Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Recipe: Best Homemade Balkan Style Yogurt!

For the first half of geological time our ancestors were bacteria. Most creatures still are bacteria, and each one of our trillions of cells is a colony of bacteria. – Richard Dawkins 

This isn't my yogurt but looks just like it. My photo was out of focus... sorry.
Photo: I Believe I Can Fry, Flickr ccl
I’ve been branching off from cheese lately. I’ve become fascinated with “bacterial cultures” and their health benefits for you. So I’ve started to make my own yogurt. Quite successfully if I do say so myself.

There’s so much spin around the advertising and marketing of yogurt it’s difficult to separate hard fact from hot hype. Suffice to say that you CAN make yogurt at home that is every bit as healthy as store-purchased, AND at much less cost.

Homemade yogurt with honey and pecans.
Photo: I Believe I Can Fry, Flickr ccl
Here’s a crash course on the benefits of yogurt:
  • Yogurt is a natural creation by bacteria on the lactic acid of milk to create a thick creamy substance.
  • Some purchased yogurts are “heat treated” to increase shelf life. This also kills some of the healthy bacteria (defeating the purpose of eating it I would say…).
  • When brands use the words “live” or “active” on their packaging that means the bacteria is still living in the yogurt.
  • Gelatin is often used to thicken commercial yogurts. Milk powder is a better alternative since it is more nutritious.
  • Yogurt’s "friendly" bacteria help keep bad bacteria and yeast from growing in your intestinal tract. Bacteria also help make vitamin K and keep your immune system functioning properly.
  • Yogurt is high in calcium, and in concert with the bacteria helps the body absorb it more easily.
  • Yogurt is often beneficial to the lactose intolerant, as it contains lactase which is the enzyme our bodies need to break down lactose. 
  • Yogurt is also a good source of protein, riboflavin, phosphorous and vitamin B12.
  • Yogurt potentially helps with gastrointestinal disorders such as constipation, diarrhea, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and H. pylori infection (info from a recent Tufts University study).
  • Yogurt’s active cultures may discourage candidia infections. This is a common problem in female diabetics.
  • Besides killing bad bacteria prescription antibiotics also kill the healthy bacteria in our stomach and intestines, so yogurt is a way to bring that balance back into alignment.

There are many more. Google "health benefits of yogurt."

This is my yogurt, layered with muesli and
macerated strawberries. Looking forward to lunch!
What about Prebiotics and Probiotics?
This well advertised pair (check any yogurt TV, print or online ad…) help restore the balance of bacteria in your digestive tract. 

Probiotic bacteria are naturally found in fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt.  When you eat probiotics, you will add these healthy bacteria to your intestinal tract. Common strains include Lactobacillis and Bifidobacterium families of bacteria. 

Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that make their way through our digestive system and help good bacteria grow and flourish. Prebiotics keep beneficial bacteria healthy.

Prebiotics that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut mostly come from carbohydrate fibers. Sources of carbohydrate prebiotics include fruits, legumes, and whole grains. 

Some commercial yogurts have prebiotics added in, but they can be obtained solely through a well balanced diet so not having it in homemade yogurt is not a detriment.

Part of your daily diet
To benefit the most from yogurt, it must be consumed daily. The bacteria will only live for a day in us before our bodies consume it. This is not a bad thing though, as daily consumption also gives us the benefit of all the vitamins, minerals, etc that are present in yogurt.

A "daily serving" is one of those little 6 oz. containers, or about 1/2 cup.

Yogurt is unlike kéfir (it’s “cousin”) in that kéfir actually colonizes our intestines with healthy bacteria as opposed to yogurt which requires depositing the healthful nutrients on a daily basis. You can get by with as little as a few tablespoons of kéfir and I don't think it's necessary to consume it daily. 

I'll look into that before I post about kéfir. I expect to get some kéfir grains this weekend so you will read of my exploits quite soon.

Here’s some easy tips for adding yogurt to your diet:
It would get rather repetitive having to eat a small yogurt every day with lunch or at break, etc. So here's some more imaginative ways of using yogurt in your diet.

  • Replace mayonnaise and salad dressings with yogurt
  • Replace ice cream and milkshakes with frozen yogurt and yogurt smoothies (strawberry kiwi is my favourite!)
  • Replace sour cream with tangy yogurt
  • Try using yogurt cheese instead of cream cheese (strain the yogurt overnight to make it more solid)
  • Use as a marinade for meat and poultry (deliciously common in Middle Eastern cuisine)
  • Yogurt can also be stove cooked, but will curdle if heated too high. Add 1 tbsp cornstarch per cup of yogurt before using to cook.

