As a child I experienced a lot of upper respiratory problems, which resulted in my frequent consumption of antibiotics. I remember my grandmother telling me to eat yogurt when taking the antibiotics. It didn’t make sense to me at the time. As I come to learn more about my food, what is real, and what is not, I understand that… the antibiotics kill the bad bacteria in your body but it kills the good bacteria too! When your body is lacking in the “good bacteria”, you are unable to properly absorb nutrients from real, whole foods. A decreased “good bacteria” count also forces your body to work much harder at fighting off infections and diseases. Looks like grandma knew what she was talking about.
Over the years, because of the internet/social networking/free press, we are able to get access to a great deal more information about our food. Information many of us now know is that a majority of the meat and dairy products found on your favorite grocery store shelves are riddled with antibiotics. Unless the product’s label specifies it is antibiotic free or organic, you are most likely consuming an unnecessary amount of antibiotics. It doesn’t stop there… non meat and dairy eaters are at risk too. Vegetables such as corn, potatoes and lettuce absorb antibiotics when grown in soil fertilized with livestock manure, according to tests conducted at the University of Minnesota.
Since the spike in antibiotic resistant bugs & diseases there has been a push to consume more probiotics (microorganisms or bacteria that are beneficial to the host organism) to regain the microbes needed to keep us healthy. But this is nothing new… probiotics have been in existence for a very long time. Eli Metchnikoff, a Russian scientist was the first to observe the positive role of certain bacteria in the early 1900’s. The studies of beneficial bacteria lead Metchnikoff to start drinking fermented milk (kefir) and yogurt. Metchnikoff experienced improved health and well-being.
There are vitamin companies taking stock in this and pushing their better version of whatever probiotic they can get their hands on. There are certain yogurt companies out there too (I’m sure you know the catchy jingle…) that has also jumped the bandwagon. The problem is, if the milk used to create the yogurt is provided by a “conventional dairy farm” you are still getting the antibiotics; unless the label specifies different – which is why I encourage the consumption of organic yogurt and kefir.
To feed a family of 3 a serving of yogurt every day you’d need to buy 2 quarts a week. I’m basing these numbers on my family and our consumption habits. Some may consume more or less…but more is recommended to support the healthy bacteria levels in your body. A typical quart of plain organic yogurt runs at least $4. This price also happens to be the cost of our whole organic ½ gallon of milk. In a homemade yogurt recipe you are getting drop for drop. A ½ gallon of milk = ½ gallon of yogurt, which means we’re saving $4 every purchase; resulting in a monthly savings of $16 or almost $200 a year…on yogurt! It may not sound like much but it adds up for our single income family. Of course my time is also valuable but I believe spending the time to make my yogurt is a great trade-off to know where every single ingredient in my food came from.
I have a lovely friend, who has a lovely dairy cow, and this lovely cow grazes on organic pastures & alfalfa, and eats the very best “over ripe” organic produce I’ve ever seen. I know this because I’ve fed her myself. She produces a creamy whole milk that is just delightful and tastes great in everything and can easily stand alone. Her milk provides a great deal of vitamins (omegas, E, A, beta carotene, etc.) through her organic herbivore diet. We decided to take a go at making yogurt with our lovely cow friend’s milk. There are several ways to make yogurt – one of which is purchasing the probiotics separately. I took the simpler route in this recipe using a starter… yogurt! With some milk, a small amount of “store bought” (preferably organic) yogurt, some heat, and time… and you’ll have the creamiest freshest tasting yogurt.
I found the following recipe, which called for a double boiler, a heating pad, and then transferring to storage containers. It is important to have a sterile working area when making yogurt to avoid harming the good bacteria that you’re going to feed and create. I prefer to immediately place my yogurt in its storage vessels before the incubation process. On hot sunny days, I can place my jars of yogurt in a typical igloo cooler, filled with warm water, and placed in the sun. I can also use my old water canner, filled 1/4 a way with water and placed on a heating pad at high. This keeps the surrounding water temperature at a consistent 110 degrees. I do not have a double boiler so I kept to stirring my milk base until it came to temperature…but it is key to KEEP STIRRING if you are NOT using a double boiler… your milk will burn otherwise.
