This was an article I wrote that appeared in The Korea Herald on July 9th. When I told my dad about it, he made some comment about it being disgusting. Yeah, it does sound so. This was one of my household experiments that actually worked, unlike my homemade cornmeal experiment and stovetop roasted chicken (never posted those).

The reason for this one was that it’s close to impossible to find yogurt in Korea that isn’t sweetened. Sometimes you just need straight plain yogurt for cooking or just enjoying on its own.

Here it is:

Yogurt is popular in Korea. It’s everywhere. It fights for store space, slowly dominating the milk. Ladies in mustard colored uniforms sell it to children on the street. Overseas, Korean frozen yogurt has become a new food craze. Innovative yogurts come out frequently, touting new flavors, added magical nutrients or higher general quality.

Yet one innovation has not entered the Korean yogurt market, unsweetened yogurt. Most everywhere else in the world has unsweetened yogurt. It’s called “plain” yogurt, or just “yogurt.” You know it. It’s the most basic of basic yogurt. Plain yogurt in Korea is not plain. It’s sweetened. That’s fine if you like sweet yogurt. It’s not so great if you want to cook with it. What can you do?

The solution is so easy you’ll laugh. You just need milk, a food safe thermometer, a thermos and a little bit of store bought yogurt. The premium Korean brands work well. Thoroughly wash the thermos first. Put boiling water in it for a while just to be safe. Have around a shot or two of yogurt sitting out, coming up to room temperature. In a pot slowly enough milk to fit in the thermos. Let the milk reach between 82 and 85 degrees Celsius. Don’t go over. Turn off the heat and let the milk cool between 41 and 46 degrees. Add the yogurt, close the thermos and let it sit for four to eight hours. When it sets, store it in the refrigerator.

Now you have a batch of unsweetened yogurt. You can make more yogurt from this batch, but the active bacteria will weaken after a while. Just replenish with more store bought yogurt. You can eat it as is. What I like to do is put it in cheesecloth or coffee filters sitting on an open jar. This strains the liquid whey, making the yogurt thick and creamy, like a cheese.

With this strained yogurt, you can make the classic Greek sauce tzatziki.Combine the yogurt with finely chopped cucumber, a little chopped garlic, and some salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.Add some mint, dill or parsley if you wish.You can top a classic gyro with it or use the sauce with any meat or vegetable.

Another basic yogurt sauce is the Indian raita. Some of the ingredients may require a trip to an international market. Combine a cup of yogurt with a cup of finely chopped cucumber. Add three tablespoons of chopped green onions, three table spoons of chopped fresh cilantro, half a teaspoon of ground cumin and half a teaspoon of ground coriander.

It’s also a good marinade for chicken.Combine a cup of yogurt with a half cup of chopped fresh parsley, four chopped cloves of garlic, two teaspoons of Korean red chile powder (gochugaru), two teaspoons of salt, a quarter cup of fresh lemon juice and a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil.Cover chicken parts with this yogurt mixture and marinate in the refrigerator for one hour.Take the chicken out of the yogurt marinade and grill, pan fry or bake it.

Laze around a steamy summer afternoon with a cool mint lassi. Don’t have any mint? Korean flower shops tend to sell pots of mint for around 2,000 won each. Pick off a few leaves and rinse them. Combine them in a blender with a half cup of yogurt, a cup of ice cold water and a quarter teaspoon of salt. Add a touch of cumin if desired. Garnish with more mint leaves and relax. Your work is done.

Don't make mistakes other travelers have made!

Get regular emails with insider tips on how to maximize your visit to Korea. Sign up now!

Tour Tips Newsletter

You have Successfully Subscribed!