Nov 072012
 

 

make your own yogurtI’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!

  13 Responses to “Make Your Own Yogurt!”

  1. We’ve been making our own yogurt here for years. We use the Easyo yogurt maker–no electricity and it works perfectly. We use Asahi milk only. I don’t trust any Chinese brands of any kind, even those labelled organic. We did use Sanyuan for a while, but then their milk suddenly and without warning stopped setting. Something changed in their milk, and since then we won’t use any Chinese milk.

    For a great starter that you can trust, we use Paul’s from Australia that our local Jenny Lou’s carries. We’ve also used a Greek brand, Fage Total. Both kinds are available unsweetened. Personally I think Paul’s sets the best and is very consistent, though Fage isn’t bad and usually works fine. Both yield a nice, thick yogurt. As you mention, they are expensive. But in our view a little expense is worth a bit more security (Are the organic farms over here even giving the cows filtered water to drink? Every time?). And once you take one tub and make a whole batch of yogurt it’s still a great deal.

    And as to whether good bacteria survives the trip from Australia (or wherever), no boat yet invented is more hellish than the human digestive tract. Yogurt is made packed with way more bacteria than necessary to ensure that bacteria will survive into the intestines–hence the controversy over probiotic pills with coatings that aren’t strong enough to withstand the stomach. Ultimately, if your foreign imported yogurt is setting well, you’ve got plenty of live bacteria.

    • Thanks for the great response! I think I will try those starters you mentioned. As for Sanyuan milk, that’s a concerning story. I haven’t tried Asahi yet — why do you consider this safer, since it is still make on mainland China and isn’t organic? I understand that many Japanese in Beijing drink this but I don’t see how this is any better than organic Green Yard or even Wondermilk…

      Regards,
      Richard

      —————————-
      Richard Saint Cyr MD

    • Thanks for the great response! I think I will try those starters you mentioned. As for Sanyuan milk, that’s a concerning story. I haven’t tried Asahi yet — why do you consider this safer, since it is still make on mainland China and isn’t organic? I understand that many Japanese in Beijing drink this but I don’t see how this is any better than organic Green Yard or even Wondermilk…

      Regards,
      Richard

      —————————-
      Richard Saint Cyr MD

      • Yes, you’re right. Asahi isn’t organic and is produced here. I guess it all comes down to trust. Do I trust the Chinese organic producers or the Japanese more? In this area, I have to go with the Japanese, who do oversee production and (unless I have been told an untruth, which is always possible) are using cows imported from New Zealand and feed imported from Japan. I have to say that the taste of Asahi milk is really excellent–and I don’t even care for straight milk. Knowing how extremely seriously the Japanese take cleanliness and sanitation, I just am rolling the dice and going with them rather than the Chinese organic. I also have to say that in the five or six years I’ve been doing yogurt in Beijing, I never have had as good yogurt sets with any other milk as I have with Asahi. It usually comes out thicker and richer than with other milk. But obviously this is a personal choice for anyone making yogurt! I hope you continue to enjoy your yogurt-making!

        • I will definitely try Asahi some time. I, like you, also instinctively trust Japanese products more, so that definitely is a plus for Asahi. Thanks for the tip. But again, I believe that both Green Yard and Wondermilk also imported their cows.

        • I will definitely try Asahi some time. I, like you, also instinctively trust Japanese products more, so that definitely is a plus for Asahi. Thanks for the tip. But again, I believe that both Green Yard and Wondermilk also imported their cows.

