How to Clean Pesticides Off Your Produce with Citrus Oil and Science

You guys, I’m just going to say this up front: I LOOOOOOOOVE essential oils!!  I’m currently working on another post to tell you all about it.  🙂

When I first encountered the idea of essential oils about four years ago I was fairly skeptical about some of the claims.  Over the years I’ve done a lot of research, and I think I’ve weeded out the truths from the exaggerations.  Based on what I’ve learned and experienced, I believe that oils are a very smart way to invest in your family’s health.

One of my favorite true claims is that you can use citrus essential oils to clean pesticides and bacteria off of produce.

Aldi produce

Upon hearing this claim, the big question I had was HOW can citrus oil remove pesticides?  The answer is monoterpenes.  Specifically the monoterpene, d-limonene, which has the ability to dissolve petroleum oils among other things.  Pesticides are petroleum based.  Therefore, the d-limonene commonly found in citrus oils can remove pesticides from your produce.  Lemon and orange oils have particularly high concentrations of d-limonene, which is why they’re my favorite ones to use for cleaning produce.  If you’re interested, you can find more information in the World Health Organization’s fact sheet on d-limonene.

Now that you know the science behind how citrus essential oils remove pesticides, I’ll show you how to actually do it.

What you’ll need: citrus essential oils (lemon and orange are best), Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap, and water.

dr bronner's castile soap and essential oils for cleaning produce

First, close your drain and start filling your sink up with water.  Temperature doesn’t really matter as far as cleaning goes, but I prefer not to freeze or burn my fingers when reaching in to stir or remove the produce – so I shoot for room temperature.  🙂

I use 7-10 drops of citrus oil when filling up my half-sink depending on how much produce I’m washing; you could use 15-20 if you’re doing a full sink with a very large amount of produce.  Keep in mind, essential oils are very potent; a little goes a long way.

If you look closely you can see the drops of lemon oil floating on the surface in the areas I circled.

If you look closely you can see the drops of lemon oil floating in the areas I circled.

Add in about a teaspoon (or two for a full sink) of Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap.

The Castile soap suspends the essential oil in the water, so it is no longer just pooling on the water's surface.

The Castile soap suspends the essential oil throughout the water, so it is no longer just sitting on the water’s surface.

A quick word on why we need the soap.  Castile soap is a type of soap made of only vegetable oils, not animal fats (it originated in the Castile region of Spain, thus the name).  I prefer Castile soap because it is all natural, dye-free, and safe if ingested.  Yes, you could eat it.  It’s just water, a bunch of vegetable oils, vitamin E, and citric acid.  I feel good about washing the things I will be eating with something that would be okay to ingest, if I so chose to ingest it.  🙂

Back to science.  Basically, we need the Castile soap to act as the middle man between the citrus oil and water.  Remember in elementary school when we learned how oil is hydrophobic and hates water?  That’s where soap comes in.  Soap is a surfactant (fancy scientific term), which means it has both hydrophobic and hydrophilic ends.  The simplest way to think of it is soap likes to hold hands with both oils and water.  Oil and water refuse to hold hands.  The only way they can all stay together is with soap in the middle.  If you need to visualize it, here’s an embarrassing representation of oil, soap, and water holding hands that I made..

0—–CITRUS OIL—–00—–CASTILE SOAP—–00—–WATER—–0

This is same principle behind how washing your hands with soap removes grease and dirt and germs.

So in the produce bath, the soap grabs onto the pooled up oils floating on the water’s surface, and suspends them throughout the sink to get all your produce thoroughly clean.  Without the soap, only the parts of your produce in direct contact with the water’s surface will get the benefits of contact with your essential oils – and that’s not good enough.

I like to add in the soap and oils while the sink is still filling, because it’s an easy way to get everything mixed together.

