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What Is Yogurt?
Yogurt is cultured milk. It is made by heating milk and combining it with two live cultures—Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. The warm milk creates the perfect environment for the bacteria to grow, thickening the milk to create yogurt.
The word “yogurt” comes from the Turkish “yogurmak,” which means “to thicken.” It was first made, accidentally, by herders in Central Asia several thousand years ago. They used sheep stomachs to store their milk. The bacteria from the stomach lining thickened the milk into yogurt.
How Is Yogurt Made?
The basic production of plain yogurt is fairly simple: milk is heated and combined with a starter yogurt culture, most often spoonfuls of a batch of yogurt that is already made. The milk mixture is kept at a warm temperature for at least eight hours, letting those cultures bloom, resulting in creamy yogurt.
5 Ways to Use Yogurt
From breakfast to dessert, there are endless possibilities for adding yogurt into your daily menu. Here are five different ways to eat yogurt:
- With fruit and granola. Fill a bowl with homemade yogurt. Add granola, with healthy oats and nuts. Top with fresh fruit, like strawberries and bananas. To sweeten it up, drizzle maple syrup or honey on top.
- Smoothies. Yogurt elevates any smoothie from a simple, thin fruit blend to a thick and creamy calcium- and protein-rich shake. Blend with fresh fruits and orange or apple juice.
- Dip. Yogurt can put a healthy twist on a delicious dip. Combine Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, salt, dried onion and garlic, and fresh dill. Serve with carrots, celery slices, and bell pepper slices.
- Marinades and sauces. Yogurt is a great marinade and sauce for meat. A mint yogurt sauce is perfect drizzled over a tender rack of lamb. For an Indian-inspired dish, use curry leaves to make tadka and combine with yogurt to marinate chicken legs and thighs before baking them in the oven.
- Frozen yogurt. Once you start making your own yogurt, it’s easy to take it one step further to make this healthy, delicious dessert. Combine whole-milk yogurt with honey and your favorite flavorings, like peanut butter and bananas or frozen fruit. Blend together and place in the freezer.
5 Ways to Incubate Homemade Yogurt
Incubation is the stage when the yogurt literally comes to life. The milk and culture combination needs to remain close to 115 F so you need an insulated place to keep it for at least eight to ten hours. If you like tart yogurt, let the yogurt rest longer. There are several ways to incubate the yogurt after you’ve combined the milk and yogurt starter:
- Oven. Cover your glass jars, or dutch oven, and place them in the oven. Turn the oven light on, but not the oven itself. You can use kitchen towels to wrap around the containers for extra insulation. Avoid opening the oven door. Get a thermometer with a probe in one of the jars and a remote display that remains outside the oven for easy temperature checks.
- Yogurt maker. If you prefer a more hands-off approach, try a yogurt maker. It comes with all of the necessary equipment, like yogurt containers and incubator. Some models will alert you when the milk has reached the right temperature and when the yogurt is ready.
- Slow cooker/crockpot. Heat milk on low in your crockpot for two hours. When it reaches 180 F turn the machine off and let the milk sit, covered, until it comes down to 110 F, about three hours. Whisk starter into the milk and let it sit in the covered crockpot for ten hours. Divide into glass jars and refrigerate.
- Cooler. A simple cooler can make a great incubator. Place the jars of cultured milk into a cooler either with warm water (replace the water every few hours if it gets cooler) or a hot water bottle.
- Heating pad. If no other insulated area is available, keep the milk-culture container warm by placing it on a towel-covered heating pad set to medium.
Make Your Own Homemade Yogurt in 7 Easy Steps
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Making yogurt is part cooking, part science experiment. The first time will take a little longer as you learn the steps and remember to monitor the temperatures, but once you get the hang of it, yogurt making is easy and the result will be just as good as commercial yogurt. Here is a basic step-by-step guide for a simple yogurt recipe.
- Choose your milk. The first step in making yogurt is to choose the milk you want to use: skim milk, low fat, or whole milk. You can even use goat’s milk if you prefer its taste. The higher the milk fat, the creamier and richer the yogurt will be. You can also choose between raw milk or pasteurized. A half-gallon of milk will make a little more than that in yogurt.
- Heat milk. Your goal is to get the milk to reach 180 F so have a digital cooking or candy thermometer handy to monitor the temperature. Turn your stove to medium heat. Pour the milk into a pan, stirring to evenly heat the milk. Remove from the heat when the milk reaches 180 F.
- Cool milk. Pour the milk into glass jars, like a mason jar with a lid. Let the milk cool to 115 F. You can either let it sit at room temperature or you can speed up the cooling process with a water bath. Simply fill a large tub, or your sink, with cold water and stand the jars in it. If you’ve heated the milk in a dish that can withstand the switch from hot to cold without cracking, like a dutch oven, you can use ice water. Monitor the milk with the thermometer.
- Add the starter. When the milk cools down to 115 F, it’s time to add the yogurt starter. This introduces the initial batch of live cultures that will bloom and grow in the milk. There are powdered yogurt starters, but it’s easy, and less expensive, to simply add spoonfuls of a previous batch of homemade or store-bought yogurt. Stir in a big spoonful of yogurt to each jar until fully incorporated into the milk.
- Incubate. See above for how to incubate yogurt at home.
- Cool yogurt. After eight to ten hours, remove the yogurt when it has reached the desired consistency: the longer it incubates the thicker the yogurt. Whey, the water byproduct of milk fermentation, will accumulate on top. Either whisk the liquid back into the yogurt or gently strain the yogurt through a cheesecloth or colander to get rid of the liquid if you want a thicker, Greek-style yogurt.
- Refrigerate. Place the jars with the finished yogurt into the refrigerator. They will last for up to two weeks. Make sure to save some yogurt as a starter culture for your next batch. Add flavorings before you refrigerate or when you pull the yogurt out to enjoy.
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