I like yogurt. I don’t like artificial sweeteners or thickeners in my yogurt. Also, I like cheap yogurt. That’s why, for a couple years, I have been periodically making my own yogurt. (I get on yogurt kicks and eat a bunch for a while, then I just stop eating it for a few months.) Yogurt is easy to make and can be made cheaper than buying it. To keep this simple, I’ll start with the basic recipe, and then I’ll give you some variations and tricks. The first few times making yogurt requires a bit more time and effort, but after you figure out which equipment works in your kitchen it won’t take much time at all.
Time: 10 minutes of work, several hours of waiting.
Heat some milk to about 185°F. The milk will be a little bubbly, but not boiling. The amount of milk you use will be the amount of yogurt you get.
Cool the milk to about 110°F. Stir in a couple spoonfuls of yogurt as a starter.
Keep the milk warm 4-8 hours, until the milk becomes yogurt. Refrigerate.
- To make Greek yogurt, strain the yogurt. You can use a colander and cheesecloth, or just a mesh strainer. This will reduce the volume considerably.
- Add sweeteners or fruit either when adding the starter yogurt or immediately before eating. You could add it sometime in between, but it’s best to avoid stirring yogurt because the texture just isn’t the same after stirring.
If you’re used to buying commercial yogurt in the United States, this yogurt without added thickeners will probably seem pretty runny to you.
- To make the yogurt thicker, I stir in some dry milk powder at the very beginning.
- Another way to make the yogurt stiffer is to add a little gelatin (such as Knox Gelatin) after heating. When proportioning the gelatin, keep in mind that yogurt itself is somewhat stiff, so use less gelatin than if you were mixing it with straight water.
- I use a whisk to stir in the yogurt starter. Most recipes say to take out a cup of the warm milk, stir the yogurt into that, and then stir the mixture into the rest of the milk. I’m too much of a slacker for that. I usually just dip the whisk into the yogurt, give it a swirl to scoop up some yogurt, and then whisk it into the warm milk.
- I use a heavy pan on the stove to heat the milk, although slow cookers can also be used. I usually turn it on low while I’m working in the kitchen, and check it every 5-10 minutes.
- I like to stir granola or muesli into thin yogurt for a healthy breakfast.
- Sometimes I divide the yogurt into individual containers shortly after adding the starter. This makes for a quicker clean-up and easy serving.
- Don’t fret about keeping the yogurt exactly 110°F. Changing the temperature may affect quality, but mine frequently cools to room temperature. I heat it back up a little and wait longer.
The main issue in making yogurt is keeping it warm for several hours. Most kitchen appliances are designed to keep things cool or hot to limit bacterial growth. Since bacterial growth is the key to making yogurt, ovens, slow cookers and other kitchen cooking appliances are usually too hot for making yogurt. There are several ways around this:
- Buy a yogurt maker. You can get a bulk machine or one that makes individual servings. I don’t have one of these, in a feeble attempt to limit my kitchen appliances. I have tried all the other methods listed here.
- Use the warmer thing on your stove. Not all stoves have these, but these could be ideal for this task. My stove has a warmer that is weirdly connected to the oven that I’ve started trying. I set the yogurt on the warmer while I’m baking something in the oven. My sister has a warmer with an actual knob control that I’ve used.
- Use a slow cooker. These also will over heat the yogurt, so heat the crockpot and then turn it off when adding the yogurt. You can wrap it in towels to keep it warm longer, but then it’s hard to see the yogurt. Sometimes I’ve put the yogurt in a smaller container in the cooker, then made a water bath around the yogurt. Then I can turn the cooker on and off occasionally to maintain the temperature.
- Use your oven. I turn my oven on the lowest setting until it’s good and warm, then I turn it off. Sometime later, or maybe the next morning, I check the yogurt. Then I take the yogurt out, or I turn the oven on again. I think I accidentally left the oven on overnight once with yogurt in it, and the yogurt was acceptable. I’ve also combined this method with a water bath. I put the yogurt into smaller plastic containers, then I put those containers in a 9×13 pan with some water. This helps maintain a more constant temperature.
Don’t use the microwave, since microwaves heat in a strange way that would result in…cooked yogurt or something nasty. I haven’t tried this, so I don’t have the details of what the nastiness would be.
How much money does this save?
The answer to this question depends a bit on any add-ons to the yogurt. For regular, plain, yogurt, you’ll get as much yogurt as starting milk. In my area, I’ve been paying $3-$4 per gallon of milk lately. A gallon of milk makes 16 cups of yogurt. Individual containers of yogurt are usually 3/4 cup, which means it would take about 21 of them to make a gallon. These containers cost from $0.30 (store brand) to $0.50 (name brand on sale) in my area. At $0.30 each, that runs to about $6 per gallon, or more for name brand yogurt. Any fruits or sweeteners would increase the price of homemade yogurt, and there’s a bit of energy expense to heat the milk.
For every 20 containers of name brand yogurt purchased on sale ($10), the same quantity could be made for about half the price ($5). That’s not a huge savings, but it is significant. The first few times making yogurt takes some effort figuring out things, but these days I spend maybe 10 minutes of actual work for a batch of yogurt.
For Greek yogurt, these calculations are a bit more complicated. Since Greek yogurt is strained, the quantity of yogurt is less than the quantity of milk used. That’s why Greek yogurt is more expensive. I haven’t made enough yogurt to know how the ratios play out in the home kitchen. In commercial production, it takes almost four pounds of milk for one pound of Greek yogurt. The price of Greek yogurt varies dramatically, depending on whether there are local producers of Greek yogurt in an area.
A rough calculation would be that a 3/4 cup container of Greek yogurt would cost about $0.70 to make with $3.70/gallon milk, which is about what I paid for Monday’s milk. The cheapest Greek yogurt I have seen around Des Moines is $0.88 per container, and many brands cost more than $2 per container. A handy thing is that I have found homemade Greek yogurt more closely mimics commercial Greek yogurt, which generally has less sweeteners and thickeners than regular yogurt.
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