Flavoring and Thickening Yogurt
Yogurt can be a refreshing treat, a delicious condiment, or a nourishing ingredient in a variety of foods. While many people enjoy yogurt fresh from culturing, some like to improve it by thickening or flavoring.
Depending on the type of milk and the culture you use, yogurt can be as thin and runny as cream, or as thick and solid as sour cream. Raw milk will usually produce a thinner yogurt than pasteurized milk. Here are some ways to produce a thicker yogurt.
Use milk with a higher fat content. The fat in yogurt is part of what makes it thick, so obviously whole milk will result in a thicker yogurt than skim milk. You can even use cream to make yogurt, or add cream to the milk to make a rich, thick, yummy yogurt.
Add milk solids. The coagulation of milk proteins is what produces the typical gelatinous texture of yogurt, so by increasing the proportion of milk solids, you will get a thicker yogurt. Powdered milk solids generally come in cow, goat, and soy varieties. You can add powdered (instant or non-instant) milk to the yogurt before adding the culture. For easy mixing, use a small amount of milk or water to reconstitute the powdered milk before adding it to the fresh milk. Using powdered milk alone, without fresh milk, may give you poor results because the powdered milk is highly processed. As a general rule of thumb, for every 3 to 4 cups fresh cow milk use 1/2 to 1 cup powdered milk solids. If using fresh goat milk or soy milk add 1/4 to 1/2 cup powdered milk solids. Please note: when adding milk solids to yogurt, mixing protein sources as doing so can lead to unpredictable and often undesirable results. For example, when using fresh cow milk, it's most reliable to use cow-based milk solids; when using fresh goat milk, use goat-based milk solids.
Add thickeners. These can be added to the milk just before you add the culture. This is a process that’s most successful with direct-set cultures, or yogurt where you are maintaining a separate mother culture, since the thickeners may interfere with the yogurt’s ability to reproduce over successive generations. If you are using a re-culturing yogurt, another way to add thickeners is to wait until just after the yogurt has set up. Take out some of the finished yogurt to use for inoculating the next batch, then add the thickener to the larger batch before you refrigerate it.
Tapioca starch: For 3 to 4 cups of milk, dissolve 2 tablespoons tapioca starch into a small amount of heated milk when it has cooled down to culturing temperature. Add the small amount of milk to the larger portion of milk and mix well.
Ultra-gel (modified corn starch): For 3 to 4 cups milk, add 3/8 cups Ultra-gel to the heated milk when it has cooled down to culturing temperature and mix well to combine. While regular corn starch can be used, it's not particularly stable and can yield an odd consistency.
Gelatin: For every 3 to 4 cups milk, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of gelatin into the milk when it has cooled down to culturing temperature. Mix well to combine. Please note: the effects of the gelatin will not be noticeable until after the yogurt has set and has chilled in the refrigerator.
Agar: For every 3 to 4 cups milk, dissolve 1/2 teaspoon agar into 1/2 cup of water. Bring the agar and water mixture to a boil. Allow the mixture to cool sufficiently prior to adding it to the heated milk (just before adding the culture).
Guar gum: For every 3 to 4 cups of milk, add 1 teaspoon of guar gum to a small amount of heated milk that has cooled to culturing temperature, mix well, then combine the small amount of milk with the larger portion of milk.
Pectin: For 1 quart of yogurt, pour 2 cups of heated milk that has cooled to culturing temperature into a blender. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of pectin to the blender (depending on the type of pectin), and mix for a couple of minutes to thoroughly incorporate the pectin. Now add the rest of the heated milk, then 2 to 3 tablespoons of yogurt as a starter. Blend at low speed just a little more (or mix by hand), then pour the blended mixture into your yogurt maker. You may find that you need to adjust the quantity of pectin depending on the milk or pectin you’re using. Sugar-activated pectin may require additional sugar in the milk to be effective. Calcium-activated pectin uses the calcium in the milk to set up.
Hold the milk at high temperature. When you are preparing the milk, heat it to 160°F or more (no higher than 180°F), and hold it at that temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before letting it cool to culturing temperature. The additional heating time denatures (breaks down) the milk proteins more so they will coagulate better. (If you accidentally bring the milk to over 180°F, simply let it cool back to 180°F before maintaining the temperature.)
Strain the yogurt. Make the yogurt as usual, including refrigeration to stop the culturing. Then strain it through a cheese bag or coffee filter, which will let a good deal of the whey drip out, leaving you with a thicker yogurt. (This is how traditional Greek yogurt is made.) Straining should be done in a cool place so the yogurt doesn’t spoil as it strains. (It can take a while!) Save the whey for culturing vegetables or adding to baked goods. You can also freeze the whey in ice cube trays and add to smoothies for extra flavor and protein!
There is no end to the different ways you can flavor yogurt! Many people find that the addition of fruit or other flavorings turns yogurt into a delightful snack or dessert that can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Remember to remove any yogurt you need for reculturing before you add sweeteners or flavorings.
Since yogurt is tart by nature, plain sweeteners are a popular addition to yogurt. If you prefer not to use plain sugar, there are a number of alternatives.
Many types of flavorings are also compatible with yogurt, like vanilla, almond, chocolate, or other flavoring extracts.
Yogurt can also be flavored with non-sweet or even savory ingredients. Mint, lemon juice, garlic, and cucumber are common enhancements to yogurt. Saffron, cardamom, and nutmeg are also popular in some Middle Eastern countries. Other savory options include kimchi, truffles, and curry.
What Not to Do
It may be tempting to add more cultures to the yogurt in an attempt to increase the probiotic content, but this is rarely successful. Yogurt cultures are carefully balanced so that the strains work together to give a particular result in terms of taste and consistency. Adding additional strains can weaken or even kill off the yogurt cultures, and may even produce something that is harmful to eat.
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