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Eat Healthy and Save Money with Homemade Yogurt

Yogurt is one of my favorite snacks. It tastes good and is good for our health. Yogurt is a food that has been fermented with lactic acid bacteria. It is loaded with probiotics that improve our digestion and absorption of nutrients. Good quality yogurt is expensive at the grocery store. I don’t mean the garbage they call yogurt. I’m talking about high quality Greek yogurt made from whole milk and live cultures. Mix in some honey, nuts, and berries, and you have a really tasty treat without the negatives of many snacks.

I’ve tried to make yogurt in the past, but it didn’t turn out very good. There was something missing from the recipe or I was doing something wrong – either way the finished product was not a tasty treat. Recently I tried a different recipe that I came across and the results were fantastic. First of all, let me say thank you to Erica Strauss from Northwest Edible Life for this recipe. She has a great website full of all kinds of good information so check it out in the resources section at the bottom of this post. On her site, she has some good discussion about whether or not you need to heat the milk to 180F first, or if you can just warm it to 110F and add the starter culture. It depends on your milk source. To be safe, I go ahead and heat it up first. If I try the alternate method in the future, I’ll post the results. At the bottom of this post is a summary of everything you need and how to do it. While the process I describe here follows her recipe pretty closely, I will explain step-by-step exactly how I did it.

I used a 3 quart aluminum pot. I put in half a gallon of organic whole milk and 1 cup of organic heavy cream. I heated it slowly over a low-medium heat to 180 degrees F, stirring fairly constantly to avoid scorching. I use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature. It has a clip so it hangs right on the inside of the pot. It took about 25 minutes to get it to 180. At that point, I lowered the heat and continued stirring. The idea is to keep it between 180F-190F for 20 minutes. This ultra-pasteurizes the mixture and results in a thicker finished product. After 20 minutes, I turned off the heat and covered the pot.

You are waiting for the temperature to drop back down under 120F. For my batches, this has typically taken about 2 hours. After about an hour, start checking it frequently because you don’t want to overshoot and let it cool off too much. When the temperature is down to about 115F, remove 1 cup of the milk-cream mixture. It needs to be under 120F because if it is too hot it will kill the live bacteria in the next step. I put it into a 2 cup glass measuring cup. Add ½ cup of “seed” yogurt. This should be plain yogurt with live cultures. It can be some yogurt from your last batch. I have heard that after about 3 generations from the same seed, it might not culture very well. I have not tested that. I typically get some fresh yogurt from the store by the 3rd generation. Stir the yogurt-milk mixture until it is smooth. I don’t care if it is slightly lumpy, but if you do just stir until you get all the lumps out. Pour the seed mixture back into the main pot and stir thoroughly.

Mixture in the Pot

Mixture in the Pot

The next step is to pour the mixture into containers for the culturing process. I use Pyrex dishes that come with plastic covers. Canning jars would work too but I like the shallower Pyrex dishes. I fill the dishes only about 2/3 and put on the lids. I culture the yogurt in an Excalibur dehydrator. This was Erica Strauss’ suggestion and it was a great one. I believe this was the big difference in the process that made it turn out so much better than my previous attempts. The important part of this step is to keep the mixture at the right temperature for several hours, and the Excalibur is perfect for this. I have this Excalibur Dehydrator model. I remove all of the shelves except 1 which allows 2 levels of dishes in the dehydrator. Load the dishes into the dehydrator, cover it, and turn it on. I set the Excalibur between 110F and 115F. After 8 hours, I remove the dishes and place them in the refrigerator to cool. When I first tried this method, I used a different container covered with foil but found the dehydrator tended to blow the foil off the top causing the surface of the yogurt to dry out. I later changed to the Pyrex dishes and they worked great. The temperature is not an issue for the plastic lids. An alternative to the dehydrator is a warming drawer or a cooler. I tried the cooler method once but the results weren’t good. I think it didn’t stay warm long enough to culture properly. I think a good dehydrator should be part of a gardener’s toolset anyway, so consider getting one if you don’t have one already.

Pyrex Dishes I Use

Pyrex Dishes I Use

Loaded in the Excalibur

Loaded in the Excalibur

I usually make my batches early in the morning so I can finish the process before bedtime. If I start by 9am, the yogurt is in the dehydrator by noon and in the fridge by 8pm. You can culture it less than 8 hours or more if you like. When I made my first batch, I pulled the dishes out at different times to compare them. I found 8 hours was the sweet spot.

Once it chills, enjoy. Add your favorite fruit or nuts, or eat it plain. The finished yogurt will last 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator, but it never lasts that long in our house! I love the fact that it turns out so good and saves us money. The high quality Greek yogurt we buy at the grocery store usually runs about $2 per cup. This recipe makes about 10 cups. The total cost of milk, cream, and yogurt is about $7. I think our finished product is as good as or better than the expensive stuff from the store. Turning $7 of ingredients into $20 worth of finished product is pretty darn good – and even better when it’s good for you.

Here’s a summary of the supplies needed and the process:
Items I used:
• 3 quart aluminum pot with lid
• 2 cup glass measuring cup
• Wooden spoon
Candy thermometer with pot clip
Pyrex dishes with plastic lids
Excalibur dehydrator

Ingredients:
• ½ gallon organic whole milk
• 1 cup organic heavy cream
• ½ cup plain Greek yogurt

Process:
• Heat milk and cream mixture to 180F, then keep between 180-190F for 20 minutes
• Cover and let cool to under 120F
• Remove 1 cup of the mixture, mix in ½ cup yogurt, pour back into the main pot and stir
• Fill the dishes and place in the dehydrator for 8 hours at 110-115F
• Move dishes to refrigerator to cool
• Enjoy!

Resources for this post:
Northwest Edible Life: http://www.nwedible.com/

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1 comment to Eat Healthy and Save Money with Homemade Yogurt

  • Jack Mitchell

    Here’s a followup to the original post.

    I tried the low heat method where you save time by not heating the milk/cream mixture to 180F. It did not turn out good. It was very runny. I won’t do that again.

    Since the original post, we continue to make yogurt every few weeks. Every batch is good. I really believe this method is foolproof. I expect we’ll continue to make our own yogurt for years to come.

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