  2. I am so happy I discovered your fantastic blog, I have many more hours of reading to do here! But first I will comment on this great post. I have been encouraging everyone I know to make their own yogurt ever since I started making it at home myself about three years ago. I guess I’m crazy in that I use domestic yogurt for my starter–usually I just run to the nearest convenience store and buy the smallest container possible (~2RMB) as I only use about a tablespoon of it. I’ve also found that pre-scalding the milk, and not touching the yogurt after it’s done (rather leaving it in the fridge at least 12 hours before even spooning into it) produces the very thickest consistency. I also tend to leave my yogurt in the machine (a Bear which I bought on Taobao for 36RMB) for a really long time, 18-20 hours. (Did this the first time by mistake and discovered it was the best batch yet.) All of these things produce a Greek yogurt style custardy yogurt that is luscious! I’ve also used a boiled washcloth (cheaper than buying cheesecloth) set in a colander to strain my yogurt overnight (in the fridge) to make a super thick cream cheese-like spread which is fantastic when mixed with some minced scallions or honey and walnuts. And don’t throw away the whey which drains off, put it in your soup or cereal! Finally: Asahi milk is the best I’ve tasted in China. Reminds me of milk I had on a dairy farm in the US when I was little. Oh right, one more tip–I have made delicious coffee flavored yogurt by adding a few tablespoons of espresso, and all kinds of fruit and essence flavored yogurts by adding vanilla extract, peppermint extract (go easy on this one) and other extracts to the milk before it goes in the machine. You can just add your sweetener of choice when the yogurt is done. (Or if you use stevia, you can also add it to the milk before culturing).

    • Thanks for all the yogurt tips! I’ll try a few. I like the flavoring idea. And maybe I’ll try Asahi milk; lately I am just using Sanyuan lowfat, works and tastes fine.
      Regards,
      Richard

      —————————-
      Richard Saint Cyr MD

    • Thanks for all the yogurt tips! I’ll try a few. I like the flavoring idea. And maybe I’ll try Asahi milk; lately I am just using Sanyuan lowfat, works and tastes fine.
      Regards,
      Richard

      —————————-
      Richard Saint Cyr MD

  3. I’ve been making my own yogurt for years as well, both here and in the states. It’s so much easier here with the long life milk. I have a basic yogurt maker but always try to leave mine in for 12 hours. Mine starts beeping, but what I do is unplug it and plug it back in to reset the timer. So if I plug it in at 6, I replug it before I go to bed and in the morning it’s not beeping at me.
    I have found a good powdered starter at a local baking store that has a Taobao shop. The store is just south of Anzhenqiao on the North 3rd ring. It makes the thickest yogurt I’ve used so far. Once you have your own yogurt, you can freeze a couple of tablespoons of it to use as a starter the next time. The best yogurt is made from the freshest starter you can find, so spoon off some before you eat it, but after you’ve chilled it, and you can use it the next time. You can get several generations before it starts getting too tart and you need new starter.
    With fresh milk, there are great instructions at http://www.makeyourownyogurt.com, which is how I first learned how to do it.

    • Thanks for the tips! I can customize my yogurt maker, cook for longer than 10 hours…as for thickening agents, I just ordered from iHerb (Nutritioneer recommended it) and I cant wait to try! These days I’m using Wondermilk and Green Yard starter but maybe will stick only with Green Yard…just read some interesting milk updates from Liora on Beijingmamas which swayed me a bit…

  4. After yet another bout of stomach illness from eating something bad (no matter how careful or picky i am, it keeps happening), I just bought a yogurt maker and am excited to try this out. I’ve been buying probiotic pills from iherb.com for about a year now, and they have helped reduce the frequency of illness for me (even respiratory!) by a large amount; I used to get sick every month in BJ (no exaggeration) and now it’s only been twice in a year. A good part of the balance, I think, has also been eating yogurt frequently to reduce the burden on my digestive system.

    So I have a question for everyone: has anyone tried cracking open a probiotic pill and pouring it in with the starter yogurt and milk to make probiotic-fortified yogurt, like one finds in the US? When I’ve gotten food illness in the US, a quart of plain, unsweetened Stonyfield would make everything normal again in as little as 3-4 hours. That’s been the holy grail I’ve been searching for in china and am wondering if I could simply make it at home?

    • Your yogurt starter already has the same “probiotics” bacteria that you would have in the capsules. It certainly wouldn’t do any harm to add more healthy bacteria from your probiotic capsules to the yogurt…

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