Pros: Incredibly easy to use. There's no mystery to making yogurt at home!
Cons: None... the model has been brought back by Salton... yay!
Yogurt has been around probably a few thousand years, and depending on the map location, sheep’s and goat’s milk are favored, especially in Mediterranean countries. However, in north-central Europe and the U.S. all yogurts are made from cow’s milk.
What is yogurt?
Yogurt is nothing more than milk that has coagulated and has been fermented by two types of bacteria: Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophilus. The first bacterium coagulates the milk, and the second causes the sugar in the milk to turn into lactic acid; it is the lactic acid that acts as a natural preservative.
Yogurt is a milk product that is beneficial to the digestive system and one that is tolerated well even by lactose intolerant individual, thanks to the culture found in yogurt: Acidophilus, which produces Lactase, the enzyme that digests milk sugars.
Eating yogurt has been known to help maintain healthy levels of beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract.
Today, most commercial yogurt is made from fresh, pasteurized, and homogenized cow’s milk. When you read the various product labels you’ll notice that the ingredients vary from milk, butterfat, enriched non-fat solids, and gelatin (as a stabilizer). In addition, if you’re buying a flavored yogurt you can be sure that more additives are present, such as sweeteners, preservatives, emulsifiers and stabilizers.
The more elaborate the yogurt and the longer the shelf-life, the less beneficial bacteria it may contain, or none at all! Unless the packaging says the yogurt contains "live cultures", it's just a creamy snack. A yogurt without the "live cultures" is more of the snack variety, and offers no health benefits.
Of course, premium quality, all natural yogurt can be found at most food stores, but they are pricey, varying from $1.00 to almost two dollars per 6 oz. – 8 oz. containers; that’s expensive!
Making yogurt at home
Why pay top price at the store for a product that is ridiculously easy and cheap to make at home? Do you like to control what goes into your food supply?
If you make your own yogurt you can omit ingredients such as sugar, emulsifiers, artificial colors, or stabilizers (to thicken yogurt). When you make your own yogurt you are completely in control of the taste (how mild or tart), add the freshest fruit to your yogurt, and you can also control the amounts of sugar used according to your dietetic requirements.
Commercial yogurt is outrageously expensive here in Angola: for example, one quart of South African yogurt (with stabilizers and colors) costs approximately $6.50, while more natural brands, such as Danone (Dannon made in France), costs $3.75 for one 6 oz container. Not willing to pay such exorbitant prices, I started making my own yogurt.
Incubation Equipment (yogurt makers)
Yogurt can be made at home easily without the use of special equipment. I remember my grandmother used to make her own yogurt and she didn’t use a machine, but a container that she would place in a dark corner of the kitchen, and left it undisturbed overnight.
In any case, I suppose modern times demand "convenience" gadgets, and as such, I researched the various machines available today. My husband assured me that I didn’t need a yogurt-making machine, but if I insisted, he said, I only needed a very basic machine, one that would incubate at temperatures between 108 degrees Fahrenheit to 112 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Salton YM9 Yogurt Maker – a very basic electric yogurt maker
This particular model came out several years ago,and it’s becoming more challenging to find it, but with a little bit of internet savvy, last year I scored one at ikitchen.com for less than $20 (plus shipping).
What’s in the box?
~ An incubator, with cord storage at the bottom of the unit.
~ 1 Qt. capacity, inner, removable container with lid (this container is freezer safe).
~ See-through top cover.
~ A reminder-dial indicator tells you when the yogurt is done (I haven’t really found this feature useful). So, I just remember when I turn it on.
~ A small instruction booklet to include helpful hints and recipes.
~ A plastic spoon
~ 4 cups (1 quart) fresh milk (whole, 2%, 1% or skim), preferably organic. Here, in Africa, I don’t have access to fresh milk, so I use Président UHT milk, which is just as delicious as fresh milk.
~ 1/2 cup plain yogurt with live active cultures or 1 packet of dry yogurt starter.
~ 1/3 cup of powder milk (makes yogurt firm if using low-fat milk), but you can omit this ingredient when using whole milk.
