Friday, May 1, 2015

Simple Suggestion #232... Make your own yogurt

My sisters always tease me for having a strange capacity for odd memories. Well, here's another one...

I remember the first time I tasted yogurt. I was 14, and our family was waiting for a ferry on the BC coast to take us to Vancouver Island. Everyone went to the snack shop for treats, and mine was the most exotic of the group's -- peach yogurt. For whatever reason, we hadn't been yogurt people up to that point. At first, I wasn't sure I liked the sour milk undertone, but by the time the little container was empty, I was wishing for more. I was a convert.

I still love yogurt, but I have two major issues with the stuff you buy at the store:

1) The packaging. Every time you bring a container of yogurt home, you're stuck with a plastic container. I know, I know, they can be reused for all sorts of things -- kids' crayons, dog food, plants, you-name-it, but most of us have only so many places we'll employ them before they start piling up. Fortunately, in Edmonton, our Reuse Centre takes certain sizes of containers to be reused by daycares and playschools and people who need them.

They're also recyclable, especially here in Edmonton with our state of the art recycling facilities. But as with most recycling processes, plastic recycling requires a lot of energy, and every time it's recycled, the original product tends to lose quality. Better not to have those containers at all!

2) I have juvenile diabetes, and store-bought yogurt contains way too much sugar -- or sweetener related chemicals -- for my liking.

Fortunately, I have learned a better way to get my yogurt fix, thanks to my friends, awesome MCR and tweeter SuperSu, and her neighbour, Diane, who both taught me a few tricks at our Simplicity Study Circle last year. Making yogurt is easier than I would have believed. Here's how I do it (according to their suggestions/advice):

1. Warm some milk on the stove top to no more than 170 degrees F (75 C) -- not being a candy maker (for obvious, diabetes-related reasons), I had to go buy a candy thermometer for $7, but it was the difference between good yogurt and a mess, so well worth the money. (I discovered , a few times, that accidentally boiled milk makes something more like cheese curds than yogurt, and you can't reuse that product as feed stock for your next batch -- it won't work.)

2. Let the milk cool to 110 degrees, and then spoon in some natural (plain) yogurt that has active bacterial cultures. I used a 2% milk fat variety to start and put in one tablespoon (15 mL) of yogurt per cup (250 mL) of milk. (More isn't better in this case -- putting in too much starter yogurt doesn't make your yogurt any thicker, it just crowds the yogurt bacteria, or so I read on one of the websites SuperSu shared with me).

3. Warm the oven slightly, wrap the yogurt pot in a towel, and set it in the warmed oven (with the oven light on) over night. I tend to make mine before I go to bed, as I like to use my oven some days, but any time of day works, and you don't have to use an oven, though it's important to keep the batch warm. Click here for a website about slow cooker yogurt.

After several hours (about eight in my case), presto, fresh yogurt... that I package into the same plastic yogurt containers I've been using for the last four months, being sure to set aside enough for my next batch of yogurt. So -- I'm not bringing home a plastic container plus a milk carton a week, only the milk carton. Therefore, a bit of a reduction in waste. And there are fewer fossil fuel emissions in my yogurt making (no strawberries trucked from California). And it costs about a third (or less) of what store yogurt costs to make the same amount.

Of course, the yogurt I'm making is not quite the same as the thick and creamy stuff with fruit syrups that you find in the grocery store, which have cornstarch, cream, gelatin, vitamin D, and all sorts of other things added. If you like your yogurt thicker, a fine cheesecloth would be helpful to remove more of the whey water, or so a friend from India tells me. Or you can follow Sue's tip in the comment section below, adding skim milk powder to the mix before letting it set.

But I like mine as is, with cereal or in smoothies -- which have become my favourite breakfast meal because I can use a piece of banana for sweetness and a few frozen Evans cherries from my sisters' tree for colour, maybe mix in a few sprouts that I grow on the windowsill for extra nutrients and blend it all up. And with the honeyberries, raspberries and saskatoon berries that are growing in our yard, I'm looking forward to more yogurt smoothie flavours this summer.

Yogurt making is one more small, self-reliant step I can take in my own food production, one that cuts down on the over abundance of plastic in my life, and it's much simpler than I imagined.

I doff my hat to wise women Diane and Sue for sharing their wisdom with me! And pass it along to you!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.


  1. YEAH you! looks great....i really really like the homemade stuff better than store bought now.
    my latest tips:
    ***add in about 1/3 cup skim milk powder when you are stirring in your starter---makes it super thick and super creamy - no straining required
    ***i am a sucker for a sale....i have gotten milk for my yogurt at 50% off (OR MORE--FREEBIES can be had sometimes) from safeway, shoppers drug and earths general store because it is at or past 'due date' -- this stuff works just PERFECT for homemade yogurt!
    happy yogurt making
    su :)

  2. I used to make my own yogurt when I could tolerate cows' milk. I must have had the culture going for 20 years. I used only powdered milk so it did not have to be heated to 170F. I did use an extra third. The right temperature for making yogurt is when one can put ones little finger in it for 10 seconds but no longer. I then put it in a warm water bath and put it in the microwave. My microwave was not on an outside wall and they are insulated. (My father would make yogurt in a stoneware bowl which he put on top of the stove pilot light.) If the yogurt has not jellified it was too cold; if it separates it was too hot.
    Yogurt should not be disturbed until you wish to eat it otherwise it separates. Or you can make true Greek yogurt by stirring and draining off the whey in a coffee filter lined sieve.

    1. Ah, Diana, I love that "ten seconds and no longer" tip. Had I known that, I wouldn't have bothered with the candy thermometer! And a coffee-filter lined sieve is a good alternative to cheesecloth. Thanks for sharing your methods here!


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