Lately I have received a handful of requests for recommendations on yogurt machines so thought I'd share my yogurt makin' set-up with you. These are my essential tools for making both cow's milk and dairy-free yogurt.
You don't necessarily need a machine to make yogurt. All that is required is a quiet, consistently warm spot (usually 100˚-110˚F). I just am partial to machines because they take the worry and guess-work out of yogurt making. You plug it in and forget about it. Pretty fool-proof if you ask me.
I use the single container Yogourmet Multi Electric Yogurt Maker (see pic at top). I find making one large 2-quart batch much more convenient than making several individual servings (fewer dishes to wash). But it's a personal choice.
If you are new to yogurt making and are not ready to make a $50 investment in a machine, swing by your local thrift shop. You just may find a nice, lightly used one. I picked up a second Yogourmet Multi for $2 at Goodwill (steal!) which I loan out to friends.
The only drawback of the Yogourmet Multi is that the fermentation container is plastic. Now it's probably safe and fine to use, but I take all precautions to avoid any leeching of chemicals into our food. So, I have replaced the plastic insert it ships with with a 2-quart (1/2 gallon) glass jar like this one:
You can purchase these 1/2 gallon glass inserts from Lucy's Kitchen Shop for under $10 or check around locally. I saw them at Sprouts in the bulk food section. It's a pretty common size, you just may have to hunt around.
Other machines you may want to look into ...
YoLife Yogurt Maker: Now this is cool! This versatile yogurt maker can be used with the included seven 6 ounce glass jars, canning jars, or an optional 64 ounce (1/2 gallon) glass jar. Click here for info on this machine.
Yogotherm: Live off the grid? Here's a reliable way (that's the manufactuer's claim, not mine) to make yogurt without electricity. The insulated container maintains the appropriate temperature throughout the culturing process. Click here for more details.
There's no rocket science that goes into yogurt machines. They really are just little incubators. The critical thing is that they maintain that consistent temperature (usually between 100˚-112˚F).
Whether you are working with cow's milk, goat's milk, or plant-based milk, you will be heating the mixture. It is essential that that mixture cool to a safe temperature (around 100˚F) before adding the yogurt starter. Too hot and the friendly bacteria that cultures the milk will fry (this usually happens around 118˚F). I have gone through six thermometers and have learned that hard way that WATERPROOF and digital is the way to go. This one has performed like a champ!
When I made cow's milk yogurt, it was possible to culture the milk with a half cup or so of plain store-bought yogurt. However, with non-dairy milk I have always used the direct-set (dried yogurt culture) method. In my research, most sources say that alternative milk yogurts (like almond, coconut and rice) are most succcessfully made using the direct-set method.
Up until October 3, 2012 I recommended Cultures for Health Vegetal vegan yogurt starter. However, I no longer do. Labeling now reads that this product is produced in a facility that also manufactures wheat, soy, eggs, nuts and fish. In addition, I have learned that barley is used as a fermentation nutrient however the manufacturer has determined that "fermentation nutrients are outside the scope of US and EU food allergen labeling requirements." Had I not dug and nor reviewed the manufacturer's spec sheet (how many of us do?), this bit of knowledge would have gone unnoticed. So this is where I leave it up to you decide what that means to you. I am no food scientist, but if I were super sensitive to gluten, I would avoid the product.
So what do I use now? I've returned to using 35-40 billion CFU's (colony forming units) of Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic Complete probiotic capsules per 2 quarts of liquid. The only downside with Klaire Labs is that they do not sell direct. Products are sold exclusively to healthcare professionals, authorized distributors, and patients with a physician-supplied authorization code. However, because it is impossible for me, a consumer, to oversee every step in the manufacturing process, I must leave it up to you to research and decide which yogurt culture or probiotic is safe for you and your family.
The one tip I can provide when selecting a non-dairy yogurt starter or priobiotic capsule is to select one that includes the lactic acid-producing bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. In the United States, the USDA defines "yogurt" as containing these two strains bacteria.
A Big Pot
I heat my milk in a 5-quart stainless steel pot. I really would like something a little bigger. When heating milk, watch it carefully. Look away for a second and you could have a messy boil-over on your hands.
When adding the powdered culture to the cooled milk, you want to mix it in thoroughly to distribute evenly. A silicon-coated whisk comes in handy for this.
Here are links to non-dairy yogurt recipes on my site:
For those who do dairy, recipes abound online. If you have a link to one, please leave it in the comments.
Why Yogurt Can Fail
Milk that's too hot when the culture is added, dead starter, unsanitized equipment, and inconsistent temperature during fermentation are the four most common reasons for a botched batch of yogurt. Other than that, yogurt is so easy to make and the results so rewarding (and tasty).
Happy yogurt making. I hope this post has been helpful.