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Thinking of trying homemade yogurt; 3 questions first

We don't own a yogurt maker but I'm thinking of trying homemade yogurt and have been researching topics and instructions here and elsewhere -- and have a couple of questions.

I want to use our usual milk, which is an rBST-free product called SkimPlus (made by Farmland Dairies and available in the Northeast/MidAtlantic states and in Florida). It is skim milk that has the same creaminess and texture of 1% milk, not watery at all. (really!!)

http://www.skimplus.com

They do it by adding extra milk proteins -- which also gives it the higher protein and calcium content -- and am wondering, would this be the same as adding powdered milk to the "brew" for homemade yogurt? Would I still need to add powdered milk when using this product for yogurt?

Also it's ultrapasteurized; how does that affect the initial scalding/cooking process of the yogurt?

The challenge will be finding the requisite warm place for X number of hours. Our ovens are electric so no residual warmth there. No oldfashioned cast iron heating radiators in our house either. When I make yeast bread, I usually turn one oven to the lowest setting (170) for 5 minutes when I first start getting everything together to make the dough, then turn it off and leave the door shut, and put the bowl of dough in there for the risings. But it wouldn't hold a consistent temp long enough for the yogurt.

I have heat mats that I use to start seeds in late winter, and also a thermostat that works by adjusting the temperature of the mat according to a set temp monitored by a probe (which would be put into one of the seedling pots). The temperature range is from 68 to 108 F, within 2-3 degrees. So for yogurt the probe would need to go into the "mix" but does the container need to be sealed airtight while it's doing its thing? If so, I couldn't use such a setup for the yogurt.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000NZZG3S/

Is 105 - 108 F the right temperature though? Or not warm enough? It's definitely warmer than anyplace available in our house though!

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  1. I've never used Skim Plus for yogurt making but I would assume that it's as you described - i.e., they already added powdered milk to the milk to make it thicker. You don't NEED to add powdered milk to milk to make yogurt, but you can if you wish, so I would think the Skim Plus would work fine. Ultrapasturized doesn't matter - heat the milk to 180 and hold it there a few minutes just as you would for any other milk.

    As for your heat source, you have several options. I use my oven with the light turned on - the 75 watt (I think) bulb in there gives off enough heat to make yogurt perfectly every time. There is no need to put a thermometer in your milk+starter mixture - once the milk has cooled enough to put in the starter, just cover it and keep it in a warmish place and it will do its thing. A variance of a few degrees here or there is not an issue. The heat mats you have sound like they'd work very well (especially if you can just set them as opposed to making them auto-adjust with the probe). Another option is to put jugs of hot water in a cooler alongside your yogurt - the hot water will raise the temperature of the cooler enough to incubate the yogurt and will hold it steady enough for a day (or however long you decide to let your yogurt incubate).

    2 Replies
    1. re: biondanonima

      I didn't think you could use ultra-pasteurized milk, of any kind, the heat has killed the goodies you want to grow, not positive but worth thinking about IF you use your milk. I have used a heating pad on low, covered with a folded towel, bowl of yogurt sits on top, cover that with plate and entire thing with more towels for insulation---that worked fine for me. I hated the funny taste that comes from powdered milk added so I left it out, used regular skim milk and it worked. Keep us posted, interested to know if your milk works.

      1. re: pagecan

        The goodies you want to grow in yogurt come from your starter, not from the milk itself.

    2. There's already a huge thread on homemade yogurt...it says for Fage but there's already a ton of info on there.

      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/567084

      1. I've used an ultra lo-tech method for making yogurt in the past, and it only failed me once (and I know what I did wrong). Do you have a cooler? Good. Heat your full-fat milk to about 180 or so (it will start to form little bubbles at about 160, then totally break down at about 180). Pull off the stove and stir until it's about 120 (the ice bath experiment was my only failure). Add a starter yogurt (agreeing with others that a skim yogurt will not work here; get as full cream a yogurt as you can find). Now cram it in to your cooler, and stuff it with a blanket or bath towel, or whatever will keep it insulated. Leave it for 6-8 hours, and you'll have a batch of yogurt. Strain with some cheese cloth if you prefer a thicker consistency.