Once your sink is a little more than half full, you can turn off the water and start putting in produce.  I like to save the softer berries (raspberries and blackberries) as well as larger items (like melons and broccoli) for last.  Everything else goes in the sink together.

produce in lemon oil bathLet your produce soak for 10-15 minutes.  Give it a good stir about halfway through, so that anything floating at the top gets thoroughly cleaned.

Now it’s time to rinse!  The water you’re taking your produce out of is now full of soap, petroleum pesticides, dirt, and bacteria.  So always remember to put your produce under some clean running water to rinse away all that nasty stuff.

produce rinseI lay out a big beach towel on my counter, and leave all the clean produce there to air dry.  This is what our typical weekly produce haul from Aldi looks like…though not usually this neatly laid out.  😉

Aldi produce air drying

After I do the main load of produce, I soak the delicate and large items for about 10 minutes.  Putting melons and squashes in the produce bath may seem odd, but it gets rid of any Salmonella that may be lurking on the rind waiting to get in when you cut it open.  Here’s a link to a study that showed essential oils to be highly effective at removing Salmonella from industrial equipment.  Just be sure to get every side of the melons in the bath water.  And again, don’t forget to rinse!

Make sure the whole head of the broccoli and cauliflower

Make sure the whole head of the broccoli and cauliflower is immersed in the bath for at least 5 minutes.  This can be tricky because they want to float on their sides.

Wash delicates last to avoid squishing them.

Wash delicate produce, like raspberries, separately to avoid squishing them.

Yes, I even soak my bananas, because I have an irrational fear of banana spiders.... :)

Yes, I even soak my bananas, because I have an irrational fear of banana spiders hatching out of them…. I have confidence the oils will kill their eggs, and/or they’ll drown.  🙂

I think the before and after pictures of the sink water paints a pretty good picture of just how much junk is coming off in the produce bath.  It gets me every time.  Yuck…

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

There’s an added bonus.  Washing your produce like this automatically cleans your sink and drain!  Just let all that dirty water out and give it a little rinse with the faucet.  You’re left with a shiny, citrus-fresh basin.  Seriously, it smells so good!

essential oils for cleaning sink

Another interesting side effect of using citrus oils on your produce is that they make it really evident if something is rotting.  Take these strawberries, for instance.  I looked over all the strawberries before putting them in the bath that day, and didn’t see anything obviously wrong with any of them.  Yet, when I rinsed them off I noticed a good portion of them had rotten spots like this…

This one wasn't so bad.

This one wasn’t so bad.

The inside was still good.  Just a bad spot that needed to be cut off.

The inside was still good. I just cut off the bad spot.

This one didn't look too bad on the outside.

This one didn’t look too bad on the outside.

But the inside was clearly rotting.  Yikes!

But the inside was clearly rotting. Yikes!

Pre-citrus oil bath, I might have taken a big ol’ bite out of that strawberry.  Gross.  I’m not sure exactly why the oils make these rotten spots more obvious, but it’s pretty handy that they do.  Sometimes you just grab a bad bunch of fruit.

Alright penny pinchers, here’s what you’ve been waiting for: the price breakdown.

A 15ml bottle of Lemon Oil is $11 and a 15ml of Orange Oil is $8.50.

There are approximately 250 drops of oil in every 15ml bottle.

Lemon Oil cost calculation: $11/250 drops = .04 cents/drop.

Orange Oil cost calculation: $8.50/250 = .03 cents/drop.

If you wash in a half sink like I do, with 10 drops max that’s 30-40 cents.

I bought a big 32 ounce bottle of Dr. Bronner’s a couple years ago, and I still haven’t used it up (and I use it for more than just produce washing) – it’s $17.29 well spent.

There are 192 teaspoons in a 32 ounce bottle.  $17.29/192 teaspoons = .09 cents/teaspoon.

Rounding up, that’s 40 cents of oil + 10 cents of soap = 50 cents.

So max, this method costs you 50 cents per produce bath.  I usually only do one produce bath a week.  A pretty cheap way to get rid of pesticides!

