Yogurt Saga, Part 2

As I posted yesterday, I had a fun and successful yogurt-making experience, and we’re still enjoying the delicious results.

But the process gave me a lot to think about, especially the pros and cons of making your own yogurt.

Norma mentioned that one of the reasons she decided to make her own yogurt was to reduce environmental waste, by not having to purchase yogurt in all of those 1-quart plastic containers.
And of course, most people mention the the idea of saving money.

Let’s start with the environmental issue. Will making your own yogurt really make a difference? Like Norma, I normally buy my yogurt in 1-quart plastic containers. To make two quarts of yogurt, I bought a half-gallon container of milk in a carton. That’s one larger paper container (with a plastic reclosable cap), rather than two one-quart plastic tubs. Is paper more environmentally friendly than plastic? That’s a question that’s open to much debate. And of course, my milk might just as easily have come in a plastic jug instead of a carton, in which case, it’s simply a matter of one large container rather than two smaller ones. (Not to mention whatever container the yogurt I used for the starter came in.) Additionally, I used gas, electricity, and water in the making of the yogurt. I’m not convinced that this is a good argument.

Now let’s look at cost. I bought 2 quarts of organic milk for approximately the same price that I normally pay for 1 quart of Dannon plain yogurt. The only other ingredient I used was the yogurt starter, and that was from a tub of yogurt I had already purchased. The cost of the gas, water, and electricity used would be negligible. So I ended up with about 2 quarts of regular yogurt for the price I normally pay for one quart. Better yet, it was from organic milk. If I normally ate organic yogurt, the savings would be much greater. I strained most of the yogurt for a thicker product, which means I ended up with less. I didn’t measure, but let’s say I ended up with 1 1/2 quarts of Greek-style yogurt. Generally, that type of yogurt also costs more, so I’m probably still saving quite a bit if you compare it to the same type of purchased yogurt. However, since I don’t usually buy organic or Greek-style yogurts on a regular basis, I’m only saving a little bit over what I would normally spend – probably less than a dollar. Even if we ate two quarts of yogurt a week (which we don’t – usually it’s only one), that’s $52 per year. Oh, but wait… I need the starter. I could use a bit of yogurt from one batch to start the next, but with homemade yogurt, you can only do that for a few batches before it loses its efficiency. So then I’d have to buy more. Chances are that I wouldn’t want to buy a whole quart, since you want to use it as starter while it’s fresh – and I wouldn’t want to have the quart of purchased yogurt in addition to the yogurt I’d be making. So I’d most likely buy a single-serving yogurt. The cost of that would wipe out my “savings”, and it could possibly even end up costing a little bit more to make my own.  Oh, and if I were also adding nonfat dry milk, like many people do? Add that to the cost. And what if I have a failed batch and toss it? Money down the drain, literally. So “saving money” is not a good argument for me.

But the product would be better, wouldn’t it? The easy answer is yes, since I’m getting the equivalent of a more expensive yogurt for the cost of the basic yogurt I normally buy. But purely from an economic perspective, considering the cost of what I would make vs. the cost of what I would buy, it’s a toss-up. And of course, I had to spend the time and effort to make the yogurt.

But let’s take a better look at the quality. Yes, I used organic milk. But what about the yogurt cultures? After all, that’s one of the main reasons to eat yogurt. I’m not talking about the type of cultures used, but the amount. One of the problems with making your own yogurt is making sure that it incubates at the proper temperature, so that the bacillus gets activated but not killed. Too much heat, or not enough heat, and you’ve got a failure. But even if you end up with what appears to be a good product, how does it compare to commercial yogurt? As successful as my yogurt was, I have no way of knowing whether it contains the same level of cultures as purchased yogurt. Since I keep reading that you can’t continue to use your own yogurt as a starter for more than a few batches, I wonder if the cultures in homemade yogurt are fewer or weaker. Some people claim that the opposite is true, and homemade yogurt has far more live, active cultures. I have no way of knowing.

So if there isn’t a strong argument for making yogurt from an environmental or cost perspective, and the quality may or may not be better… then why bother?

Good question.

