I did it! I did it! I DID IT!
As some of you may remember from a previous post, yogurt has been the hardest thing for me to give up. I tried a number of alternative yogurts – soy yogurt, almond milk yogurt – before finally discovering a yogurt compatible with savory, not sweet dishes – Whole Soy & Co. Yogurt – Plain, Unsweetened.
Only problem is those little tiny tubs are expensive!
So I’ve been experimenting with making my own yogurt, using Whole Soy & Co. yogurt as my starter. Results have varied dramatically – from “Hmmm, not too bad,” to “Yuck, get that out of the house NOW!”
Different brands of soy milk make a vast difference in taste. Silk Unsweetened was sorta ok, Whole Foods Unsweetened was actively awful, and plain Earth Balance soy milk was just too sweet. (Let’s not even talk about my experiments with almond and rice milk.)
Surprisingly, the different soy milks also produced differences in texture and consistency. Some were creamy, some were runny. Unfortunately, the ones with the more pleasing texture weren’t always the ones with the more pleasing taste!
Then I discovered Soy Dream, by the makers of Rice Dream, in those aseptic non-refrigerated cartons. I chose the Original. I couldn’t believe how good this soy milk tasted – almost like milk, with none of that “beany” aftertaste. Once I tasted it I knew I had to try making yogurt with it, and my instinct was correct – the yogurt turned out fantastic, even better than the Whole Soy & Co. yogurt I used as my starter! It was not too tangy and not too sweet, with a fairly thick, creamy consistency.
Please note that soy yogurt will never be as firm as milk yogurt unless you add a thickening agent to it, such as agar. I’m ok with my yogurt being a little runny, as most of the time I’m just going to make raita with it or swirl some into my rice and beans.
I’ve adapted these yogurt instructions very slightly from Vegan Indian Cooking by Anupy Singla. At first I thought cooking yogurt in a slow cooker sounded like a gimmick, and Anupy is definitely slow cooker crazy! But after researching soy yogurt recipes on the web and finding complicated procedures that included thermometers, agar, and special yogurt makers, her recipe seemed simplest.
And, after trying it a few times, it makes sense. The slow cooker will get the soy milk very hot with a few bubbles, but doesn’t actually bring it to a boil. (When you make traditional milk yogurt you bring the milk to a boil, then cool it down, but boiled soy milk is NOT good.)
The slow cooker I use is a 2 quart Crock Pot, bought on sale for $7.99 at Target. It normally retails at $11.99.
- Taste the soy milk you are planning to use. (I highly recommend Soy Dream.) If you don’t like the way it tastes, you won’t like it in your yogurt, either. Don’t use if it’s been in your refrigerator awhile and isn’t fresh.
- Pour 4 cups of soy milk into your slow cooker and heat on low for 2 1/2 hours. The milk should get very hot with just a few bubbles.
- Turn the slow cooker off and let the milk sit for 2 hours.
- After 2 hours, the milk should still be very warm but not hot. Pour a little of the warm milk out into a bowl and whisk with 1/2 cup yogurt. (Again, I use Whole Soy & Co. yogurt, plain, unsweetened.) Then pour the milk-yogurt mixture back into the crockpot and stir gently. I wasn’t sure of the reasoning at first, but then I found the yogurt tends to curdle if you add it directly into the slow cooker and it touches the hot sides of the slow cooker.
- Put the lid back on and remove the stoneware pot from the base, wrap carefully in a towel, and place inside a dark oven for 8 hours.
- After 8 hours, check the yogurt. Remember, the longer it sits, the firmer it will get, but it will also get more sour.
- Refrigerate! The yogurt will firm up a little more in the refrigerator.
- Eat and enjoy! Remember to save 1/2 cup of yogurt as a starter for your next batch of yogurt.
UPDATE 10/29/2012: I’ve since made this with plain, unsweetened West Soy soymilk. It took a bit longer to “set” – I think I let it sit 10 hours! – but it also produced a nice, neutral-tasting yogurt.
- The more yogurt I make with my own starter instead of Wholesoy & Co., the better it tastes. It also seems to steadily be getting thicker and creamier. (My partner says his mother has been making (milk yogurt) from yogurt that originally started in a batch almost 20 years ago, right after they moved to America.)
- I’ve modified the crockpot settings some because I am so impatient. Instead of heating the soymilk on low for 2 1/2 hours, as Anupy suggested, I heat it on high for about an hour. (Be careful, though – crockpot settings differ; the whole point is you want the soymilk to become as hot as possible without actually boiling! If the milk starts getting big bubbles instead of small bubbles, that’s too high. It will change the taste of the soymilk.)
- Some days my yogurt just doesn’t “set.” I don’t know why – it never seems as if I’ve done anything different. Perhaps it’s the weather – I remember making fudge as a child with my great Aunt Martha, and her claiming the fudge wouldn’t “set” because it was raining. Anyhoo – one night I was so frustrated I just put the whole thing back in the crockpot, heated it back up again, and started over. That time it “took”!
- I’ve also cut the yogurt that I stir into the warm soymilk down from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup. Please note: I don’t know if this amount will work the first time, when you are using commercial yogurt as your starter. But after you’ve made yogurt a few times, using yogurt from the previous batch as your starter – definitely try gradually reducing the yogurt you use as your starter.
- Finally, if you left your yogurt out a bit longer than usual to try to get it to thicken up and it tastes sour – don’t despair. I must confess to leaving my yogurt out “a little bit longer” – either to try to get it to “set” a little bit more, or because – I admit it – I just forget about the stuff. Put it in the refrigerator and taste it after it gets cold – for some reason, it seems to get a little sweeter in the fridge. If you use your yogurt for savory dishes, like me, a little salt can also help cut the sour.
UPDATE 10/6/2013 – Please also check out this post – Vegan Crockpot Yogurt Part II - for an update on how to make homemade vegan yogurt during WholeSoy’s time of woe.