A 15ml bottle usually lasts me a solid 4 or 5 months – and we wash a lot of produce at our mostly whole foods eating household!

Plus citrus oils are great for cleaning, easing morning sickness/indigestion/heartburn, liver cleanses, circulatory problems, acne, weight loss, and lots more.  Like I said at the beginning, essential oils are a versatile, worthwhile investment.  🙂

Happy cleaning!

—–

A side note on buying essential oils:

I do not sell essential oils, because I’m not a fan of multilevel marketing (MLM) schemes.  I buy all my oils through Rocky Mountain Oils (who merged with Native American Nutritionals, so the oils are the same no matter which company you order from).  They sell 100% pure, therapeutic grade oils just like the big MLM companies (DoTerra and Young Living Oils); I’ve tried the MLM oils and I can tell you the quality/results seem exactly the same as Rocky Mountain Oils’ stuff.  I love that RMO gives full disclosure on where/how all their oils are sourced, and that they do third party testing on every batch for quality.  And I super love that they source a lot of their oils from local, small organic farmers around the world through fair trade practices.  Plus their prices aren’t marked up to compensate salespeople, so you get oils at a lower cost.  My oils have always arrived in perfect condition within two business days, and I’ve never had any problems reaching customer service right away if I’ve had questions.  Also, unlike some of the bigger companies, RMO seems to almost never have oils out of stock.  So you can get what you need when you need it.  Just had to throw my two cents out there.  😉

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Feeding the Kids: Easy Dye-Free Lunches

Other stay at home mamas will feel me on this one.  It’s 11:45 AM, you’re going about your morning doing all your usual mama stuff (folding laundry, wiping butts, splitting up fights, picking up toys, making appointments, feeding the baby, washing dishes, answering your 100th “why” question of the day, possibly even getting ready yourself).  Suddenly you’re bombarded with urgent cries of I’m hungry! When are we going to eat??

Yep, it’s lunch time.  How does it always sneak up on me like that?  I never have anything planned.  Shoot….  BUT, the beauty of going through all the work of creating a dye-free kitchen, is that anything I dig out and throw on a plate for the kids is going to be safe for them to eat.  Saves a lot of time and worry if you don’t want your kids to have food dyes.

If you’re new to dye-free living, hopefully this will give you some ideas.  You might notice that some of the things we eat for lunch overlap with my list of dye-free snack foods.  That’s because I’m literally just grabbing whatever we have on hand and putting it on a plate.  We have lots of snacky foods on hand.  🙂

Here’s a sample of what my kids have been eating the last couple weeks.

lunch

Turkey (Simply Nature uncured turkey from Aldi’s) and provolone with mayo, carrots and strawberries, Annie’s Chocolate Bunny Grahams, and almonds.

lunch

Turkey and salami (Hormel’s uncured hard salami), carrots, cherry tomatoes, a strawberry, ranch dressing (Marzetti organic ranch veggie dip from Hy-Vee – no MSG like most ranch), mixed nuts, and Simply Cheetos white cheddar puffs.  We also had some Greek yogurt on the side.  If you manage to arrange their food into a weird face or picture, even better.  My older boys are 5 and 3, and they think this is hilarious.  So if you want to impress your young ones…. 🙂

lunch

Hebrew National hot dog with ketchup (we use the Hunt’s brand without high fructose corn syrup), cherry tomatoes, a clementine, some pecans, and a handful of Parmesan Goldfish.  Again, we had Greek yogurt on the side as well.  (We go through a lot of yogurt!)

lunch

Turkey, Ritz crackers, almonds, carrots, blueberries, and some cottage cheese.

lunch

Peanut butter and jelly, salami (because they LOVE it and always ask for “just one piece!”), a clementine, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, and some Stauffer’s animal crackers.

lunch

Alright this lunch was from the weekend, which is why it’s a little (but not much) more time intensive than our other lunches.  🙂  Van de Kamp’s fish sticks, cantaloupe, mixed nuts, and a Nature Valley Oats N’ Dark Chocolate granola bar.

lunch

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich (yes, again…it’s easy!), a mozzarella cheese stick, a clementine, and a bunch of mixed nuts.

