Friday, February 4, 2011

Making your own yoghurt

Making your own yoghurt has many benefits.  As I will show in this tutorial, it is dead simple to do, and doesn’t cost more than the price of the milk you use.  You don’t need any fancy equipment – I even stopped using a thermometer after I accidentally broke my last one a while ago.

A lot of marketing dollars are thrown at expensive products containing beneficial bacteria that are described as live or active cultures or probiotics.  They are trying to make us believe we need to consume their specially formulated products to be healthy; however, most people don't realize how easy it is to make their own yoghurt, and the kind you make at home doesn't have any added sugar, gelatin, flavourings or other additives.  

Some time ago, CBC Marketplace tested the bacterial levels found in commercial probiotic products.  It’s an interesting read, and only serves to reinforce that making your own fresh yoghurt makes a lot of sense if you’re interested in its health benefits.  The bacteria in yoghurt die off the longer you keep it, so it’s a good idea to ensure you consume it really fresh.

This is all you need:
  • a bag of fresh milk (I use skim)
  • starter culture:  some good quality plain yoghurt or the remainder of your last batch
  • optional:  some powdered milk powder.  A tablespoon or two added to the milk makes the yoghurt a little thicker
  • a cooler
  • clean containers for making your yoghurt in.  You can use glasses, mason jars, a jug or any other clean container you can find. 

 Make sure the containers you are using are really clean.  You don’t want any contaminants so if they have been standing on the shelf for a while, give them a rinse – no need to dry though.

Start by heating the milk.  I microwave it for 10 minutes, which is enough time to kill any bacteria present in the milk.  If your microwave oven isn’t very strong, you might want to leave it in a little longer.  I have tried making yoghurt without this step and it hasn’t been as successful.  Even though the milk is pasteurized, I suspect the wrong bacteria start creeping in soon after, and these can interfere with the success of your batch.  Technically, you want the milk to reach 85-90oC (185-195oF), though as I mentioned above, I no longer have a thermometer.

Now cover the milk and leave it to cool down to a little above body temperature.  Again, if you want to be technical, you should aim for 40-43oC (105-110oF).  I sometimes put the milk outside to speed up the process, which takes about an hour.  If you’re going to use your finger to test the temperature, make sure it’s really clean.

You don’t need a lot of starter yoghurt culture to make your new batch.  If I am making it in individual glasses, I use about a teaspoon per cup or so of milk.  The container I am using here is a large wide mouth mason jar, and I use about 2 generous tablespoons.  The measurement really doesn’t have to be exact.

 Give it a gentle stir.  If the starter culture is lumpy, you may need to break it up a little with the spoon.  At this point you can also add a couple of spoonfuls of powdered milk for extra creaminess.

 Next, pour some hand warm water - approximately the temperature you would bathe a baby in - into the cooler.  There needs to be enough to create a warm bath, yet not so much that the container floats.  

Carefully place the container with the yoghurt in the cooler and cover it to prevent any drops from the condensation from dripping back into the yoghurt.

 Close it up and leave it to rest overnight.  Twenty four hours is fine.  Just don’t open the cooler during the first eight hours.

The next morning, take out the fresh yoghurt and check to see if it has thickened.  If it is too thin for your liking, cover it back up and leave it for another 4 or 5 hours.  Chances are, it will have thickened sufficiently by then.

And voila!  This is what your fresh yoghurt will look like.  It has thickened beautifully.  You can pour off the watery liquid (this is the whey and it is nutritious) and use it in  smoothies or your baking (not that I'm doing much baking any more these days).  You can also stir it back into the yoghurt if you like. 

If the batch doesn’t thicken, don’t throw it away!  You can still use it in any recipe that calls for buttermilk or sour milk.  Also think about what you may have done wrong:  was the water too hot, or the starter culture too old? Did you open the cooler before the first 8 hours were up?  Try making it again and you are sure to find success.

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