Food Less Plastic: DIY Yogurt in Glass

When I was little, back when kids had to walk long distances carrying heavy books and metal lunch boxes, no one ate yogurt or applesauce in plastic tubes. We did have Otter Pops, those clear plastic tubes filled with not-at-all-naturally-colorful sugar water you could freeze for your own artificially flavored summer refreshment, but I can’t think of any real food in plastic tubes. If you were really lucky, someone would send you a packet of freeze-dried ice cream (the same dessert real astronauts ate in space!) from a museum gift shop (thank you, Aunt Freddie!), and you’d shudder when you read about the nutritionally balanced goo the astronauts ate.

I’m not saying that today’s yogurt tubes are the equal of the astronaut food tubes, but I do wonder about them. Do we really need to eat our food from plastic tubes? I know we’re busy people, and that a lot of us eat a lot of our meals on the go, rushing from one thing to another. But are we ready to give up on spoons and forks and the simultaneous challenge and joy of licking bowls? And does it make sense to use non-recyclable petroleum plastic, a substance that has incredible longevity, to package to-go food that will be consumed in less than a minute (according to the yogurt tube consumption speeds of the kids I know)?

yogurt in small glass jars, ready for on-the-go eating, lunch bags, and snacks at home – photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

Here’s how I got off the plastic yogurt tube and tub train without driving myself crazy. And before you write this off as the territory of people who have the time and money to dabble in fussy foods, let me tell you that I started making yogurt during a recent period in my life when I had neither of those things in abundance. I do this because it is easier and cheaper than driving to the store to buy yogurt, my yogurt-loving child thinks it tastes better, and it’s a way to cut down on our landfill waste.

You’ll need just one small tub of yogurt with live cultures to start you off, and after that you can have all the yogurt your family desires, free from non-recyclable plastic packaging. The most expensive part of this is the jars to hold the yogurt, but that’s only if you want to buy a specific size. I bought a box of the smallest Mason jars in my local hardware store during the canning season sale, and they’ve been worth every penny. They’re sturdy enough to withstand drops and bumps and other eating family eating chaos, they’re small enough to fit into my kids’ school lunches, and their lids don’t leak. But I also reuse jars from salsa, jam, mustard, etc and they work just as well for larger portions.

Kid-friendly jar of yogurt topped with maple syrup – photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

Here’s how to make your own yogurt. This is not a precise recipe – Remember that people have been making yogurt since at least 2000 BCE. Get in touch with your Neolithic ancestors and do it their way, no fancy equipment required.

You’ll need these things:

High-quality fresh milk – Pasteurized is fine, but ultra-pasteurized and shelf stable UHT milks won’t work. Cow’s milk and goat’s milk work perfectly. I’ve heard that coconut, soy, almond, hemp, and other non-mammalian milks can work, too. You may need a bit of thickener for those, something like coconut flour, to make them as thick as dairy yogurt.

Some yogurt to provide your starter culture. You’ll need a few tablespoons to 1/4 cup per 1/2 gallon of milk. Your favorite store-bought yogurt with live cultures will work – Read the label to make sure that’s what you’ve got. Then you’ll want to save some of your first batch of home-made yogurt to start your second, and so on.

Clean wide-mouth glass jars with matching lids, any size. I love 4 oz jelly jars for kid-sized and sturdy yogurt to go; larger Mason jars are great to scoop adult servings from.

A spot as warm as an armpit (that’s the happy yogurt temperature). After much experimentation, I’ve settled on this technique:

A cooler large enough to hold your yogurt jars and several other large jars.

Several large jars (1 quart – 1 gallon) filled with hot water.

Clean towels or other thick fabric to insulate your jars.

Here’s what to do:

Heat some milk to scalding. I put my uncovered pan of milk on a burner turned to 8 out of 10 on my stove’s dial, then hang about watching for that moment when a skin just starts to form on the surface and tiny bubbles gather around the edges. The second that happens, I turn the heat off, move the pan off the burner and leave it to cool to body temperature.

Wait, how much milk should you use? However much you’d like. You can measure the volume of the jars you’d like to fill and heat that quantity of milk, or you can just wing it and find jars to match.

Stir a few tablespoons of your starter yogurt into the cooled milk. Stir very well, so all those active cultures from the yogurt are evenly distributed in the milk. I like to use 1/4 cup of yogurt for 1/2 gallon of milk, but even 2 Tablespoons should be enough if your starter yogurt is lively with active cultures.

Pour the milk & starter culture into your clean jars. Leave a bit of room at the top of your jar, so there’s no contact between the yogurt and the lid.

Put the lids on your jars.

Stack your jars into the center of your cooler, making sure the lid will close securely.

Surround  your stacked jars of yogurt with jars filled with the hottest tap water you can get. Don’t worry if you only have room for 2 or 3 hot water jars.

Pack clean towels or other such material around the hot water and yogurt jars so that everything is nicely insulated. 

Close the lid of your cooler, making sure it is well and truly shut tight (I put a couple of heavy books on top of mine to be sure).

Let it all sit undisturbed for 4 – 10 hours, or until the runny milk has turned into lovely, thick yogurt. I usually do this when I’m heading to bed, then I take the finished yogurt out in the morning when I’m up, 6-8 hourslater. A friend of mine likes hers after 4 hours; experiment to see what works for your taste. The more often you open the cooler, the more heat you lose. If you check often, you’ll want to freshen up the hot water jars to keep the cooler’s interior temperature as warm as an armpit.

Store your finished yogurt in the fridge. You can stir in maple syrup, jam, fresh fruit, whatever you desire.

All gone! This jar is ready to hold the next batch of DIY yogurt – photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

Interested in more DIY food and ideas for your kitchen? Please visit our Trash Backwards app where we have reduce, reuse, and hundreds of DIY tutorials for you to read. Here’s a sampling of what’s in our Kitchen & Dining category:

 

Click Through for Green Tips for Your Kitchen at Trash Backwards

Click Through for Green Tips for Your Kitchen at Trash Backwards

This post was adapted from the original at Rock Farmer, used here by permission to grow the DIY yogurt-in-glass family around the world.


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8 Comments on “Food Less Plastic: DIY Yogurt in Glass”

  1. bethro
    March 31, 2012 at 4:11 am #

    I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, but I’m a little concerned about attracting bad bacteria and not knowing it. I’ve made beer, wine, cheese, and sourdough starter so I know clean materials are key, but I also know from those things that sometimes no matter how hard you try, equipment is contaminated. Is there any information out there on how likely homemade yogurt is to go bad?

    • March 31, 2012 at 9:02 am #

      A good question, and I’m sure you’re not alone in this concern. Here’s a link to the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s information about home made yogurt, along with required temperatures and a reminder to pasteurize any non-commercial milk before you begin: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/factsheets/yogurt.html I did a good bit of research before I started using the method I describe above. We each need to make our own call about things like the safety of raw milk (I get ours from a dairy that’s certified in our state; that works for me while it horrifies other people I know and respect). I didn’t spell out the requirement to use very clean utensils, cooking vessels, and jars because I assume that’s standard practice for home cooks. I don’t add any flavorings or fruit until the yogurt is served because additions like that are one way to undo the natural protection the acidity of the yogurt itself gives against some food-borne pathogens. This method works for me, but there are other instructions that might be more in your comfort zone. Whatever method you choose, I hope you’ll give it a try – The end result is amazing!

      • bethro
        March 31, 2012 at 10:24 am #

        Thanks for the quick response. I especially appreciate the link and the tip about the fruit.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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