Saturday, June 16, 2012

How to Make Greek Yogurt

First things first: What exactly is Greek yogurt?

Well, after a quick search on the Internet, the jury's still out on that one. Let's start with what we know.

Greek yogurt is:
-Thick and creamy.
-Yummy and popular.
-Higher in protein and (I believe) those good bacterial cultures.
-Strained. Meaning that--gasp--it's really just normal yogurt that has been strained so that much of the whey (watery stuff you find on your yogurt) has been removed. This explains the higher nutritional content. It's essentially concentrated yogurt, so naturally many of the nutrients are also concentrated.
-Besides being just normal yogurt that has been strained, it is often higher in fat. I read that the authentic stuff can range from 4%-10% fat. This is where the jury starts to get confused. When Greek yogurt first came out in America, it really did seem to be full-fat (3.5-4%). And then came the 2% kinds and sure enough the skim varieties were soon to follow, leaving us with a decidedly Americanized version of Greek yogurt. Oh well. I guess this is why Americans are so skinny while those Greek people are morbidly obese. Oh, wait.

Anyway, sarcastic digs at our low-fat culture aside, Greek yogurt is really easy to make. And by "make" I don't mean actually make, (although you could do that too; making yogurt really isn't so crazy; I've even seen a recipe for it in the crock pot). By "make" I mean to create from normal plain yogurt.

How To Make Greek Yogurt

You'll need:
-A cheesecloth, tea towel, or several layers of coffee filters.
-A bowl.
-A strainer or clothes pins.
-Regular yogurt

Note: I know these instructions look long and detailed, but this is really crazy easy. I was just trying to be very clear.

1. Get your bowl. 

2. Put a tea towel (or cheesecloth or layers of coffee filters) over top the bowl.

3. Secure the towel with clothes pins. If you don't have clothes pins because you are wacky full of character enough to want to make Greek yogurt, but not yet wacky full of character enough to hang your clothes on a line, you can put a strainer over your bowl and then place the tea towel over that.
Note: I use tea towels because that's what I have. I've tried several layers of coffee filters and they work too, but they aren't quite as sturdy or, when layered thick, quite as porous and I prefer the towels. If using towels, they will need to be well-washed afterwards possibly with bleach or they will get really stinky after a few times of mediocre washing.

4. Once your tea towel is secured over your bowl, dump your yogurt into it. You can use whatever milk fat you'd prefer. I've made it from skim and I've made it from full. (News flash: The full fat is a lot yummier, but they're both creamy and punchy and interesting.) You could probably even take vanilla or another flavored yogurt and make yourself a thick, creamy, flavored yogurt, but I haven't done this, so I make no promises.

5. Let it sit. I put mine loosely covered in the refrigerator. However, you can safely leave your yogurt on the counter for several hours. Remember that at its heart, yogurt is soured, thickened milk, so room temperature is not its sworn enemy.

This is how I loosely cover it--with the edges of the tea towel; we try to keep it simple around here.

Note: Letting it sit will take at least a couple of hours. The longer you leave it the thicker it will become. If you leave it overnight or for 24 hours, you will actually end up with something akin to a soft cheese--something, in fact, that can be used in place of cream cheese at least in savory recipes (I haven't tried it in sweet). This is kind of fun and it makes for a healthier alternative to cream cheese (more calcium and the bacterial cultures). If you buy brand name cream cheese, making your own is even cost effective. Anyway, you'll have to check it every few hours, and see when it gets to the thickness you like it.

Today, I left mine for about 6 hours.



You can see how thick the yogurt has become. 

Today, I used this amazing full-fat yogurt that I intend to marry if Kip ever leaves me (ha, that'll show him). Today I used 6 ounces. After six hours, it weighed in at 3 ounces (which is a number so mathematically simple I could just kiss it, though I'm sure this number will vary somewhat depending on how much yogurt you dump into the bowl). The yogurt cost 6.99 for 5 pounds, which means that it cost approximately 6.99 for 2.5 pounds (or 40 ounces) of Greek yogurt. Which comes out to just over $1.00 for 6 oz of very thick full-fat Greek yogurt. Which is a pretty good price. If we had used cheap Aldi plain yogurt (at less than $2/2 lb, this would have been about $1.80/lb (or about .67 for 6 oz.), which is really not bad. And you still have the whey to throw into smoothies or use as a soup base if you wish. However, for me one of the big advantages of knowing how to make Greek yogurt is that you can do it even if your store doesn't carry Greek yogurt or if they still only carry fancy varieties. You can make it however thick you like. And, if thick enough, you can use it as a super healthy, super natural alternative for cream cheese or sour cream.

I'm hoping to use my new Greek yogurt on a healthy fruit pizza for dinner tonight. If it goes well you should see that recipe soon.

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