Healthy Homemade Greek Yogurt (fat-free)
Greek yogurt is a great snack but as you all know, it can get expensive! Here are great step by step instructions for making your own greek yogurt from Salad In a Jar!
Benefits to eating more yogurt:
It’s satisfying. (Similar to milk–see Got Milk?)
It has luxuriously creamy texture.
It’s full of calcium and protein (See more extensive discussion about protein here.)
It’s good for the digestive system.
It lends itself to many flavor variations.
It’s inexpensive when you make it yourself.
I honestly can’t think of a better snack. It’s that good!
I use non-fat milk to keep the calories low. Adding 1/4-1/3 cup nonfat dried milk solids increases the calcium content and richness without extra fat. Milk higher in fat will also work if you prefer.
My directions are perfect for making large batches as opposed to the individual servings produced by an electric yogurt maker. However, the yogurt maker is easy and foolproof if your needs are small.
First: Fill Pyrex batter bowl (my preference) or 2-quart glass container with 2 quarts of milk. Use skim for fat-free.) Microwave till bubbles begin to appear around the edge. Temperature should reach 175-180 degrees after you stir it. (In my microwave, it takes 17 minutes on HIGH). Do not skip this step. It is important to unravel the proteins so they will behave during the incubation process.
Stir milk once or twice during the heating process to prevent skin from forming. If a skin does form, remove it.
Second: Allow milk to cool until temperature drops to between 110 and 120 degrees. This can take 30-45 minutes. Use a cooking thermometer to check. I like this one with an alarm that goes off when mixture reaches a preset temperature. If you are in a hurry, fill sink or large bowl with ice and set the container of milk in it.
Third: Whisk in 1/4 to 1/2 cup nonfat dried milk and 1-2 teaspoons yogurt as a starter from your favorite brand of plain yogurt (but it must contain live cultures and should not have any additives). You may use yogurt from a previous batch of your own homemade yogurt. I started out with nonfat Fage Greek yogurt. If you buy it, take note of the price and then pat yourself on the back for all the money you saved by making your own.
Editor’s Note: I have now been using my own yogurt as a starter for over six months. It seems to get better and better despite what some people say about using it only three or four times or even just once. Since I make yogurt at least twice a week, it never has a chance to get old.
Fourth: Cover milk and place in a conventional oven that has been preheated for only one minute. Wrap in towels. Turn the oven light on. In a gas oven, the pilot light may keep it warm enough. Other ways to keep the yogurt warm during incubation include an ice chest, heating pad, electric yogurt maker or an unusually warm spot in the house. If it is a hot summer day in Texas, just stick it on the porch! Let sit for 6-10 hours but it may need up to 11-14 hours. It’s difficult to make a hard and fast rule here since each environment is slightly different.
Editor’s Note: The more I hear from people who have tried this, the more I’m convinced of the importance of keeping a steady incubation temperature around 100 degrees. Many newer ovens can be set to 100-110 degrees which is perfect.
How can you tell when it’s finished? Good question and the hardest part of the entire process. You will learn by experience when it “looks right.” It should be set–as in slightly gelatinous, even though you have put no gelatin in it. There will most likely be a watery, slightly yellow liquid on top called whey. I haven’t figured out a good use for the whey but let me know if you think of one.
At this point you could chill the yogurt and eat as is. It is your choice to pour off the whey or stir it back in. Straining makes the yogurt thicker and less tart resulting in Greek yogurt.
From regular yogurt to Greek yogurt:
Fifth: Very carefully pour yogurt into a bouillon strainer aka chinois. This is where I part company with other directions I’ve seen for Greek yogurt. Most suggest using several layers of cheesecloth to line a strainer or even a coffee filter (for a small amount). What a mess to clean up!
Although a bouillon strainer or chinois is pricey, it is well worth it. You will lose very few solids if yogurt has set up thick enough. If the solids flow through the strainer, you need to put it back in the oven for a few hours to thicken. (See editor’s note below and troubleshooting tips at the end of this post). Just to be clear, a bouillon strainer has a very, very fine mesh. The only place I know to purchase one is a restaurant supply or look online (see link above). A standard grocery store strainer is not fine enough.
Editor’s Note: Because I know the process so well at my house, failed yogurt at this point usually means I have problems with the starter. Either I have killed it with too high of temperature or it was too old. So I simply stir in more starter and reincubate.
Let yogurt sit in the strainer till the yogurt is reduced by approximately half. Time will vary according to the thickness of the yogurt out of the oven and your own preference regarding texture and sourness. Tip the strainer or stir very gently if whey has pooled on top while straining.
Empty whey from batter bowl and pour yogurt out of strainer back into the original bowl. Use a good whisk to beat until smooth. (Tip: Rinse the strainer immediately. Do no let any residue from the yogurt dry on the mesh or it may be impossible to get clean. However, they clean up beautifully after a trip through the dishwasher.)
At this point you have several options. Pour into glass jars as is. Mixture will be very thick when cold (and reportedly keeps longer when thicker). Or you can continue with one of the following:
* Add sugar, sweetener, honey, flavorings, or Torani Syrup–sugar-free or not. My personal favorite is a combination of almond and vanilla sugar-free syrup.
* Since I like my yogurt mellow (one reason why I strain the whey out of it) and not quite as thick as sour cream, I add some kind of milk back to it until it is the perfect consistency for my tastes. Start with 2-3 tablespoons and mix to suit yourself. Good choices would be skim milk, sugar-free vanilla flavored soy milk, sugar-free vanilla almond milk or splurge with heavy cream. I recently tried adding lite coconut milk and it was oh so creamy and velvety smooth on the tongue. I couldn’t believe it!
Suggestions for stir-ins before eating:
* homemade granola
* sugar-free jelly
* fresh fruit
* banana and a small crumbled cookie (reminiscent of banana pudding)
* instant espresso
Please don’t be discouraged if at first you don’t succeed. Check out the troubleshooting guide and try again. If you have time, reading through the comments may give you some additional hints.
Troubleshooting Failed Yogurt
* Did the milk cool below 120 degrees F but not below 105 F? Above 120 degrees F, the bacteria in the yogurt starter will be murdered.
*Did you heat the milk sufficiently to kill the bacteria in it and rearrange the proteins? It should come just short of a boil.
* Where did you incubate your yogurt? Is it too warm or not warm enough? In the past, I have forgotten to turn on the light in my oven. Didn’t work. Not warm enough. Temperature needs to stay around 100 degrees.
* Was your yogurt starter too old? Did it have active cultures? Don’t forget to save some yogurt from a previous batch so you won’t have to buy it again. Some people recommend you start over with commercial yogurt every 3-4 batches but I find it unnecessary if you use starter from your homemade yogurt not over a week old.
* Did it incubate long enough? Times will vary. 12-14 hours may be necessary. Watch for gelatinous texture.
*Was the yogurt mixture disturbed during incubation?
* Did you add too much starter to the warm milk? Only 1-2 teaspoons-not over a tablespoon– are needed. More is not better. The bacteria need room to grow. (Sorry about that last sentence. I know it doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it’s true. That’s why yogurt is so good for the digestive system.)
* Are you using a strainer with a very, very fine mesh? If you don’t have one, you must use several layers of cheesecloth to line your strainer instead.
* When pouring the yogurt into the strainer, did you pour it too rapidly or let it fall a long way to the strainer? This can cause you to lose too many solids through the strainer.
* Do you feel little bits of “skin” in the yogurt? You may have missed some attached to the side of the bowl as the milk was cooling. Stirring at least 2-3 times during the heating process will help prevent a skin from forming.