So it’s good for you and shouldn't be a problem to introduce into your diet.

My incubation lab: an insulated bag and 2 heating pads.
Luckily it’s easy (and inexpensive) to make. The recipe I made for a Balkan/Greek gives a stellar result. Balkan/Greek style yogurts are thicker than normal yogurt, which is something I quite enjoy. You can stand your spoon up in it.

The recipe is based on one from www.food.com, posted by HannahBoBana on May 16, 2008. This is the direct link, and I thank her for posting such a great recipe. 

You don’t necessarily need special equipment, but since I’ll be making yogurt, kéfir and other things that need higher than room temperature heat, I bit the bullet and bought some heating pads. 

By heating pads I mean Sunbeam “aches and pains of the body” pads—not specialized equipment. And I also commandeered an old soft sided zip-up cooler bag we had, just to keep everything warm and snuggly.

So here we go. Let’s make yogurt!

Homemade Greek/Balkan Style Yogurt
Based on a recipe posted by HannahBoBana on May 16, 2008

2 litres whole milk (or 2 quarts)
1 cup skim milk
1/3 cup powdered skim milk
10g yogurt starter (I used “Yogourmet” brand powder, purchased in the health food section of a local chain grocery. 6 packs for about $4.50; I used 2)
Note: once you've made yogurt, you can substitute 1/3 cup of your previous yogurt for the starter.

AUG 1/11 ADDENDUM: I've had stellar results using the following: 2 quarts (or litres) of milk; 1 cup powdered skim milk and 1 cup of previously made yogurt. Heat the milk and powder as directed; let it cool; stir in yogurt and incubate. Then let drain through cloth for 1 hour. It is very, very thick and tangy. Thick enough a spoon will stand upright in it.

2 ingredients other than milk: milk powder and yogurt starter.
After the first batch you're supposed to be able to start your yogurt using
some of your remaining yogurt. I'll be trying that soon.
Combine the milk and powdered milk in a large stainless steel pot. Heat it to 185°F. Stir it so the milk doesn’t scorch to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat.

Then let the milk cool back down to 110°F. This may take 1 hour. Do not add the culture before the milk cools back down or you will kill it, and the whole thing will be for naught.

Stir a little of the lukewarm milk into the starter and mix well. Then pour the starter into the milk and stir.

Cover with a well fitting lid.

Note: I have also read you can heat your oven to 175°F, turn off the heat and use that; or wrapped in a blanket on top of a warm radiator, or well wrapped and in a warm window. Regardless, it needs to be done in the dark.

These are my directions for culturing the yogurt using my highly sophisticated heating pads. It worked like a charm:
Place one heating pad in the bottom of the cooler bag and turn it on high. (High on my Sunbeam heating pads isn’t as hot at one would imagine.)

Heat to 185°F, then let cool to 110°F.
Put the pot with the milk inside the bag on top of it and place the second heating pad on top, turned on high. Zip the whole bag up and let culture for 12 hours.

After 12 hours, check your yogurt. Mine was tangy, creamy and thick. If it’s not thick enough, let go for a few more hours. Also, the longer you culture the tangier your yogurt will be.

Remember, your yogurt will get slightly thicker in the refrigerator.

Place a piece of fine cotton (Dollar Store pillow cases work very well…) in a colander. Pour the yogurt in the colander and let the mixture drain for about 1 hour. This will thicken the yogurt even more.

After draining, place in a clean coverable container in your refrigerator. Since homemade yogurt has no shelf-life extenders it should be consumed in one week.

I doubt you will find that a problem.


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Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks?


  1. Where in Halifax did you find it

    1. Look for starter in the health food section of grocery stores, around where they sell kefir. That's where I found in (at the Superstore).

  2. Hey so I swear you're going too far with this. My grandma, who was from the Balkans somewhere, she was a cute old woman, she would make all sorts of awesome things - and this was our least favourite what with not being sweet. And what she would do is save a cup of yoghurt and pour it into room temperature maybe gallon of milk and cover with a dishcloth. Let sit out on counter over night. That was it. I remember she made a much thicker version - I think Greek style, but she did that with whey (leftover stuff after curdling milk into cheese). I think same process except half whey half milk.

  3. Very interesting article, thank you.