Home-made yoghurt and plastic-waste reduction


Apart from plastic bags we use for shopping and plastic wrapped around vegetables in supermarkets, one of the main components of our plastic waste is yoghurt tubs. You mostly won’t be able to up-or recycle them, esp. if multiple materials are used such as plastic, paper and film, which most of them do. And yet we consume yoghurt as an integral part of our diet, as a pudding after tea or we put them into our children’s lunch boxes and we all seem to think and know even that yoghurt is good for us – or is it?

Yoghurt is milk fermented by bacteria, while these convert lactose into lactic acid. When people started keeping livestock in Neolithic times they were also able to live in permanent settlements (although nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyles while rearing animals are known such as the Finnish/Swedish Sami or the peoples of Mongolia). Consuming the animal’s milk (whether it be ewe, cow or mare) probably became a necessary lifesaver and fermenting it was a means for adults to consume dairy without any problems. As it is, the ability to digest dairy or to be lactose tolerant is a genetic one, a mutation which occurred around 8000 BC which correlates with the advent of farming. This gene is highest amongst the gene pool of North-Western Europe. Interestingly enough, the fermentation process that makes you your yoghurt will actually enable you to digest the dairy even if your milk gives you a tummy upset.

As for the health benefits, Bulgaria’s Rhodope mountains have historically held the highest concentration in Europe of people who live to be centenarians. Their secret might well be that they consume a lot of yoghurts. And most of this is still made at home. (Consumption has apparently fallen a little over the last decade as western food has grown more popular.)

In many ways, this has been a staple for regions with sometimes little else to live on apart from animal products such as Mongolia and Scandinavia. The Scandinavians have lovely ranges of yoghurt so there is more than just Greek and Bulgarian yoghurt.

The gist of the matter is really quite simple: keep your yoghurt as natural as possible with as little added to it as possible. Why buy Greek yoghurt with honey already added to it when you can happily do it yourself?

That is why I looked into making my own which is better in lots of respects as now added flavourings, preservatives or sugar are involved. I can even use goat’s milk and my heirloom yoghurt with an up-front investment of as little as £7 to £9 will (at least potentially) last me a lifetime.

To ensure your milk turns into your yoghurt and to set properly, you will need to keep the bacteria nice and cosy to help them do their work. The best way is to get a yoghurt maker, although some of the Scandinavian cultures are quite happy at relatively moderate room temperature of about 20 C or so.

After a lot of research, I opted for the Lakeland yoghurt maker. I can not safely say that it is the very best model as I am still very much experimenting myself. There are also models which do not use electricity, but you have to make sure to be up 42-45 C to make the yoghurt. I wasn’t so happy about the plastic but there are also some which use glass jars, but then you will have separate portions which are perhaps convenient if you want to produce different flavours in one go or like a lunch pack for older children. The downside is you need to use sachets which again produces waste unnecessarily.

Another precaution is not to keep them to close to each other if you are also into making kefir etc. The fewer bacteria are competing for the more likely it is for your efforts to turn out to be successful.

It keeps your gut healthy and there is some evidence that it has a positive effect on my baby’s gut as the probiotics slip through my breast milk although I wouldn’t give yoghurt to her now. The one time I tried to give her a tiny bit she made her dislike of it quite plain. Luckily I had a muslin cloth to catch it 😉

I thought it great to be able to keep making my yoghurt from one starter culture. The downside to this is that I need to find somebody to look after my yoghurt if I am away on holiday. There are ways to freeze or dry freeze them to put the bacteria on hold, but there is no guarantee that this won’t kill them off.

An alternative is to make your yoghurt from organic natural yoghurt with this simple recipe:

1 l of whole fat (3.5%) milk

2 Tbsp yoghurt

1 Saucepan

1 Thermometer

  1. Heat the milk up to 95 C (just before boiling point) and let it cool down to exactly 45 C. This kills any other bacteria still present in the milk even if it is pasteurised milk, this is necessary
  2. Stir in the tablespoonfuls of yoghurt
  3. Fill the milk into clean jars
  4. Use your yoghurt maker to keep the milk at 45 C for 6 to 8 hours to thicken and turn into yoghurt.

Have fun experimenting and you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes without all those plastic yoghurt tubs!

Josephine xx

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