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Lactobacillus love: Is it wrong?

Making yogurt in a slow cooker is super easy. It's helping me get enough calcium in my diet. And boy, is it delicious.

By Donna_Freedman May 23, 2011 3:42PM

I never cared much for yogurt. It generally seemed too sour to me, unless it was loaded with fruit and sugar or turned into tzatziki sauce on a gyro sandwich.

Apparently I just never had the right kind of yogurt.

I'd heard that the homemade version is better than the commercial kind. I'd also read about people making yogurt in a slow cooker. After looking online for instructions, I settled on the process described at A Year of Slow Cooking.

And then I improved on it.

It's time-consuming but very simple:

  • Pour 2 quarts of milk into a slow cooker.
  • Cover and cook on low for 2½ hours.
  • Unplug the slow cooker and let stand, covered, for three hours.
  • Pour 2 cups of the milk into a bowl and whisk in ½ cup of an active-culture yogurt; put the mixture back into the slow cooker and stir to combine.
  • Put the lid back on and wrap the entire slow cooker in a heavy bath towel to insulate.
  • Let stand for eight hours.

I start it after supper and by bedtime I'm wrapping the slow cooker. When I get up the next morning, I've got 2 quarts of yogurt.

In theory.

No whey!

Most commercial yogurts use some sort of thickening agent, such as pectin. Homemade yogurt is much thinner, and a little tangier than I'd like. It would be great for smoothies, but I wanted to eat the stuff from a dish. Without wincing.

The author, Stephanie O'Dea, suggests creating "a Greek-style yogurt" by straining the product through a coffee-filter-lined colander. I used a flour-sack towel from the dollar store instead, since it's washable vs. disposable. (It's the same towel I used to strain the grapes that I gleaned from a neighboring fence.)

I poured in about a cup at a time and set the colander over a bowl in the fridge. The whey dripped through, leaving a thick, creamy and milder-tasting yogurt. I spooned it out and into a jar, then poured in another cup. Ultimately I ended up with a quart of finished product.

It takes hours to drain the whole batch. But during this time frame I'm doing other things, just as the yogurt setting up happens while I'm asleep.


The result is delicious: rich, smooth and not at all sour, although a subtle tang remains. It's wonderful with fruit -- as good as ice cream, but healthier. I've had it with sliced bananas, applesauce (made from a 99-cent bag of "manager's special" fruit), homemade jams, and gleaned, stewed rhubarb. This summer I'm looking forward to eating it with free blackberries.

A dollop makes baked potatoes quite tasty. Mixed with salsa, it made a nice topping for a side dish of pinto beans.

Yes, whey

Throwing out the separated liquid seemed like a bad idea. Why waste all that whey protein?

Thus far I've added it to soup stock, chili and spaghetti sauce. Each morning I fix my super easy, super cheap oatmeal with half water and half whey. The flavor is yogurty, but not overwhelmingly so.

I'm hoping to make yogurt while I'm house-sitting in Anchorage, using a slow cooker borrowed from my niece. Milk here is more expensive thanks to the Alaska gouge, so I'll watch for sales and/or close-dated moo juice. In Seattle, I've paid as little as $1.25 per half-gallon. Initially I also had to buy a container of yogurt for starter; after that, I just saved half a cup from each batch. (Note: The starter doesn't have to be strained.)

I'm delighted to have found a palatable way to get more calcium in my diet. I don't like to drink milk, and I don't often eat spinach, mustard greens, tofu, canned salmon or other high-calcium foods. Despite taking a daily supplement, I'm concerned about my teeth and bones. The probiotic benefits of yogurt are a plus, too.

If you have the time, I'd strongly suggest firing up your own slow cooker. You can paint this as an eco-friendly move: How many little plastic containers are you throwing away each month?

Or you can look at it as a frugal hack. I got a quart of high-quality product for $1.25 or so. How much are you paying per cup or carton?

I haven't tried making my own tzatziki yet. But give me time and a few cucumbers and I probably will.

MSN Money columnist Donna Freedman blogs at Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.

More on MSN Money:

Jul 19, 2011 6:59PM
Does anyone know if it can be made using non- or low-fat milk?  I can't wait to try this.
Jun 14, 2011 7:47AM
Where have you been all my life?  Just discovered your column and immediately put into practice several ideas.  I remembered making yogurt in my hippie college days, couldn't buy it then, too expensive and sugary now, I've got the slow cooker warming up even as I write.  We live on a limited budget (don't we all?) in South America, I plan to make your column daily reading.
Mar 29, 2012 1:25PM
who wouldn't like a very moist muffin!
Nov 15, 2011 1:44PM
I use yogurt to make muffins with, makes a very moist muffin.  I also make a smoothie for my kids that uses yogurt, I'll have to try this slow cooker recipe for yogurt.   I can buy 10 six ounce cups of flavored yogurt for $4, sometimes for $3, but this way I could have both yogurt & whey... hmmm the possibilities are endless.  I'd probably use the whey in place of buttermilk in my breads, pancakes, muffins, soups, etc.
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