Yogurt: Should You Try Making Your Own?
First: Cost. A container of yogurt costs from .90 (store brand, on sale) up to about $1.75 (national, high-end brand) in my area. I do live on an island, so transportation adds considerably to the price. Could I make it for less?
Second: Additives. Here is a sampling of some of the ingredients of a national brand of yogurt: modified corn starch, high fructose corn syrup, sugar... That struck me as a lot of sweetener. Could I make a version that was sufficiently sweet and tasty, that my family would actually eat it?
To back up a little, though: why should you eat yogurt? Well, it contains protein, calcium, and vitamins B-2, B-12, potassium, and magnesium. Also, if you eat yogurt with “live and active cultures,” your body is receiving help in its digestive and immune systems. This makes it a very healthy addition to your diet.
My yogurt-making research began with my cookbooks. Unfortunately, there was a dearth of information, so I turned to the Internet. Yes, indeed, I could make my own yogurt. However, after reviewing a few sites about making it in the oven (using the light) or an ice chest, or a thermos, I decided those were not the methods for me. Home canning and beer-making have made me a little paranoid about keeping foods at the correct temperature. It gets even trickier in a tropical climate. I did not feel that I had the skills or equipment to properly incubate yogurt.
Not willing to give up on the project, I began investigating yogurt makers. There are dozens of models to choose from. After doing a lot of reading, I decided on the Cuisipro Donvier. It had received great product reviews and I liked the idea that the yogurt would be in individual cups. It was not a cheap appliance, however. I paid $65, including Vachon yogurt culture, shipping via USPS, through Amazon.com. After making the first batch, I realized that it would be nice to have a second set of cups, so that I could keep the yogurt going. That was another $12, bringing my investment to $77.
The Cuisipro Donvier, as it turns out, was popularized by the Mirielle Guiliano book entitled, “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” In her book she both instructs both on machine and “manual” preparation of yogurt. While not getting fat would be a nice benefit to eating homemade yogurt, that isn’t a benefit I am banking on (remember, I’m the one whose husband makes home-brewed beer. I’m in it for the frugality/quality angle.
The machine itself is very easy to use. It is really more an “incubator” than “machine.” You pour milk (I use 1%) into a saucepan, heat it to 185 – 190 degrees, and cool to 110 – 115 degrees. It comes with a handy pre-marked thermometer. I have also experimented with adding powdered milk to the saucepan during the heating phase, which gives the product a more custard-like texture. After cooling, you add starter to one of the yogurt jars (either powdered culture, or two tablespoons of plain yogurt), mix with some of the cooled milk, pour this back into the pan, mix it all up, and pour everything into the cups. The cups then go into the yogurtmaker. Start the timer, pop the lid on, and 10 – 12 hours later, you have yogurt. It is then cooled in the refrigerator.
I was averaging $1 apiece at the grocery store on pre-made, 6-ounce yogurts. Milk costs me $3.99 per gallon, and it takes one quart to make a batch of eight yogurts. So, I can now make eight, 6-ounce yogurts for $1 worth of milk. Two tablespoons of plain yogurt (as a starter) cost me about 16 cents. To make it thicker and more custard-like, I add one-half cup of powdered milk, which costs me 30 cents. So, each batch of eight yogurts costs me $1.46. Each yogurt, then, costs me 18-1/4 cents to make, saving me about 82 cents apiece. At that rate, it will take me only 94 yogurts, or just under twelve batches, to recoup my initial $77 investment in equipment.
So, back to that sweetener question I had. The fresh yogurt is, of course, tangy. So far, we have been adding fruit (cherries, strawberries, pineapple) to ours. I like a small bit of honey swirled on the top. That is IT. My husband and daughter just add fruit.
It is also really nice to have plain yogurt on hand for baking, salad dressings, smoothies, and the like. Yesterday we made Mango Lassi drinks, which were delicious. My daughter had one at an Indian food restaurant, and raved about it. I found a recipe for them at http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/mango_lassi/Simply Recipes.
To revisit my first question: Could I make it for less? Definitely.
As to my second question: Could I make it sufficiently sweet and tasty enough that my family would eat it? That answer is also yes. They love it.
To me, “making my own” as opposed to buying pre-made food products focuses on the factors of quality and cost. I would say that making your own yogurt is definitely worth your time and expense.