Before you begin:
As with most specialty foods, the initial preparation will ensure optimal results.
~ Thoroughly wash the inner plastic yogurt container, spoons to be used, pots, strainers, etc., with hot, soapy water. Rinse everything thoroughly and air dry (don’t use a towel to avoid leaving lint on the utensils).
~ Pour nearly boiling water into the yogurt inner container and leave it in until ready to use.
Making Yogurt with the Salton YM9
These are more or less the instructions that came with the Yogurt Maker; I’ve made adjustments to the original instructions, and these steps produce excellent results.
1. In a sauce pan, heat milk over medium heat, add 1/3 cup of dry milk, stirring thoroughly to avoid lumpiness. Continue to stir frequently just below the boiling point (when little bubbles are forming on the edge of the pan).
2. Remove the pot from the stove and allow the milk to cool until lukewarm (you should be able to place your small finger in the milk and comfortably count to ten), or between 100°F and 110°F if using a thermometer).
The cooling process takes about 20 minutes. Do not add any flavorings or sweeteners before completing the yogurt making process.
3. Pre-warm the Salton Yogurt Maker heating base by plugging power cord into a 120V AC electric outlet. Signal light will glow when plugged in.
Note: if using a dry yogurt starter, do not pre-warm the yogurt maker. The dry yogurt starters require a gradual temperature increase from 73°F.
4. Add plain yogurt or yogurt starter to the warm milk, stirring gently to blend, but be careful not to beat or whip.
5. Discard the hot water from the inner container and pour milk mixture into it; secure lid of the yogurt maker and allow the mixture to incubate undisturbed and away from air drafts for 4 - 10 hours (longer if using a dry yogurt starter) or until your desired consistency and tartness is reached. Every time you make yogurt, you'll need to keep adjusting the number of hours until you find just the right tartness/consistency for you.
Note: if using a dry Yogurt Starter, the incubation period will be 12-15 hrs. Yogurt should be partially set (it should have the consistency of jello when it's beginning to set) and it will thicken further when refrigerated. If not partially set, process another hour until set.
6. After the desired number of hours have elapsed, unplug cord from outlet (as the machine doesn't have a on/off switch). Remove cover and lift covered yogurt container out of the heating base. Place in refrigerator. Chill at least 2 hours. Remove 1/2 cup of yogurt for future use. You can make up to five batches from the original starter.
My thoughts about this little machine:
The instruction booklet makes yogurt-making sound more complicated than it really is! It's not difficult, really! Through trial and error I’ve perfected my yogurt-making technique, and I’m told I should start a home-yogurt business because my yogurt is absolutely delicious.
For the best and creamiest consistency, I use 2% or whole milk, and I just eat smaller portions than if I were eating non-fat yogurt.
The suggested incubation period is from 4-10 hours. If using fresh yogurt, I've found that 6-7 hours is the perfect incubation period, but I’ve left it in the incubator up to 9 hours, and it’s only a bit more tart, and still delicious. The 9-10 hours incubation period is ideal for those who work outside the home.
The Salton machine is so easy to use; there is no effort in making yogurt.
When I feel like having fancier yogurt, I’ll cut fresh fruit and sprinkle it on top, or I’ll just drizzle it with honey or agave syrup, and toss in a few Cranraisins (my favorite).
My friends are impressed by the quality of my yogurt, and last week my Portuguese teacher tried and loved a sample of my yogurt, so much that she asked if I could order one of these machines for her! I’m happy to oblige!
Overall I highly recommend this attractive little yogurt-maker. Making yogurt is so simple that I now make about 2-3 quarts a week (we consume a lot of yogurt; even the dog seems loves yogurt).
Update: February 2009
I mentioned earlier that this little model is somewhat difficult to find. It’s currently in stock at these On-line vendors: kitchenemporium, ikitchen, thehomemarketplace, River Road, and Amazon. Price has gone up to $24.95, the packaging has changed, but the little machine still as good as it always was; I recently bought one for my mom, and she loves it!