This week we’ll share a series of articles inspired by our Fermentation 2.0 Workshop at the Cookbook Store last week.  We started the evening by promising that we’d answer all the questions that we could but that we were likely to get stumped by some of the questions and would answer them on the blog in the coming days.

We had a few hardcore yogurt-lovers attend our fermenting workshop.  We promised to send a link to our yogurt recipe but I got the sense that wasn’t going to be enough for them!  They had already been making yogurt and had inconsistent results.  Rather than just sending the old link, I thought some more work was required to help people troubleshoot homemade yogurt.

The most common frustration with homemade yogurt is consistency (it’s too runny).  One of the great tricks to making great homemade yogurt is to have a bit of great homemade yogurt to start with – but that’s not handy if you haven’t had success yet!  Here’s a few common problems:

  1. If you’re using yogurt as a starter, does it have live culture?  Many brands of yogurt no longer contain live/ active culture.  If you’re using a mainstream brand, check it’s label or consult with a trade organization such as the National Yogurt Association.  I’d reccomend skipping the ‘big’ brands alltogether and going to a farmers market shich sells yogurt (in Ontario, most of the yogurt is limited to goats milk yogurt) and chatting to the producer about using their yogurt as a starter to make your own.  This is the #1 tip because you’re likley to get the best source of starter (and insight) from it!
  2. If you’re buying yogurt starter (it’s typically sold in powder form from health food stores), know that it’s a living product.  It’s particularilly sensitive to heat and shipping, storage and handling conditions before you got it can kill it.  There’s no way to tell it’s dead other than a lack of success when using it so if it fails, don’t be afraid to try again with a different package.
  3. Use a thermometer.  I’ve head of people trying to make yogurt without one and this level of guessing just makes the process far more difficult than it needs to be!
  4. Consider straining it.  This is a last-resort as it will dramatically decrease your yield (although there are great uses for the whey if you do) but sometimes it’s the only saving grace.

Those are the quick wins/ easy solutions for thicker yogurt.  Now let’s get more technical!

  1. Use higher-fat milk.  The higher the fat content, the thicker the resuts.
  2. Use non-pasteurized milk.  Since this is impossible in Ontario (and Canada), avoid milk that has been marked UHT (which stands for “Ultra High-Temperature Pasteurized).  This is a point of contention according to some who claim that they’ve had great success with milk that has been pastuerized like this but it can’t hurt to try.
  3. Although I’ve never done it, it can be worth experimenting with different brands of milk for two reasons:
    1. You’ll see which one produces results if you like.
    2. Your results should be more repeatable.
  4. Many recipes (including ours) recomend bringing the heat to 200 degrees.  Instead of cooling it immediately, keep the milk at this temperature for 20-30 minutes.  While this is increased work (that can be a pain if you’re using the variable temperature of a stove), it helps concentrate milk solids and will produce thicker yogurt.
  5. Add Non-Fat dry milk powder.  I read about this on The Kitchn (which shares some of these tips and a few others).  I’m sure it would work (they reccomend a 1/2 cup per uart of milk) as it would drastically increase the amount of protein in the milk (which is a key to making yogurt).  Check out the link to The Kitchn for more ideas – they also reccomend adding gelatin which would certainly work.
  6. Make sure the milk cools before adding the starter yogurt (most starters will specify a temperature and most recipes using yogurt as a starter seem to add it below 45 degrees celcius).  If you add the starter/yogurt too soon you will certainly kill it (if it’s too cold, it won’t incubate as well as it could).
  7. Frequency of batches.  If you’re using yogurt as a starter, this is key.  There will be less active bacteria a week after your yogurt has sat in the fridge (even though it may be thicker).  A ‘fresh’ yogurt is more likely to produce a thick yogurt for you compared to an older one.
  8. A touch of sugar can help feed the ferment.  1-2 teaspoons added at the same time you add your starter should help produce a thicker yogurt.
  9. Use other thickeners.  The idea for this stemed from The Kitchn’s idea to use gelatin; I researched the idea of using agar agar to thicken yogurt.  I found an entire host of ideas for thickening yogurt on this article (including using agar agar) but I think that may take away from the ‘spirit’ that many of us are trying to acheive by fermenting it ourselves.

What are your ‘secrets’ to making thick yogurt?

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