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Yogurt and Beyond
For all of you that love yogurt, this month we delve deeper into yogurt making and address a few questions I have gotten on making yogurt variations.

Specifically adding fruit, syrups, sugars, etc. for a smooth 'spoonable' yogurt

as well as making “stirred yogurt” and a thinner “drinkable yogurt”.

A Bit of History:

Traditionally, yogurt has been made as a simple “set” yogurt, which means that it was, heated, cooled to fermentation temperature, specific culture added, fermented, and then cooled to be left as a complete curd with no breaking of the yogurt mass before it was ready to eat.
This is also commonly known as “Balkan” or “Bulgarian style” yogurt (our Y1 culture). These yogurts are covered in the initial yogurt pages I did a while back. These yogurts are always fermented in their final consumer containers.

Then came Dannon Yogurt, originally produced in Spain as Danone, moving to France in 1929 to perfect their large scale production, and then to the Bronx in NY in 1942 where they changed the name to Dannon. However, they had one major problem; most Americans had never tasted yogurt and so their sales were confined to the New York City area. The traditional high acid flavor was not appreciated in America as it had been throughout Europe.

Then, in 1947, Dannon introduced yogurt with strawberry fruit on the bottom. This change truly appealed to the American taste with the sweetness of the fruit complementing the tart taste of the yogurt. Blueberry and raspberry fruit, as well as orange and lemon flavors, soon followed and became the favorite yogurt of America. The changes also included adding more sweeteners to these yogurts, which increased with time.

The next big change in yogurt was the switch to a low fat yogurt due to the health awareness of fat in diets that began to creep into the American culture during the 1950’s (“Fat is Bad”??).

Eventually the “stirred yogurt” (also known as “Swiss” style yogurt) evolved, which meant that the milk was heated, cooled to fermentation temperature, specific culture added, fermented in large vats, and then cooled to room temperature.
.... BUT for these, the yogurt was lightly stirred as fruit and sweeteners were blended into the yogurt body, and then dispensed into individual servings and chilled to storage temperature. Within 2 days this stirred yogurt begins to form back into a creamy consistency with the fruit and other flavors mixed evenly throughout. The texture is quite different from the “set” yogurt.

The newest entry to yogurt is the “drinkable” yogurt style. This is a style that is made similar to the stirred yogurt but the final acidity is slightly higher (for a brighter flavor) and the breaking of the coagulum is much more thorough with little to no recovery of firmness in the final cooling.

The “drinkables” are a real rising star in popularity to match our “on the go” lifestyle. Kids and young adults especially, just love these.

However, I must say that over the past several months, I have tested a lot of serious adult palettes with what I have been making and found that these were their new favorite yogurts.
I managed to get a family of friends spanning 3 generations to try my experiments and there was a unanimous "Yes!" from them.

The picture above indicates that there was also a cross species testing going on as well, with a pretty good approval rating.

Yogurt - the Basics:

The Process:

Essentially all yogurt starts with milk heated to 180F or higher and held for several (15-30) minutes before cooling to the target temperature for bacteria culture addition (108-112F) and then held at this temp for the culture to ferment the lactose in the milk and add the characteristic flavor of yogurt. The thick texture of yogurt is primarily due to the high heat destabilizing certain whey proteins and causing them to link together forming the yogurt body.
Without this step in heating and cooling, you really do not have a true yogurt.  The final result would be a much thinner fermented milk. Not that this is bad, but it is not yogurt. Many folks want to preserve the enzymes and other goodies of raw milk and for them I encourage exploring the more complex cultures of kefir.

The Cultures: 

A good yogurt culture is primarily made up of 2 high temperature Thermophilic cultures:

  • Streptococcus.thermophilus – The initial acid producer
  • Lactobacillus.bulgaricus – capable of producing a higher acid level

These cultures tend to work in tandem and are actually symbiotic, meaning they do better together than either does separately. Each provides something for the other, teamwork, you know!

