Lessons from Yogurt

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Cacik, a Turkish dish similar to the Greek tzatziki, made of yogurt and cucumbers.

There came a time when my love for yogurt demanded more than casual supermarket encounters. A friend told me that I could make yogurt at home, and of course I had to try it.

There are only 2 ingredients required: milk and yogurt culture. Yogurt culture is just a nerdy way of saying regular unsweetened unflavored store-bought yogurt (I really wish someone had told me that when I was just starting). And there are only 4 steps:

  1. Heat the milk to kill any unwanted bacteria.
    I like to boil mine.
  2. Cool it to a temperature that’s conducive to bacteria growth,
    which is about the temp in which babies take their milk. Which means you can test a few drops on the inside of your elbow to see that it’s bearable.
  3. Add a couple of tablespoons of yogurt.
  4. Maintain the temp for 8 hours and let the bacteria make the yogurt.
    I use a thermos-type gadget like this. Others just use a picnic cooler.

And that’s it! Just freeze a couple of tablespoons from this batch to make your next one.

After doing this successfully a number of times, this magical milk to yogurt transformation, has become familiar and intimate, which brings with it a lot of opportunities for reflection on the profundities inherent in yogurt-making.

It’s All Based on Life

Yogurt has all the nutritional benefits of milk–calcium, protein, plus a bunch of other vitamins–but the live microorganisms in it bring the added benefits of improved digestion and stronger immune system. It is life that make yogurt happen, specifically, the life that’s in the lactobacilli bacteria. Without the live bacteria that reproduce in millions and gazillions, all the while eating and breaking down the milk, the milk will remain as milk.

I can’t even really claim that I made the yogurt. All I do is provide an ideal environment of the good bacteria to prosper and multiply.

Culture is Viral, er, Bacterial

Two measly tablespoons. That’s all the yogurt it takes to make yogurt out of a liter of milk. This to me is magical, how quickly and efficiently regular milk becomes yogurt. Just like with new buzzwords, inventions, Youtube videos and philosophies, it only takes a few innovators and influencers to irrevocably change the psyche and behavior of a whole culture. But certain conditions have to be met, otherwise, it’s a no-go. Make the milk too hot and you kill the bacteria; too tepid and you bore them to oblivion.

Tradition is the Future

Save two measly tablespoons from every batch of yogurt in order to start the next batch. I’ve written a theological reflection about this, because it really is the stuff of parables. To keep a culture going, a bit of bacteria needs to be kept and passed on. And the same two tablespoons can transform any kind of milk–whole or low fat, cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk, even soy milk–into beautiful, delicious yogurt. The flavors, textures and nutrition may be subtly–or even radically–different, but it’s the same bacteria that gives life to it, and it’ll be the same life force that will create all the tart creamy goodness in next month’s, or even next year’s yogurt. And that, is most curious, mysterious, and amazing.

The spoon on the left is regular dairy yogurt, the one on the right is yogurt from soy milk.

I’m going to stop right here and just let you unearth some treasures and wisdom yourself. For simple, basic directions on how to make yogurt, let me direct you to Wikipedia’s entry on yogurt.

For a more detailed and a tad-O.C. how-to, check out Lori Bautista’s yogurt tutorial.

Lassi, an Indian yogurt drink that is almost like a smoothie, made by zapping yogurt with sugar and ice. Try it with fruits.

All images from Wikimedia Commons

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