        1 Reply
        1. re: gilintx

          I use a cooler with hot water. I generally ferment for 12 hours, so i have to change the water once, but if you're going shorter you should be fine just adding boiling water at the beginning and letting it cool down.

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. Actually I do have a cooler, in fact a pretty good-sized one (Igloo MaxCold http://www.igloo-store.com/detail/IGL... ). Plenty of room in there for containers of hot water plus the yogurt thing. How hot should the water containers be? I can get 140F water from my tap on the farthest left position.

            biondanonima, I don't know if the thermostat/heat combo will work unless the probe is actually in contact with something. The probe is what controls the thermostat turning on and off. In the case of seedlings, you want the soil temperature to be maintained at X degrees (doesn't matter what the air temp is, as long as it's above, say 40F). So by inserting the probe into the growing medium, the heat mat responds by providing whatever heat is needed to make that soil inside that pot stay hot enough. Obviously a lot of heat is wasted if the pot (or seedling flat) takes up only a small footprint on the mat. Far better to match the mat to the size of the container.

            I never thought of using the oven light as a heat source. Hmm. But with our ridiculously high electric rates, it'd be far more efficient to use the cooler method. ;-

            )

            gilintx, I am a little confused by your post which says to use full-fat milk and not to use a "skim yogurt". Due to health concerns we never use full-fat milk for anything -- only the SkimPlus or 1% (which is admittedly cheaper, being $1.99/qt compared to $2.59 or $2.69/qt for the SkimPlus). Both brands are rBST-free, although not organic. When baking, I normally use either the 1% or at most 2% milk in recipes that call for regular, except for certain things which just will NOT work with the lower fat versions (like popovers, which I only make during the holidays because they are just too darn tempting, LOL). But for an all-dairy item, no way would I use full fat.

            The yogurt we regularly buy is Stonyfield Low Fat (1%) Plain (that is also rBST free, the only rBST free yogurt available in our area outside of Whole Foods which is too far a drive for normal/regular shopping trips). I did read on one of the other threads that Stonyfield is one of the better ones as far as the yogurt cultures it contains. (Frankly, I don't like Fage at all although I see many do).

            I would also want to strain some of the homemade yogurt for yogurt-cheese. We currently do that with the Stonyfield and I like the taste and texture better than the storebought Greek style yogurts which I find a little TOO thick and tangy. I like the taste of the strained Stonyfield but wish I could get it a LITTLE BIT thicker than it comes out, so I have started straining it a second time to see if that helps any.

            Maybe I'm confused but I thought it was the quality of the good bacteria in a starter yogurt that determines how thick it gets, rather than the milk content? and if that's so, why would the fat content of the starter yogurt matter?

            I'm really curious to see how much the actual taste of plain homemade yogurt differs from the store bought.

            14 Replies
            1. re: skyline

              I put foil over the top of my pot and stick the thermometer through the foil. I would think you could do the same with the probe of your heating pad. But, the cooler method would probably work fine and maybe be easier. It's been so hot here (32 days in a row of 110+) that I just stick the enameled cast iron pot of milk out on the covered bbq grill for the day. Keeps it nice and toasty.

              I use 2% milk, but I use a full fat starter. The full fat yogurts don't have any added thickeners. I found when I used a low-fat starter yogurt, my yogurt had a weird grainy texture. You only need a little, so it won't increase the fat content of your finished product by anything measurable.

              1. re: Jen76

                Thanks Jen, I forgot about the Stonyfield having pectin in it. So either a full-fat yogurt OR a Greek style 0% yogurt as a starter? I see that Oikos, having been taken over by Stonyfield, is now organic and rBST free (I don't recall it being organic before). That would take care of the pectin/thickeners problem.

                I have not seen any full-fat organic rBST-free yogurts in a small container on the shelves though. Other than Stonyfield's which was only in the 32 oz size (way too big). It seems as if the major chains only want to carry the lowfat and Greek yogurts in response to consumer demand...

                1. re: skyline

                  DO NOT use the Oikos yogurt! It is absolutely TERRIBLE. I don't know what they did to it, but it made absolutely the worst starter I have tried. Tasted awful from the carton too. My favorite starter yogurt is Brown Cow Greek, but it's hard to find near me, so I usually end up using Fage. Stonyfield regular is fine too, although I prefer to use a Greek yogurt starter because I feel that the finished product has more of the Greek yogurt tang that way (different bacteria will produce different flavors).