By now you’re probably getting the general pattern of what I throw on a plate for the boys.  Nuts, fruit/vegetables, a sandwich or some meat, usually something from the dairy group as well for protein.  They may not be fully balanced meals, but I think overall they’re healthy.  My kids also have a mid-morning snack with fruits and nuts and proteins, so their lunches aren’t usually huge.

lunch

This was our Valentine’s Day lunch.  A heart shaped Nutella and raspberry jelly sandwich, heart shaped bananas, strawberries, mozzarella cheese stick, almonds, a Fit & Active fruit strip (from Aldi’s), and some Brookside dark chocolate candies.

I don’t have a picture of it, but my kids really like having scrambled eggs for lunch.  It doesn’t take too long to cook some up.  So if you’ve had PB&J a few days in a row, you can always give eggs a try.  🙂

I know it’s nothing revolutionary, but I see that as a good thing.  Just more proof that going dye-free doesn’t have to be complicated.  Anyone can do it.

Kid Approved Dye-Free Snacks

When we cut out food dyes, I wasn’t sure what the heck I was going to feed the kids.  Especially for snack time.  My boys are big snackers (as am I!), so it was kind of an important thing to figure out.  Obviously, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, eggs, and plain meats (i.e., not spiced/marinated/processed – otherwise not guaranteed to be color free) are going to be dye-free.  These foods probably make up the majority of what we eat these days. However, we do eat our share of convenience foods as well.

As much as I love to cook, the reality is I don’t have the time or the energy or the desire to make from-scratch food all the time.  I purposely choose not to.  I like knowing that I could, so I’ll try various from-scratch recipes from time to time.  I think self-sufficiency is important.  But I love that we live in an age where I don’t have to make everything if I don’t want to.  It’s one less thing to worry about doing every day; convenience foods save sooooo much time.  More power to you if you make all your food all the time.  I respect and admire that.  But I’m guessing that most of you out there are probably eating some amount of convenience foods. Unfortunately for you and me, a lot of those foods are going to have artificial colors and other junk in them.

While this isn’t by any means an exhaustive list of dye-free snack options, it’s a good place to start gathering ideas. If you have any favorites you’d like to share, please leave a comment so we can all benefit from the collective knowledge.

Please note that dye-free is not my only criteria for choosing snacks.  I won’t buy items with artificial preservatives (TBHQ/BHT/BHA), artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose), MSG, olestra, nitrates/nitrites, sulfites, or potassium bromate.  I try to avoid trans fats too; but it gets tricky because companies can legally label something “0 grams of trans fats” when, in fact, it only contains less than 0.5 grams.  That means it could have up to 0.49 grams of trans fats per serving, and that can quickly add up to surpass the suggested daily limit of 1-2 grams.  A general rule of thumb for avoiding trans fats is to steer clear of partially hydrogenated oils.  If you’re interested in why I won’t buy these things, I’ll link to some helpful articles at the bottom of this page.

FYI, this list is just based off what’s in my kitchen right now and what I can remember buying other times.  I’ll update it if I remember more or find new favorites.

Crackers and Granola Bars

Kashi Granola Bars

Nature Valley Granola Bars (Oats ‘N Dark Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Greek Yogurt Protein; haven’t checked other flavors)

Millville (Aldi’s)  Protein Chewy Bar (Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter; haven’t checked other flavors)

Buttery Round Crackers (Ritz brand and Savoritz brand [Aldi’s])

Stauffer’s ORIGINAL Animal Crackers (not the ones with frosting)

Honeymaid Angry Birds Graham Crackers (My boys are OBSESSED with Angry Birds, so these are fantastic!)

