a later post. My new cookbook includes a comprehensive explanation.
You know what’s in it.
You are using only fresh milk and culture (pro-biotic yogurt from your last batch, or store-bought). For your first batch, it’s important to choose a yogurt starter that contains “living” or “active” cultures; and the more variety the merrier. Stonyfield plain yogurt contains 6 different active culture strains. I haven’t found any brand that beats this. I also like Wallaby plain yogurt. It is made with 4 different culture strains and is one of the few yogurts containing only milk and cultures. I make my first batch with commercial yogurt for my starter, then a few batches using homemade yogurt as starter, and then start over again with store-bought.
Commercial yogurt usually has additives to make it thicker, rich or sweet tasting, and to keep its “set” appearance (jiggling around during shipping, etc, might disturb that). Always read the label to be sure you are getting the quality you desire.
Common Yogurt Additives
Milk solids (dry milk) are added to make the yogurt richer and with consistent density. This is akin to making yogurt out of evaporated milk and results in a more concentrated product. Why tax your digestion while you are trying to help it with beautiful pro-biotic cultures?
Pectin and/or Gelatin are added for a thick and creamy consistency. Pectin comes from apples, and gelatin is usually animal based. You decide.
Cornstarch is used to thicken yogurt. Because most corn is genetically modified, is prone to mold (you cannot see the spores), and the idea of adding up to a half cup of cornstarch to a quart of milk seems preposterous, I won’t buy this yogurt.
Carrageenan is an emulsifier or thickener that comes from seaweed. Sounds pretty natural, right? It may be. But I have done a little investigation and learned of research that shows carrageenan causes chronic inflammation in the body (see this article for more information).
Sweeteners, whether natural or artificial, don’t belong in yogurt, and counteract some of the beneficial properties of yogurt. Most sweeteners are not desirable to begin with (high fructose corn syrup, artificial, refined sugars). The live cultures present in yogurt work to overpower detrimental bacteria in the colon and to build & maintain healthy intestinal flora. Sweetened yogurt (even if sweetened only with beautiful fresh fruit) instead feeds the yeast in your body. If you are taking yogurt to rebuild intestinal flora after a course of antibiotics or to treat a yeast condition, do not use any sweetened yogurts and better yet avoid sweeteners altogether.
How to Make Yogurt
I like to make at least a half-gallon at a time. It will keep good up to two weeks in the fridge and we easily use up 2 quarts in that time. 1 quart of milk will yield 1 quart of yogurt. The recipe may easily be multiplied or divided for larger/smaller quantities. These instructions work for milk produced by animals. For vegan yogurt see Easy Homemade Vegan Yogurt (I haven’t tried this, but reading their instructions it sounds like you will have good results).
Heavy bottomed pot (at least 2 quart size), dutch oven, or double boiler
Stainless steel stirring spoon
Jelly thermometer (kind that clips to side of pot) This is optional – I never use one
Wire whisk (or use spoon)
2 clean quart containers with lids (glass jars or used plastic yogurt containers work well)
2 quarts milk (goat, cow, sheep)
½ cup plain yogurt with active/live cultures
2-3 quarts ice cubes (for cooling down milk)
Prepare Cold Bath: Fill sink with 4 inches of cold water (enough to go about half way of the height of your pot). Add ice cubes.
Heat the Milk: Heating milk destroys any unwanted bacteria (so only the cultures you want to grow actually grow) and changes the milk proteins so they cling together instead of curdling and separating. Pour milk into pot (to help prevent scorching use a double boiler) and heat over medium-high or high flame to boiling point. Once the milk is warming up you must stir it constantly. Once it reaches the frothy stage (as in photo), adjust heat so it maintains temperature (about 185-200°) for a few minutes. Stir stir stir.
Cool the Milk: Cooling the milk is necessary to ensure the ideal temperature for cultures to feed on milk sugars and grow your yogurt. Quick cooling in ice water takes just a few minutes and prevents that bothersome protein film from forming on top of the milk. Place the pot of milk in the sink of ice water. Be sure the water depth is about equal to the depth of your milk, but not close to going over the edge of your pot and into the milk! Stir the milk with your clean stainless steel spoon to help it cool. Ideally cool it to between 110-115°. I use my clean finger as a thermometer. The milk should be quite warm, and you should be able to keep your finger in the milk for 20 seconds without it feeling too hot. If you prefer, use a candy/jelly thermometer (the type that clips on to the side of the pot).
Add the Starter: Measure about ½ cup of plain yogurt into a small bowl (or use large measuring cup). Add about ½ cup of the warm milk and mix to a smooth consistency. Then add this starter mixture back into the pot of milk. Mix well using wire whisk or stainless steel spoon to remove any lingering lumps.
Incubate: Immediately pour the milk into quart-size containers and add lids (or you may incubate the milk right in the covered pot).
Set in warm location, wrapped up in towel(s) or blanket (I use a towel and a blanket) and let sit undisturbed for at least 7 hours. The ideal environment will keep your incubating yogurt at a temperature of about 110°. It is OK to let it sit longer and this will give a more tangy result. Here are some suggested “warm locations” for incubating your yogurt:
1. In the oven. Turn your oven on for a few minutes, and then turn it off. Place your wrapped up container(s) on a baking sheet and place on a lower rack in the oven. Put a sign on the oven that says “Yogurt in Oven – Do not turn on!” (read “Jujube Crisp with Raw Almonds” post to understand why). If you have an old-fashioned oven with a pilot that always remains lit, you do not need to turn the oven on to pre-warm. The pilot keeps the oven at a perfect temperature.
2. On a heating pad. Plug in your heating pad and place on your countertop. Place a towel on top of the heating pad. Put yogurt container(s) on top of that, and wrap in towels/blanket. Turn setting on heating pad to “low” and let incubate.
3. On a countertop. I don’t have great results with this method, but I know others who do. Place your wrapped up containers on a surface near a sunny window to incubate.
When at least 7 hours have gone by take a little taste. Still warm, fresh yogurt is so heavenly. Have a bowlful. Any liquid that forms at the top is rich in acidophilus and should be stirred back in. Store your yogurt in the refrigerator. Refrigeration stops the acid formation and stabilizes the yogurt.
For more information about yogurt making and troubleshooting tips, see this fact sheet.