Please note: The information below is reprinted with the permission of the University of Georgia. B.A. Nummer. 2002. Fermenting Yogurt at Home. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension Service. We thank the National Center for Home Food Preservation (http://nchfp.uga.edu/) for making this information available to the general public.
Yogurt is made by adding Streptococcus thermophiles and Lactobacillus bulgaricus into heated milk. After this inoculation the milk is held at 110°F +/- 5°F until firm. The milk is coagulated (thickened) by an increase in acidity from lactic acid produced by the bacteria. With its slightly sour taste, creamy texture, and good nutrient content, skim or whole milk yogurt remains a healthy food itself and one that can be used in recipes from appetizers to desserts.
Yogurt is thought to have originated many centuries ago among the nomadic tribes of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Milk stored in animal skins would acidify and coagulate. The acid helped preserve the milk from further spoilage and from the growth of pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms).
Heat water in the bottom section of a double boiler and pour milk into the top section. Cover the milk and heat to 165°F while stirring constantly for uniform heating. Cool immediately by setting the top section of the double boiler in ice water or cold running water. Store milk in the refrigerator in clean containers until ready for making yogurt.
Heating the milk is a necessary step to change the milk proteins so that they set together rather than to form curds and whey. Do not substitute this heating step for pasteurization. Place cold, pasteurized milk in top of a double boiler and stir in nonfat dry milk powder. Adding non-fat dry milk to heated milk will cause some milk proteins to coagulate and form strings. Add sugar or honey if a sweeter, less tart yogurt is desired. Heat milk to 200°F, stirring gently and (a) hold for 10 minutes for thinner yogurt or (b) hold 20 minutes for thicker yogurt. Do not boil. Be careful and stir constantly to avoid scorching if not using a double boiler.
Place the top of the double boiler in cold water to cool milk rapidly to 112-115°F. Remove one cup of the warm milk and blend it with the yogurt starter culture. Add this to the rest of the warm milk. The temperature of the mixture should now be 110-112°F.
Pour immediately into clean, warm container(s); cover and place in prepared incubator. Close the incubator and incubate about 4-7 hours at 110°F +/-5°F. Yogurt should set firm when the proper acid level is achieved (pH 4.6). Incubating yogurt for several hours past the time after the yogurt has set will produce more acidity. This will result in a more tart or acidic flavor and eventually cause the whey to separate.
Rapid cooling stops the development of acid. Yogurt will keep for about 10-21 days if held in the refrigerator at 40°F or lower.
Yogurt provides two significant barriers to pathogen growth: (a) heat and (b) acidity (low pH). Both are necessary to ensure a safe product. Acidity alone has been questioned by recent outbreaks of food poisoning by E. coli O157:H7 that is acid-tolerant. E. coli O157:H7 is easily destroyed by pasteurization (heating). Therefore, always pasteurize milk or use commercially pasteurized milk to make yogurt.
Discard batches that fail to set properly, especially those due to culture errors. Yogurt generally has a 10-21 day shelf life when made and stored properly in the refrigerator below 40°F. Molds, yeasts and slow growing bacteria can spoil the yogurt during prolonged storage. Ingredients added to yogurt should be clean and of good quality. Introducing microorganisms from yogurt add-ins can reduce shelf life and result in quicker spoilage—"garbage in, garbage out". Discard any yogurt samples with visible signs of microbial growth or any odors other than the acidity of fresh yogurt.
Always use clean and sanitized equipment and containers to ensure a long shelf life for your yogurt. Clean equipment and containers in hot detergent water, then rinse well. Allow to air dry.
When making this recipe in our test kitchen we used a saucepan instead of a double boiler. Despite constant stirring we still had some minor scorching. We took care not to stir or scrape the scorched area. During the cooking step milk proteins formed strings that we scooped out with a slotted spoon. We inoculated our entire batch of milk with starter and poured the mixture into separate containers. To some containers we added different amounts of honey or sugar stirring to dissolve the sweetener, while others we left plain. Our yogurt reached pH 4.7 in approx. four hours, pH 4.6 in approx. five hours and pH 4.5 in approx. six hours. The yogurt set was firm after six hours and the taste was mild. The yogurt was immediately refrigerated until the next day. On the following day we processed the yogurt into some of the variations listed above under "Yogurt Types".
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