Let’s make yogurt from scratch

Human digestive tract is home to a lot of bacteria and yeast. These micro-organisms are helping us to break down the food  so that mankind can get the vitamins, minerals and amino acids out of food. When these acid loving bacteria and yeast (good guys) are out of proportion with the alkaline loving bacteria (bad guys), problems start to arise. You won’t be digesting your food properly, you won’t be getting enough vitamins and minerals, you feel bloated, gas problems, cramps, feeling tired all the time etc.

You need to restore the balance. Other then giving up on commercially produced food (any ready to eat food that you pay for) and eating a more whole food diet of legumes, 3 colour vegetables, and fruits you must get lactic acid bacteria, pro-biotic bacteria, yeast and their friends into you. One way of doing this is to eat yogurt that you made at home; and I stress “home made“. Also if you are treated with heavy anti-biotic medicine for a while, you need to kick-start your intestine with good bacteria and yeast.

To make yogurt you need a mother culture and this is not the store bought yogurt. Some of my readers may be surprised by this statement and yes that is right, no commercial yogurt that is bought from shops should be used as mother culture when you are making yogurt at home. Sure it will work, sure you will get a yogurt looking product at the end but I do not support this idea.

First of all, the biggest problem of making yogurt at home is to keep the temperature consistent. Rags, blankets, oven etc. is not enough. I strongly recommend a little electric yogurt machine, something like the one below, which you can find on E-Bay, or the shops I have given on my resources page.

Electric Yogurt Maker
Electric Yogurt Maker

This 1 litre capacity yogurt maker is best to keep the temperatures at about 43C. Also with its small capacity, it will not let you sour the yogurt as the yogurt will finish before that happens. With my family of 4, we finish this 1 litre yogurt in 2 days and I prepare a new one for the next day and chuck it in the fridge in the morning. Sure you can make it in 3 litres or larger but it will continue to sour in the fridge if you are not finishing it in time. Do not forget that it is a living thing. It is better to make it in small quantities so that it will be fresh whenever you need it. Alternatively you can buy an extra inner container to make a second batch, if you are expecting yogurt eating guests.

Now let’s look into where we can get our mother culture to make yogurt. We are surrounded by the bacteria in our daily life. Yeasts, moulds, spores and all of their friends are in the air everywhere. We need to harvest  some lactic acid bacteria from a good source to make yogurt. Yogurt is a thermophilic culture as it is made around 43 to 50C temperatures. All mesophilic bacteria during the making die off as the environment is hostile for them and the resources are eaten by the thermophilic ones.

There are several sources where we can harvest these yogurt bacteria. One of them is ants nests. You now that mountain of crumbly soil around the entrances. That is the one we need to gather. Take a little tea spoon and collect about a table spoon of this soil into a sterile specimen bottle. Come on don’t be shy, do it! Oh if they are fire ants, stay away of course if it is not too late. 🙂

Ants Nest
Photo courtesy of http://geoffpark.wordpress.com/

The other source is ant eggs. If you are feeling adventurous, dig around the entrance to hunt some eggs, about a tea spoon will do.

Ant_eggs

Third source is bee larva with its food in the cell. The only problem is the hive should be organically managed. You wouldn’t want pesticides and fungicides in your yogurt.  Ask a beekeeper friend to collect you about a tea spoon in a sterile specimen bottle. The ones in the picture on the left hand side are what we are looking for.

bee larva

Also Kefiran that is strained kefir can be used as a starter. If you are already making kefir at home, strain about 30ml of kefiran and use this as a  yogurt starter. As kefir has a lot of bacteria and yeast in it, yogurt making process will kill some of these mesophilic ones and will leave you with thermophilic bacteria and some yeast only.

kefir

You only need  one of these sources of micro-organisms. If you can get only the soil, it is okay. You may try to make different starters and see how this affects the final taste of your yogurt.

