Friday, January 21, 2011

Waste-Free Yogurt

From Emerald Apron's Kitchen

My family likes yogurt, but for a while now I've been annoyed by the little plastic cups that I can't recycle in my weekly pickup. And how many little cups can you really save? I started buying the larger quart sized containers to reduce waste, but lately I've gone back to the smaller containers because it's easy to send them to daycare with my son Joshua.

I've transitioned to making a lot of our foods at home, but up until a couple of weeks ago I never thought I could make my own yogurt. I wasn't willing to buy a special piece of equipment, and I didn't want to have to buy enzymes or cultures and keep them in the freezer. It just seemed like too much of a pain. However, that's not true! I stumbled upon a method to make homemade yogurt using things I already had: a thermos, a thermometer, milk and a spoonful of yogurt. I figured I could at least try it. I was completely shocked at how surprisingly easy it is to make homemade yogurt! I'm sharing some step-by-step instructions so that you, too, can make your own yogurt!

Step 1: Measure milk into your thermos. Since thermoses are different size, I won't give you an exact measurement because it will vary. I stole one of my husband's thermoses so it's pretty large.

Step 2: Bring the milk to a boil. You can do this in a pot on the stove top or in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl. I've done both ways, and this time I used a pyrex bowl in the microwave. It took about 5 minutes, stopping to check it every minute or so, to come to a boil. Tip: watch the milk carefully. I hate the smell of burnt milk!

Step 3: Allow the milk to cool to 122 degrees F. This is the temperature at which the yogurt cultures will be most happy. Variation: If you prefer to have raw-milk yogurt, skip the boil and just heat the milk to 114 degrees F. This lower temperature will preserve the enzymes that are destroyed in the pasteurization process. I choose to use pasteurized milk, but that's a post for another day. Once the milk has cooled, stir in a spoonful of yogurt. You can use store-bought or homemade yogurt leftover from your last batch. This contains the cultures that will transform your milk into yogurt.

Step 4: Pour your milk back into the thermos and screw on the cap. Find a place to let the thermos sit for 8 to 14 hours so the cultures can do their work.

Step 5: After 8-14 hours, open up your thermos and this is what it will look like. Don't let it fool you, that's yogurt! You can stop here if you like your yogurt to have a thinner consistency. Just transfer it to a different container, stir the whey back into the yogurt, and store it in the fridge.

Step 6: If you want a thicker consistency like Greek Yogurt, allow the yogurt to drain through cheesecloth. I let my yogurt to sit for a hour or two for a thickness similar to sour cream. If you want it even thicker, allow it to drain longer and you'll have yogurt cheese, which is a nice substitute for cream cheese.

Step 7: Transfer the yogurt to a container and store it in the fridge. You probably want to chill it before you eat it.

And don't forget to save the whey! You can use the clear liquid as a substitute for milk or water in bread or pancake recipes.

Serve your yogurt plain or with fruit, honey, maple syrup, granola and/or preserves. You can also use it as a substitute for sour cream in dips and dressings. One of my favorite ways to eat yogurt is to make a layered parfait with strawberries.

I've heard that you can use any type of milk (whole, 2%, 1% or skim) to make yogurt, but I've only tried it with whole milk.

Finally, I titled this post "Waste-Free Yogurt" because I've just recently found a local(ish) source of milk in glass bottles that are returned and reused. So we're not only saying good-bye to plastic cups, we're saying good-bye to cartons and jugs, too!

Joshua approves!

If you've never made your own yogurt, I hope that I've demystified the process!


Everydaywoman said...

Oh my gosh, this looks surprisingly easy and obviously yummy! Easy enough that I'll even try it. Thanks for demystifying the process, Emerald Apron!

LOVE the shot of Joshua enjoying home-made yogurt!

Kate said...

Yep, this is what we do. I've been using this method (I found it on, she found it somewhere else) for a couple of months now and we love it! I will say, I add a little more yogurt than is called for in the recipe and I end up with thicker yogurt. I usually have very little whey to pour off.

Anonymous said...

I have been making my yogurt for about 2 years now. I started with this method, but I found cleaning the thermos SUCH a pain and I get more consistent results putting the yogurt in the oven with just the light on. Also, I strain the warm milk into the container so any milk that has coagulated doesn't make it into the yogurt and ruin the texture.

