Photo by Laura Poe
If you are staying at home more than usual, as so many are right now, you may have extra time for fermenting projects on your hands. Whether you are totally new to fermenting or have some previous experience, this is the perfect time to try a few new fermentation recipes. If you have some items in the pantry that you aren’t sure what to with or foods in the fridge that are on their way out, such as milk, they may just be destined for fermentation. For those who are wanting easy ferments that use what is on hand and can be done in a shorter period of time, here is the second of three simple ferments that come together and are ready-to-eat quickly, getting you the tasty, probiotic-rich foods you want asap. Let’s make some yogurt!
Making your own yogurt can seem intimidating, especially if it is your first time to try it. Don’t let the specific temperatures and incubation scare you…it is actually quite easy and totally worth doing yourself. I find homemade yogurt tastes better than store-bought versions, plus I have more control over how the yogurt is made. Because of this, I can give mine a longer fermentation time than most commercial yogurts, yielding a higher probiotic content and more tartness, both of which I prefer in my yogurt. Plus, I can be sure there are no additives, thickeners or sweeteners in my yogurt when I make it myself. I also love having a way to use up milk that is on its way out, where it is still safe to use but may not be as tasty to drink as when it is super fresh.
Yogurt is one of the most popular fermented foods in the world, and cultures from all over have been making different versions of this cultured milk product for thousands of years. This was truly one of the first foods that really brought fermentation back into the diets of modern people and got folks talking about probiotics and gut health. Yogurt made from whole cow’s milk is a great source of gut- and immune-supporting probiotics, but it is also a great source of protein, calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones, B vitamins, healthy fats, fat-soluble vitamins, and even iodine. Because it has gone through its culturing process that pre-digests much of the lactose in the milk, many find that yogurt is easier to digest than fluid milk. The type of bacteria that transform milk into yogurt, primarily Lactobacillus bulgarius and Streptococcus thermophilus, are thermophilic, meaning they need to be incubated in order for the fermentation to be successful. This is in contrast to kefir, another cultured dairy product, that is mesophilic, meaning it can be cultured at room temperature rather than needing a warm environment for its fermentation.
Many people shy away from making their own yogurt because they believe they need a yogurt maker for the incubation, but that is not actually true. All you need to get started is milk, a bit of already-made yogurt (which can be left over from store-bought or someone else’s homemade yogurt, or you can buy a starter culture online if you like), a kitchen thermometer and some way to keep your yogurt warm. To culture the yogurt, you simply need to keep it warm, around 108 degrees F, to allow the cultures to ferment and thicken the milk into yogurt. A yogurt maker machine will certainly work for this, but there are easy alternatives already in your home if you don’t have a special machine. This incubation can be done in a few diy ways: wrap the jar of yogurt in a towel, then keep in front of an “on” oven light in a gas stove or on top of a heating pad on a low setting; in a crock pot set to low, set in a shallow water bath; or, my favorite, kept in a vacuum-sealing thermos, with no external warming element required. I learned the thermos method from Holly Davis’ lovely cookbook, Ferment.
Once fermented, your homemade yogurt will keep for several weeks in the fridge. Be sure to save a few tablespoons of each previous batch to act as a starter for the next, and you will never have to buy yogurt again. You can eat this plain or add a bit of fruit and honey for your own flavored yogurt that is much lower in sugar that store-bought versions. Your yogurt can also be used in various recipes, such as Greek tzatziki, Middle Eastern tahini yogurt sauce, Indian mango lassi or raita, and even tossed in a smoothie or used in place of sour cream. However you use your yogurt, it will feel great knowing you made it yourself and you can pass this method on to others by giving them a bit of your yogurt to help them start their own.
Recipe: Easy Homemade Yogurt (No Yogurt Maker Required!)
Prep time: About 1 hour, Ferment time: 1 day
Makes: 1 quart
- 1 quart whole milk, preferably raw or low-temp pasteurized if available
- 1 ounce (or about 2 Tbs) prepared plain yogurt
- Set aside prepared yogurt on the counter to come to room temperature.
- In a sauce pan, heat the yogurt over medium heat. Heat the milk to bring it to 180 F, using a kitchen thermometer, digital or analog, to check the temperature. Stir regularly to prevent a skin from forming or prevent it from bubbling over.
- As soon as the milk hits 180 F, remove it from the heat to allow it cool. Stir regularly to speed up the cooling time and prevent a skin from forming. Check the temperature frequently as it cools, until it reads between 108 and 115 F.
- Take out a cup of the cooked and cooled milk, then whisk in the prepared yogurt to dissolve. Return this to the rest of the milk and stir thoroughly to incorporate.
- To prevent further cooling of the warm milk, quickly transfer it into a glass jar or thermos, unless using a yogurt maker. Seal the jar or thermos tightly with a lid. (If using a yogurt maker, continue with the manufacturer’s directions.)
- For the incubation: If keeping the jar by an oven light or on a heating pad, wrap the jar of warm milk in a kitchen towel and move to the heated spot of your choosing. If using the slow cooker, fill the slow cooker with a few inches of water, then place the jar in the water bath and turn heat to low, covering the slow cooker. If using the thermos method, you are already good to go once it is tightly sealed in its thermal container. For whichever incubation method you choose, keep the milk warm (around 108-110 F) to culture for at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours. I usually go for the longer fermentation time, but you can alter this based on your preference. You will know the yogurt is ready when it has thickened and set, and has a nice tangy flavor. If you like a milder flavor, go for a shorter fermentation time.
- Once cultured, transfer the jar(s) of yogurt to the fridge, or, if using the thermos method, transfer the yogurt from the thermos to a jar and then to the fridge. Once refrigerated, this it will keep for several weeks.
Recipe Note: You can make your yogurt in one quart-sized glass jar or multiple, smaller glass jars if you want to make individually-sized servings. Also, feel free to multiply or divide this recipe based on how much milk you have or how much yogurt you would like to make. Simply increase or decrease the amount of starter yogurt needed based on the amount of milk used.
Laura is a Registered Dietician and a Traditional Foods Instructor.
Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Laura moved all over the U.S. before she finally figured out that she is a country girl at heart, and settled down on her homestead in the Driftless region of Southwest Wisconsin with her husband.
Laura is a private practice dietitian, focusing on individualized healing and adding in traditional, whole foods, with emphases on digestion and mental health. She is a blogger, writer, and speaker on health and traditional cooking techniques, such as fermentation and cooking with organ meats. If you can ferment it, Laura will try to do it. She also coaches functional movement classes and loves to spend time with her family and be out in nature as much as possible, especially canoeing and hiking.
When not cooking, eating, or talking about food, Laura also enjoys stand-up comedy, learning German and drinking wine. Not all together.