Yogurt is a fermented dairy product created by adding bacterial cultures to milk; this causes the milk’s sugar (lactose) to turn into lactic acid, giving yogurt a tart flavor and thickened consistency. Yogurt is a very good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, B2, B12, B5, zinc, iodine, and potassium. The higher quality yogurt at the grocery will contain the live bacterial cultures which provide many health benefits, including a boosted immune response.
Over the years, for reasons which are beyond the scope of this article, commercial yogurt has become more than just milk and live cultures. Check the ingredients on your favorite yogurt – you may be unpleasantly surprised at what you find…and the ingredients that are not listed can be even worse. Dairy cattle are often injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). Canada has banned the use of this hormone in cows, based on research from Canadian scientists which noted that cows injected with rBGH had a 25 percent increase in risk of mastitis, an 18 percent increase in the risk of infertility, and a 50 percent increase in the risk of lameness. In addition to passing the hormone on (to us) in the milk, cows with mastitis are treated with antibiotics…also passed along (to us) in their milk. The best way avoid rBGH and decrease the likelihood of ingesting these antibiotics is to buy organic dairy products.
The best way to avoid the unpronounceable ingredients in the supermarket yogurt is to make your own yogurt at home from organic milk; this also gives you control over the consistency of the yogurt.
I have had excellent results in the past with Salton yogurt makers but just didn’t have the $40 to spend on one. I know it is possible to make yogurt in the oven, but possibly not in my 35-year-old (yes!) oven. I had been told that you can make yogurt with the use of a heating pad, but when Leigh down at Liberty Market said you can make yogurt at home with a slow-cooker, I was thrilled beyond all reason (this is another reason to shop at Liberty – for the knowledge you gain towards self-sufficiency and living simply).
In addition to a slow-cooker, you need a food thermometer (I used a candy thermometer), milk and a yogurt ‘starter’ (you can use some store-bought yogurt with live cultures in it). You will need about 2 tablespoons of starter to 4 cups of milk. I use whole milk because the vitamins in milk are fat-soluble; skim off the fat and you skim off the vitamins (and the flavor, in my opinion) but you could use 2% if you insist.
If you start your yogurt after dinner, it will take you very little time and effort and you will have fresh homemade yogurt in the morning!
Homemade yogurt in the slow-cooker
Set your slow-cooker on the counter, put the lid on the empty slow-cooker, and turn it on low so that it is the right temperature when you add the milk. Get your starter out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter to warm up a little.
Pour four cups of milk into a saucepan over medium heat and wait for it to come to 185 degrees Farenheit. This is going to take awhile; stir it occasionally. Check the milk with the candy thermometer when it begins to bubble (or you can just wait for it to boil over onto your stove – it’s usually about the right temperature at that point). Meanwhile, fill your sink or a dishpan with water.
When the milk is 185 degrees, place a lid on the pan and put the pan into the water to cool down to between 90 – 110 degrees. This takes about 5 minutes in my house in the winter. When the milk is between 90-110 degrees (like a hot bath but not scalding hot), take a cup of milk out of the pan and place it in a bowl with the starter; put the rest of the milk in the slow-cooker. Gently mix the milk and the starter and then put it in the slow-cooker with the rest of the milk and stir a couple of times. Unplug the slow-cooker, put the lid on and wrap it with a blanket or a couple of towels or a big warm hoodie. Go to bed. The live yogurt cultures will do all the work for you while you sleep (how nice is that?).
The next morning, your yogurt will be ready. If you like a really thick yogurt, DON’T TOUCH THE YOGURT. Put the entire slow-cooker (sans the hoodie) in the refrigerator and go to work. When you come home for lunch the yogurt will be nice and thick. For some reason – and this makes no sense to me – if you dish the morning yogurt into another container(s) and then refrigerate it, it will be much thinner than if you put the entire slow-cooker in the refrigerator for awhile first.
If it is still not thick enough to suit you or if you would like some yogurt sour cream, put your yogurt into a cheesecloth bag and suspend the bag over a bowl or tall glass in the refrigerator to let the liquid drain off. You can also put some plastic wrap over the top of this bagged yogurt and put a little can (such as a tiny can of tomato paste or sauce) on top of the plastic wrap to force more of the liquid out. If you strain out enough liquid, you will get a yogurt cream cheese!
Store it in the refrigerator – it will keep for at least a week and a half. Be sure to save out some starter for your next batch!
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