16 Handy Tips for Cooking with Yogurt

Shelf Life, Use in Recipes, and Substitutions

Yogurt with granola and blueberries

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Yogurt is a fermented milk product that naturally includes healthy bacteria and lactic acid. It is the acid that makes it a great ingredient for cooking and baking.

Yogurt has many uses in the kitchen, from sauces and marinades to dressings and breads. It also makes a great substitute for a few other ingredients, which you will find helpful if you run out of something like buttermilk.

Cooking Tips

Before you start adding yogurt to your favorite recipes, it's good to get a few tips on how to use it. The acid in yogurt is helpful for many applications, though it can also cause a few problems if it's not used properly.

  • Do not use aluminum pans when preparing anything with yogurt. The acid in the yogurt will react with the aluminum.
  • To avoid separation when adding yogurt to hot liquids, make sure first to bring the yogurt to room temperature.
  • If the yogurt does separate during cooking, it is sometimes possible to fix it. Make a paste of one teaspoon of cornstarch (or two teaspoons of all-purpose flour) mixed with 1/2 tablespoon of cold water. Stir this paste into the separated mixture and heat it gently until it thickens and recombines.
  • Beating yogurt or stirring it vigorously will cause it to break down. To avoid this, gently fold it in when blending it with other ingredients.

Yogurt's Shelf-Life

Unopened yogurt can remain good for quite a while. You can typically go one to two weeks past the date printed on the package if it's stored in the refrigerator. In the freezer, you can extend that to one to two months. Opened yogurt will be good for about one week when refrigerated and one month when frozen.

  • It's important that you do not refreeze yogurt after thawing it out. This can promote the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • If you notice any mold or a sour smell in yogurt, it has gone bad and needs to be thrown out. It's also best to toss it if a liquid has formed on top of any yogurt that normally doesn't have it.

Yogurt in Recipes

It can be surprising just how useful yogurt is in the kitchen. It offers great tenderizing properties for a variety of foods and its long shelf-life makes it a valuable ingredient to have around.

  • Due to the acid content of yogurt, it makes a fabulous marinade to tenderize meats. For example, yogurt is seen quite often in heavily spiced Indian marinades, including the popular tandoori chicken.
  • Baking soda needs an acidic counterpart to produce a leavening effect. Yogurt fits the bill admirably. The two are used together in baked goods, sometimes as a replacement for buttermilk as in yogurt cornbread.
  • Yogurt can be used to thicken sauces much like heavy cream. You will need to add some starch to keep it from curdling because yogurt lacks the fat of heavy cream. Whisk in two teaspoons of cornstarch or one tablespoon of flour for one cup of yogurt before adding it to hot liquids. Whisk as it simmers and thickens, and never let it boil.
  • Yogurt tenderizes baked goods and helps keep them moist. This is especially true in bread and recipes that use dried or fresh fruits and vegetables. Try it in recipes like this lemon blueberry cornmeal loaf cake and zucchini carrot bread.

Substitutions

There will be times when you need a good substitute for yogurt or when it can be used as a last-minute replacement for an ingredient you ran out of. The substitutions are generally straightforward, just keep in mind that eight ounces of yogurt is equal to one cup.

  • For marinating and cooking purposes, one cup of buttermilk may be substituted for one cup of yogurt and vice versa.
  • Soy yogurt can be substituted measure for measure for milk yogurt in most applications.
  • Generally, making yogurt cheese will reduce the volume by one-third. For instance, if you need one cup of yogurt cheese, start out with three cups of nonfat yogurt.
  • For salad dressings and dips, sour cream and plain yogurt may be used interchangeably.
  • Use yogurt in equal measures as a substitute for mayonnaise or sour cream in dip and salad dressing recipes to reduce the calories.
  • If you're watching your fat intake, yogurt can be substituted for sour cream in baked recipes. It will save you about 48 grams of fat per cup.