Sunday, January 24, 2016

Crock Pot Yogurt

Yogurt is nutritionally rich in protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamins B6 and B12 and its benefits go beyond those of milk, namely because of its probiotics. It’s a food that’s been around for a looooong time.

The oldest writing mentioning yogurt dates back to the year AD 23 by Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, naturalist and philosopher, who remarked that “barbarous nations" knew how to “thicken the milk into a substance with an agreeable acidity”. Variations of cultured milk products can be found all over the globe. From India to South Asia, Sumatra, Nepal, Northern Iran, Russia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey, to Greece, Germany, and Egypt. In Western countries we typically see yogurt made from cow’s milk, but around the world it may be goat’s milk or buffalo milk that are used.

According to Wikipedia, yogurt was introduced to the United States in the first decade of the twentieth century and was popularized by John Harvey Kellogg at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where it was used both orally and in enemas (!), and later by Armenian immigrants Sarkis and Rose Colombosian, who started “Colombo and Sons Creamery” in Massachusetts in 1929. Colombo yogurt was originally delivered around New England in a horse-drawn wagon inscribed with the Armenian word “madzoon” which was later changed to “yogurt”, the Turkish name of the product, as Turkish was the lingua franca between immigrants of the various Near Eastern ethnicities who were the main consumers at that time. Yogurt’s popularity in the US was enhanced in the 1950s and 1960s when it was presented as a health food. By the late 20th Century, yogurt had become a common American food item and Colombo Yogurt was sold in 1993 to General Mills, which discontinued the brand in 2010.

Unfortunately most Western people, when they think of yogurt, think of the kind they can buy in little 6 ounce cups with the foil lid as healthy. Unfortunately, that’s simply not true. 

The food industry has a reputation for taking incredibly healthy stuff and turning it into processed junk food, and this is exactly what’s happened to yogurt. Giant food corporations such as General Mills (Yoplait), Groupe Danone (Dannon), Walmart and PepsiCo are saturating the market with yogurt that is a far cry from what yogurt was intended to be. 

The first thing you should be aware of is that commercial yogurt usually comes from milk produced by cows that are confined and not able to graze on open pasture. This is not just a nice "feel good" feature that milk should have - this actually affects the nutritional quality of the yogurt itself! These cows are usually fed GMO (genetically modified) grains, not grass. As the yogurt ferments, chemical defoamers are sometimes added (you don’t even want to know what that is). And colors, preservatives and gut-harmful carrageenan can be dumped in. 

Commercial yogurt is far too often filled with high-fructose corn syrup, other questionably processed sugars like hydrolyzed liquid GMO sugar beets or sugar cane, pesticides and artificial colors simulating “fruit". The result of this mess is something so devoid of health, something so foreign to the concept that yogurt was supposed to be, that it’s simply not yogurt anymore!

Are there good yogurts on the market? Of course. You want to get plain organic yogurt (either Greek or regular), preferably full-fat (with whole milk) which you sweeten yourself with fruit, raw honey or maple syrup. Don’t buy those that contain thickeners and stabilizers, carrageenan, artificial sweeteners, added sugar, artificial colors and flavors, synthetic nutrients, milk protein concentrate or preservatives.

You can check out this article if you want to compare and find a good one.

I recommend you read labels carefully and buy from your health food store, as there is simply nothing of any value at your regular supermarket. Or better yet, make the stuff yourself - that is, after all, what I’m here for. 

I have this lovely little contraption (photo left) that I’ve been using for years. It’s very convenient and costs less than $20. There are 7 glass jars in there under that dome that can provide you with a week’s worth of yogurt. It’s very handy. But you only get about 42 oz. of yogurt.

I just got a new Crock Pot for Christmas, because the lid on my old one broke. And I wondered if I couldn’t somehow use that to make a bigger batch of homemade yogurt. And guess what? You can! Here’s how.

Crock pot yogurt

Turn crock pot to low and pour in 1/2 gallon milk.  For the creamiest texture and best taste use whole organic milk. Heat on low for 2-1/2 hours.

Turn crock pot off and and unplug. Cool milk in the crock with the lid on for 3 hours.

After 3 hours, remove 1-2 cups of warmed milk and place in a bowl. To that milk, add starter yogurt.  (NOTE: This means a 6 oz. individual, store-bought plain organic yogurt. I used Greek yogurt and it came out great but you don’t have to. Regular yogurt will do.)

Thoroughly combine the milk and starter, mixing very well.

Pour the starter-milk back into the crock pot with the rest of the milk and whisk thoroughly.

Place the cover back on the crock and wrap the entire crock pot in a thick bath towel or two.

Culture overnight (leaving it out on your counter). After the culturing period, store in glass containers in the refrigerator. For optimum texture, refrigerate for at least 6 hours before using.

I tried this recipe and loved it. It is fabulously creamy and satisfying. Use the whole milk - you simply don’t get this with 2% or non-fat milk. Don’t bother with those! Good quality fats are not to be feared. They have a place in a healthy diet as long as they are naturally-derived.

NOTES: This recipe was developed using a 2-quart crock. If you are using a crock pot with a different capacity, adjustment may be required. Always test the temperature of the unit first, using water. Make adjustments as necessary to maintain the temperature required.
If your crock pot reaches temperatures greater than 115 degrees F it will pasteurize raw milk, killing the milk’s ambient bacteria. If your crock pot does not maintain a consistent temperature, results may vary.

This recipe is compliments of Cultures for Health, a great resource for getting starter cultures for just about anything you’d want to culture, such as yogurt, kefir, or to ferment vegetables. They have a tremendous amount of information on their site as well as videos you can watch on how to do all sorts of culturing and fermenting at home. Check them out.

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