Low Carb Yoghurt: Tips & Tricks
For a change of pace after a lot of heavy posts, I thought I would share some money saving tips about yoghurt- inspired by Joseph Finau who is helping people do low carb on a budget.
Some people don’t eat dairy at all on a low carb diet, and many following a paleo lifestyle also do not regard it as paleo. Coconut yoghurt may be an option, but that is a different beast to the milk based yoghurts that I will discuss and it often has gelatine or other thickeners. Unlike dairy milk, coconut milk is also already low carb and sugar is sometimes added to ferment it.
This post is about getting the sugar (lactose) and cost out of dairy yoghurt. Some people are lactose intolerant but can tolerate yoghurt which has reduced lactose. Many others have a high regard for fermented foods like yoghurt in their diet. Yoghurt (and especially Greek yoghurt) can be very expensive. If you do eat dairy, but are put off by its carbs or price, then this post is for you.
Carbs and Cost of Bought Yoghurt
Many commercial yoghurts are high in added sugar and carbs. They may have additives like gelatine or other thickeners. Most of all they are expensive. A one-kilo tub of premium yoghurt can cost $7 to $8. Making your own can make it more carb friendly, even lower in lactose and a lot cheaper. Would you believe $1 a litre or maybe less? It is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. We never buy made yoghurt, and you will probably not do that either once you learn some tricks. So how do we do it?
Do You Need Yoghurt Maker?
You can make yoghurt in a warm place in a bowl, but a yoghurt maker takes the guesswork out of it. A 1-litre electric yoghurt maker can be picked up on eBay for around $12. I recommend getting a bigger one (1.5 to 2 litre in capacity) if possible.
If you don’t use a yoghurt maker, then an insulating the container like a wide mouthed vacuum flask or wrapping the bowl in a tea towel might be useful. Having somewhere warm to keep it while it ferments (like a warmed oven) is useful. Using a light bulb for heating (as it a chicken incubator) may also be an option. Whatever you do, it is important to keep it below 45C or 113F or the culture may be killed. If the temperature is lower than 40C or 103F then it may take much longer to ferment.
Do You Need a Starter Culture?
You need milk and some starter, and that is all. You can use some store bought yoghurt (if it has live cultures) as a starter or you can purchase the culture from a cheese supply store some of these stores sell online and ship the live culture in a cool pack. Here is a google search that you can add your country’s name onto to find a possible online source. Although more expensive (about $13), once you are a committed yoghurt maker I recommend purchasing the starter because:
- It gives consistent results. Most cultures are a mix of two or more bacteria. Re-using yoghurt batch after batch may deteriorate the ratio.
- It is small and stores in the freezer
- Commercial strains may be chosen for sweetness. You want a high acid/ low lactose variety
- I only use a tiny amount (about 1/8 teaspoon)
- You can search for a more acid tolerant starter culture which should give you lower carbs.
- My last small jar of culture went for more about eight years of yoghurt making! So divide the cost by 300 to 400!
Which starter? There is some technical info here. You can always email the vendor and ask for their most acid tolerant starter or ask for one leaving the lowest lactose.
- Heat the milk until it is nearly boiling.
- While hot, pour into the container you will make the yoghurt.
- Allow it to cool to be lukewarm. Use about 1/8 a teaspoon of yoghurt culture or a tablespoon of yoghurt from a commercial yoghurt. If the milk is too hot (>45C / 113F), you will kill the culture and the milk will not ferment.
- Allow the milk to ferment for 12 hours (or longer) in a warm place (40 to 45C/ 103 to 113F ). That is what your yoghurt maker does.
- If there is a clear liquid on top, don’t worry, that is normal. It is whey.
- For Greek yoghurt, allow it to strain through a sieve until it is the right consistency.
- Store in a container in the fridge adding in low carb sweetener when you use it.
