Yogurt is a dairy product, and like all dairy products, it comes from milk—in this case, milk that has been fermented by bacteria known as yogurt cultures. Milk from many different species of ruminant are used around the world to make yogurt, but cow’s milk is the most common source.
Homemade yogurt is becoming increasingly popular, and yogurt makers are proliferating on the market. However, it is quite possible to make homemade yogurt the old-fashioned way without the use of an electronic contraption. For people who enjoy a fun kitchen project, homemade yogurt the back-to-basics way is a cheaper alternative to a yogurt maker or to store-bought yogurt.
What’s So Great About Yogurt?
There are some good reasons to include yogurt as part of an overall healthy diet. Most nutritionists recommend two to three servings of dairy products per day, and yogurt is one of the best choices for those servings.
Many people have difficulty digesting milk and milk products, but yogurt is generally easier to digest than other dairy. This is because the live cultures in yogurt create lactase, the enzyme responsible for digesting milk. People with lactose intolerance may not create this enzyme or may create too little of it, making it difficult to digest the lactose in dairy. However, yogurt’s live cultures work to break down the lactose in yogurt before people ingest it, so that the human stomach is left with much less to do.
Not only is yogurt easier to digest than milk, it also helps the stomach to absorb other useful nutrients. Milk contains calcium and B-vitamins, and the live cultures in yogurt once again help the human stomach to get the most out of these vitamins by partially breaking down proteins before ingestion. Calcium is a key component of strong bones and the prevention of osteoporosis. Live organisms that are beneficial to the health when eaten are known as probiotics.
Yogurt also decreases yeast infections and lowers the risk of high blood pressure. Yogurt’s live cultures decrease the size of yeast colonies, and women who eat yogurt regularly have been found to develop fewer yeast infections. Studies have also shown that low-fat dairy decreases the risk of developing high blood pressure, and low-fat yogurt is a great source of low-fat dairy.
For even more information about the health benefits and chemistry of yogurt, visit WebMD or AskDrSears.
Tools For Homemade Yogurt
Many people, especially those who relish DIY projects, will already own most, if not all, of the tools necessary. If you are missing one of the tools, you should be able to purchase the item for less than the cost of a good yogurt maker. If you have to purchase more that one kitchen tool you may find yourself exceeding the price of a yogurt maker; however, keep in mind that a yogurt maker is a single-use device while most other kitchen tools can be used for many different recipes.
In addition to a large stock pot (with a lid) that can hold between eight and ten quarts, you will need a smaller pot of about four or five quarts that can fit inside the larger pot. The other necessary equipment includes a large metal or plastic spoon for stirring, a dial thermometer with a clip so that it can be attached to the side of your pot, and an electric heating pad.
Ingredients For Homemade Yogurt
The basic ingredients for yogurt are as simple as they could be. Essentially, milk is the only true ingredient, and the process of “making” yogurt is simply a process of allowing the milk to ferment and making sure the yogurt remains at an ideal temperature while it forms. You will end up with essentially the same amount of yogurt as the amount of milk with which you started. The kind of milk that you use will determine the kind of yogurt you create – for low-fat yogurt, use low-fat milk!
The only other ingredient is really more of a tool. You will need a couple tablespoons of plain yogurt with live cultures in order to begin the fermentation process in your milk. The first time you make yogurt you will need to use store-bought yogurt (or get a donation of live yogurt from a friend), but from that point on, you should be able to use the remainder of your previous yogurt batches for each new batch.
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Allow your milk and yogurt culture to reach room temperature while you prepare your pots. Place the smaller pot into the larger one for reference, and fill the large pot until the water reaches just about halfway up the side of the smaller pot. Then, remove the small pot and bring the water in the larger pot to a boil, covering the pot with a lid to ensure the quickest boiling time. When you have reached a boil, place the small pot back inside the larger one and pour your milk into the small pot.
NOTE: The two-pot double boiler, or “water jacket” system, is not absolutely necessary, and it is quite possible to make yogurt by heating the milk over direct heat. However, using a double boiler ensures that you will not scald your milk, and it frees you from needing to stir the milk constantly.
Once you have added your milk, make sure the milk level and water level are as close as possible so that you heat the milk evenly. Place your thermometer on the edge of the pot with the end in your milk so that you can monitor the temperature of the milk as it heats.
You want your milk to reach 185 degrees Fahrenheit, and the longer you hold the milk at that temperature, the thicker the milk will become. After reaching 185 degrees, you will need to cool the milk to a lukewarm temperature before you add your yogurt cultures. You can let the milk cool naturally, or you can fill your sink with cold water, place the pot inside, and cool the milk more rapidly.
Once the milk reaches approximately 110 degrees, it is time to add the yogurt cultures. This temperature is an ideal living and eating temperature for the yogurt bacteria, and they will begin to quickly digest the lactose in your milk. Stir the culture into the milk so that it is evenly distributed.
Making yogurt now becomes waiting game. Your work is largely done, and the yogurt culture is taking over. The milk will need to sit in the pot for approximately seven hours, covered with a lid and a towel and sitting atop your heating pad. The heating pad to should be set for medium heat, and the towel is to help keep the milk insulated and at a uniform temperature while it sits.
Once your seven hours have passed, it is time to uncover the yogurt and stir the curds and liquid into a smooth and uniform product. Your yogurt will still be a bit thinner than store-bought yogurt, but it should thicken into its ready-to-eat form after chilling in the refrigerator overnight. For ideal results, transfer your yogurt into smaller containers with snug lids before chilling it.
NOTE: Yogurt will become thicker and more sour the longer it sits during the fermentation process. When you are making your first batches of yogurt, seven hours is a good stopping point to make sure the yogurt does not become too sour. As you taste-test the results of your first batches, you may decide that you prefer a thicker and tangier yogurt. Also, if you prefer Greek-style yogurt, you can achieve this by straining it through a piece of cheesecloth. (You may have to do this more than once.) Straining removes some of the extra water and whey, leaving the yogurt with a thicker and creamier consistency, higher protein content, and less carbohydrates.
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