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Maple Yogurt, & Raw Milk: to Cook or Not to Cook, part 3

This is the final post of a 3 part series. Part 1 discussed how cooked raw grass fed milk is still healthy and digestible compared to store bought pasteurized milk. Part 2 focused on the incredible, synergistic benefits of grass fed milk when consumed raw.


In this post, let's talk yogurt.


Besides drinking milk straight, probably the next most sought after thing people want to do with good grass fed raw milk is to make it into yogurt.


Who doesn't love thick, creamy yogurt?


But, raw milk purists balk when they learn that milk for traditional yogurt is brought to a minimum of 180F prior to inoculation and incubation. Sometimes the milk for yogurt is actually boiled.


Bringing milk above 110 to 130F (depending on who you ask) alters it so that it is no longer considered raw. Probiotics are killed, enzymes and proteins are altered.


Why would you ruin good raw milk by cooking it?!


Therefore, some people opt to make raw milk yogurt by skipping the cooking step and just inoculating and incubating warm, raw milk at 100 to 110F. The result is similar to the yogurt that you know and love, but it's not the same.


Raw milk yogurt is thinner, more drinkable than it is spoonable. If you want thick yogurt, you have to cook it.


Why?


There are two things that happen when the milk is heated prior to fermenting into yogurt.


  1. Moisture evaporates, causing it to be thicker. Only a little moisture evaporates if you only heat the milk briefly to 180F. If you hold the temp at 180 up to a half hour, or bring it to a boil for up to a half hour, significantly more moisture evaporates, leading to a thicker product.

  2. As we have discussed in the past two posts of this series, heating proteins changes their shape. Sometimes this is bad. When commercial dairy plants ultra heat treat their milk and bring it up to 280F (which is hotter than you could achieve in your kitchen), the proteins change drastically, making them difficult to digest. Cheese makers know that you can't make cheese out of ultra pasteurized milk because the proteins do not form good curds. Heating it only to 180F, or boiling point which is about 212F, doesn't damage proteins the way that high heat treatment does. The change it creates is actually desirable (at least for yogurt): it causes the albumin protein to thicken very similar to cooking egg white, while if left raw that protein would remain in its liquid form. This is the main reason that people heat milk to make yogurt, so that the albumin thickens into curd rather than remaining liquid.


Raw milk purists often get around the thinness of raw yogurt by draining off the whey. The problem with that is that not only do you lose about half of the volume of your valuable raw milk to whey, but a significant amount of nutrients are lost with that whey. Sure, you can find uses for whey, but why not keep it in the yogurt so that you consume it with the yogurt, and have more yogurt for your dollar and time?


(It's worth mentioning that some people find other ways to thicken raw yogurt, such as adding powdered milk or gelatin to it.)


The good people of India have been making yogurt for millennia. I tend to trust traditional methods of food preparation. I believe that there is wisdom in it that we would do well to follow. They heat the milk, often holding it at 180F to boiling for a half hour. If cooking milk for yogurt was unhealthy, it probably wouldn't still be made that way after so many generations of yogurt making.


Many of the benefits of raw milk are brought back, and even enhanced, by fermentation.


After yogurt milk is heated, it is allowed to cool back down to about 110F, which is the optimal temperature to grow lactic bacteria. The bacteria are alive and transform the cooked milk back into a living food. As they multiply in the milk, they break down lactose into easily digested lactic acid. For someone who is truly lactose intolerant (most people are not; if you want to read about it see this blog post) yogurt is easier to digest than even good raw milk. The bacteria produce enzymes that help you digest the proteins. These bacteria are probiotics, so they enhance your gut health.


The drawback is, there is less diversity of microbes in yogurt than in raw milk, only the few strains that you inoculate it with, while raw milk has over 20 strains of native bacteria and yeasts. It's still beneficial to drink raw milk so that you get the benefits of this diversity. But that doesn't mean that you should shy away from eating yogurt that was cooked. Just have some of both!


It begs the question, if making yogurt out of cooked milk restores many of its health giving qualities, should we just make yogurt out of cheaper store bought milk? If that is a question you have, it is thoroughly answered in the first post of this series.


With that, let's get to the recipe for making maple yogurt!


You will need a suitable container to incubate the warm milk for 8-12 hours. Directions here are for a yogatherm, which is a plastic pail that fits inside of a styrofoam insulating shell. People find other creative ways of incubating yogurt, such as a warm water bath in a cooler, or the yogurt setting on an instant pot (I have heard people complain that instant pots can cause the yogurt to be grainy, but a lot of people use them successfully).


Ingredients:

1/4 to 1/2 cup maple syrup

2 tbs live yogurt, or powdered culture according to manufacturer's directions


  1. Pour the milk and syrup into a heavy bottomed pot and bring to 180F or up to a boil, stirring to prevent scorching. If you want your yogurt to be as thick as possible, hold it at that temp for up to a half hour. (I don't keep it hot very long, and I am satisfied with the thickness of my yogurt.)

  2. Pour the hot milk and the maple into the incubating vessel (not in its insulating shell yet), and allow it to cool to 110F. If you want to speed it cooling, put it in an ice bath. Keep an eye on it that it doesn’t cool down too much!

  3. When it reaches 110F, add the yogurt culture (either yogurt from a previous batch, or powdered store bought culture) and stir thoroughly.

  4. Place the inoculated milk in its insulating shell, put the lid on, and allow it to sit undisturbed for 8 to 12 hours. Less time will make yogurt that is less tangy and not quite as thick, while more time makes thicker, tangier yogurt. I don't usually worry about exact time here, I just leave it however long is convenient.


Your yogurt will firm up in the fridge and can be enjoyed as is. There will be minor amounts of whey that pool in gaps where you spooned some out, but it's mostly very thick and pleasing.


After multiple generations of reusing yogurt from previous batches to inoculate new batches, don't be surprised if it begins to change character and not turn out well. This is especially true of lab created cultures. If you want yogurt that will thrive in perpetuity, start with an heirloom strain. Cultures For Health carries heirloom strains.

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