Yogurt is one of the few real foods that hasn't been demonized in recent decades. Bread, butter, milk and meat have all come under scrutiny, but yogurt has retained its standing as a healthful food. While probiotics have become trendy, yogurt has always been a great source of the live bacteria – like acidophilus – that's beneficial to our digestive tracts. Plus, yogurt is a good source of protein and calcium. So what’s the problem?
Two things: One is that there hasn't been a good, local, organic yogurt widely available in the Twin Cities. And the other is the plastic containers, which Minneapolis and St. Paul recycling don't collect.
Minnesota does have a home-town yogurt – St. Paul's Old Home. But it's not organic – and though the company is based here, the manufacturing occurs out of state, so it’s not really local, either. And, I have to add, they dump a whopping 32 grams of sugar into each eight-ounce serving of Old Home’s vanilla whole-milk yogurt. This doesn’t garner any favor from me as I try to limit the sugar intake of my two boys, ages six and four.
The closest organic yogurt I have found is from Cultural Revolution, from Kalona Organics in Iowa. This yogurt is organic, and Iowa is our nearest neighbor to the south. Also, it's lower in sugar then other brands with only 10 grams of sugar per six-ounce serving. Perfect!
Not perfect. My sons gave it two thumbs down: “It's too watery!” and “It doesn't taste good!” What do they prefer instead? Stonyfield Farms, the widely-distributed, industrial organic from New Hampshire (30 grams of sugar per eight-ounce serving), and Brown Cow, not organic (but rGBH free) from California (24 grams of sugar per serving.)
I've shown the boys the relative distances from Iowa, New Hampshire, and California on a map. I've explained to them some of the benefits of organic yogurt and less sugar. But, at their ages, they’re only interested in two things: taste and texture. (A discussion about their carbon footprints will have to wait.)
What to do, then?
A new product looks promising – Organic Valley has a yogurt drink – kind of a kefir – in plain and vanilla flavors. It can be served with cereal or granola, drunk alone, or blended into a smoothie. Organic Valley is a cooperative of small, local farmers using sustainable practices, so the product is locally sourced no matter where you are in the U.S. Sugar content is 24 grams per eight-ounce serving. And it comes in plastic #2 bottles, which are accepted by Minneapolis and St. Paul for recycling.
But will a drink really replace yogurt in tubs as a go-to family food? When my boys were babies, one of their favorite “solid” foods was Stonyfield Farm's Yobaby yogurt. They came in a six-pack of non-recyclable plastic containers with peelable non-foil tops. That made for a lot of trash. As the boys grew, and their capacity for yogurt increased, I switched to 32-ounce tubs. But they still love what they call the “little yogurts,” the six- to eight-ounce cups with fruit. So we compromised. On our weekly shopping trips, I bought the 32-ounce tubs for regular eating, but they got to pick out little ones for themselves. (And even though the containers are labeled #5 for recycling, neither Minneapolis or St. Paul accepts them.)
But as the yogurt containers piled up, so did my guilt. That's been eased somewhat by the Eastside Food Cooperative's Plastic Recycling program, but I finally had to consider an alternative that I had never thought of before: making my own. Since I've become more interested in where my food comes from, I've been challenged again and again to rethink the foods I'd previously taken for granted; packaged yogurt is one of them. I'm not sure I'll give up store-bought yogurt entirely, but if I can buy even one less container a week, it's a step in the right direction.
Here, then, is the recipe I've been using:
DIY Vanilla Yogurt
(makes approximately 32 ounces, or 4 servings)
1 quart local, organic whole milk
2 tablespoons store-bought yogurt (plain or vanilla, for starter)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-quart double boiler
4-cup container with lid
clean dish towels
1. Heat milk over medium-low heat to 180ºF or slightly above. Stir occasionally, so skin does not form on top, milk doesn't burn on bottom, and temperature is distributed evenly in pan. (You can use a regular two-quart saucepan, but cook over low heat and stir frequently.)
2. Remove from heat, stir in yogurt starter, thinned with a little warm milk and vanilla. Set in saucepan in cool-water bath until the temperature of the yogurt drops to 120ºF or just below. (You can do this at room temperature, but placing the pan in a cool water bath will lower the temperature more quickly and evenly.)
3. Transfer to a four-cup container, cover with a lid, then wrap in dish towels to retain heat. Place in oven with pilot light on, or heat oven to 100ºF, then turn oven light on. (Keep towels away from open flames or surfaces hotter than 100º.) Alternately, you can place in sunny window, atop a radiator, or any other warm spot in your home. Leave for four to eight hours. The longer you leave it, the thicker it will be.
4. Remove towels, but not lid, and refrigerate for several hours. For a thicker, Greek-style yogurt, line a fine-mesh sieve with cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a thin dish towel, then place yogurt in sieve over a bowl as it refrigerates.
Yogurt will keep, covered and refrigerated, for a week or more. Just remember to reserve a few tablespoons to use as starter as for your next batch, though using a new starter each time will make for a fresher taste.
Simple Good and Tasty is pleased to welcome writer Kristin J. Boldon, who lives in Northeast Minneapolis with her husband and two sons. Kristin is originally from the east coast, but we're glad she moved to Minnesota in 1998 and stayed. She has a B.S. in Business from Georgetown University and an M.A. in Religion from Temple. In her so-called spare time, she cooks, bakes, practices yoga, reads, and writes for the Eastside Food Cooperative's newsletter on health and wellness, and for her own blog Girl Detective.