I don’t eat a ton of dairy. Cheese in moderation. Never milk. Very little of anything with cream. Okay, maybe some ice cream on the rare occasion. I mean, with the exception of milk, I like it all, it just doesn’t like me. Except for yogurt. Yogurt loves me! I eat it almost every day and it makes me feel great. But yogurt is essentially milk, right? So how’s that work?
Yes, yogurt is actually fermented milk, which I realize on the surface doesn’t make much of a case for its digestibility. But in actuality it has everything to do with why many people who can’t tolerate milk can enjoy yogurt. The live active cultures in yogurt create lactase (an enzyme lactose-intolerant people lack) and the bacterial enzymes created during the culturing process actually partially digest the milk protein called casein, making it much easier for the body to absorb and much less allergenic.
Okay, so all that made sense to me, but what I was stuck on was how on earth I was going to safely ferment milk in my kitchen. As in, how was I not going to end up with a bunch of rotten milk?!
Here’s how: Yogurt is produced by adding a “starter” of active yogurt culture, which produces lactic acid during the fermentation process. Lactic acid lowers pH, gives yogurt its tart flavor and most importantly, causes the milk protein to thicken, acting as a natural acidic preservative that prohibits pathogen bacteria from growing. That’s what keeps the milk from spoiling during fermentation! The partial digestion of the milk when these bacteria ferment makes it easily digestible. And these are the same ‘healthy’ bacteria that help settle GI issues by replenishing non-pathogen flora of the gastrointestinal tract. These are the tiny microorganisms called probiotics and ‘live active cultures’ that everyone talks about. Bored yet?
Okay, here are a couple good links if you’re interested in more of the health benefits of yogurt. Why Yogurt is Good for You via Live Strong And 10 Reasons Yogurt is a Top Health Food via Ask Dr. Sears
And on to the yogurt making!
It helps if you have a meat or candy thermometer for this process, but plenty of people wing it without one so don’t worry. I repeat, you don’t need a thermometer. Heat your milk (I used 2 percent organic milk) to just before a simmer, which is 185°F. The milk should be a little frothy, but not boiling. Stir the milk intermittently or use a double boiler to avoid any burning. Once milk reaches desired temp, you need to cool it back down to about 110 – 120°F. The best way to do this is to place it in an ice bath and whisk it a little. Once cool, you add in the starter, which is a tablespoon of store bought yogurt (after the first batch of yogurt is made you will use your yogurt as a starter). You can also add a teaspoon of sugar to help the bacteria grow. Whisk it in good, convert it to a clean glass jar and now it’s time to do some incubating!
Two key words here: warmth and darkness. You want to keep your milk as close to 110°F as possible without going over during this process. Any hotter will kill the bacteria. My mom just wraps her jars of yogurt in towels to keep the warmth in during this process. That does work, but I’ve been filling a stainless steel pot with hot tap water and then dropping in the lidded jar(s) of yogurt, covering the pot and wrapping it in towels like a baby. You’ve got to let it sit for at least 7 hours, but the longer you let it sit the more firm and flavorful it’ll get. I did my last batch for 9 hours and it was awesome.
So much fun to unwrap your little bundle to find yogurt!
The flavor comes out very mild (just a little tang) and the texture is somewhere between Greek yogurt and store bought Dannon type stuff and it’s much creamier and less tart than store bought stuff. I think people who aren’t really yogurt fans might actually like it. Don’t think I’ll be buying yogurt anymore because I actually really prefer the taste of this and it’s so easy to do!
RecipePrep time: 20 minutes (must let ferment 7-9 hours) Recipe makes 1 quart of yogurt. The longer you let it sit the more firm and tangy it becomes. Refrigerate before serving. The liquid that forms on top of the yogurt is whey, you can pour it out if you like your yogurt thicker!
- 1 quart 2 percent organic milk
- 1 tablespoon yogurt (store bought yogurt) or existing yogurt starter
- 1 teaspoon white sugar (optional but helps bacteria grow)
- Glass jar(s) with lid(s)
- Candy or meat thermometer
- Large pot and a couple kitchen towels for incubation process
- Smaller pot (or double boiler) for heating milk
- Large bowl filled with ice water for ice bath
- Heat 1 quart milk to just before a simmer (185°F). Milk should begin to froth but not boil. Be sure to stir some to keep from burning if not using a double boiler.
- Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath. Place ice and cold water in a large bowl. Once milk has reached temp, remove from heat and dunk pot in ice bath and continue to stir to help cool. Milk needs to be pretty warm but not too hot to stick your finger in. (110-120°F)
- Now you can add in your starter. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of store bought yogurt (most kinds will work…I used 2 percent Greek) for each quart of milk used. You can also add in 1 teaspoon of sugar (optional but helps bacteria grow). Then pour into jar(s) and secure lid(s).
- Let the incubation begin! Fill a large pot or small drink cooler with warm/hot tap water and place jar(s) of milk inside. You want to maintain as close to (100-110°F) inside as possible without going over. Cover pot with lid and wrap up like a baby with several towels so that warmth stays in and light stays out. Let sit for 7-9 hours. The longer it sits the better the flavor and more firm it becomes. Refrigerate at least a couple hours before serving.