Home-made Yogurt: Healthy Miracle in a Jar

Home-made Yogurt: Healthy Miracle in a Jar July 24, 2013

Is yogurt and honey “the food of the Gods?”

It’s certainly the preferred summer breakfast food for this goddess.  And one of the most magical things I make from scratch. I feel like I’ve worked a miracle every time I open one of the little jars that just hours before were warm milk, and now are delicious yogurt. Together, the bacteria and I have co-created a tasty, amazingly healthy food. I also have learned patience, not one of my primary virtues, by having to wait so long for the process to take place. And diligence, because each step must be followed precisely or instead of yogurt, I will open the jars to disappointing and unusable soured milk.

If you are interested in correspondences, yogurt represents grounded spirituality. Yogurt contains feminine energies, like all dairy foods. I have read that some associate its energies with the zodiac sign of Cancer. This makes sense to me, as Cancer is associated with both the milk-giving breasts and the yogurt-aiding stomach. I have a Cancer sun, and love yogurt very much. I also think about how nurturing the yogurt is as I make it, and visualize all the little lactobacillus bulgaricus reproducing happily to provide me with such a nourishing food.

Yogurt is rich in protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamins B6 and B12. Some lactose-intolerant people can eat yogurt, as the lactose in the milk is converted to the sugars

glucose and galactose, and partially fermented to lactic acid by the bacterial culture.

It’s also good for people who are undergoing a course of antibiotics. The bacterias in yogurt help to rebalance and rebuild our intestinal flora, which can be devastated by some antibiotics. I’ve also had good luck in using yogurt to combat the diarrhea that can result from my drinking unfamiliar tap water. The bacteria in yogurt also may discourage vaginal infections.

Yogurt has been shown to help promote fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. The calcium in yogurt also makes it good for helping prevent osteoporosis.

Yogurt making is not hard. It took me years to try it after meeting my first home yogurt makers. And there was no reason for the delay.

Really, the only things you need to make yogurt are milk, a container, and heat. It’s possible to let the milk act as bait for floating bits of bacteria in the air, just as one can for sourdough bread. But I don’t chance not being able to catch the right ones. I rely on the good people of Yogourmet to provide packets of dormant lactobacillus bulgaricus.

Make sure that the milk you’re using is not ultra-pasteurized. The cultures will not grow in ultra-pasteurized milk. The best milk I ever drank and from which I made the best yogurt wasn’t pasteurized at all. For a little over a year, I bought raw milk from a wonderful farm which has, sadly, since stopped selling. Most states have very strict rules on the sale of raw milk. A few forbid it. Which is unfortunate, as it has a wonderful flavor. It also has health benefits not shared by pasteurized milk. Yes, I know we’ve been conditioned to think of raw natural milk as unsafe, but from a reputable and sanitary dairy, it’s not.

That raw milk prompted my first forays into yogurt-making. It was only sold in gallon jugs, and cost $8. I live alone. A gallon of rich, whole, Jersey cow milk was a stretch even for me. And I wasn’t wasting that white gold. So, I began converting a quart or two each week into yogurt.

I’m now getting wonderful milk from a local farm which pastures its cows (grass-fed cows produce milk with many health benefits also not seen in milk from confined cows) at the Catholic-supported CSA I use, City Greens. They sell everything at or below cost, meaning I’m getting amazing, fresh milk for $2.81 a gallon—with no deposit on the glass bottles. Including the cost of the yogurt starter, it’s about 47 cents per eight ounce container for organic yogurt.

Cost per serving goes down if you save a bit of the yogurt for a starter. However, I have found that after three or four batches, it doesn’t thicken. Rather than face the disappointment of unveiling four little containers of sour milk when I had expected four little containers of yogurt, I pay for the starter.

I now use a yogurt maker which I bought at Goodwill. Until I picked it up, I was using a two-quart Corningware casserole dish. After heating the milk to 185, and then  cooling it to 115 or so, then stirring in the starter culture, I’d pour it into the casserole dish, put the lid on, wrap it in a blanket, and put the bundle into the oven. I have a gas stove. Between the insulation of the blanket and the ambient heat provided by the pilot light, I had a perfect incubator.

If you do not have a gas stove or a yogurt maker, don’t despair; you also can use an electric oven set at 100 degrees, a crock pot, or thermos. I’ve also heard of people using coolers, crock pots, heating pads–and even crazier methods –to keep the milk at yeast-incubating temperatures.

If you prefer thicker, Greek-style yogurt, just strain off some of the whey after the yogurt is prepared. I think of this as a waste of good volume. While it is true Greek yogurt is

higher in protein per serving, it’s also higher in fat and calories because some of the whey has been drained out. Also,the popularity of Greek yogurt is creating its own problem in disposing of industrial-sized quantities of whey.

But I digress. If you’d like Greek yogurt, just put a coffee filter into a strainer, then spoon the yogurt in. A few hours later, enough whey will have drained out to make the Yogurt Greek. Let it drain a bit longer, and you have yogurt cheese. This makes a great substitute for cream cheese, or a basis for dips.

As for exact procedure, the starter culture comes with a recipe. Or, use this one I adapted  from author Mireille Giuliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat. It’s the one I started with, and gave me great results every time.


1 quart milk

Yogurt starter, or 2 Tablespoons yogurt with live, active cultures

cooking thermometer

clean containers, either 1 quart, 2 pints, or 4 cups


1.  Warm up the milk until it bubbles and steam rises from the pan. It should not boil. I temperature-check it and stop at 185 F. Also, stir as the milk heats to avoid a skin on top.

2. Pour the milk into a large bowl and cool until it reaches 110 to 115 degrees F.

3. While the milk cools, stir the yogurt or starter into lukewarm milk. I use a little from the cooled milk, and a little from the heated milk. Stir thoroughly. I use a wire whisk, because I am obsessive.

4.  Pour the starter into the cooled milk by thirds, stirring thoroughly after each addition. Again, I use the wire whisk because I want those bacteria well-distributed.

5.  Pour the mixture into the containers. If using yogurt machine, follow machine instructions. If using an oven, wrap the container in a heavy towel or blanket and put inside the oven. (Either using the ambient heat from the pilot light, or setting oven to 100 F.) Let sit for six to eight hours. I check at six, and if the mixture is a consistency I’m happy with, I call it done.

6. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

7. Enjoy your delicious yogurt, free from unnecessary sugars, additives, tapioca, gelatins . . . all the things packaged yogurt may have, but no yogurt needs. Although I have been known to add a bit of raw honey, fruit and muesli.

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