Making yogurt at home is a simple and rewarding culinary endeavor that offers a host of benefits, both in terms of taste and health. Yogurt is a fermented dairy product that is rich in probiotics, vitamins, and minerals. By making it at home, you have control over the ingredients and the fermentation process, ensuring a product that suits your taste and dietary preferences.
One of the key advantages of homemade yogurt is the assurance of freshness and quality. You can choose the type of milk, be it regular cow’s milk or goat’s milk, and this allows you to cater to specific dietary needs. Homemade yogurt is free from artificial additives commonly found in commercial varieties, making it a healthier choice.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that promote a healthy gut microbiome, aiding digestion and supporting the immune system. Homemade yogurt is teeming with these probiotics, which can contribute to better gut health. Additionally, yogurt is a good source of calcium, protein, and other essential nutrients, making it a nutritious addition to your diet. By making it yourself, you can control the sugar content and customize the flavor by adding fruits, honey, or other natural sweeteners.
Beyond the health benefits, making yogurt at home can also be cost-effective, as it can be more affordable than store-bought options over time. It’s an eco-friendly choice, reducing the use of plastic containers and food waste associated with commercial packaging. Moreover, the satisfaction of crafting your own yogurt and experimenting with flavors and textures is a gratifying experience that many find worthwhile.
Making yogurt at home is a straightforward process that requires only two ingredients and a bit of patience.
- 1 liter (~4 1/4 cups) milk (fat content min. 3,5% – raw or pasteurized, not UHT)
- 175 g (~3/4 cup) plain yogurt with live active cultures (fat content min. 3% – store-bought or from a previous batch)
The first steps of the process are different depending on what kind of milk you use.
- a) Heat the milk: Pour the raw milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat it over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Heat the milk until it reaches about 82-85°C (180-185°F). In case of goat’s milk the required temperature is 90-92°C (194-198°F). This step is important to kill any unwanted bacteria and denature the proteins for a smoother texture. Using a thermometer helps you monitor the temperature.
- b) Cool the milk: Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the milk to cool to about 42-44°C (108-111°F). Stir it occasionally to speed up the cooling process. The milk should be warm, but not too hot to touch.
- Heat the milk: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan heat the pasteurized milk until it reaches 42-44°C (108-111°F). If you don’t have a thermometer (like me), check the temperature by simply dipping your finger into the milk, and it’s done if the milk is pleasantly warm, but not hot to touch. Turn off the heat.
2. Inoculate with yogurt cultures: Whisk plain yogurt into the warm milk in the saucepan. The live active cultures in the yogurt will act as your starter for fermentation.
3. Incubate: Pour the milk and yogurt mixture into jars (I use two 720 ml / 24 fl oz jars) or other airtight container. Seal the jars and place them in a large pot of warm water (45-50°C / 113-122°F) – I heat the water on the gas stove while I’m preparing the milk. Put the pot with the jars into the oven and heat to 45-50°C (113-122°F). (I turn off the heat and reheat the oven to 50°C / 122°F once again 1,5-2 hours later.) Leave the yogurt undisturbed for at least 6-8 hours, or until it reaches the desired level of tanginess and thickness. Incubation time should not be longer than 10-12 hours.
4. Chill: Once the yogurt has reached your preferred level of tartness and thickness, remove it from the oven and refrigerate it. Cooling the yogurt will stop the fermentation process and help it set further. It can take a few hours to firm up in the fridge.
5. Enjoy: Your homemade yogurt is now ready to eat. You can enjoy it plain, with fruit, honey, or any other toppings you like.
You can buy plain yogurt for every new batch, or if you save a small portion of your homemade yogurt, you can use it as a starter for your next batch. Generally, you can reuse your homemade yogurt as a starter for new batches for about 4-5 generations. It depends on a few factors, including the freshness of your yogurt, the strength of the live cultures, and how well you maintain the yogurt culture’s viability.
- Freshness of the starter: The first few batches made with a fresh starter tend to be the most robust. As you use a yogurt culture repeatedly, the subsequent batches may become less consistent and take longer to ferment.
- Maintaining culture strength: To ensure the longevity of your yogurt culture, make sure your yogurt starter remains healthy and active. You can do this by making yogurt regularly, preferably at least once a week, to keep the cultures active and strong.
- Cultural contamination: Cross-contamination with unwanted bacteria can occur over time, especially if you use non-sterile equipment or forget to maintain good hygiene practices. To reduce the risk of contamination, always use clean utensils and containers, and sterilize them if necessary.
- Viability testing: As you use your yogurt starter for several generations, it’s a good practice to periodically test a small batch to see if it still produces good-quality yogurt. If the yogurt takes significantly longer to set or develops off-flavors, it may be time to refresh your starter with a new store-bought yogurt.
- Reviving the culture: If you notice a decline in the quality of your homemade yogurt or it takes longer to ferment, you can try rejuvenating the culture by using a fresh store-bought yogurt as a starter for a few batches. This can help reintroduce robust live cultures.