How To Make Creamy Homemade Yogurt
I’ve done it at home for many years now, and each time the process of making yogurt strikes me as something out of a magic book.
That it can regenerate pretty much indefinitely from glugs of milk and a few saved spoons of starter is a wondrous trick of nature not at all lost on me when a set jar quivers just so. Sorcery — okay, fine, science — at its creamiest!
If your house runs through yogurt like ours does, rejoice — it’s darn easy to make, and is done so at a fraction of what stores charge, while drastically reducing your waste footprint. You also have full control over quality of ingredients, meaning superior flavor, texture and nutritional profile than store-bought. Healthier input = healthier output.
What’s so great about it?
Plain yogurt is low calorie, high protein, and packed with nutrients. Comparing fat-free and whole milk versions it ranges between 9 to 14 grams of protein and 130 to 150 calories per 1 cup (8 oz). Strained, thicker Greek-style yogurts that remove much of the liquid whey, as well as some of the lactose* and other sugars, clock in with similar calories, but nearly double the protein and often 50% or so less sugar. In both, research shows that this high-quality protein, coupled with its moderate amount of carbohydrates, promote weight maintenance, blood glucose control, and help keep energy levels up and hunger levels down.
One 8-oz serving provides about 30% of your recommended daily amount of calcium, roughly 7% of your magnesium (an aid to absorption and utilization of calcium), and more than 10% of your needs for potassium. Adequate intake of these nutrients is linked to improved bone health and prevention of osteoporosis, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. One serving also provides about half of your daily needs of iodine — a mineral essential for normal thyroid function and metabolism.
In pregnancy, adequate levels of calcium, magnesium and iodine are linked to proper fetal development of the brain and nervous and skeletal systems, as well as reduced risk of preeclampsia and the associated risk of preterm delivery, miscarriage, and stillbirth. Iodine is also critical in preconception diets, as deficiency and the resulting diminished thyroid hormone levels can prompt women to stop ovulation, leading to infertility.
Its rich supply of probiotics — the living bacteria found in our intestinal tracts that help maintain digestive health — plays a supportive role in inhibiting growth of bad bacteria, boosting immunity, and production of some B vitamins. These friendly bugs also improve our body’s ability to digest and utilize nutrients in foods we eat. A recent Harvard study suggests these improvements may in part explain why a daily serving of yogurt led participants in a twenty-year-long study to lose nearly one pound every four years.
However you choose to eat your wonderfully creamy yogurt — straight from the jar, in a smoothie, spooned over warm porridge or granola, as a substitute for sour cream and mayonnaise or for eggs and oil in baked goods, frozen onto fresh fruit, as a balance to earthy socca and bright garden veg, or the counterpoint to rice dishes or spicy curries and chillies — remember to save that last bit for making a new batch!
Tell me… How do you most enjoy yogurt?
- 4 c good quality 1%, 2% or whole milk (see HGN Notes)
- 4 Tbsp plain, unflavored yogurt containing active cultures (see HGN Notes)
- Pour the milk into a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, and place it over medium to medium-high heat with a candy or instant-read thermometer affixed to the side so you can monitor the temperature. Heat the milk to just below boiling, about 200° F, whisking gently and regularly to prevent it from bubbling over or scorching at the bottom.
- Remove the pan from the heat, and let it cool to between 110° and 115° F. If you prefer to work by feel, you should be able to hold a finger in the milk and count to 10 without it being too hot. Both should take about 20 minutes. Whisk a few times during this process to prevent a skin from forming on top. (Don't stress if it does. You can either whisk it back in or remove it.)
- Add the 4 Tbsp yogurt to a measuring cup, and ladle or pour in 1/2 to 1 cup of the warm milk. Whisk until combined, then whisk this mixture into the pan of warm milk. This is the "inoculation" phase.
- And now the "incubation" phase. Place a clean glass quart (or several pint or smaller) jar(s) onto a glass baking dish or rimmed baking tray. Ladle or pour the inoculated milk into the jar(s), seal with the lid(s), and wrap around a kitchen towel. Careful not to bump or jostle the dish/tray, place your soon-to-be yogurt in a warm spot, about 110° F, for at least 4 hours and up to overnight, until the yogurt is set. Begin checking after 4 hours and stop when the top quivers only slightly when gently nudged; do not stir. (I use the oven with the light on, door closed. If your oven can maintain a set temperature that low, you can do that, too. A dehydrator set to 110° F is another option, if you have one.)
- Once the yogurt is set to your liking, remove the jar(s) from the oven, tightly seal and place in the refrigerator to chill before eating. The yogurt will last 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Make sure to save the 4 Tbsp needed to make the next batch. It will most reliably keep up its (culture) activity if you use it within a week (preferably less) of making.
- [Optional] Greek-style yogurt: Line a colander or mesh sieve with tight-woven cheesecloth or butter muslin, a clean thin tea towel, or large coffee filter. Set it over a pan or bowl deep enough to hold up to 1 c of liquid (whey). Pour or scrape the yogurt into the linked colander/sieve, and set it aside in the refrigerator to drain until it has lost close to half its volume and appears fairly dry, about 3 to 4 hours. Turn the drained yogurt out into a large bowl, and stir with a wooden spoon or whisk until smooth. Save the whey for a boost of protein in your smoothie, to use as cooking water for grains/porridge or as the water called for in baking bread, or simply pour it on your garden plants. (I often freeze mine in ice cube trays for smaller, longer-lasting portions to grab from the freezer as needed.)
In terms of the yogurt, fat-free, low-fat, whole milk or Greek versions will all work; however, the creamiest versions are made from those with higher fat, like the milk. Also, as long as there is at least one active culture in the ingredients list, you're good. Common cultures include L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, and L. Casei.
If you opted to drain the yogurt for a thicker Greek style, the liquid whey is a concentrated source of nutrients, particularly protein -- save it! Use whey in smoothies, as part of the liquid for cooking grains, or as a substitute for the water in baking breads or for the milk/buttermilk in pancakes and waffles. The acidity imparts a slight tang and, for doughs, a light, fluffy crumb. You can even use it to give plants a nutrient boost.
+ Like sweeter yogurt? Add a drizzle of honey or maple syrup to the top.
+ Need flavor? Simply spice it up with a sprinkling of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, chai or pumpkin pie spice blends, or even cocoa or espresso powders. Vanilla extract, paste, powder or seeds from a dried pod are also excellent, as is almond extract.
+ Want a thick yogurt? Start with milk that has a high percent milkfat, like 2% or whole.
+ A fan of fruit? Spoon a layer of frozen or fresh chopped fruit, some chopped dried fruit, or your favorite preserves to the top of your jars. You could also add the layer to the bottom of a clean jar, and transfer your yogurt on top to mimic the "fruit-on-the-bottom" varieties from the store. Fresh-squeezed citrus juices and citrus zest are delicious additions to give yogurt some zing.
+ Looking for superfoods? Swirl a bit of turmeric paste in for a boost of antioxidants, super green iron-, selenium-, copper-, and protein-packed spirulina, or go for seeds like chia, flax or hemp that are high in healthy fats, fiber and protein.
*Yogurt, containing less lactose than milk and ice cream, can be an option for those with lactose intolerance/sensitivity, particularly strained Greek-styles. Improve tolerance by eating yogurt with other foods, and sticking to only a small serving at one time. (Not appropriate if you have a diagnosed lactose/dairy allergy, unless your physician approves and has provided explicit instruction.)
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