In the past couple years, I have tried to incorporate more healthy foods into my diet. No real overhaul (because I think overhauls are stinking hard!), but just a few new foods that are simple and really make a difference.
One of my favorites has been Greek yogurt. I have always liked yogurt and was aware of some of the health benefits of it, but I never ate it much, and once I realized how much added sugar is in most regular yogurt, I quit eating it altogether. Then I discovered Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is made by separating out the liquid whey, and the result is a yogurt that is higher in protein, lower in sugar, and has great taste and texture.
Here are three amazing reasons to incorporate Greek yogurt into your diet:
- PROTEIN–Protein is vital in cell growth, building muscle, and tissue repair. This makes Greek yogurt a great post-workout choice, as it helps rebuild what has just been torn down through exercise, resulting in a stronger you!
- WEIGHT MANAGEMENT–Greek yogurt is rich in both iodine and calcium, which makes it a great choice if you are trying to maintain a healthy weight. Having enough iodine is critical to thyroid function, and thyroid function is critical to metabolism. Most people are iodine deficient, and Greek yogurt is a simple way to increase your iodine level. In addition to the bone density benefits, calcium also helps regulate cortisol. Too much of the hormone cortisol can increase fat storage and inhibit weight loss. The calcium in Greek yogurt can help combat fat storage by helping to regulate your cortisol levels.
- YOU’LL FEEL GREAT!–I LOVE foods that pack a lot of punch in the way of vitamins and minerals, and Greek yogurt is definitely one of them. It is high in potassium and vitamin B12, both of which will help improve energy. It is also chuck full of probiotics (microorganism like bacteria and yeast) which are essential to good gut health. And this is a great way for you lactose-intolerant people to get your dairy! Greek yogurt contains much less lactose than other dairy products, and most people with lactose intolerance tolerate Greek yogurt just fine!
When I learned just how amazing Greek yogurt is for my health, I knew that this was something simple that I wanted to eat often. The only thing holding me back from just ALWAYS having it on hand was the price. To me, it just seemed a little expensive. And then I found the solution! A good friend of mine taught me how to make my own in my crock pot!! It is so easy, and now, in addition to all the amazing health benefits, I can decide exactly how to flavor it, and it doesn’t cost much at all! And when I learn about something this amazing, I just HAVE to pass on the good news! You’re welcome.
So, here’s what you’ll need:
- 3/4 gallon milk (1%, 2% or whole)
- 2 to 3 Tbsp plain yogurt at room temperature
- Candy Thermometer
- Crock Pot
First, pour the milk into your crock pot. (This is also a great way to use up milk that is nearing its expiration date. I hate wasting food!) Set the heat to high and cover with the lid.
Heat the milk to 185°. For me, this takes about 4 hours. However, every crock pot is different, so you will want to pay close attention the first time to find out about how long this takes in yours.
Once the milk reaches 185°, remove the lid and turn off the crock pot. Allow it to cool until it reaches 112°. For me, this takes about an hour and 15 minutes. These temperatures are important in order for the chemical reactions to happen that make the yogurt. You may feel like you’re in chemistry lab all over again! As it cools, a “crust” will form on the top of the milk. I just remove it with a spoon each time I check the temperature. If you forget about it and it cools to far, just heat it up again until you are at 112°, the magic temperature.
Now you are going to “pitch” your starter. So take your 2-3 Tbsp plain yogurt and add about 1/2 cup of the warm milk to it. Mix until it is well blended and then fold this mixture into your warm milk. Just stir it gently to carefully distribute the yogurt. Put the lid back on the crock pot, cover with a towel and let sit in a warm, draft-free spot in your house for 10 to 12 hours. No need to do anything during this time. (Usually, I am sleeping.) The longer you let it sit, the more tart it will become. So you can experiment to find the amount of time you like best.
After 10-12 hours, uncover the yogurt. You will think you have ruined it! But no–the pungent odor and even a greenish liquid on top is totally normal. We are dealing with bacteria here! But don’t freak out; you will love the end result! Use a spatula to vigorously mix the curdled milk and liquid in the pot.
Prepare a strainer (or strainers, depending on size) by putting the strainer in a bowl with room for the liquid to pool in the bottom and line with a muslin cloth. Pour the yogurt into the cloth in the strainer and fold the edges of the cloth over top to cover. Place in the refrigerator for four hours.
At this point, the yogurt and the whey have been separated. Spoon the yogurt out of the cloth and into containers with lids. If the yogurt is thicker than you would like, you can stir some of the whey back into it until you reach your desired consistency. Refrigerate yogurt in a closed container up to 14 days. The whey can just be poured down the drain (that’s what I do!) or you can use it for other things. There are many uses–but don’t ask me, ask google!
You can flavor your yogurt however you would like. We have tried jello packets (which the kids LOVE but are too sweet for me, and kinda defeat my lower-sugar reason for switching to Greek yogurt in the first place!), jam, and honey. I have also heard that Crystal Light packets are a good, sugar-free way to flavor it as well. I usually leave about half of my batch plain. The kids eat the flavored, and I use the plain.
There are SOOO many great ways to use your Greek yogurt. My favorite is probably in a parfait. I just use the unflavored yogurt and top it with bananas, berries, and granola for a healthy and delicious breakfast or dessert! I also love to freeze the jam-flavored yogurt in popsicle molds for a refreshing, cold treat. I use it in smoothies all the time, and also as a sour cream substitute to top tacos, fajitas, and wraps.
Finally, remember to save 2-3 Tbsp of your yogurt for the starter for your next batch! If you don’t make another batch within 14 days, you can store the starter in the freezer until you are ready (within a couple more weeks).
You guys! Making your own yogurt is so simple, and the benefits are amazing! You gotta give this a try. Such a great way to love your body. And guess what?? That’s right. Your body will love you. ♥