Teddy Grahams crackers (Honey and Chocolate Chip are safe; haven’t checked other flavors.)

Annie’s Bunny Grahams (any flavor is safe)

Annie’s Whole Wheat Bunny Crackers (all other flavors have annatto)

Parmesan Goldfish Crackers (all other flavors have annatto; parmesan is the green bag)

Market Pantry (Target) Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers

———-

candy

Candy

UNREAL candies (“unjunked” versions of M&M’s, Peanut M&M’s, Milky Ways, and Peanut Butter Cups)

True North Almond Pecan Cashew Clusters

Mott’s Medleys fruit snacks

Simply Nature (Aldi’s) fruit snacks

Fit & Active (Aldi’s) All Natural Fruit Strips

Simply Balanced (Target) Fruit Strips

YummyEarth Organic Lollipops

Chocolate chips (Plain chocolate chips and white chocolate chips have been safe in every brand I’ve checked; however, peanut butter and butterscotch usually have caramel coloring.)

Black Forest Gummy Worms (Hy-Vee carries them)

Caramels (Lovely Candy Co. brand, and Werther’s Originals)

Darrell Lea Liquorice (Target carries it)

Chocolate Bars and Candies (If it is just chocolate [no fillings, flavors, coating] it’s probably fine. We like organic dark chocolate bars in our house. So good! Dove originals, Brookside chocolates, and Hershey’s originals are all good.)

———-

Cookies

Vanilla wafers (Aldi’s Benton’s brand, and Nilla brand)

Oreos (the seasonal ones with colored frosting are not ok)

Pillsbury Simply refrigerated cookie dough – all flavors

Keebler Simply Made Cookies – all flavors

———-

chips

Chips

Clancey’s (Aldi’s) Sweet Potato Chips  (These are my favorite snack.  I’m eating them right nowThey’re incredible! Plus 14 chips count as a serving of vegetables…I doubt it’s the best kind of vegetable serving a person could have, but it justifies my addiction.)  🙂

Corn Tortilla Chips (All the brands I’ve seen have been safe, but watch for trans fats.)

Clancy’s (Aldi’s) Kettle Chips Mesquite Barbecue flavor

Cheetos Simply White Cheddar

Ruffles Simply Sea Salted Potato Chips

———-

Cereals – We lean towards eating cereals with lots of protein and good nutrition to actually fill you up.  All of these are less than $3/box; nothing crazy expensive here.  🙂

Cheerios (original and honey nut are safe, others have colors)

Kashi (anything I’ve ever seen by their brand is safe and super healthy)

Post Grape Nuts

Cascadian Farm Oats and Honey Granola

Archer Farms French Vanilla Almond Crunch Granola

Nature’s Path Coconut Chia Granola

Simply Nature (Aldi’s) Fruit Muesli, and Toasted Oats

Nature’s Best Blue Pom Wheatfuls

**BEWARE of TBHQ and BHT as preservatives in cereals.  It’s very common.  Also extremely annoying because even within a brand some cereals will have it and some won’t.  Always check!**

———-

Frozen Desserts

Blue Bunny All Natural Vanilla ice cream

Breyer’s All Natural (Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry flavors)

Belmont’s (Aldi’s) – any flavor

Simply Nature (Aldi’s) Popsicles

———-

other

Other

Nuts – any plain or salted nuts should be fine

Dried fruits (Generally safe, but keep an eye on the preservatives used.)

Hy-Vee brand Unsweetened Applesauce

Hy-Vee brand Marshmallows (Not sure about other generic brands, but the name brand Jet Puffed marshmallows have blue dye in them.)

Mozzarella Cheese Sticks (Hy-Vee brand, Kraft, and Happy Farms [Aldi’s] have all been fine)

Wholly Guacamole (We usually make our own guac, but this is nice when you don’t have time or if avocados are out of season/expensive.)

Salsa – most kinds are safe (This is my husband’s favorite snack.  Give him some chips and some Mad Butcher’s Salsa, and he is a happy man.)