Now here are the steps to a good and nutritious yogurt:

  1. Prepare your yogurt maker.
  2. Fill the inner bucket about 125ml of milk.
  3. If you are using ant’s nest soil, eggs or bee larva, put this into a little pocket of sterile cheese cloth and tie it so that they don’t mix with milk freely. You can add the kefiran directly into the milk.
  4. Add the starter to your milk and don’t stir.
  5. Put the inner bucket into your yogurt maker and replace the lid.
  6. Fill the outer bucket with warm water to create a water jacket around the inner bucket. As we are not using 1 litre of milk, we need a thermal mass to keep the heat inside.
  7. Check regularly after 5 hours and see if the mixture set. If you are using kefiran, it will be faster than 5 hours.
  8. Once your milk sets like a gel, you are good to go.
  9. Strain half of this gel making sure no residue of soil, larva or egg mixed in it.
  10. Use this mother to inoculate 1 litre of milk in your machine again. You can eat this second generation yogurt.
  11. Spread the goodness by sharing your mother culture with friends and neighbours.

Troubleshoot

  1. If the milk does not set, wait a bit longer. Check regularly.
  2. Check the machine if it is plugged and working.
  3. Check the water jacket with a thermometer to see if the temperatures are about 43C.

So, as you see dear reader, now you know an unconventional way of making yogurt. It may seem strange to you in the beginning but these practices are still applied through out Turkey, Middle East, some African countries and Asia. Once you make a yogurt this way, you will see the difference in aroma and taste. I strongly suggest you try all four methods one by one and choose the one that you like the most.

Once you go through couple of generations of your culture, the taste may change slightly as the flora gets stabilised and this is a good thing;  just like sour dough culture. Before you make your concrete decision, use the same culture at least 5 times to see how the taste and texture develops.

Happy yogurt eating.

Thermophilic culture recipe

Thermophilic starter cultures are used mostly by the pasta-filata and cooked curd cheeses. Here is a simple recipe to produce an easy thermophilic culture at home.

  1. Start with 2 cups of FRESH milk. Heat it to 85°C on the cook top or in a microwave. Be careful not to heat too high otherwise the cream will separate.
  2. Let the 2 Cups of milk cool to at least 52°C.
  3. Add one table spoon of FRESH yogurt either homemade or store bought “live and active culture” type. Probiotic yogurt can also be used.
  4. Mix the yogurt into the milk thoroughly with a fork or a whisk.
  5. Keep the mixture at 44°C for 8-10 hours until a firm yogurt has set. This can be done by using a double boiler on a low setting or by placing the inoculated milk into a small CLEAN mason jar placed in a warm water bath. The bath can be kept warm by placing it on an electric range top at the lowest possible setting (so that ‘ON’ light is just on). Monitor the temperature closely the first few times you do this and you will become a better judge of the temperature settings of your range top. This way with future cultures you can set the process up and not worry about it for 8-10 hours. Alternatively, you can use an electric yogurt maker.
  6. Pour this culture into a full sized CLEAN ice cube tray and put into your FREEZER. As with all steps of cheese making, cleanliness is next to godliness.
  7. Once frozen, remove the cubes and put into a CLEAN sealed container or plastic freezer bags. It is a good idea to label the container to distinguish it from your mesophilic culture.

The resulting ice cubes are each 30 ml of thermophilic starter. Add these cubes (thawed) to your recipes as required. The cubes will keep for about one month. To make more starter culture again simply thaw one cube and use it as the fresh yogurt used in step 3.

One another way is to use kefir as thermophilic culture (here is the discussion I’ve started on Cheese Forum) . Kefir has got a lot of bacteria and yeasts that can be used as starter culture. If you follow the thermophilic starter procedures and use Kefir instead of fresh milk, you would be getting a good and strong culture ecosystem. Strain about 1 liter of Kefir (separate the gems) and use your yogurt maker or keep the temperature about 43°C to 50°C for a day. This will eliminate most of the mesophilic cultures and some yeast. When it is curdled like yogurt (about a day or 2) separate 500 ml and mix it with 500 ml skimmed pasteurized milk. Put in your temperature controlled yogurt maker and keep it 43°C to 50°C constant till it curdles again. If you do this for 7 to 10 times, you will get a strong thermophilic ecosystem with lots of different thermo bacteria. I am using this starter for some hard cheeses and feta mainly. It does have gas producing bacteria in ti and cheese ends up with holes. Aroma and texture is also very good.