I’m a big fan of yogurt, and many of my blog posts have discussed yogurt’s health benefits. It’s a great dairy source of calcium, vitamin D, protein and others. It may even help to lose weight, and the healthy bacteria does wonders for stomach health.
I am also a big fan of taking full control of your food purchases here in China, such as making your own soy milk to avoid all the milk scandal issues. So here’s my new tip: make your own yogurt at home! in the past, I usually recommended the local Herun brand of firm unsweetened yogurt, but I recently got inspired by fellow Beijing blogger Nutritoneer’s experience with homemade yogurt. So I finally took the plunge — and I now have no intention of going back.
First step: buy a yogurt maker. There are many brands, but we again followed Nutritoneer’s advice and bought the Bear 小熊 brand (easily bought online at Amazon China here http://tinyurl.com/n8kvydk ). It’s actually wonderfully easy and quick to use a yogurt maker! It literally takes about 5 minutes to make. You simply add the amount of yogurt starter, blend with the milk, set the machine for how many hours, press the button and that’s it! Eight to ten hours later, you have fresh yogurt.
You only need two ingredients for this: a small amount of yogurt as starter, and a lot of milk. Here are some tips:
1. Starter yogurt: You can use any brand, but I think there are only a couple obvious local choices for starter. Tops would be Green Yard organic yogurt, and second would be Wondermilk. Many imported brands are available but I personally feel most are too expensive. Plus, as I mention below, imported brands can fail as a starter. As for my previous favorite, the Herun brand, it’s now difficult to recommend this after the Nutritoneer’s recent yogurt failures using this brand as a starter. Maybe I’ll try it again someday.
By the way, I definitely recommend not using the sugar-added yogurt! If you want a sweeter yogurt, then add some fruits or berries.
2. Milk : You can use any type of milk, from skim to whole, but I recommend using skim or lowfat, as whole milk results have way too much fat. I had heard that soy milk also works, but my batch didn’t blend well at all. I’ve experimented with the imported boxed UHT milk from Metro as well as local Sanyuan, Wondermilk and Green Yard. So far, my favorite is Sanyuan‘s premier brand called ESL. I use their skim milk, which very surprisingly has a satisfying taste (I usually hate skim).
Sanyuan’s milk isn’t organic, so I could take that next level (Green Yard vs. imported boxed) in order to more guarantee quality control. But for now, I’m content with this balance of cost and quality. However, whenever we have a child, I would definitely switch to organics or imported. I’m still extremely wary of Chinese milk products after the awful melamine scandal killed Chinese children, and there’s no way I would risk my child’s health with Chinese milk.
3. Milk powder: this step isn’t needed, and is only to make your yogurt thicker. I am a big fan of thick yogurt and really dislike China’s unfortunate preference for pourable yogurt. I had read that milk powder can help, but after a few tries with local Nestlé brand, I didn’t notice a huge difference and just stopped using it. Perhaps another brand would help better, as Nutritoneer uses an imported brand.
4. Cooking time: Most machines automatically cook for 8 to 10 hours. I’m still figuring out the best time, but longer seems a bit better for me. I have found it easiest to cook overnight (turn it on at 11pm) and wake up to fresh, warm yogurt. One small snag with my brand : it automatically stops after finishing but keeps beeping until you pull the plug. So you have to time the cooking properlyor you will be woken up from the beeping.
We’ve been experimenting for a few weeks already and are very pleased with the results — usually. So far, my best batch used 100ml of Green Yard no-sugar organic yogurt with 700ml Sanyuan ESL low-fat milk, cooked for 9 hours. My second best (thick and tangy) used 60ml Green Yard organic yogurt with 750ml of Metro’s AKA brand UHT whole milk and 80ml of Nestlé milk powder (bought from Metro).
The only total failure so far, surprisingly for me, involved an imported European yogurt as starter. After 8 hours, the milk was a thin mess and no fermentation had occurred. Clearly, this yogurt no longer had any living bacteria! I certainly won’t be trying that again, especially any imported yogurt which claims a six month shelf life. It may technically be sterile and “healthy”, but I just don’t see how living bacteria is supposed to survive more than a couple weeks inside a sealed container, especially after an arduous journey on cargo boats, exposed to extreme variations of temperatures in the shipping containers .
Overall, my wife and I are very happy with making our own yogurt. Not only do we guarantee freshness, but we eliminate much of the omnipresent Chinese uncertainty about unknown preservatives, artificial chemicals and harmful germs. It’s another big step in taking control of my food choices and eliminating a lot of the usual safety concerns in the Chinese marketplace. Plus, it’s fun!