Pretzels (Most plain, bagged pretzels should be safe.)

Popping Corn (not the bagged stuff, just the seeds that you pop on your stovetop at home)

Joy brand Waffle Bowls (fun for special desserts)

Yogurt (We make our own Greek Yogurt, but most brands will have some dye-free options.  I know Chobani, Dannon, and Yoplait do.  Yogurts branded towards kids probably will have artificial colors though.)

———-

Links to information on other bad food additives:

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has a very helpful list describing all food additives.

Australia’s Northern Allergy Center also has a full list of food additives and any harmful effects.

A BusinessWeek article from 1996 shows that the dangers of food additives have been known or questioned for quite some time.

Hungry For Change has a succinct list of their top 10 food additives to avoid.

Transitioning to Dye-Free Foods

So you’ve read Sorry, My Kids Can’t Have Food Dyes or other artificial color related articles.  You’re convinced that you should cut out, or at least cut back on, food dyes.  Now what?

I think the transition process looks different for everyone.  I’m very decisive.  Once a decision has been made, it’s as good as done.  I’m all in.  I cut out dyes in a day and never looked back.  Other people’s transitions are probably going to be a bit slower than mine.  That’s probably healthier from a psychological standpoint anyway.  I tend to be a little OCD; a blessing and a curse.  But onward and upward…  🙂

First, know what you’re trying to avoid when you look at the ingredients list on your food.  The following is a list of the terms you’re looking for and some common household foods that have them (for detailed research information on these please read Food Dyes: Rainbow of Risks).

  • Blue 1 – “brilliant blue”
  • Blue 2 – “indigotine”
  • Citrus Red 2 – only allowed for use to color orange peels
  • Green 3 – “fast green”
  • Orange B – only allowed for use in coloring hot dog and sausage casings
  • Red 3 – “erythrosine”
  • Red 40 – “allura red”
  • Yellow 5 – “tartrazine”
  • Yellow 6 – “sunset yellow”
  • Caramel Coloring
  • Annatto

Caramel coloring and annatto can sometimes be found on products claiming to be “all natural” or free of artificial colors.  They are derived from plants, so technically they are natural.  However, they have been linked to some pretty bad stuff like cancer and severe allergic reactions.

Two scary facts: 1) The FDA does not regulate these at all because they are “natural”, 2) Caramel coloring is the most commonly used food dye in the world (probably because it’s in things like cola, vanilla ice cream, and candy bars).  Consumer Reports has a really good report on the dangers of caramel coloring; it’s short and very enlightening.

As for annatto, it’s been shown to effect blood sugar levels, is not recommended while pregnant or breastfeeding, causes allergic reactions, and can cause the same behavioral problems as the artificial food dyes. Annatto is used to make things orange – I see it a lot in cheddar cheese, crackers, and fruit snacks. This one tricked us for a while, because it’s the only one on the labels that doesn’t look like a color name.  Watch out for it.

Sometimes labels won’t even tell you which colors are in the food.  They just say “colors added”.  Buyer beware.

cherry

Now that you know exactly what to look for, go through your fridge and cupboards.  You may be surprised about some of the places you’ll find colors.  Marshmallows, soy sauce, maraschino cherries, and pickles always stick out as some of the weirder ones to me.  You can do this all at once or as you have time.

Keep a running list of all the items you find with colors in them. These are the things you’ll want to replace with a dye-free alternative.  Sometimes it’s as easy as switching to a different brand or flavor of that item.  Occasionally there isn’t a great alternative in the store.  With these items you have four choices:  1) do nothing, 2) reduce your intake of that item, 3) live without it, or 4) learn how to make it from scratch yourself.

pickles

Take your list to the store.  Depending on how much time you have and how many items you are looking to replace, you may want to split your list up and make more than one trip.  It takes time to read labels, and you’ve usually got at least five different brands to look at with each product.  So be realistic and don’t stress out trying to find everything all at once.  I’m working on another post about our favorite dye-free store-bought foods.  Until then, here are a few brands that are generally safe and should be easy for everyone to find (but always double check the ingredient list): Target’s Simply Balanced line, Pillsbury’s Simply line, Aldi’s Clancy’s and Belmont lines, Kashi, Nature Valley, UNREAL Candy, and YummyEarth (I haven’t seen it in stores, but Amazon has it).

