Friday, September 25, 2009

Homemade Yogurt

Ever get tired of those silly yogurt commercials? You know the ones... the ones that promise all sorts of digestive and weight-loss miracles, while some scantily-clad, flat stomached woman wiggles her hips like Shakira? Right. Yogurt can do all that. And then there's the 'probiotics' craze, which much like the '0 trans fat' craze, has people buying food stuffs that they wouldn't normally buy just because it contains more or less of this new important dicovery. I like to think that I am above these marketing schemes but, alas, I am not. I, too, got caught up in the probiotic craze, with high hopes that my digestive tract would be clean as a whistle. One day, I was carefully reading each yogurt container's list of ingredients while my poor boyfriend leaned against the cart yawning. I must be the most annoying person to live with when I get on a kick. I check and re-check all the ingredients, getting more and more anxious over things I don't even understand. Shopping takes twice as long as it should. And then he wearily asked, "And what exactly are probiotics?" Ummmm. Errrrr. Uhhh. Sigh... "I don't know".
The truth is, what used to be simply yogurt has become pretty complicated over time. The choices seem endless: fruit and flavour added, fat-free, low calorie or no sugar added. Additives include vitamins, omega 3's, probiotics, artificial dyes, preservatives, sweeteners (both natural and artificial), flavour enhancers, thickeners and stabilizers. How do we ever know which one to choose?
The health benefits of yogurt are many, so don't give up on it out of sheer confusion. Yogurt is rich in calcium and promotes excellent colon health, while helping to reduce the risk of colon cancer. The live cultures in yogurt help to increase absorption in calcium, which, in turn, helps prevent osteoporosis. Make sure to read your yogurt label closely if you are buying store bought yogurt. Some yogurts are heat treated, which may increase shelf life, but kills helpful bacteria. Look for the words 'live' or 'active' so that you know the bacteria is living and functional.
Yogurt is rich in protein, B vitamins and essential minerals, and low in carbs. If made from skim milk, yogurt is also low in fat. It is good for those who are lactose intolerant because it contains lactase, the enzyme needed to properly digest lactose.
The beneficial bacteria in yogurt may help digestion, but in order for them to work properly, yogurt must be consumed daily. I start every morning off with a fresh fruit and yogurt smoothie, sweetened with local honey.
Personally, I got so tired of comparing yogurt labels that I decided to make my own. At least this way I would always know what was in it.
In order to make your own yogurt you need to start of with a good base. You can order starter packs of culture or you can use already made yogurt. I opted for the latter. It took me a while to find the perfect yogurt to use as my base, but I found it. I use Mapleton's Organic Fat Free Plain Yogurt. It is made with 6 live cultures, pasteurized organic skim milk and non-fat dry milk. You can use your own yogurt to start your next batch, but you can only use it once. Starter batches do freeze, however, so if you really wanted to save some money, your first entire batch of yogurt could be devoted to making and freezing starter batches. I am just not that organized or patient. I simply buy yogurt from the Stone Store or somewhere else that sells organic fat-free plain yogurt and take it from there. One container makes about 4 batches, with each batch consisting of six 8 oz containers. Below is the step-by-step process for making your own yogurt at home (taken from the instruction manual for my Waring Pro Yogurt Maker). You can make yogurt without a yogurt maker, but I considered it a life investment.

4 3/4 cups low-fat (2%) milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps dry nonfat milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps plain yogurt

Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Once milk reaches 185 F (85 C) and is about to boil, remove from stove and allow to cool to 110 F (45 C). To speed up the cooling process, whisk liquid frequently or place saucepan in ice water.
Once liquid reaches appropriate temperature, whisk in dry milk and the yogurt until ingredients are thoroughly homogenous.
Pour liquid into individual jars. Place jars into the yogurt maker without their lids. Cover the yogurt maker and set for 8 to 10 hours.
When the yogurt maker signals that the yogurt is finished, cover the jars with their lids and store in the refrigerator. Yogurt will keep refrigerated for up to one week.

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