I was flipping through a catalog for a quasi-local hardware store when I saw a yogurt maker listed for sale. I go through a lot of yogurt and wondered if I could save myself some money by making my own. Then I saw the price for the thing – $70. Um, that’s two tanks of gas for my boat of a car. No thanks.
But that got me thinking – surely there’s gotta be a way to make this at home without fancy equipment.
The Google link gods provided – I can make yogurt in a Crock Pot! I found the directions at Stephanie O’Dea’s “A Year of Slow Cooking” blog. (Click the link to get it yourself).
I know what you’re thinking: “That sounds like a lot of work.” Nope. The only cooking skills you need are the ability to turn your Crock Pot on low and set a timer. The only ingredients you need are a half gallon of whole milk and a 1/2 cup of store-bought yogurt to act as your starter. That’s it.
Here’s how it works in a nutshell: You put the milk in the Crock Pot and let heat for a few hours, then turn it off and let rest for a few hours, then mix in the store-bought yogurt. Wrap up the unplugged Crock Pot in several towels to keep warm and let incubate for eight hours. Chill, and poof! You have yogurt.
I tried this Saturday and used a 1/2 cup of Yoplait’s vanilla yogurt since I couldn’t find a smaller cup in plain yogurt. I went with Yoplait because it specficially states that it contains “live and active cultures,” or also known as the happy bacteria that turns milk into yogurt, on the container. Some commercial yogurts are heat treated after processing to kill most of these bacteria (source here from the National Yogurt Association), so you need to pay attention to what you buy if you try this. According to O’Dea’s blog, you want to buy milk that’s homogenized or pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. I used a 6-quart Crock Pot to make my yogurt in.
So how’s it taste? Amazing! There is a very subtle hint of vanilla in it since that’s what I bought for the “starter,” but it’s not very tart or tangy at all. I left the entire batch plain so I could mix in flavors as I scooped out servings. This morning I had it for breakfast with my berry jam stirred in to taste and topped with granola. Sax Guy ate it plain with chocolate chip cookies crumbled in (not the healthiest, but the man is eating yogurt for breakfast). It’s thick and creamy just like the store stuff. You’d never know the difference.
Is it cost effective? YES! This made three quarts of yogurt. I paid a total of $2.88 for the whole milk and the starter yogurt. I paid $2.50 for a quart of plain yogurt the week before at the grocery store. Why do I buy plain, you ask? For one thing, I can strain the whey out and turn it into Greek yogurt, which I then use to make a veggie dip to take in my lunch to work (see instructions for that on a previous post of mine here). Second, I think the flavored stuff is too sweet and contains too much sugar to still be considered a healthy choice, and I’m allergic to the artificial sweeteners in the “light” versions, so I just buy plain and doctor it up.
A few final thoughts on this – supposedly you can make this with lower fat milk, but I haven’t tried it. There are tips in the instructions I linked to if you’d like to experiment. I also don’t know what would happen if you were to try a fruit-flavored yogurt as a starter instead of plain or vanilla. I got the idea to use vanilla from The Frugal Girl’s blog post on how she makes yogurt (sans Crock Pot). I’m also unsure if this can be done with raw milk for those of you who have access to that. And finally, here are a few more yogurt making tips from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. FYI – This tip sheet says yogurt will keep 10 to 21 days.
There you have it! Another way to save money on your grocery bills! Aren’t you glad I get bored on the weekends and like to experiment?