Yogurt is a cultured milk product which contains several strains of friendly bacteria. It is an ancient food and has been a health staple, along with Kefir, for centuries in eastern Europe. Canadian Herbalist Tony Pantalleresco has posted these interesting comments on yogurt, kefir, and acidophilus on his site.
It's easy to make your own yogurt and so, so good for you!! Commercial yogurts mostly say they contain live cultures, but I have strong reservations about that. Some are heated after packaging, which of course kills everything. Also, if the cultures are really alive, they will keep working until they use up all the lactose. Remember that time you forgot one of your little yogurt tubs in the back of the frig for a month (or more) beyond the expiration date? Opening it with some trepidation, you discovered it was still just fine. To me that says it isn't alive, just preserved. Bla.
In addition, in my opinion, anything added to yogurt other than milk, cream, and culture, is a contaminant. Many commercial yogurts contain gelatin, agar, and other things. For example, I have a small Yami lowfat yogurt tub here. In addition to milk, sugar, fruit, and cultures, it states the ingredients are corn syrup, modified food starch, Kosher (oh, that's comforting) gelatin, natural flavors, citric acid, and carmine.
What is carmine? Very interesting info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmine After reading this, I'm sure you're going to want carmine in all your food (NOT).
A Darigold yogurt tub I have states the additives are (without calling them that, exactly) corn starch, inulin, gum arabic, natural flavors, agar, pectin, citric acid, and brags that the product is fiber enriched, gelatin free, Kosher certified, and gluten free (yay). In 8 oz of this product you get 4 grams of fiber. That translates to almost a teaspoon of corn starch along with a few raspberry seeds. Corn starch? In yogurt?
All of that additional stuff is intended to stabilize texture and appearance in the long journey from factory to your spoon. It does absolutely nothing to enhance the nutritional value.
My Solution: Make Your Own!!
I have a lovely new yogurt maker called Euro Cuisine, model 100, which has an automatic off switch at the end of the time you set. It comes with seven 6oz glass jars with plastic lids, and sets of 8 extra jars are available, though way overpriced in my opinion. I'm currently on a search for little pickle jars the right size for the maker. Found a baby food jar the right size, but they have those darn lids that can't be resealed.
I have a plastic pitcher that I've marked with a line for the exact amount for 7 jars of yogurt.
Start with a half inch of water in the pitcher. Sprinkle on this a 5-gram packet of yogurt starter. Use starter before its expiration date, or you will get soup, not yogurt. (Guess how I know.)
Also, since there are 1000 strains of friendly bacteria, and I want more than the 3 in the starter, I add the contents of 3 capsules of Swanson's Goat Milk probiotic, which has 6 (three in addition to what's in the starter.
After that has all gone into the water, I add 1/2 cup of nonfat dry milk. This raises the protein and gives the yogurt a little more dense texture.
Stir or whisk very well until the dry milk is all dissolved.
Then I add about 3/4 cup of whipping cream, because I want a layer of cream on top of the yogurt. Mmmm.
Last but not least, I add milk up to the marked line.
Stir well, and pour into your jars. Place the jars in the Euro Cuisine, without their lids, and put the cover over them.
I let this sit for at least 4-6 hours BEFORE turning on the heat and timer, because it allows the cream to begin rising.
I turn the time to the maximum (15 hours), push the button, and go do other stuff. A little more heat will stay in if you cover it with a kitchen towel. Note the little knob doesn't turn like a timer, but the light goes out when the time is up.
Put on the lids and refrigerate. The yogurt is a little dry on top. If that isn't OK with you, make some little hats of your old yogurt lids. The jar lids will not fit in the maker.
Flavored yogurt ~ I haven't tried it yet, because I love this yogurt just as is. The Euro Cuisine has some complicated instructions for making flavored yogurt. When I try it, I'll probably put a tablespoon of jam in the bottom of the jar. Will post results.
PLEASE NOTE: Try not to use pasteurized milk, but if you have to use it, don't use Ultra Pasteurized. It is Ultra Dead. If you are lucky enough to be able to get really clean raw milk straight out of the cow or goat, I wouldn't heat it either. But that's just my preference. I don't believe in the germ theory. If you decide to heat the milk don't heat it above 110 degrees F. before adding the culture as the value of raw milk is in the raw unheated state.
Another note on the milk: I'm not making yogurt any more since I found the raw goat milk. I make only kefir as it is a tremendous source of probiotics and is less work. See my Kefir page for more info and a source of good kefir grains.
Have fun, and ENJOY!!
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