This is one of those changes that has "Stuck".

Anonymous said...

Awesome! The thermos idea sounds great--I have usually used my crockpot (posted last year, , about it)--but I find myself wondering if the innoculated milk loses warmth too fast...

I've sort of stopped making this on a regular basis, because my son has decided he doesn't like yogurt, and I just can't use it all up. Although trying it with whole milk might be worth a shot; the fat tastes so much better!

Green Bean said...

I used to make this all the time - though, unfortunately, I just haven't had time lately. I miss it because nothing and I do mean nothing is as tasty as homemade yogurt with a little honey or jam mixed in. Yum!

I never had any luck with a thermos though and ended up using a Yogatherm.

Anita said...

Yogurt making has been a tradition in my family forever, esp since my mom grew up in India before refridgerators were the standard. We still make it here (w/ fat free milk) but instead of using a thermos, we pour the mixture into a glass jar, whatever's handy w/ a wide mouth, and let it sit on a counter overnight, sometimes wrapping it in a warm blanket. Then if it still hasn't 'taken' in the morning, we'll put it in a lukewarm oven to get the culture going again.

I'll have to try the thermos method too!

Anonymous said...

I really need to just muster up the nerve and do this! Yogurt tubs are one of the few items of plastic that I willingly purchase.


mek said...

I think the thermos element is what I have been waiting for to try this!

suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter} said...

i was actually planning on making yogurt today. good inspiration:)

i don't have a thermos and was planning to use the glass jar/heating pad method...

Able-Bodied Girl said...

for even less waste, try using paint-strainer bags instead of cheese cloth. they are reusable and very cheap!

Farmer's Daughter said...

I always re-use my cheesecloth :) Just rinse it with some baking soda or mild soap.

The Nurturing Pirate said...

Great tutorial Abby! Lots of good comments on how to get the culture going.

I've been making our yogurt for a while; it was one of my first efforts to reduce our plastic use. I make it 1/2 to 1 gallon at a time (w/ closer to a c. of yogurt for a starter), just because we eat SO much yogurt.

My friend from Bulgaria taught me how to gage the right temperature without a thermometer. She said if you could keep your (clean) finger in to the count of 7, it's cool enough to mix in the starter. One less thing to clean!

Also, we have a gas oven, so I just place a dish towel across the top of the pot that I heated the milk in and mixed the yogurt in, and put it in the oven with the pilot on overnight. I like your thermos idea though, for people without a gas oven. Another suggestion I've made is the top of a fridge - anywhere that's warm enough to get bread to rise.

The whey is also good to add to juices, or to ferment steel cut oats or beans overnight. I got this idea from Nourishing Traditions.

Kellie said...

I've I've been wanting to try my hand at this for years, but it always sounds so difficult and detailed. I think I'll give this a shot, but need to find a second hand thermos first!

Eco Yogini said...

my problem with making our own yogurt (i think we did it four times) was the texture. I don't like yogurt texture from the store to begin with, but eat it for health reasons.
Not to be weird, but i gagged for every single batch we made while scooping it out. And for the first few bowls i ate.

it's a sad day when my homemade version grosses me out and the factory made stuff is easier for me to eat.

I have found some locally made yogurt, the plastic containers are recyclable. One day, I will get back to making my own again.

AmazinAlison said...

This reminds me that I inherited a little yogurt maker with glass jars last February, and I've not even taken it out of the box! We don't do milk, but I had some success with a crock-pot yogurt recipe and canned full-fat coconut milk a few years ago, so I might have to try it all again!

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

Do I have a thermos? I need to check. Thanks for the simple method and explanation. Although we can recycle our large yogurt containers, I would love to do something that involves reusing containers rather than recycling! Also sounds like a fun science experimenter to try with a preschooler.

Tree Huggin Momma said...

Just an FYI for those who don't want to make yogurt. If you can't recycle your containers in your local area send them to Preserve they make wonderful things out of yogurt cups...
I have a thermos and I think I'll try this.
I wish I could find a local source for milk in glass jars.

Denise said...

I just tried it yesterday evening and woke up to yogurt! It was very easy. Thanks.


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