If you have any specific items you’re worried about finding an alternative for, please leave a comment.  I’d love to try to help!  Good luck as you begin your journey into dye-free living!  🙂

Easy Homemade Greek Yogurt

I love Greek yogurt. I mean, looooooove it, love it. The only thing I don’t love about it is shelling out a dollar or more for each delicious little container at the store.

I used to justify the cost because it’s a healthy snack. (But, let’s be real. It was mostly because it’s so creamy and delicious, and the closest thing to ice cream that you can have for breakfast in front of the kids.)
My husband isn’t as much of a yogurt fanatic and started hinting that maybe I should consider dropping, or greatly reducing, my semi-expensive yogurt habit. *sigh* What’s a girl to do? Turn to the internet for help, of course. 🙂
I found a bunch of different recipes and methods for making yogurt. Through trial and error I came up with one that is extremely easy with very little hands-on time (which is ideal for me, because with three littles running around I can’t be wasting a lot of time in the kitchen).
All you need is milk (I usually do a gallon at a time, but any amount will work), a pot, some mason jars with lids, a heating pad, and a towel. Optionally, you can use a funnel and strainer if you like your yogurt really smooth like I do. The first time you make it you will need to have a little bit of plain Greek yogurt as well. But after that just save a some of the yogurt from the previous batch to use in the next one.
The best part about this recipe is how much money you save. A gallon of whole milk costs around $4 and makes about 144 ounces of yogurt. Generally, an individual container of Greek yogurt is 6 ounces and costs at least $1 – you’d need to buy 24 of these to get up to 144 ounces. That’s at least $24. Which means: Buying your Greek yogurt at the store is at least 6 times as expensive as making your own!
I promise that making your own is painless! Give it a shot and put that $20 savings towards something better than yogurt, like a babysitter for date night.

image

I’ve learned the key is using plain old pasteurized whole milk. The ultra pasteurized milk doesn’t work very well; mine always ended up being runny. If you want a thick Greek yogurt like you’d buy at the store, then make sure you don’t get ultra-pasteurized. And make sure it’s whole milk. So creamy!
I like to make a gallon at a time. It lasts up to several weeks in the fridge, and coincidentally that’s about how long it takes us to use it up too.
Whatever amount of milk you decide to use, the next step is pouring it into a pot.

image

Now turn your burner to medium heat and walk away. Chase your kids around or, if you’re lucky, kick up your heels and relax for 20-25 minutes.
Check on your milk about 20 minutes later, it should be boiling. Ideally you want to get to it before it’s a roaring boil, but if you get busy and forget about it (guilty!) all is not lost. It just takes longer to cool down if you overdo it.

image

Turn off the heat and take it off the burner.
I like to give it a good stir at this point, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pot a little. There is usually a skin of burned milk on the bottom of the pot that you want to take out at some point. If I’m careful I can usually manage to get it all out in a few long pieces with my spatula.

image

Fish out all the large pieces of milk skin and throw them away.

image

Leave your milk to cool for about an hour. No need to check on it or stir it. You can if you want to, but it’s not necessary.
After an hour or so check the temperature.

