Ultimate Homemade Yogurt

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I love natural yogurt and when I’m at a store I usually buy natural yogurt (with no additives like fruit) or Greek yogurt. You can recognize a good natural yogurt by its ingredients list. It’s very short – just milk and bacteria, the so-called ‘yogurt culture’. If I want my yogurt to be sweet and fruity, I don’t buy fruit yogurt. The ingredients list gets so long that researching each of them would take an immense amount of time. I simply add in the fresh fruit or combine the yogurt with crushed berry juice to get that pinkish yogurt look.

But I have since noticed that true natural yogurt is getting more and more difficult to come by at my local stores. That’s when I started looking into making my own yogurt at home.

I found that it’s actually not that hard to make yogurt as long as you have the right ingredients. You need quality milk and optionally cream (this depends on how thick you want your yogurt to be). You will also need proper yogurt starter that contains all the culture strains that turn the dairy into yogurt. The bacteria thicken the milk and cream by creating the necessary bacteria. That’s why yogurts are probiotics: they contain bacteria that has a beneficial effect for our bodies. Yogurt is literally one of the healthiest types of dairy you can eat due to its probiotic properties.

Probiotics are very important because they help develop a strong immune system that defends us from diseases. They also have a crucial role in regulating the gut flora so if you have problems in that department, try eating more probiotics like yogurt. If the cause is unbalanced gut flora then you will surely see an improvement. And homemade yogurt is how you get the most probiotics because the yogurt is as fresh as it can possibly be.

Yogurt has so many uses that there are weeks I find my myself using them on consecutive days all the time. I like eating it as it is with some fresh fruit and nuts as breakfast. It works great as a crepe filling or smeared on pancakes and waffles. It can be used instead of regular cream to make deliciously thick sauces, like mushroom sauce or creamy potato sauce. Yogurt also works perfectly as an ingredient for a salad dressing.

Types of yogurt

There are two basic types of yogurt you can make at home. There are mesophilic yogurts that culture at room temperature and there are thermophilic yoghurt that need warm temperatures to develop.

Mesophilic yogurts are better for beginners because you don’t need any special equipment to make them. You just set a jar on your kitchen counter and wait for it to turn into yogurt. You will need a mesophilic yogurt starter, though. I recommend the Viili culture from Cultures for Health. I used it myself and I can say with all certainty that it works just as it should.

Thermophilic yogurts, on the other hand, require you to control the temperature. These are best made using a dehydrator or a yogurt maker because these two machines allow you to set specific temperature settings. I started with mesophilic yogurts and only then bought myself a dehydrator to try making thermophilic yogurts as well.

The history of yogurt

People have been fermenting dairy in many different parts of the world, resulting in some very specific strain cultures that make up the unique taste of each region’s yogurt. For example, both the American natural yogurt and the Indian lassi are yogurts but they taste completely different. The Wikipedia says the following:

“How milk was first cultured into yogurt remains a mystery. Analysis of the L. bulgaricus genome indicates that the bacteria may have originated on the surface of a plant…

There is evidence of cultured milk products in cultures as far back as 2000 BCE. In the records of the ancient culture of Indo-Iranians (Iran and India), yogurt is mentioned by 500 BCE. In this record the combination of yogurt and honey is called ‘the food of the gods’. Persian traditions hold that ‘Abraham owed his fecundity and longevity to the regular ingestion of yogurt’.

The oldest writings mentioning yogurt are attributed to Pliny the Elder, who remarked that certain nomadic tribes knew how ‘to thicken the milk into a substance with an agreeable acidity’. The use of yogurt by medieval Turks is recorded in the books Diwan Lughat al-Turk by Mahmud Kashgari and Kutadgu Bilig by Yusuf Has Hajib written in the 11th century. Both texts mention the word “yogurt” in different sections and describe its use by nomadic Turks.  The earliest yogurts were probably spontaneously fermented by wild bacteria in goat skin bags.”

Isn’t it fascinating? I’d love to be able to try different regional variations of yogurt!

What about milk and cream?

Ok, so we know about culture strains but what the milk and the cream? What types are best for making your own yogurt?