                  Anyway, no need to use full fat milk or starter for this - I use skim milk and Fage 0% without any problems. The thickness of your finished product actually depends on a number of things, including the bacteria in your starter, the length of incubation, the amount of protein in your milk (if you use powdered milk it will come out much thicker), and the amount of straining. Fat content may make a difference as well (I haven't noticed a difference btw 0%-2%, but there may be one), but really the best way to control the thickness is by straining.

                  1. re: biondanonima

                    I did wonder if they changed the Oikos formulation after the brand was taken over by Stonyfield/Dannon/whatever. Thanks for the tip!

                    I'll see if I can find the Brown Cow brand. It sounds familiar but I'm not sure which type I "saw". I'll also see if I can find a small container of the Stonyfield regular. I know it sounds crazy but the thing I don't particularly like about the Greek style yogurt is the tang, LOL. I like the texture but haven't been crazy about the flavor of any of the ones I've tried so far; all a little to sharp for me. My ideal would be Greek type thickness with the flavor mildness of a regular yogurt! Hence wondering if I can achieve that at home.

                    Even so, I confess I almost always stir either honey or some fruit preserves into the plain Stonyfield that I buy. Can't deny that sweet tooth I guess!

                    1. re: skyline

                      What I have found with making yogurt at home is that my finished product more or less tastes like the starter yogurt - so if you have one you like, use that and see what you think. A shorter culture time will also result in less tangy yogurt, so just experiment and see what works for you.

                      Additionally, you might want to check out powdered yogurt cultures rather than using yogurt as your starter. New England Cheesemaking carries several kinds, some of which are sweeter/milder than others (and are labeled as such): http://www.cheesemaking.com/cheesecul...

                      1. re: biondanonima

                        That "Y5" blend sounds interesting, being described as the most sweet.

                        I see the same company sells an insulated container called a Yogotherm which seems to perform the same function as putting a container inside a cooler (and I'd much rather make the yogurt in a glass container than in any kind of plastic, even though it may be BPA-free).

                        The powdered cultures definitely sound more convenient, especially if the only source for a reasonable size container of Stonyfield Regular will be a 1-hour commute to Whole Foods.

                        Here's an interesting thought: Zojirushi makes a stainless steel thermal cooker that keeps its contents, once brought to the proper temperature on the stove, at that temperature for hours. I wonder if anyone has ever thought to use one of these to make yogurt? The insert can be used directly on the stovetop like a pot, so why not?

                        http://zojirushi.com/products/snxae

                        and at Amazon (available in 1.5 gallon and 2 gallon capacities

                        )

                        http://www.amazon.com/Zojirushi-SN-XA...

                        I was actually thinking of getting one of these for other purposes, but now thinking about yogurt making, I wonder if it would work perfectly for that as well. Seems as if it should.....

                        1. re: skyline

                          I'm sure the powders are convenient; keep in mind, though, that once you've made a batch of yogurt, you can use that batch to start your next one. It won't work indefinitely - most people report that after their 4th or 5th successive batch the yogurt just gets TOO sour - but you can get several batches out of it.

                          1. re: biondanonima

                            I looked for Brown Cow yesterday at the supermarket, they did have the brand but not the Greek style one: just the vanilla and a couple of others, all in the full fat. I noticed the container says "Cream Top" on all of them, what exactly does that mean?

                            I was surprised to see pectin among the ingredients, because I was under the impression that full fat yogurts don't need to include that for thickening?

                            We're planning to go to Whole Foods tomorrow (there's an open house not too far from there that we want to check out) and I'll see if they happen to carry the Brown Cow Greek there. If they don't, then it's probably not sold in our region because our usual supermarket is the largest chain/largest stores in our area.

                            1. re: skyline

                              According to Wikipedia, "cream top" means that the yogurt was made from non-homogenized milk, which allows a layer of cream to rise to the top. Yum!

                              Regarding the pectin, many non-Greek yogurts (and some greek ones too) contain thickeners that keep the whey from separating, whether full-fat or skim - it's how they create that nicely emulsified texture without straining the yogurt. The whey, not the fat, is what makes non-Greek yogurts less thick than authentic Greek yogurts (which are always strained). The pectin may also be part of the fruit mixture in this case.

                              Anyway, if you can't find Brown Cow I would suggest using Fage as a starter - it's widely available and works very well. I was planning to try Chobani as a starter too, since it's by far the most popular brand around here, but I prefer the taste of Fage so I've been sticking to that when I can't find Brown Cow. I recently read in another yogurt thread that you can freeze yogurt in ice cube-sized portions for starter, so I'm planning to try that once I have a new batch cultured with Brown Cow.

                              1. re: skyline

                                I made yogurt yesterday and decided to do a side-by-side comparison of two different starters. I used Olympus and Greek Gods brands, both 0%. I tasted them beforehand and found the Olympus brand very rich but somewhat bland, without a lot of tang. The Greek Gods brand had almost too much tang, with a slightly odd fruity flavor (and terrible texture, but that was a result of the lack of straining, not the yogurt itself). Anyway, they both made good starters and both batches of yogurt taste good - but it is quite obvious which one is which. The batch I started with Greek Gods is WAY tangier than the Olympus. Moral of the story: use a yogurt with flavor you like for your starter and control the texture with straining.

                              2. re: biondanonima

                                I use the powders as an initial starter - it's actually easier to find the powder than an unsweetened pure yoghurt. Then you can use a bit from the last batch to start the next. I find that the chain gets broken periodically, by travel, for example, so I naturally end up starting from the powder on occasion.

                                I tend to ferment mine at room-temperature, as I don't really have anywhere warm to put the yoghurt - our apartment is unheated, we don't have an oven (and therefore no oven light). Usually, putting it in the window in the sun is good enough, although it can take a few days to ferment in cooler weather. Friends of mine use an electric blanket style heating pad to wrap it.

                                For sheer simplicity, I use a 1.7 L glass casserole dish with a snap on lid to make 1 L of yoghurt. I put the milk in the clean container, and microwave it to 85 C (timing it the first time, to know how long to do it for a particular microwave). Then I cool it to 50 C, toss in the powder, mix, and snap on the lid. Once it's fermented, then the whole container goes into the fridge. I'm horrible at heating milk on the stove without burning it, and the microwave technique is faster and tidier.

                  2. re: skyline

                    It's been my experience that using a less-than full milk and full yogurt results in a sort of runny mess (at least using the cooler technique I described above). You can give it a shot, and see if your experience is different than mine, of course. Be assured, however, that yogurt is far lower in lactose than full-fat milk. I would not deign to give you the reason why, but it seems to be the google consensus.
                    If you wanted to hold your yogurt with hot water containers, definitely do not go any further than 120 or so, or you'll kill your spores.
                    It's all a grand experiment, so this is all anecdotal advice. Once you settle into a system, though, I think you'll find it's really easy.

                    1. re: gilintx

                      I seem to recall reading that the culturing process creates lactase (the same stuff that is in those special milks like LactAid, etc) which is the enzyme that lactose-intolerant people don't have; and also it breaks down the lactose in the milk into somewhat simpler sugars that are more easily absorbed by the body.

                      However, lactose isn't the health problem with us as far as full fat dairy goes: It's the saturated-fat and cholesterol contents. We try to stick to as close to a zero-cholesterol diet as possible, hence the skim or 1% milk, and 1% yogurt choices.

                      Also, not to be giving TMI but after a number of years on a lowfat diet, I find that my stomach "rebels" very quickly if I happen to indulge in a higher fat food in any quantity (either portion or frequency repetition), LOL. For example I have definitely learned that salmon is now forever a thing of the past .... way too fatty a fish for the tummy to tolerate anymore, even once in awhile. Which is a good outcome for the grocery budget anyway, I suppose. :-)

                      1. re: skyline

                        Give the powdered yogurt starter a try, then you don't have to fiddle with finding a good yogurt to start with. You can add nonfat milk powder to it if you find the texture is just too runny. Might just take some experimentation. I use 2% milk and it works fine. I sometimes add dry, nonfat buttermilk powder. I don't pay much attention to cholesterol though, so not sure if that would add more.