Not all cultures are the same because the balance of the two major culture groups above may be blended in different ratios producing different levels of acidity, textures, and flavors. There also may be many different strains of each type. For example:

  • our tangiest yogurt is the Y1 ‘Bulgarian’ yogurt with the thermophilus to bulgaricus ratio at 1:1 with equal parts of each. This one is most like the continental yogurts of eastern Europe.
  • our sweetest yogurt is the Y5 ‘Sweet’ yogurt and the balance is 4:1. The bulgaricus is only 20% of the blend, so it has a lower amount of acid.
    This is the one I will be using for this session. This one also includes two probiotic culture additions, meaning that they have the potential of residing in the digestive tract and providing benefits for digestion.
  • and in between, we have the Y3 which will give you a good balance between the other two.

For the trials I will be working with here I have chosen Ricki’s Y5 or ‘sweet’ yogurt pack. 

Some Notes on Making Yogurt in Different Styles:

For the set yogurt I have already done an extensive page previously found in our recipe section.

For making the stirred yogurt or the drinking yogurt we need to make some changes to the process for a less firm texture.

  1. The use of different strains and balances in your yogurt culture will change the texture of the final product.
  2. Less initial heating of the milk (170-185F) will be another major control point, as well as little to no hold time in at that temperature before cooling. Lower temp and time will result in less changes in the whey proteins and thus less linking of these for a thinner yogurt.
  3. Stirring of the yogurt part way through the final cooling stage (at 65-70F) will break up the firm yogurt texture into a much looser mass. The fruit and other additions can be added at this point.
  4. Finally, the yogurt should be cooled to its final temperature of 36-39F.

Making Stirred and Drinkable Yogurts:

The following guide should offer plenty of info on preparing either the stirred or drinkable yogurt, plus some great info for adding flavors and sweeteners.

Before you Begin:

You will need:

  • 1/2 gallon of milk (low or full fat)
  • 1 packet of our Y5 culture
  • Fruit to your specs .. see suggestions below
  • Citric acid as needed .. see suggestions below
  • A good thermometer
  • A stainless steel pot large enough to hold the milk
  • Automatic Yogurt Maker, Yogotherm, or an insulated cooler with warm water to keep the milk and culture warm for the incubation period.
  • Jars or small sanitized containers to hold the yogurt.

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.  This includes the jars or containers and their lids that the yogurt will reside in. It is best to do this before you begin heating the milk.
Also make sure your yogurt maker is set up and if using a cooler to keep it warm, preheat now with hot water so it will be ready as soon as the yogurt is at culture temperature and the culture added.

Choice of Milk:

In choosing the milk for making yogurt, we do not need to be concerned so much with high temp processing because in this process we begin with a high heat step; although the use of ultra-pasteurized milk may lead to excessive texture and perhaps some caramelized flavors from the high temps used.

For these trials, I have intentionally chosen a local milk that is normally problematic in cheese making due to high temperature pasteurization since it is pasteurized at several degrees higher than needed. I have done this to be sure that these milks work for the yogurt and they most certainly do.

High fat or low fat milk can be used here. The higher fat will have more flavor, but if adding flavors lower fat should be no problem. The best tasting milk, of course, makes the best yogurt. Raw milk can also be used because the heating process will eliminate most harmful bacteria.

Heating the Milk:

Begin by heating 1/2 gallon of milk to 180F. This will be the step that transforms certain proteins in the milk into texture producing components for the yogurt. Without this step you may have a very thin and watery yogurt.
For a firm, thick yogurt, I normally heat to 185F and hold at this temperature for 15-30 minutes to transform the proteins.


For these yogurts, we are looking for a more fluid yogurt and I find that controlling the temperature of heating to 175-180F is best. Also, do not hold for any time at this temperature because we do not want the yogurt to be too thick or grainy.

For your first batch, stay at the higher end of the scale and if your yogurt ends up too thick, simply reduce the initial heating temperature for your next batch but not to below 175F or you will have little to no yogurt texture.

I begin by placing the milk jug into a pan of hot water and begin heating it while I prepare my yogurt containers and the incubation containers for the real work.
I then pour the milk into my pot over a low flame and continue the heating slowly to 180F.

Cooling the Milk to 110F and Adding Culture:

So, we began by heating to 180F.  Once the milk is at this temperature, you can begin cooling the milk.
This is best done in a sink of cold water and changing the water frequently.
The final temperature should be about 112-114F.

The culture can be added at this point. To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in. Make sure your method of incubation is ready.

With good insulation in the ripening chamber, this should stabilize at 110F. Initially you may want to check the temp half way through but this will release some of the heat from the thermal mass.

