Homemade Yogurt

by Sara Rands

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Making Homemade Yogurt

The best resource I have found about making homemade yogurt is in The Tightwad Gazette III. Amy Dacyczyn gives the how-tos & trouble shooting there.

Thanks to her instructions, and some help from my family, I've been successfully making yogurt for about 2 years now. You need a yogurt starter, milk, and a way to incubate it for 4-12 hours at about 110 degrees so the bacteria in the starter can grow to take over the whole jar.

Yogurt starter is either store-bought or homemade yogurt, or a freeze-dried starter you can buy at health-food stores. I've never checked into the freeze-dried starter; Amy reported it as expensive. But you can freeze yogurt to use for starter. Just put it in an ice-cube tray and store your 'yogurt cubes' in bags. That should be the 2-tbsp of yogurt you need to make a quart.

Milk: use whatever kind you want. Nonfat dry milk is usually cheapest. If you want thicker yogurt you can stir in a bit extra milk powder (1/3 cup per quart of yogurt).

To make a quart:

  • Stir together a quart of milk with 1/3 cup milk powder, if desired. If using frozen yogurt starter, set yogurt cubes out to thaw.
  • Heat milk to 180 degrees, stirring constantly. Use a candy thermometer to measure temperature.
  • Remove milk from heat; let cool to 115 degrees. This takes about 1 to 2 hours, depending on the temperature of the rest of the house.
  • Stir in 2 tbsp of yogurt starter. Mix thoroughly.
  • Pour the milk/yogurt mixture into sterilized jars. (Whenever I do it, it's a bit more than a quart, so have an extra jar ready.) Incubate for 4-12 hours, or until it is set (i.e. looks like yogurt, not milk). The longer you incubate, the more sour the yogurt will be. Refrigerate until cool.

How to incubate: There are lots of methods--see the book. I fill an ice chest with the hottest water the tap will give me, place the jars of yogurt in there, and close the ice chest. This is inexpensive, has worked in all of the rentals I've lived in, and doesn't require much storage space. If the water cools during incubation, as it might if it's cool in your home, refill with hot water.

Is it worth it? Yes, if you're at home for the amount of time required. It only takes about 15 minutes hands-on time, and the savings is considerable.

I've never done drinkable yogurt, so that will require some experimentation. Try not adding extra milk powder--that alone might be thin enough, since homemade yogurt seems thinner than store-bought. If not, try thinning the yogurt with more milk.

To use yogurt, add sugar and fruit to yogurt for a snack. Plain yogurt can be used as a non-fat sour cream substitute--my family enjoys it on burritos and in casseroles. Add 1/3 cup plain yogurt to packaged macaroni and cheese, instead of milk and butter, for a tangy taste. Try adding some yogurt to mashed potatoes in place of some of the butter and milk. By draining the yogurt in cheesecloth through a colander, you can make "yogurt cheese," which has the consistency of cream cheese, and is good as a dip for chips or vegetables.

Not only is making yogurt thrifty, it's a science project about bacteria. Scalding the milk kills the "bad" bacteria that make milk go bad, and the yogurt starter introduces the "good" yogurt bacteria (also known as "active cultures"). The incubation gives the good bacteria the conditions they need to reproduce. The yogurt is done when the bacteria have grown throughout the yogurt.

Sara Rands started being a tightwad two years ago when she and her husband were newlywed students trying to survive on two small part-time incomes.

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