For me, the biggest argument in favor of making yogurt would be to control what goes in it. I buy Dannon plain yogurt because there’s nothing in it but milk and active cultures. No sweeteners, no thickeners, no stabilizers. And I like the flavor and the price. Sure, I’d prefer organic if all things were equal, but the ones I’ve tried have either had a taste I don’t care for, or they cost more than I want to spend. The only drawback is that I only have a choice of full-fat or non-fat. I can’t get quarts of low-fat Dannon at my local stores, which is what I’d prefer.

By making my own yogurt, I can choose whether to use organic milk or not, and choose the level of fat content. Typically I just eat plain yogurt with some fresh berries and a bit of granola. But if I want to make flavored yogurt, it’s even more important that I can control what’s in it. We both love the taste of the Greek Gods honey-flavored yogurt, but it’s got sugar and pectin in it, plus a high percentage of fat. If we buy vanilla yogurt, it also has sugar and pectin.

The bottom line?

For me, the only compelling reason to make my own yogurt is to control the ingredients. Is it worth it for the time and effort? Probably not on a regular basis. But occasionally? Definitely.

Next time, I’ll most likely try just sticking the yogurt in the oven without attempting to monitor or adjust the temperature, as I did with this batch. If it maintains its temperature enough to produce a good product, I’ll probably continue to make it that way. If not, I may consider buying a yogurt maker since they’re not that expensive. Another plus for the yogurt maker is that by making it in several small cups, I can experiment with flavoring some of it and leaving some plain. (I wouldn’t want to try incubating small containers in the oven, because I don’t the smaller volume would maintain the proper temperature.)

Who knows, one of these days I might even try making coconut milk yogurt.

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11 Responses to Yogurt Saga, Part 2

  1. margene says:

    Good analysis, but I’m still going to buy my yogurt at the grocery store.

  2. Chris says:

    I know I’d end up with the milk (or whatever base) going bad while I busily didn’t make it!

  3. Nora says:

    Yeah, I think I’m with Margene. And since my husband does the shopping, I’ll just eat what we have in the fridge! Interesting though.

  4. Interesting.

    Do you make your own granola?

  5. Norma says:

    Hm, yeah. If we only consumed one or two quarts a week, I wouldn’t bother. But David eats four quarts a week, and since I’ve started back to eating it, we go through five to six. So for me, it’s a definite savings in money and trash. I can’t tell you how tickled it makes me to be reusing those old plastic yogurt containers. I ruined a batch the day before yesterday, so I’m trying it again today. Fingers crossed.

  6. elizabeth says:

    I was thinking that the benefit wouldn’t be cost or convenience (by any means) but being able to control the ingredients. I buy Dannon nonfat yogurt ($2 at WalMart), thinking I get enough fat from my homemade granola. My husband buys Stonyfield Farms organic yogurt (close to $4 at Publix!), and we both go through almost a quart per week, so we’d probably save enough to splurge on organic milk.

    Interestingly enough, I got a flyer from Tuesday Morning yesterday and they’re going to have a yogurt maker on sale for $29.99! I think I’ll buy one.

  7. Carrie says:

    I like making my own. Dunno why, but you can’t really quantify the enjoyment factor. (I’m weird like that.)
    It’s odd about the yogurt starter. If I’m not mistaken, Judy (Smatterings) uses her own yogurt as a starter and always does. She never mentioned having to buy new.

  8. Cookie says:

    Wonderful post.

    If I was making my own and I will never eat enough to make that worthwhile, it would be because I would want to get an end product to suit my taste rather than settling for what I can buy at the grocery.

  9. susan says:

    You can get the plain Greek Gods (both non-fat and full-fat) and add your own honey. Personally, I think their honey-flavored one is way too sweet.

  10. Laurie says:

    Until time costs less, I’ll buy. I know I would have multiple failures before getting processed ironed out. Then I would have to strain it = even more time spent.

  11. Lauren says:

    All this yogurt talk is making me feel bad for my yogurt maker sitting in the cupboard that hasn’t been used in at least a year, and may well never be used again. Wanna buy a used one?! 😉

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