Probiotics have been getting a lot of hype in the media lately, and with good reason. I won’t go into the details (there are studies noted below), but probiotics help to keep your digestive system balanced and healthy. And we are learning from many scientific studies that a healthy gut is crucial to overall health and wellness, including weight control, mental health, control of inflammation and much more. There are many probiotic supplements on the market today, but natural probiotics are found in fermented foods, such as pickles and yogurt.
Homemade yogurt is ridiculously simple to make, and it is far less expensive than buying flavored yogurt or probiotic supplements. I think it tastes better, too, with a soft, creamy texture and a little less “tang”. You can make a big batch of yogurt to enjoy in many different ways. Sweeten it with a little jam. Swirl in some local honey or agave nectar and your favorite fresh fruit, or go savory with it by adding herbs and spices to make a dip for veggies. If you prefer the richer texture of Greek-style yogurt, you can place the yogurt in a strainer lined with a couple of layers of cheesecloth and let it sit in the fridge for several hours to remove some of the liquid whey.
There are only a couple of ingredients required to make homemade yogurt—milk and a little yogurt to get the fermentation process started. The only special equipment required is a candy thermometer.
- One half-gallon of milk (whole or nonfat, preferably organic)
- ¼ cup of plain yogurt with active cultures (active cultures are always noted on the label)
- In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, slowly warm the milk until it reaches 180 degrees.
- Remove the milk from the heat, and let it cool to about 115 degrees, then stir in the yogurt.
- Pour the mixture into a sterile container (I use a big Mason jar that I’ve sterilized by filling it with boiling water and letting it sit while the yogurt is warming up). Cover and place the yogurt in a warm spot for about 10-12 hours (this is when fermentation occurs). I’ve put mine, wrapped in a towel, in my microwave overnight (without turning the micro on!). Others have used a cooler to keep it warm. Or you can heat your oven to its lowest temperature for a few minutes, then shut it off and put the yogurt in. The point is to keep it nice and warm while it's fermenting.
- Now place the yogurt in the refrigerator for a few hours to thoroughly chill it.
- That’s it! When you are ready to make another batch of yogurt, use ¼ cup of this batch as the “starter” for the new batch.
For more information on the benefits of probiotics: