Sunday, March 16, 2008

Real Food III: Yogurt

Fermented milk is regarded by many cultures as a delicious health food. It has cropped up all over the world in different forms: kefir from Caucasia, laban from the Middle East, dahi from India, creme fraiche from Western Europe, piima from Finland, mursik from Kenya, and yogurt from your grandmother's house. But these same people would scarcely recognize the colored, sweetened gel that passes for yogurt in grocery stores today.

Most if not all dairy-eating cultures ferment their milk. Why is this? There are three main reasons. First of all, unpasteurized milk spontaneously ferments at room temperature, usually becoming delicious "clabbered milk"- whereas pasteurized milk becomes putrid under the same conditions. So fermented milk is difficult to avoid. The second, related reason, is that fermentation prolongs the life of milk in the absence of refrigeration. Fully fermented milk is stable for weeks at room temperature.

The third reason is that these cultures know cultured milk is delicious and nutritious. Fermentation with specially selected cultures of lactic acid-producing bacteria and sometimes yeast work to break milk down into a form that is more easily assimilated. They partly (or fully) digest the lactose, which can be a problem for some people, turning it into tangy lactic acid. They also partially digest casein, a protein in milk that is difficult for some to digest. And finally, the lower pH of fermented milk makes its minerals more bioavailable.

Traditionally, milk was fermented in its unpasteurized state, but raw milk is hard to find in many industrialized countries. Raw milk has its complement of enzymes intact, such as lactase and lipase, which aid in its digestion. It also contains lactose-digesting bacteria that make milk easier for some to digest, and contribute to intestinal health. These are all eliminated by pasteurization. Fortunately, fermentation restores some of the benefits of raw milk. It reintroduces lactic-acid bacteria, along with their digestive enzymes. With that in mind, here's a simple yogurt recipe:


1/2 gallon whole, raw or pasteurized, cow or goat milk (add extra cream if you wish)
Starter culture (commercial starter or 2 tbsp of your favorite live-culture yogurt)
Glass jars with lids
Cooler or yogurt maker


1. Heat the milk to 110-115 F (43 C). If the temperature exceeds 115 F, let it cool.

2. Add the starter culture. If the starter is yogurt, whisk it into the milk.

3. Pour the milk into glass jars and keep it at about 110 F for 4-10 hours. 4 hours will yield a mild yogurt, 10 will be tangy. If you don't have a yogurt maker, this is the tricky part. You can use a cooler filled with 100 F water to maintain the temperature and spike it with hot water after a few hours, or you can ferment it in your oven with the pilot light on if the temperature is in the right range.

If you want a thicker yogurt, bring the milk to 180 F (82 C) and let it cool to 110 F before adding the starter. Add fruit, honey or other flavors before fermenting. Enjoy!

As a final note, I'll mention that milk simply does not agree with some people. If you've tried raw milk and homemade yogurt, and they cause intestinal discomfort or allergies, let them go.


Anonymous said...

A thermos is really great for keeping the temperature right, and it uses no added energy, only whatever energy you used to warm the milk in the first place. I put milk (and yogurt culture) into my thermos at 116 degrees one afternoon at about 3:00, and the next morning it was full of yogurt at about 114 degrees.

I recommend a wide-mouth thermos for this; it's easier to remove the finished yogurt, and easier to clean, too.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Great tip!

Debs said...

A lactose intolerant person who can eat yogurt checking in here. I can also drink raw milk without problems.

Migraineur, I've been tempted to buy a thermos for a while now; you've bumped my temptation up signficantly.

I just heard the best yogurt-related line of the day. As I was heading to work, I walked by a child care group of toddlers, scurrying together up a hill as fast as they could. One of the adults cheered her charges on, "You can do it! We had yogurt this morning!"

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting that recipe. Can anyone tell me what stores or farmers markets in the Seattle area carry raw milk?

brassica oleracea said...

migraineur: Just to be use the thermos *in place of* a glass jar/cooler or a yogurt machine, yes? After having been all about the full-fat yogurt for about a month now (yummmmDAIRYFATmmmmnunmnumnum!), I'd like to try making my own but want to do it up right with as little extra gadgetry as possible. Thanks for the tip!

Now where to find raw milk...

(Thankfully, though, the co-op & some of the grocery stores 'round here sell a few regional brands of yogurt from apparently well-cared-for and at least partially grass-fed cows. These guys are my fave: The one brand of goats' milk yogurt in the stores unfortunately has added thickeners, which is not cool, but the sheep's milk yogurt I've not. TASTY stuff.)

Stephan Guyenet said...


The U-district farmer's market, the Ballard farmer's market, Whole foods and Madison Market all carry raw milk.

Debs said...

Reid, in Seattle, you can find raw cow's milk from Sea Breeze Farm (Vashon Island) at the U-District market, the Ballard market, and a few other markets in summer (West Seattle and sometimes Columbia City).

You can also find raw goat milk from St. John's Creamery (Snohomish) at Madison Market on 16th and Madison. Madison Market also carries Sea Breeze milk, actually.

PCC carries no raw milk, since someone got sick from raw milk at PCC once and they were sued; they got skittish.

I think Whole Foods sells raw milk, but I don't think it's from a small, local farm.

Both St. John's and Sea Breeze have really tasty milk. I've been using St John's more because I like goat milk, but I've used both. Goat yogurt is more liquidy than cow's milk yogurt.

Debs said...

Oops, I think I was typing that while you replied with the info. Sorry about that.

Unknown said...

Thanks everyone:) I'm glad there's so many healthy places to shop for groceries around here! (esp since I don't have a car)

Anonymous said...

I'm jealous of all you Seattleites - to get raw milk in Massachusetts requires jumping through a lot of hoops. It definitely cannot be sold in the stores, and I think maybe it can't be sold at farmer's markets, either, because I've never seen it there, either. I am pretty sure it is still legal for farmers to sell it direct to consumers, but that's not really all that easy for consumers, or probably farmers, either.

Brassica, I love your name. I just learned that cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, and collars are all varieties of the same species - Brassica oleracea. Coolest but weirdest thing I've learned in a while.

As for the thermos, yes, you've got the idea. Heat the milk to about 116 degrees, mix the culture into it (either a dab of commercial yogurt or a powdered culture - more on that in a sec), and then pour the whole thing directly into your thermos. You can preheat the thermos first by filling it with the hottest water out of your tap and letting it sit for 10 minutes, but sometimes I'm too lazy to bother.

As for powdered culture - you can buy 5 packets of it pretty cheaply from New England Cheesemaking. And once you've got a yogurt culture going, you can keep it going indefinitely - just save about a quarter cup from the last batch. But I think it's nice to have those extra packets of powdered culture in the freezer in case you forget about your leftover yogurt and open the fridge one day to find it growing something pink and fuzzy. Just open the freezer, grab a packet, and you're ready to go. No need to trundle down to the store to buy commercial yogurt for a new starter.

And I luuuuuuuuuuuurv Butterworks Farm cream. It is one of the two yellowest, most delicious-est creams I've ever had, the other one being from High Lawn Farm.

Debs said...

Brassica, the reason that sheep's milk yogurt is so nice and thick without any thickeners is that sheep's milk has significantly more fat and protein (yum and yum) than cow's or goat's milk. 8 grams/cup fat in cow's milk vs. 17 g/cup in sheep's milk, and 8g protein in cow vs 15 g protein in sheep. I've been looking at different types of milk and sheep's milk blows me away.

I think sheep's milk makes the ideal yogurt (in taste and thickness) but it's very difficult to find the milk. There's a new sheep dairy opening in Washington State, but they won't sell raw milk.

brassica oleracea said...

migraineur & debs: Thanks so much for the tips and info! Now I'm super excited to do up my own yogurt. Whee!

Unknown said...

Hey Debs, I live in Seattle, and am looking for sheep's milk yogurts as i can't have goat or cows milk. Is the sheep dairy you're talking about the Willapa Hills Dairy? I looked up Sheep Dairy in WA state and that's what i found. Looks like their site is not up and running yet. Do you know any details?

Debs said...

Hi Megan,

Yes, that's the farm I was talking about. The store portion of their site is up, but just for meat and cheese. They do respond to email, although it took a while when I tried. Contact them at info (at) metrasfarm (dot) com. They said they plan on selling sheep milk yogurt eventually.

You can get non-local sheep milk yogurt at Whole Foods, by the way. I found a small, pricey container of it at the WF on Denny in the South Lake Union area.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

There is also a organic farm in Enumclaw for the South King people. It is Meadow wood farms and they have cowshare milk(raw milk) and they sell yogurt cultures and cheese cultures. they have a website too.

Anonymous said...


My mom used to make yogurt all the time when I was a kid. She passed on the machine, and now that I have access to raw milk (2 hour drive each way to the farm, but worth it) I've started making yogurt.

Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time enjoying it. I've been making it from soured raw milk, and have tried in a pot on the stove, in the yogurt maker, and in a jar in water on the stove, also with commercial yogurt as a starter and with starter packets.

What I've been getting is thick and clumpy with a lot of liquid. It's certainly not uniform and firm. It's sour and tangy, alright.

All I can surmise is that after 20 odd years of regular sweet commercial stuff, my taste buds no longer no what to do with the real McCoy. I'm hoping to readjust because I remember loving the stuff!

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Catcreek,

Soured raw milk will contain too many bacteria that will compete with your yogurt culture.

The thickest yogurt is made by pasteurizing the milk before adding culture, that way there is no competition. You bring the milk almost to boiling, cool it to 110 F and add the culture. That's the way it was traditionally made by most people.

I made mine without pasteurizing the raw milk, because I was willing to sacrifice the thicker texture for the health benefits of raw milk.

Jules said...

Another way to get nice, thick yogurt is to strain it. I let mine ferment for 15-30 hours (I use the ol' oven pilot light routine, and I have great grass-fed cow milk), and then I line a fine mesh strainer with cheese cloth and set that over a bowl. Just pour the yogurt in and let it strain out to the consistency you like (left long enough, it gets almost like cream cheese). I usually do this part in the fridge, simply because it's hard to get a nice cover for it and I don't want uninvited creatures taking a dip.

You can use the whey that's left to add to soups or smoothies. I sometimes use it to water my herbs.

Unknown said...


I read the article and comments and want to add my experiences.

I live in Marseille and happen to have a small farm within walking distance. I bought some milk (2.25 euros for a litre and a half) and made yoghurt by simply heating the unpasteurized milk to 43 and adding two tbsp yoghurt.

I kept it in the oven set to 40 for 9 hours and have a delicious creamy yoghurt. It's just fantastic and the kids love it too.

I usually buy 1.5 kilos (1.5 litres) of yoghurt for 1.5 euros so this is slightly more but far tastier. I will try the thermos routine and also try just leaving out the milk at room temperature and seeing what happens (this is the recipe of my russian wife).

Stephan Guyenet said...


All right, a reader from Marseille! My Dad is from Toulon and we used to spend time in Carqueiranne.

sgt.turmeric said...

Whenever I have milk in the fridge that is close to or beyond its best before date (and definitely curdling in tea, say) I make it into yogurt.

I bring it close to a boil (200F) and let it cool down to 115-120F. I mix it with some active commercial yogurt in a mason jar and let it sit submerged in 115F water in a closed small cooler overnight (around 12 hours). Delicious.

I have not been able to use the last bit of my yogurt as a starter for another batch, though -- it never turns out. I end up with yellowish liquid with solids floating at the top. I'm not sure what happens there. I have to use commercial yogurt.

James said...

I guess between the all of us we should be able to make a good yoghurt. Oops! Must be the Dutch background the 'h' in yoghurt.
By far the easiest and most failsafe for us has been :
First of all you want to make sure that no other bacteria are in competition so we pasteurize, heat etc. Google it!
Secondly we switch on the oven until just when the light comes on and leave the ovenlight on after we put the milk in as soon as the light is off.
Our oven hardly ever comes on after
Check with thermometer whether your oven is within the 100 -115 degree range.
Maybe we should not be using the gallon ice cream containers for fear of the nasty things that they might release. One of these days we'll probably try to find something glass big enough, but we go through quite a bit of yoghurt so we like the larger quantity.

Acu-Greg said...

I was inspired to make yogurt by Peter at Hyperlipid who ferments his cream with a little added milk. I just bought commercial half and half and added a little commercial yogurt as a starter. I found that the old radiators in my apartment work great to keep the culture jars warm. The resulting high fat yogurt, no sugar added, was delicious. I was actually quite surprised how addictive my first batch was.

BB said...

A question to Stephan about L.Acidophilus.... in Weston Price's book there is a chart (page 399 "Saliva Changes on Vitamin A and Activator X) showing a significant drop in phosphates and L.Acidophilus in the saliva after starting his diet, which he sees as an improvement... but everywhere you look these days on the web and in literature, L.Acidophilus is a miracle bug that we should be increasing, not decreasing!
How do you explain this?
My family and I follow the Weston Price diet, but would really like to find out about L.Acidophilus, because for one, I have had my appendix removed and according to several sources that's where our good gut bacteria are stored, which makes me think I should be supplementing them..
Please let me know your thoughts on this.. thank you!

Dr A said...

I love reading all your posts, and have a question... I have been making kefir with real milk kefir grains. Using raw goat's milk. I ferment for about 24 hrs and use the kefir as a base for smoothies. I add banana, berries and a little honey. It is soooo yummy!! BUT... it causes me constipation. Has anyone had this problem with fermented milk products? What did you do about it?

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Franca,

Dairy is constipating for some people. You may simply be sensitive to dairy protein.

BoulderTherapist said...

FYI, I add a tablespoon or so of psyllium husk fiber to my yummy homemade kefir (made from raw milk and kefir grains), black berries and stevia smoothies in the morning, to overcome potential constipating effects of dairy and fat.

Also, I heat my raw whole fat milk to 115, add bulgarian yogurt, keep on 115 in my food dehydrator for 12 -24 hours, then strain it in my yogurt strainer for the most thick and rich greek style full fat raw milk yogurt!

Tomas said...

I remember a member of my family who worked for a large creamery that those beneficial bacteria die above 29C or so. He claimed the number is from their company research lab...

Unknown said...

On what evidence are you basing the assumption that raw milk has lactase intact? And if it did, how could it survive the acidic environment of our stomachs?

Unknown said...

i have tried making yoghurt a number of times but its hit and miss,often meeting with failure.
What are the key points?

James said...

All the talk about raw milk is just that. For making yogurt it does not make any difference at all, because in order to make nice yogurt that will stand up in your spoon, you will have to do a real job on the proteins. Heat it to 185 and then cool it down as quickly as you can. In the sink, running water, whatever. Cool it to approx. 116-118 because you are going to add some yogurt (cold) to it. That should bring it to between 110 and 115. We put it back in the -still warm- gallon container we heated it in and put the whole thing in a warm oven. Leave the light on and in about 4 hrs you should have a nice batch for the week. You will have to experiment with the store bought stuff. There is some real garbage stuff out there. We usually buy the cheapest regular full fat from No Frills. Of course you cab use any starter culture.
If you don't heat to 185 your yogurt might be still okay if you don't it being somewhat slimy. This is the way we have done it for years, and it is quite fail safe. james

Little Lady Health said...

I can not wait to try this, a healthy treat

j said...

Have you read researches about dairy fats and butyrate or margarin acid? I think that this is one of those problems in prosessing the milk. Fat-free pastorized milk - would you drink that? It is what is recommended in Finland. No saturaded dairy fats, no butyrate or margarin acid from food.