Homemade yogurt – no special machine needed!

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November 27, 2012 by ka101010

Homemade plain yogurt

Homemade plain yogurt – with a dot of Vermont maple syrup swirled in

I don’t mind store-bought sweet yogurt in Seoul, but I often crave plain yogurt. Plain yogurt exists (ie: Denmark brand). Nearly all other brands are sweetened, so not good if I want to whip up some tsatziki. I’ve tried making tsatziki with store-bought sweetened plain yogurt and added salt = No. Gross. Consider yourself warned.

If you are equipped with a stove and a pot, you can make your own yogurt in Korea. There are tons of recipes and blogs around that will help you a understand basic yogurt science and mechanics (a few links included below).
The recipe I often use is from Ricki the Cheese Queen’s Home Cheesemaking book (who also has an awesome 30 minute mozzerella if you can procure rennet tablets). No special yogurt machine required! It does require a pot with a lid, stove, a food container with a lid, a quick read thermometer, and some way to keep the yogurt mixture warm for several hours. Only requires about 15 minutes of active effort.

Digital thermometer just to make yogurt? When I make yogurt, I use the same digital thermometer that I use to check the internal temp of my bread when it comes out of the oven. You could attempt this without a thermometer, but the margin of error increases dramatically, as well as your possibility for disappointment. We use our quick read thermometers for lots of stuff: baked goods, cheesemaking, beer mash, meats, etc.

Quick read kitchen thermometers

These are similar to the quick read digital thermometers we have at home. For yogurt, I use the “wand” shaped thermometer.

Thicker yogurt: This recipe uses cultures from a store-bought yogurt, dry milk helps to thicken it up (though you can omit if you like). Whole milk should result in a thicker product if you are able to maintain the right inoculation temps. You can make a Greek-style yogurt by straining the (finished) yogurt through butter muslin or even coffee filters. This will reduce your yield, but more closely approximate Fage and satisfy your Greek yogurt cravings.

In addition, the yogurt will have a thicker texture the if you can keep it around 100-113°F/38-45°C during incubation. If you have an oven, you can keep the covered pot in a warmed (and shut off) oven for 6+ hours. Allowing the yogurt to sit for longer will result in a tangier product. Slow cookers/crock pots work well, but you will need to constantly monitor the temp to insure it doesn’t overheat the yogurt. The ceramic insert in my crock pot maintains heat even after the crock pot is shut off. Check out The Girls Guide to Guns and Butter for more ideas, science and troubleshooting. Salad in a Jar also goes into depth about incubation without a yogurt maker.

If I can maintain the incubation temperature of the yogurt at approx 100-113°F/38-45°C, my final product is thick. Not as thick as Stonyfield (which employs pectin) but more viscous than Dannon. Not very tart, as long as I don’t accidentally go overboard on starter or incubation time. Extremely creamy. It gives off a little whey, too.

You can reserve 2 tablespoons of your current batch to make the next batch. I often eat all my yogurt within a week and keep forgetting to reserve (oops). Be aware that the cultures may die out after awhile.

Don’t add the yogurt starter at too high a temperature (above 116°F/46°C), this can kill the active cultures.

Does making your own yogurt in Korea save money? Answer is mostly yes, though this is even more true in the US since the milk is about half the price there. (And please try not to go over the deep end, laboring to calculate what 15 min of your time is “worth.” I’ve multitasked on my phone while waiting for the milk to heat up. If yogurt is an important part of your diet, you’ll get over this pretty quickly once you make your first successful batch.) 1 liter of conventional Ultra Pasteurized milk in Korea at a GS25 convenience store ranges from 1700-2500KRW. A tiny cup of plain yogurt costs about 850KRW. A 330 gram bag of Nestle brand powdered milk (which should be good for 9 batches at 900 grams each) costs around 6500KRW.

Total cost of 1 batch of about 900 grams of yogurt is around 4000KRW. Seems pricey, right? But compare this to the cost of Denmark Yogurt (the closest local equivalent to plain yogurt) at over 4500KRW for 450 grams. And Denmark is not sold at a lot of smaller marts, so some of us have to schlep all the way to a big EMart, Costco or a department store.

I am able to find all ingredients pretty easily at local stores near our apartment (with the exception of powdered dry milk, you need to go to a big Korean mart or Itaewon. Think of it as an investment with a good shelf life and lasts several months). You can also avoid the hassle of tracking down or ordering direct set cultures, or buying a 220V yogurt machine that you may need to abandon when you leave Korea. Best of all, you can brag to your expat and Korean friends and pass on the knowledge.

About milk in Korea:
I often use whatever cheap milk is available to make this yogurt (ie: Seoul Milk, Good Morning [구드머닝] etc). It is possible find low or nonfat milk in Korea, though whole milk is a lot more ubiquitous. You will have to inspect the nutrition label to see how many grams of fat and calories there are per 100ml.

Most milk in Korea is ULTRA-pasteurized and heated to a very high temperature in order to kill the nasties. I find that Ultra Pasteurized milk works fine for my yogurt.
If you are looking for low temperature milk (which preserves more nutrients), consider Pasteur or Ildong brands. These brands heat milk to no higher than 63°C, which also makes it suitable for cheesemaking!! Check the labels for “63°C” in order to make sure you have the right type of milk. Drawback is that they are more expensive than conventional milks and sometimes unavailable at small marts. You can have you milk delivered, but I haven’t found a brand that delivers for less than what I pay at the mart. If you get delivery in Seoul and like the service, price and dairy selection, please share!

Homemade yogurt (adapted from Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll)

Yields about 900 grams of yogurt goodness.

1 liter milk
1/4 cup dry milk powder
2 tablespoons plain yogurt (For active cultures/yogurt starter. If all you can find is sweetened plain like Yoplait, use that. It doesn’t affect the flavor too much)

Pour milk into a medium pot, one with a lid and enough room to allow you to stir the milk (this pot should also be well-cleaned and free of soap/food residue). When the milk is approx 55°F/13°C, whisk in the dry milk powder. Slowly heat the milk until it reaches 180°F/82°C (not quite boiling), occasionally stirring to ensure that dry milk is dissolved and fully incorporated.

Turn off the heat, allow the milk to cool to 116°F/46°C.

Stir in the yogurt starter and ensure it is fully incorporated. Cover the pot and leave in a warm place. I sometimes wrap the pot in a kitchen towel to keep it warm. You can place the covered pot in a warmed oven that has been shut off, or pour mixture into a crock pot/slow cooker and monitor temperature with a quick read thermometer so it doesn’t exceed

Wait about 6 hours. Check the yogurt, it should ressemble thick cream (viscosity of final product will increase when refrigerated). If it doesn’t look like thick cream yet, allow mixture to set a little longer. Once it sets to a thick texture, transfer to a clean glass/plastic food container, gently stir, and cover. Place yogurt in the fridge (preferably overnight). After chilling for several hours, yogurt texture should be smooth and ready to eat!

If anyone has other great tips and ideas for making yogurt in Seoul, please share!



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