As a kid, our family (thanks to my pseudo-hippie health-conscious parents) was one of relatively few who bought and consumed yogurt on a regular basis. It was something you found mostly at the health food store (along with granola and dried apricots), and mainstream yogurt was limited to those little inverted-cone shaped pots of Yoplait in strawberry, blueberry and peach. We had a yogurt maker in the basement – a Jetsonesque sort of incubator with cords and dials and little glass jars – which never, to my memory, ever got used. (Except to play Smurf Spaceport, that is.) Years ago, I learned to make my own yogurt using nothing but a pot, glass jar and a towel. It truly is easy.
We tend toward the yogurt brands with promises of probiotic benefits splashed across their packages. Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organization as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. So really, all yogurt with active bacterial cultures can be considered probiotic, whether you see it on package or not.
Unfortunately, consumers tend to have blind faith in advertising, and so the best sellers in the yogurt aisle are not the thick, lustrous varieties with short ingredient lists prepared by our farming neighbours, but mass produced, overly sweet, gelatinous soups that bear little resemblance to the real thing. Far beyond a simple blend of milk and bacterial cultures, they most often contain modified milk ingredients, modified corn starch, pectin, gelatin, sulphites, carrageenan, artificial flavours and colours, and of course sugar, fructose and other sweeteners. Typical sweetened, flavoured yogurts contain between 35 and 42 grams of sugar per cup – far more than a chocolate bar, and on the higher end, as much as a can of Coke.
If you’ve never done it, you’ll be amazed to learn how simple it is to make fresh yogurt all by yourself. The process is much like making your own sourdough; you begin with a live starter (just a spoonful of plain yogurt-the best you can find), your second batch can come from a bit of the last, and so on. If for some reason it doesn’t set up the way you’d like it to, call it a lassi (Indian yogurt drink), or use it to make smoothies.
I haven’t experimented with soy milk, but regular milk -whole, 2% or 1%) and goat’s milk work very well.
1 heaping tablespoon of the best plain yogurt you can find, making sure it contains active cultures (no additives, stabilizers etc).
2 1/2 cups good quality milk (I like to use organic)
Bring the milk to a full boil in a saucepan, then turn down the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour the scalded milk into a bowl, through a strainer or cheesecloth if you have acquired any brown bits around the edge, and cool until you can hold your finger in the milk and count to 10.
Place the yogurt in a small dish and add some of the milk to it to warm it up, then whisk it back into the milk. Pour into a glass jar (glass holds heat well), wrap in a towel or sweater and put in a warm place for about 6 hours or overnight. In the morning put the jar in the fridge to chill and you should end up with a lovely jar of fresh yogurt.