Making Lower Carb Yoghurt
As the lactose is fermented by the bacteria in the culture, it is converted to lactic acid which makes it sour. Commercial yoghurts may shorten the fermentation time to save money or to make a sweeter product. Only 20 to 25% of the sugars are converted. Once they are chilled, further fermentation is very slow. By making your own and fermenting it for longer, you can make sure it is much a lower carb yoghurt. It is suggested to ferment it until the whey (clear liquid) separates which can be as long as 20 hours. The fermentation slows as the acidity rises stopping at about 4 to 5 grams of carbs. This is where a high acid culture can help to reduce carbs further.
Now you have basic yoghurt. If you paid $1 a litre for your milk, you now have a litre of low carb yoghurt for $1. The next trick to go even lower carb is straining.
Greek yoghurt is yoghurt with some of the whey strained out usually for about 4 to 8 hours. Labneh is a yoghurt cheese that has substantially all of the whey removed, often using a weight or pressure. It may have salt, sweetener or herbs and spices added. By straining yoghurt for longer (1 to 2 days), you get labneh.
You can buy a commercial greek yoghurt strainer, but a colander with filter paper or muslin cloth over a bowl or the sink does an excellent job. If you use a bowl, you can use the whey in other cooking. It is possible to just use a very fine sieve (metal or plastic) if you very carefully spoon the set yoghurt into it using a large spoon and taking care not to disturb the ‘curd’. I prefer this as I don’t like buying filter paper to throw away or washing muslin cloth. If your yoghurt runs through your sieve then your sieve is too big, you didn’t ladle it carefully, or it wasn’t fermented for long enough.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Straining
The benefits of straining are:
- You lose more of the lactose and other sugars that were not digested by the bacteria as they are soluble and in the whey, so it becomes lower carb even still.
- You lose the whey which is a protein that some people with diabetes regard as being insulinogenic (stimulates insulin to rise).
- The yoghurt becomes thicker naturally without adding anything, and this makes it more versatile for use as a dip or cream cheese.
- The acids are also soluble and disappear with the whey so the yoghurt can be less tart.
The disadvantages of straining are:
- You lose about a third of the volume of the yoghurt (hence why I recommend a large yoghurt maker).
- The lower acid may mean it will keep for less time.
On the shorter shelf life, it usually isn’t a problem as you are making it at home you don’t need to factor in time for it to sit in the supermarket waiting to be purchased. Salt is often added to labneh, and this probably extends its shelf life a little. You and your family may find it so yummy that it may also be irrelevant.
What is the Carb Count?
Here are a few commercial yoghurt carb facts. Standard unsweetened commercial yoghurt may have 8g of carbs however this can halve to about 4g when more fully fermented which is where commercial greek yoghurts and labneh also sit. You should do even better than that. I expect that my home-made Greek yoghurt and labneh approaches 2g. This article has a good overview.
Squeezing Out the Cents
Having squeezed out the carbs, let’s squeeze out the cents. I often make yoghurt with the milk that the supermarket is selling cheap because it is close to the ‘use by’ date. It is fine for that because you pasteurise it and the yoghurt bacteria do an excellent job of acidifying and creating other antibacterial agents that stop other mould and fungi anyway. Making yoghurt is a biological ‘reboot’.
If you don’t want to invest approximately $40 capital in your yoghurt factory, by now you can see that you could get your yoghurt factory to pay for itself. Make your first few batches without a yoghurt maker and using some leftover yoghurt. Make it with reduced price milk from the supermarket to save even more. By putting your savings into a piggy bank, a few batches of that pays for your yoghurt maker. The next few batches pay for some starter which you can even share with a friend if you wish to get going sooner.
After that, you are miles ahead. It isn’t difficult or time-consuming to make, but you do need to plan ahead. I often make it overnight, and it is nice to think of billions of bacteria working for you for free while you sleep. It is kind of therapeutic like counting sheep.
Time to Rethink Yoghurt?
If you are like me, you may have dropped yoghurt when you stopped eating horse food (aka cereal). It could be a chance to rethink this naturally fermented food. Make your own to keep it low carb and real. As for uses, there are plenty of yoghurt recipes that you might have been avoiding due to the carbs. How about for dressings, sauces or as a (frozen) dessert? How about a refreshing lassi made with your own low carb yoghurt- great on a hot day. It sure beats coca cola or franken-soft drinks full of chemicals.