Once you’ve made your first batch of yogurt – you should be able to use this base as your next starter going forward. Reserve 2-3 tablespoons of your finished product per every ½ gallon of milk you anticipate using; store in a sanitized jar in the refrigerator till you are ready to make your next batch of yogurt. The recipe I followed suggested you can freeze your starter – just make sure that you bring the starter to room temperature before placing it in your prepped milk. Also, try to use your starter within 8-10 days otherwise the bacteria will begin to die.
I use yogurt in everything. We eat yogurt & fresh fruit with our daily breakfast; I make smoothies at lunch; and any baking item that calls for buttermilk, I substitute with a yogurt / milk mixture. Now that I’ve got the basics down I’d like to try adding the probiotics myself versus using a starter. I’d also like to see if it’s possible to have raw yogurt with live active cultures. You can add a small amount of sugar or vanilla to the cooking process to give your yogurt some flavor. I recommend doing what my husband does and serving up a big bowl of plain yogurt topped with some of our homemade strawberry or plum jam. It’s time to take back our healthy bacteria…enjoy!!
* = organic
*^ = organic / local
How to Make Yogurt (from starter)
½ gallon milk *^
2-3 tablespoons yogurt *^
A large stock pot
A plastic or metal spoon that can be sterilized
2 quart glass mason storage jars & lids
A cooler or canning pot (depending on your incubation method)
A heating pad (depending on your incubation method)
The first step is to prep your working area. Sterilize your jars, lids, and utensils before starting – hot soapy water or a quick run on the top rack of the dishwasher.
Take your starter yogurt out of the refrigerator or freezer and bring to room temperature.
Place your stock pot on the stove and fill with a ½ gallon of milk. Attach the thermometer so it’s submerged in the milk but allowing you a visual on the desired temp range, which is 185 degrees. Keeping your stove top range at medium high heat, continue to stir your milk until it reaches 185 degrees. I’ve read the longer you keep your milk at 185 degrees the thicker the finished yogurt product will be. I’ve only kept it at temp for 10 minutes before moving it to an ice water bath which has resulted in a semi thick yogurt.
Once the milk has reached the desired temperature of 185 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and immediately place it in an ice water bath. The water on the sides of the pot should come up as high as the milk in the pot. I filled my sink with cold water and then ice cubes from the freezer. Keep the thermometer submerged and continue to stir your milk while it rests in the ice water. You are looking to bring the milk to 110 degrees which is where the bacteria becomes live and can grow.
Once the milk has come to 110 degrees, stir in the 2-3 tablespoons of yogurt starter, making sure it dissolves in the milk well. Once dissolved immediately transfer into your storage jars and seal.
Using the Sun as Your Incubator: In a typical igloo cooler, fill 1/4 with hot water. Place your sealed jars into the water bath inside the cooler. Keep your cooler covered, outside in direct sunlight. This allows the water bath inside the cooler to stay at a constant 110 degrees. You’ll want your yogurt to sit in the water bath at minimum for 7 hours…the longer it sets the thicker it will get. If you notice the temperature dropping add more hot water to the cooler – slowly to not shock the jars or…
Using a Heating Pad as Your Incubator:Bring your cooler inside and place it on top of a heating pad. Check the temperature every couple of hours to make sure the water is not above 110 degrees. You can also place your jars in a water canner, filled 1/4 way with water and placed on a heating pad. You’ll want your yogurt to sit in the water bath at minimum for 7 hours…the longer it sets the thicker it will get.
After 7 hours you can remove the jars from the cooler or canning pot and place in the refrigerator. The next day I give each jar a light shake to incorporate any solids that may have separated. You are now ready to enjoy some creamy wholesome goodness and replenish your very much-needed good bacteria…enjoy!