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I am so astounded at how fast the popularity of Greek yogurt has skyrocketed over the past 2 years. Its popularity has grown so fast and furious it seems like there’s a new brand on the shelves every week. Both upstarts and traditional yogurt brands have jumped into the share of the market and the variety of flavours and fat content are amazing.
So having said that, why make your own yogurt? For three major reasons: 1) You control the content; 2) You control the flavour and 3) You save a lot of money. I mean a lot of money. I did a quick calculation and making my own Greek yogurt would cost me 1/3 of what I pay, and that’s not even taking advantage of milk being on sale. As for the content, yogurt is simply milk (or cream) with bacteria. Period. Thus making your own yogurt means you’re keeping the product free of a lot of additives found in most store bought brands.
The reason I first explored the idea of making my own yogurt was when I went on a low carb diet and realized I couldn’t give up my daily yogurt fix. Reading label after label I couldn’t ensure a yogurt wasn’t free of corn starch (used as a thickener) or extra added sugar that I could eat and know I am sticking to my diet. For those on a low carb diet, milk may appear to have up to 9 grams of sugar per cup, but because the bacteria added eats away at it, the end result actually has less sugar.
So what is Greek yogurt? Essentially in basic terms it’s regular yogurt that is strained so additional watery whey is drained leaving you with a much thicker creamier product. You can in essence make Greek yogurt out of any store bought yogurt and straining it.
Now lets get to yogurt making methods. You will see that I use an electric yogurt maker, which is fancy machine that basically incubates the milk at a constant temperature of 115 degrees fahrenheit and has a timer that dings. You can find yogurt makers for around $30-50 depending on brand. I use the Euro Cuisine and it comes with 7 glass jars with lids. The jars are actually pretty handy when I make batches to bring to work but since I’m taking an extra step of straining the yogurt to make into Greek yogurt, this demonstration will be incubated in glass bowl.
But have no fear, if you do not have a yogurt maker you can still make yogurt through a variety of methods, some more interesting than others. If I didn’t have a fancy dancy machine, I would suggest you try the oven method. Place the readied milk in an oven with the light on and leave until you have yogurt. Another method is using a heating blanket and wrapping around closed glass jars (such as mason jars) and then wrapping again in blankets to keep the heat. Although this method does in fact work, please ensure that your blanket doesn’t have a safety shut off where it will turn itself off. Having said that, I don’t know if I feel comfortable using a method where the tool actually requires a safety shut off 😉 Lastly, you can place your jars in a warm area whether it be near a radiator or behind/on top of a fridge.
Let’s talk texture and flavours. These two variables are controlled by the type of milk, type of bacterial culture, length of incubation, and type of additives.
MILK: The higher the fat content of the milk you use the thicker the end product will be, before straining. In fact some people use 5-10% cream and don’t need to strain to achieve the thickness of Greek yogurt. Also you are not limited to just dairy based liquids, this yogurt making method works for soy and almond milks as well.
CULTURE STARTER: I like to keep it easy and simply by buying a plain starter from the grocery store. Any plain yogurt will do that does not have any additives. You only need a few tablespoons worth, so a small single serving size will do. Being in Canada, I buy Astro Balkan Natural but I would be all over Fage if I had access to it. Another way to use a starter is to buy freeze dried starter in powder form that you mix in place of the yogurt. A little harder to find but it remains shelf stable longer if stored in the fridge. From my experience, the freeze dried starters make a tarter yogurt. Lastly, and this is an interesting method, is using an heirloom starter. These starters are basically taken from batches of yogurts made through generations, similar to a sourdough starter. There are a handful of companies that specialize in heirloom starters with origins from Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, and Scandinavia. You will be sent a freeze dried starter through the mail that you can use, or in some instances the yogurt is dried onto cotton balls and you reconstitute the culture into the yogurt by soaking the cotton balls in the milk. I can go on for a while about the culture in the starters and whether multiple generations of your homemade yogurt can remain as a starter but essentially most yogurt starters contain the three main bacterias found in modern day yogurts: L. bulgaricus, S. thermophilus, L. acidophilus.
Once you’ve made 1 batch of yogurt, you can set a few tablespoons aside as a starter for your next batch, and keep going like a sourdough starter. There’s some debate about how many generations a starter can go on for before it starts affecting the taste/texture of the yogurt and many people prefer to start with a new starter (either buying new yogurt or using a new package of starter) every 5 or 6 batches. There is also contention that compared to these starters, the heirloom starters do not weaken and can continue to be useful for endless generations. I’ve never been able to make a consecutive 5-6 batch run without having to take a break so I canot speak to this. Although I do notice that by my 3rd or 4th batch t
INCUBATION PERIOD: Your milk can turn into yogurt as quickly as 7 hrs if you use a full fat milk (9 hrs if using 2% or lighter) and you can keep it incubating for as long as 18hrs. The rule of thumb is the longer you incubate the yogurt the tarter it becomes, thus your ability to control the flavour. If you like your yogurt miler, leave it warm for a shorter period, more sour takes more time. Usually you can play around with the time until you get a product you like. The time also affects the texture. Again, the longer you leave it the thicker it becomes. But it becomes a balance if you want a thicker product but don’t like it very tart.
ADDITIVES: One way to get a thicker product is by adding 2 tbsp of skim milk powder at the same time you add the starter. Some people swear by it, I prefer not to add anything else into my yogurts. You can also add flavours, fruit, and sugar at the pre-incubation stage by adding it in right before you set it to warm, but again I prefer to add these flavours afterwards.
Now onto making yogurt!
You will need:
4 cups milk (I am using 3.25% whole milk)
Starter (I use 3tbsp yogurt)
Heavy bottom pot
Glass bowl or jars with lids
Tea towels (if not using electric yogurt maker)
1. In a heavy bottom pot pour in the milk and simmer slowly on a medium heat.
3. Once the milk reaches 180 degrees, let simmer at that temperature for another 3-5 minutes
4. Remove the pot from the heat and let the milk cool until it reaches 114 degrees. Check with thermometer frequently as you do not want the milk too hot or too cool when you add the starter culture. If you wish to speed up the process, you may place the pot in a larger bowl of ice water and whisk continuously, checking the temperature frequently.
6. Pour the milk into the bowls or jars and place into yogurt maker, leave the bowl or jars uncovered. If using the oven method, wrap the covered bowl or jars in a tea towel before placing in the oven with the light on.
7. Now it’s been 7-15 hrs since you’ve started the process. Congratulations you have yogurt! It should be thick, creamy and smooth. You can leave it at this stage and eat it. However if you wish to make Greek yogurt, proceed to step 8.
8. Pour the yogurt into a strainer lined with cheese cloth or coffee filters. Place in a bowl to catch the whey and put in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hrs. The longer you strain the yogurt the thicker it becomes. Remove when the desired texture is reached.
9. You can throw away the whey or use it in recipes or a base for smoothies since it is very high in protein.
I enjoy my Greek yogurt with just a touch of honey.