Keeping the yogurt warm for ripening:

This is the incubation stage and I find that 110F for about 3 hours works well here.  But, if your yogurt seems too thin then use more time. At this phase the bacteria are working at their optimum rate, as long as the temperature is correct and they are given enough time. They are now converting the lactose (milk sugars) to lactic acid for that nice sharp yogurt taste. They are also producing some typical flavors in the yogurt.

Incubation can be done in many ways as seen above.

Once the incubation is finished you will see that the yogurt has taken on a firmer texture along with a tarter flavor. You may also notice a little bit of whey on the surface. This is an indication that the milk now needs cooling to avoid becoming too tart. Excess ripening here will lead to a very sharp flavor, whey separation, and a grainy texture for the yogurt.
Initial cooling to 68-77F will slow the bacteria and the acid production. This is the point where we add flavors and break the texture for a smoother yogurt.

Once you have your fermented yogurt, you can add flavors and stir to a consistency you like.
The following flavor additions are all for 1 quart of yogurt to allow you to divide a 2 quart batch into separate 1 quart flavor experiences.
If you like making a full 2 quart batch, you can simply double all of the ingredients below for a 2 quart addition.

Preparing Flavors Additions:

For your flavor additions, I have included some info from our trials that have been REALLY well received. This will be added to the yogurt in the next step.

1) Mixed Berries

Start with 1/2-1 cup of frozen or fresh berries (I use mixed berries)
1 Tbs raspberry preserve
1-2 tsp local honey (to suit your taste)

for brighter fruit, add 1/16 tsp citric acid (you could use 1/2 a lime) optional
Puree all

2) Peach

2 peaches
1-2 tsp local honey to your taste
for brighter fruit, add 1/16 tsp citric acid (you could use 1/2 a lime) optional
Puree all

3) Mango Banana Lime

1/2 to1 whole peeled mango
1/2 to 1 whole ripe banana
2 tsp local honey
juice of 1 lime

Puree all
Adding more banana or mango can change the fruit focus, as you like

4) Cardamom

This one is more savory than sweet and was a big hit with my semi-pro tasting panel.

1-1.5 Tbs Cardomom pods cracked with a heavy pan or in a mortar to release the seeds
This is an infusion, so add to the milk as you are heating it and strain from the warm milk before adding the culture and ripening the yogurt, then continue with step 3 in the instructions below.
I found that we liked this one showing the tartness of the yogurt as a more savory drink but you could add some honey to suit your taste during step 3 below

Adding Flavor Additions and Finishing your Yogurt:

  1. Start with 1qt of cultured yogurt chilled only to 68-77F
  2. Add flavor puree to your yogurt
  3. For the drinking yogurt stir vigorously
    BUT for the swiss style yogurt only stir as needed to incorporate the ingredients.
    The swiss style will firm up on chilling for 1-2 days providing a thicker 'spoonable' yogurt
  4. pour into your serving jars.
  5. Chill to 36-39F for 1-2 days.
  6. ENJOY!
A few observations from our research:
  • If you find that your final yogurt is too thick, you can make adjustments by adding a bit of milk to it and stirring well. We have found that we like it the texture of a 'smoothie' here but this probably would not work with a straw.
  • Also, using a lower initial temperature and even a shorter incubation time will yield a thinner textured yogurt.
  • The use of different strains and balances in your yogurt culture will change the texture of the final product.
  • Lower fat will yield a thinner yogurt.
  • As in most of our recipes, the important thing is always to make them the way you want.

In addition to all of our experimenting with yogurt texture and flavors over the past few months, we have taken it upon ourselves to taste some of the commercial examples of drinkable yogurt and kefir both here and in Europe since we have been researching cheese making in Italy and France during the month of September.
We have found many examples in France and Italy with a wonderful smooth texture and limited sugar added - more like what our home made experiences have shown.

In America we have found that some of the commercial examples are quite good, but a few problems we have found are:

  • Many tend to have too much sweetener added
  • Many have left a rather chalky or slight gritty texture due to the additions of thickeners, etc.
  • The commercial examples are much more expensive than what we can make at home.

The research for this month's recipe was a lot of fun.  Exploring flavors and additions and changing the texture of yogurt, I made a lot of food-centric friends very happy with my samples.

The key with this months recipe is to have fun with it and try different additions.  So until next month, Arrivederci from Italia!

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