image

If you have a food thermometer you want the milk to be somewhere in the range of 110°-118°F. I shoot for close to 114°, because the next step is adding in yogurt. This will cool it down a little, and you don’t want it to go below 110° or the live cultures in your yogurt won’t multiply. You also don’t want the milk too hot or you’ll just be killing the cultures. If you don’t have a food thermometer, you can check with your finger. It should feel hot, but not hot enough to burn you…and hotter than just warm (technical, I know). Be careful not to burn yourself!
If your milk is too cool when you check it, just turn the burner back on low for a couple minutes, stirring to distribute the heat, until it’s where you want it. This is great if you forget about your yogurt project while you’re entertaining kiddos or cleaning the house (again, guilty!).

image

**Important notes: 1. Make sure your starter yogurt says it has live cultures, or none of this will work. 2. To complete these next few steps you’ll need about 15 minutes of uninterrupted time. I try to make it so this step falls during nap time.
When your milk is at the right temperature, stir roughly a tablespoon of plain Greek yogurt into about a cup of the milk.

image

I use a fork to whisk it, because it seems to dissolve better that way. You don’t want to over-whisk it and kill the cultures. Mix until it’s mostly dissolved.

image

Pour your yogurt milk back into the large pot. Stir slowly with your spatula for a minute to distribute the yogurt cultures throughout the milk.

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If you haven’t already, get your jars and lids out.

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Set up your funnel and strainer on the jar, if you’re using them, and start scooping milk into your jars with a ladle or measuring cup. Things can get a little drippy, that’s why I put a towel over the crack between the oven and the counter – one of the most annoying places to have to clean.

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This is why I use a strainer. Catches any gunk you missed with your spatula before.

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I use the pint sized Mason jars for my yogurt. I fill them up to the neck and it makes about 9 jars worth.

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Put your jars on the heating pad. I put mine on the medium heat setting, but I’ve tried it on low and high as well. They all work. You just want to keep them nice and toasty without making them too hot – the cultures like to reproduce (which is what turns your milk into yogurt) around 110°F.

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Now put a big towel on top of your jars to help hold in the heat.
Congratulations! The “hard” part of yogurt making is done. Now leave your yogurt to cook on the heating pad anywhere from 7-11 hours. The longer you leave it the thicker it will be. It also gets a little tangier as time goes on, so decide how you like it and let it cook accordingly. I leave mine for about 9 hours. You may want to check your heating pad occasionally; most of them have automatic shut-offs. After a couple hours I turn mine back on. Once I left it to cook overnight and it still cooked up fine even though I didn’t restart the pad. The yogurt is forgiving, so there’s room to experiment. 🙂
When your yogurt is done cooking put it in the fridge.
That’s it! Yay!

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When it cools down, mix in some honey or jam or granola or fresh fruit – whatever your heart desires. Now go enjoy your delicious, inexpensive, protein packed, good-for-your-body Greek yogurt! You can even share with your family if you’re so inclined. 🙂

My favorite way to eat Greek yogurt - fresh fruit and a little honey. Mmmmm!

My favorite way to eat Greek yogurt – fresh fruit and a little honey. Mmmmm!

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Homemade Greek Yogurt

1 gal. whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)

1 Tbs plain Greek yogurt (with live cultures)

1. Heat gallon of milk in a large pot to around 180 degrees, or until just boiling (about 20-25 minutes).  Turn off burner and remove from heat.

2. Let milk cool to approximately 114 degrees.

3. Mix 1 Tbs of plain Greek yogurt with 1 c of the cooled milk.  Whisk gently with a fork until yogurt is mostly dissolved.

4. Pour yogurt milk back into the large pot and stir softly for a minute to distribute the live cultures.

5. Line up 9 pint sized Mason jars and lids.  Place a small funnel in the first jar with a strainer on top of the funnel.  Using a ladle or measuring cup, begin scooping milk from the pot into the jars.  Fill to the neck of the jar, then fasten the lid.

6.  Place the full jars on a heating pad set to medium heat.  Cover with a large towel to insulate.

7. Cook yogurt on the heating pad anywhere from 7-11 hours, depending on the consistency desired.

8. When the yogurt has cooked, place all the jars in the fridge.  Will keep for about 3 weeks.