The best kind of milk for the healthiest yogurt is by far raw milk (that means milk that hasn’t been pasteurized). However, making yogurt with just raw milk will result in a pretty thin and runny yogurt which doesn’t really resemble what we are used to seeing. It’s still yogurt, of course, but its consistency and texture is not something I’m a fan of.

Adding cream to the mix thickens the yogurt. I also found out that heating your combined milk and cream (up to 110 degrees F) before putting in the starter also seems to make a difference and the resulting yogurt is visibly thicker.

Of course, nothing wrong will happen if you use pasteurized milk. The yogurt won’t contain as many good nutrients but it will definitely be proper yogurt. Try to find the best quality milk you can in your area. If you can’t find raw milk, go with grass-fed or whole milk.

And the best thing about making your own yogurt is that each time you make one batch, you can a few spoonfuls of it to use as a starter for your next batch! So it’s actually efficient to keep making, for example, once a week. Your starter might start failing after a while and then you will need to ‘revive’ it with a new store-bought yogurt starter. If you don’t have anywhere to buy a starter from, you can also use some natural yogurt bought from your local supermarket. Just remember that it has to be really good quality or otherwise, your homemade yogurt won’t work!

Necessary equipment:

  • a saucepan
  • a candy thermometer
  • glass jars with lids
  • a dehydrator OR a yogurt maker

Basic Raw Milk Yogurt:

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart of raw milk (about 4 cups)
  • 1 cup of raw cream (you can adjust the amount based on how thick you want your yogurt to be)
  • yogurt starter

Instructions:

  1. Combine the milk and cream in a saucepan.
  2. Gently heat it over medium to medium high heat until the mixture reaches 110 degrees. Stir occasionally.
  3. Remove from the stove and set aside to cool slightly.
  4. Pour the mixture into the glass jars. Remember to leave at least 1,5 inch space at the top.
  5. Add one or two spoonfuls of your yogurt starter. Stir it gently but firmly so that it combines well.
  6. Cover the jars with lids, making sure they are very tight. Place in your dehydrator or yogurt maker.
  7. Now set the temperature on your machine. In general, the higher the temperature, the thicker you’ll yogurt will be. If you are using store-bought yogurt as your starter, it’s better to go with around 85 to 90 degrees so that you won’t kill the bacteria already there. You can go as high as 100 degrees.
  8. Leave it to culture for about 12 hours. You can estimate when it’s ready by checking if it thickens the way you wanted it to.
  9. Once done, chill the yogurt in the fridge for at least one hour so that it can set properly.

24-Hour GAPS-friendly Yogurt

  1. Combine the milk and cream in a saucepan.
  2. Gently heat it over medium to medium high heat until the mixture reaches 110 degrees. Stir occasionally.
  3. Remove from the stove and set aside to cool slightly.
  4. Pour the mixture into the glass jars. Remember to leave at least 1,5 inch space at the top.
  5. Add one or two spoonfuls of your yogurt starter. Stir it gently but firmly so that it combines well.
  6. Cover the jars with lids, making sure they are very tight. Place in your dehydrator or yogurt maker.
  7. Now set the temperature on your machine to the one specified on the starter’s packaging. When store-bought yogurt is used as the starter, the temperature should be at 100 degrees.
  8. Leave it to culture for about 24 hours. This way, the lactose in the milk will fully turn to lactic acid, making the yogurt GAPS-friendly.
  9. Once done, chill the yogurt in the fridge for at least one hour so that it can set properly.

Pasteurized Milk Yogurt

  • 1 quart of raw milk (about 4 cups)
  • yogurt starter

 

  1. Quickly scald the milk in a saucepan and then remove from the stove.
  2. Let cool until it’s no longer hot to touch but still warm.
  3. Pour the mixture into the glass jars. Remember to leave at least 1,5 inch space at the top.
  4. Add one or two spoonfuls of your yogurt starter. Stir it gently but firmly so that it combines well.
  5. Cover the jars with lids. Place in your dehydrator or yogurt maker.
  6. Now set the temperature on your machine. Set the temperature by following the directions on your starter packaging.
  7. Leave it to culture for about 12 hours. You can estimate when it’s ready by checking if it thickens the way you wanted it to.
  8. Once done, chill the yogurt in the fridge for at least one hour so that it can set properly.

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