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Yogurt was once a product rarely found in America (remember the 1970s Dannon commercials where nation of Georgia residents claimed to live to 100 due to yogurt's wondrous properties?)

But it is true that yogurt is delicious, and packed with protein and probiotics good for digestion. And now, it’s easier than ever to make at home, experts say.

“I make yogurt at home every other week,” said Beth McIntyre, a local chef and employee at Someone’s In the Kitchen home ware store in Rapid City. “There’s a way of making it without having all the sugar and making it too sweet.”

Yogurt’s popularity in the U.S. has propelled annual sales to nearly $7 billion, according to the National Yogurt Association.

That’s not surprising, said Ashley Berry, also of Someone’s In the Kitchen.

“It’s a nutritiously dense food, easy to find and easy to transport,” she said. “It’s easily digestible and filled with probiotics.”

There are even greater perks if you make it at home, said McIntyre.

To forgo the high sugar content found in most store-bought yogurts, yet still have great taste at the end, McIntyre said she starts out the process by purchasing half a gallon of whole milk.

“The flavor is much better and it’s less acidic,” she said. “You don’t have to have that gooey fruit in there to make it taste good. It gives it a fuller flavor.”

Heat the mile to 185 degrees Fahrenheit before letting it cool to about 110 degrees.

Then add one cup of plain yogurt with active cultures, purchased from the store, or a packet of powdered culture. McIntyre purchases hers from a cheese producer in Vermont.

You stir either one in to the milk and wait.

“The trick it to keep it at 100 degrees for eight hours,” she said. It can be done with a yogurt maker, or done on the top of a stove.

The cultures grow and multiply during the eight hours, thickening the substance and creating the flavor, she said.

McIntyre said she started making her own yogurt about five years ago after she had difficulty finding plain, whole milk yogurt in stores. She wanted to skip the sugar, but still get great taste. She also wanted to skip the low-fat versions, which include the artificial sweetener Aspartame.

“You can still buy some frozen fruit and put it on top, or drizzle it with a little maple syrup,” she said. “You’d be amazed at how little it takes to sweeten.”

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According to the National Yogurt Association, yogurt is not only a great source of protein — an average 8-ounce serving contains between 8 and 10 grams of protein, or 16 to 20 percent of the Daily Recommended Value — it’s also a great source of calcium.

According to the association, it is also low in fat and high in certain minerals and essential vitamins, including riboflavin B2, Vitamin B12, phosphorous and potassium.

Berry said the benefits of making it at home are obvious.

“It’s much cheaper,” she said. A quart of milk costs about $1.20 and makes 32 ounces. “It’s one-fifth the cost of individual store packages.”

Being able to control what goes in it is a huge benefit.

“You get to control the added sugar, and or fruit,” she said. “You can change the probiotic mix based on the starter culture uses and you can adjust the portions.”

McIntyre, who said she plans to do a cooking lesson at the store off North Haines Avenue this spring on homemade yogurt and cheese, said she anticipates a rise in stores carrying full fat, unflavored yogurt because of its health benefits and decreased sugar.

“It’s so healthy,” she said.

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