One of the first things people ask me when I tell them I make my own dairy products is do I make yogurt. Actually yogurt was the first thing I learned how to make. Many years ago I purchased an electric yogurt maker and proceeded to make the delightful dairy product using powdered milk. But now that I have plenty of goat milk I've experimented with making yogurt as simply as possible without the use of special equipment.
Yogurt is the Turkish word for milk that has been curdled with a lactic starter. Many countries have a long tradition of cooking with and eating some form of lactic cultured milk. Yogurt is easily digested and it keeps better than milk, which is why it's popular in tropical climes.
Yogurt is formed by the growth of two bacterial organisms in milk; Streptococcus thermophilous* (a warmth loving bacteria) and Lactobacillus bulgaricus (a strain of bacteria from Bulgaria, where we all know they make great yogurt) which turn the milk sugars into lactic acid. Lactic acid is much easier for your body to digest than milk sugars, so even people who can't drink milk (lactose intolerant) can still "handle" yogurt. Oft times you will also find yogurt that contains other "Probiotic" cultures such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium infantis which are bacterium normally found in your intestines. Together these bacteria aid in digestion and the synthesis of vitamins. If you are taking antibiotics, which tend to kill your "intestinal flora" as well as whatever is making you ill, you should eat plenty of yogurt to help replace the "good guys" in your digestive system.
*note: When dealing with bacteria, keep in mind that some good bacteria may have names that sound like bad bacteria. Streptococcus, for instance, can be a beneficial bacterium, although most people think of strep throat when they hear the word. Streptococcus refers only to the shape of the bacterium, and has nothing to do with its ability to promote health or cause disease. (Strept means 'twisted" and coccus means "round.") Streptococcus thermophilous has been safely used for centuries to make cultured dairy products such as yogurt, and cheeses such as Mozzarella.
Yogurt can be made with any type of milk; goat, cow, sheep, 2%, 1%, skim, you can even make it out off 100% powdered milk or even soymilk if you want.
Once that you've made your yogurt, what are you going to do with it? I suppose most people just think of it as something that you eat mixed with fruit, but that is only one of the many of ways you can enjoy it.
I use yogurt as a substitute for sour cream. To do this, I thicken the yogurt by letting it drain in a coffee filter for a few hours. You can put the yogurt in a fine cheesecloth and hang it for a day and this will make a thicker yogurt "cheese". This cheese can be used to make dips or even cheesecake. I find that you can use yogurt that has been stirred to make it liquidy in place of buttermilk. To yogurt I'll add some garlic, onion powder salt and various herbs and spices and viola... creamy salad dressing. And of course, you can use yogurt to make frozen yogurt.
I've even been known to make myself a Kefir-like drink by combining half-and-half yogurt and milk with a little honey and maybe a touch of vanilla.
There are many different ways of making yogurt. Here are a few variations:
Easy "Traditional" Yogurt:
This is one of the simplest. You can "double" this recipe. You can use a microwave*, but there is no reason you can't do it on top of the stove. Just be careful not to scorch the milk.
1) Start with 3 1/2 C. of milk in a microwave safe bowl, a 4 C. Pyrex measuring cup is perfect for this.
*Note: I have had a couple people comment that they do not approve of using the microwave for food preparation, especially with milk. If you don't like using the microwave, you can heat the milk on the stove.
2) Add some powdered milk* : Stir in 1/2-1 C. powdered milk (cow, goat or soy) if you're using goat milk or soymilk (*please see the note below about making soy milk yogurt), and 1/4-1/2 C. if you're using cow milk.
Why do you add powdered milk? Do you have to add it?
- Adding powdered milk will help make the yogurt thick, like the way it is from the store. In Europe, yogurt tends to be "runny", but in the USA we seem to prefer it thicker, so do add the powdered milk it you want it not to be runny.
- I do not add any powdered milk, but the yogurt might not be as think as you want.
*Note: Another person did not approve of adding powdered milk because it supplied oxidized cholesterol. If you are worried about this and don't want to add powdered milk, then don't add it, but you will probably want to purchase a culture that produces a thicker curd as opposed to just using purchased yogurt (such as Dannon) to make your yogurt.
3) Heat the milk: Place the milk in the microwave (or on the stove) and bring it to a boil. In my microwave this takes about 8-10 minutes depending on if it's right out of the goat or out of the fridge. Stir the milk occasionally and keep an eye on it, but just before it begins to boil, do not stir it, or it will boil over (as I well know). Remove the milk carefully from the microwave. Let it cool some before you place a thermometer in it, or it will still boil over (as, again, I well know).
Heating the milk is done for a few reasons:
- To sterilize/pasteurize the milk so that the yogurt bacteria/culture as a hospitable place to grow in. It is not desirable to also incubate possible "bad" or contaminating bacteria that might be present in the unsterilized milk.
- Boiling the milk helps to a smooth thick yogurt.
- Boiling the milk also helps stop the whey from separating out quite as much. (The "water" you sometimes find on the top of your yogurt is whey.)
4) Let the milk cool to about 118° - 115°.
5) Add the culture.:
a couple of heaping Tbs. of plain "live culture" yogurt from the grocery store (i.e., Dannon,
or read the carton's label to see if it's "live culture") other
starter culture, in a quart mason jar and stir it until it is smooth. Remove any "skin" from the warm milk (one will
have formed as it cooled) and feed it to the dog or chickens.
Pour a little of the warm milk into the jar, screw the lid on tight
and shake well. Now add the rest of the warm milk, replace the
lid and shake well.
- I use a DVI yogurt culture with Acidophilus (ABY-2C) that I get from the Dairy Connection. When I use this, I use 1/16 tsp. per 1/2 gallon of milk (2 quarts). Remove any "skin" from the warm milk (one will have formed as it cooled) and feed it to the dog or chickens. Pour the warm milk into the jar, added the DVI culture and shake well.
6) Now it is time to incubate. This is not as complicated as it sounds, and can be done many ways. The key is to hold the milk at 110°-115° undisturbed for 6-8 hours (depending on the culture used). See below for various incubation methods. If your yogurt isn't thick enough in 10 hours, it isn't going to get any thicker; it's just going to get sourer. If it didn't get thick at all something happened to the starter, either it wasn't live to begin with, or somehow it got killed. Don't be discouraged- try again another day. Even if your yogurt didn't "yo" (or "gurt") you can still use the milk in cooking.
Various methods of incubation:
1) Use a commercial yogurt maker.
2) I have heard some put the yogurt in their oven with the light on (the light helps keep the correct temp). I cannot have the light on in my oven without keeping the door open (which lets the heat out), so this method does not work for me.
2) Cooler/water method: Use a small cooler with the lid removed, a larger cooler that will hold a quart jar, or a large pot (6 qt.). Place the cooler or pot in a place where it will be undisturbed. Place the jar with the yogurt milk in the cooler. Now fill the cooler with water that is 120°. Place a couple of fluffy towels over the cooler or pot and leave it undisturbed for about 6-8 hours. To check and see if the yogurt is done, tip the jar slightly and see if the milk flows or stays put. Remember that the yogurt will thicken even more as it cools in the fridge. If you see clear whey when you tilt the jar, the yogurt is as done as it's going to get, but you don't necessarily have to see the whey for the yogurt to be done. (have I confused you yet?)
3) Cooler/heating pad method (I figured this out one day and it works really well): Use a larger cooler. Place the cooler in a place where it will be undisturbed. Place the jar with the yogurt milk in the cooler. Place a heating pad over the jar (loosely). Set the pad on high (my pad needs to be set on high, yours may differ) and place the lid on the cooler. Leave it undisturbed for about 6-8 hours. Please note, that since all heating pads are different, yours may not be best set on high. The first time you use this method, put a thermometer in the cooler to see what the pad is heating the inside of the cooler up to. You want it to be at least 110 degrees and not more than 120 degrees. You may need to turn your pad to medium.
4) Food dehydrator. This is the method I use. I have a large Excalibur Food Dehydrator and is the "Cadillac" of food dehydrators. It is very large and is perfect for incubating yogurt. I can easily incubate 3-4 2 quart jars at one time in my dehydrator.
Soy milk yogurt:
- I make soymilk yogurt all the time during the 4-5 months my goats have off from milking each year. I make my own soymilk, which entails cooling the soymilk, so I do not bother with the heating of the milk stage in the recipe above. If I were to make soymilk yogurt from store bought milk, I would probably skip the heating of the milk stage as well, since I make my yogurt using my raw milk method (below).
- Soymilk does not contain lactose and without lactose, or some type of carbohydrate sugar to ferment, the yogurt culture will not grow. If you make your own soymilk , you will need to to add some sugar, glucose or sucrose to your soymilk. Do not use honey, because honey will impede the yogurt bacteria. If you are using store-bought milk, it may already have enough sugar/sweetening in it.
- If you are making soymilk yogurt you may also have to add some other sort of thickening agent. You may not want to use gelatin, because that is made from animals. I use agar powder. You need to dissolve the agar in some water and then bring it to a boil before you use it. For 2 quarts of yogurt (3 1/2 cups of milk), I use 1 tsp. agar in 1/2 cup water. I bring to a boil in the microwave. Keep a close eye on it because it WILL boil over quite quickly and make a big mess. Please note soy milk yogurt is not exactly like animal milk yogurt.
Even Easier "Raw Milk" Yogurt:
Yes, you can make yogurt from raw milk. I know this works because this is how I always make my own yogurt.
I wouldn't use store bought milk for this method; you must use fresh, clean milk that you have just milked out of your own healthy goat or cow following very good sanitary procedure. When making raw milk yogurt you must be absolutely sure the milk was handled in a extremely sanitary manner and is from healthy animals because you are not going to be pasteurizing the milk, which means if any diseases or harmful bacteria gets in the milk, you will be giving it an excellent breeding ground BUT, remember the good bacteria in the raw milk will fight off some of the bad bacteria. You may want to read the article I have written on raw milk.
See the "Traditional" recipe above.
- Start will clean fresh raw milk.
- Add powdered milk if desired (I don't because I use a culture specially formulated to produce a nice thick curd).
- Warm to milk 115 degrees by whichever method you choose to heat your milk. (I don't even bother warming the milk because my incubator, my Excalibur Food Dehydrator, will bring the milk up to temperature).
- Pour the warm milk into your incubating jars, add a couple of heaping Tbs. of plain "live culture" yogurt or DVI culture (I always use "ABY-2C" yogurt culture DVI from the Dairy Connection. I use 1/16 tsp. per 2 quarts of milk) screw the lid on tight and shake well.
- Incubate as described above. I used to always use the cooler/heating pad method until I got my Excalibur Dehydrator.
Yogurt Making Questions & Answers:
Q: I've always wanted to make raw milk yogurt, and I finally tried after reading your web site. I used fresh goats milk from a nearby farm. I use a thermos method; and have made yogurt dozens of times, so I have the method down pat. I heated the milk to 120F and then added a commercial culture just to be certain. My question is....how do I know if it's safe to eat? It came out very runny compared to my usual yogurt. It tastes all right (I've tried a spoonful), but the consistency worries me. Is raw milk yogurt naturally "runnier"?
A: Yes, raw milk yogurt is runnier. If you read my main yogurt recipe above you will see I say you need to boil the milk help make it thick. Whether it is "safe" or not depends on your sanitary practices and that of your milk supplier. I personally only make raw milk yogurt from milk I milked myself. You will need to use a culture formulated to produce a thicker curd such as "ABY-2C" from the Dairy Connection (this is what I always use) and/or add powdered milk to get it to be thicker. (increasing the incubating time will not make it thicker.)
Q: Can I make my own yogurt with fat free lactose free milk?
A: Without lactose or some type of carbohydrate sugar to ferment, the culture will not grow. You can try to add some sugar, glucose or sucrose at a rate of about 2-3% by weight. Do not use honey, because honey will impede the yogurt bacteria and fermentation.
Q: I like flavored yogurt. When do I add fruit or sweetener to my yogurt?
A: The addition of fruit in "store bought" yogurt is done two ways. One way, add fruit to the yogurt cup prior to fermenting and put the milk and culture on top and ferment. This is called "Sundae or FOB" (Fruit-On-Bottom). The second way is to ferment first and then add the fruit after it is thick. This is called "Swiss or Stirred" style. For home use, the fruit is usually almost always added (stirred into) to the yogurt after fermenting.
Sweeteners can be added prior to fermenting. Depending on the sweetener it may or may not affect the texture. Maple syrup and honey can sometimes cause the yogurt to have a very "ropey" texture.